We’re going to say it right off the bat: the title promises a near-impossible task.
North America is a big place, with lots of mountains and plenty of altitude and latitude to produce some pretty amazing skiing conditions.
It’s tough – really tough – to narrow it down to a few top destinations.That said, we’re going to give it a try.
We’ve looked over the most popular spots, and a few lesser-known gems, and considered them with some key factors in mind, especially with regard to the specific needs of an overseas visitor.
What to Look For?
Which of these tops your list is a matter of personal taste, but some resorts score well in all of them, which can never hurt.
This tops the list for obvious reasons, but is seldom as simple as rating the best to the worst.
Weather and the time of your visit will affect things, so if you’re planning a trip in the middle of the season, you’ll have few worries – a mid-November or late April trip though, and you’ll want to look further north, further up, and probably further inland.
Variety at Your Level
If you’re a beginner, you’ll want lots of green runs, but we’re operating under the assumption that you have some miles under your skis, and want some more challenging terrain than the Bunny Slopes tend to offer.
We’ve chosen resorts with a good offering of black runs, though some better than others, as you’ll see.
That said, sometimes a nice long ski-out is a great way to round of an intense run, and your group may include skiers of differing abilities or tastes, so overall variety is still on the wish list.
Not every hour is spent on the slopes, and those that aren’t should be as action-packed and fun as those that are.
For some, the nightlife is as important as the day on the snow, but for many others, it’s a more distant second.
Sometimes crowds are great – in clubs, at parties, at concerts – but when on a run or when queueing up for a lift… not so much. It’s not so simple as the number of visitors, either.
Some resorts, like Whistler or Steamboat, are massive, and can support a comparatively-huge number of people while still seeming almost deserted. Others jam up pretty quickly with half the numbers.
It’s a combination of size, number of lifts, logistics – and a little luck.
Some resorts are within easy shuttle-bus distance from an airport – or even walk-able, like Aspen – and others are a considerable drive away from major centres.
Something more remote can have some great features and smaller crowds, but if your time is short, the extra hours spent getting there can seriously cut into your slope time.
If you’re considering hiring a car and driving up to the mountain yourself, use caution. Driving a mountain road in the Rockies is not a walk in the park, and unless you’re experienced driving in snow, ice, and at higher elevations, it can be dangerous.
We recommend taking advantage of local services; let the experts handle the icy roads.
Skiing isn’t known for being cheap, and companies that set up at the base of resorts aren’t going to slash their prices just to be nice – but there are ways to make your money go further, and some resorts offer more for the money than others.
A key thing to consider here is exchange rates. Fees aside, changing your pounds to American dollars will inflate your wallet a little, but changing them to Canadian currency can fetch you sixty to almost eighty percent more.
True, domestic flights in Canada are more expensive, but if you’re coming into a major international airport and driving bussing it from there, exchange rates can make a huge difference.
Ten of Our Favourite North American Ski Resorts
Now that those considerations are tumbling around in your mind, we can take a look at some of the top spots in both the USA and Canada, and see which one is the best fit for your next big holiday. Don’t despair if you can’t decide.
There are enough great destinations in North America to keep a skier going for life. many more than we’ve listed here, but this should get you started. You can always try that other one next year.
Primarily about the skiing, but with a thriving party scene off slopes as well. A bit inconvenient to get to, but with a wide variety of expert runs to choose from.
Jackson Hole is a long-time favourite with skiers from all over the world. Located in Jackson Hole Valley, Wyoming – just east of the Idaho border – the area is home to three major skiing areas, Snow King Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort, and of course Jackson Hole itself.
Don’t bother trying to drive into the area, fly right into the local airport and get right to skiing. You’ll still get to experience the spectacular scenery of the Rockies, but you’ll do it on skis, instead of behind (your white knuckles on) a steering wheel.
The snow is deep, the valley walls steep and home to a variety of rugged terrain with near-vertical drops and a few less-daunting chutes dropping down between them. Unlike some resorts that have to struggle to find more challenging slopes for expert skiers, Jackson Hole is rich in expert terrain, and struggles with the other end of the spectrum.
Loaded with challenging, technical runs with steep drops, it has been working hard to carve out more intermediate runs to widen its clientele to include the more laid-back, or less-experienced skier.
Even with the efforts to be more inclusive to novices and intermediate skiers, most of the resort is a playground of great-quality expert runs and beautiful scenery.
Jackson Hole has developed from a backwater gem to a fully-developed resort destination, with restaurants perched mountain-side, excellent lodgings, and an active nightlife – but still untouched slopes and powder can be found by those with the will to find them.
Since the summer months are even busier in this area than the winter ones (the area is on a popular route to Yellowstone National Park), ski season benefits from an excess of vacant hotel rooms and private room rentals. Still, if you’re planning on staying right at the resort – at the Four Seasons, for example – you’ll be competing for the top-choice offerings.
The area is off the beaten path, so getting there takes some extra time, but many skiers see that as a small price to pay for an experience at this iconic American resort.
A party on a mountain, with a huge area of expert and intermediate runs to explore (some green ones too!), scenery that will have your phone full in an hour or two, and a variety of hotels and restaurants for even the most discerning foodie or wine-lover in your group.
Whistler-Blackcomb is a 2.5-3-hour bus ride from Vancouver airport, but there are frequent bus services that run straight there from the airport.
Getting there is not a problem, and the scenery along the way is worth the holiday all on its own.
Build around two prominent peaks, the resort boasts some of the best skiing and après ski facilities in the world. The wet air from the Pacific rolls in and up the rugged sides of the Rockies, dropping massive amounts of snow down over the resort, from early in the season to late, offering a reliable, thick, and high-quality base for powder and groomed-run skiing alike.
It ranks second in North America for vertical drop, at over 1600m, and first on the continent for area of skiable terrain, at over 8,000 acres! This combination means a wealth of steep and long runs… not ‘either-or.’
There are a lot of choices for the expert skier, so no disappointment there, but for the intermediate skier the place is truly expansive. Some skiers return to this resort, from across the continent often, year after year, taking in new runs each time and never running out of fresh areas to explore. If your party includes expert skiers and intermediate, there is no better spot than here to keep everyone happy and challenged for the whole of the holiday.
The resort is family-friendly in many ways, but has earned a reputation as a high-powered party area too. It is considered the hardest-partying ski resort in all of North America, and with good reason. On slope or off, you will not get bored at Whistler. Crowds? Yes… but good ones.
Add the conversion to Canadian currency into the mix, and we have a winning combination.
Great beauty, reliable snow, lively nightlife – and ‘daylife’ for that matter – and something for every level of skier.
If you like steep, and you like stunning scenery (who doesn’t?), then you’ll love Telluride. It’s tucked in a canyon in the southwest corner of Colorado, in the San Juan National Forest. A six-hour drive from Denver, it’s also serviced by the Telluride Regional Airport, which knocks the trip down to a little over an hour; it’s big, rough country, and flying in is a great option.
There is a wide variety of runs here, for every level, with (nearly) 5-mile green runs, bone-tremblingly steep black ones, and a host of intermediate choices, with fine views of the town below from each of them.
At nearly 4000m above sea level, and far from any major bodies of water, the area drops into reliable cold for the winter, producing heavy amounts of chalky, dry snow. Lots of powder on offer most of the time and, if it sticks to the steeper slopes adequately, a solid base that will give you the cushion and bite you need, in the right ratios.
The resort sits alongside the community and the two blend together, with tail-ends of some runs spilling out onto the edges of the streets on the south end of town, so you can ski right up to parking, lodgings, or catch the Oak Street Lift right from… well… Oak Street! There is also a free gondola service, and plenty of ski-in, ski-out lodgings higher on the slopes.
The town itself has excellent restaurants for nearly every taste, lots of shops and good bars. Not much in the way of Disco or techno offerings, but there is a lively nightlife and parties are common. Check out Brown Dog Pizza for a casual bite, Smuggler’s Brewpub for a pint, or La Marmotte for something elevated in the French style.
Powder, stunning scenery, and everything you need for a ski-focused nirvana.
Before the seven- to ten-hour drive knocks you from your chair, you’ll be relieved to find out the flight from Vancouver is only about seventy minutes and, if you don’t mind the additional border crossing, Spokane is around three hours by car. Either route passes over some of the most jaw-dropping mountain scenery in the world. This area is rugged, wild – and perfect for skiing.
This resort is not overwhelmed by crowds only because of its less-accessible location. Based on the skiing itself, this place should be crawling with devotees from all over the world. The extra effort in getting there is worth it. Two minutes in the knee-deep powder, blowing off your legs like icing sugar, and the grin that hits your face won’t wipe off for days.
Snow-rich clouds that make it up over the first range of mountains drop here, as they hit the next range, leaving a deep base and pristine cover of white, without the devastating rain to dampen it all down or transform it into ice. This is the Powder-Belt, known for chutes of untouched glory plunging down between evergreen trees and rugged rock formations, bowls of protected powder, wide groomed runs, and scenery that well-suits the fresh, clean, Canadian air.
The nearby town of Nelson isn’t a big place, but it’s been discovered by ski devotees and mountain-lovers, gentrifying and offering a surprising diversity for such a secluded area. Grab a bite of Vietnamese food, something Italian, or a hearty North American burger and fries… everything you need will be on hand in abundance.
And don’t forget, the pound stretches further here too, as do the American dollar and Euro, so you’ll be getting a deal.
Great skiing in an easily-accessible resort. Lodgings are up to date and right on the slopes, suitable restaurants and bars are on offer, and the area is beautiful. All boxes ticked.
Another resort known for good powder skiing, but this time on the American side of the border, Snowbird draws skiers for the reliable snow conditions, coupled with well-developed resort amenities for the focussed skier.
Beautiful on-mountain lodgings will have you appreciating scenery inside and out during your stay. Fly into Salt Lake and you’ll be at the slopes in no time at all, strapping on those boots and planning your first routes before your lunch has settled. You can even get in a few runs before heading out on your day of departure… that’s a nice way to wind up a holiday.
The ski area boasts a gripping vertical pitch and well-thought design that leaves no doubt about it: this is a place for skiers. There is a party scene, like everywhere skiers congregate, but this isn’t a resort studded with clubs and shops, spas and rows of fine dining establishments. It has everything you need, but assumes that everything you need is mostly limited to amazing skiing.
Fuel up at a steak house, grab some fast food, or linger in a family restaurant or local bar, then get back to the slopes – that’s what this holiday is for.
Big Sky (Montana)
Less convenient to get to, but huge area with reliable snow and great intermediate skiing – with some notable expert runs.
From the moment you hear the name, your heart will start preparing itself for six thousand acres of snow-covered wonder – the second-largest ski area in the United States.
Big Sky is not at the hub of half a dozen other resorts – it’s alone – so it draws people in from the surrounding area in significant numbers, as well as those who come from around the country and from abroad – but that doesn’t mean constant congestion on the runs and massive lift queues. Remember, this place is huge. That means that a great number of people can be spread throughout it and you’ll still have an uncrowded skiing experience. The number of people who flock here to ski, far from overwhelms the expanse of open runs.
There is a wide variety of places to stay here, from the (reasonably) economical to high-end luxury, but there aren’t great numbers of them, so sorting out your choice early is recommended.
The local centre, Bozeman Montana, offers skiers everything they need for après ski entertainment and amenities. From dance clubs to bars and quality restaurants – as well as characterful dives – Bozeman has what you need to keep you busy when off the slopes.
But with a resort like this, why would you want to be?
If you’re an expert skier who loves to push the boundaries, there is something here for you. A little less for the novice, but still enough to keep you busy while you learn. Where Big Sky really shines, is with regard to the intermediate skier. There aren’t many resorts that can claim thousands of acres of blue runs, but Big Sky is one of them.
Lots of fun and parties, great skiing, and morning crowds at the lifts thin out as the day goes on.
Tucked in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado, Vail is relatively easy to get to and access is reliable, even when weather gets heavy.
Not satisfied with what Mother Nature has to offer, Vail augments their regular snowfall with a significant artificial snow regimen, which means they open a bit earlier than they otherwise could, and stay open later in the season.
Though still dominated by traditional skiers, this area is a hub for snowboarders too, benefitting from a good selection of groomed – and less-groomed – runs that are loved by both new and experienced boarders.
The back bowls are popular with those seeking powder and following the sunshine as it shifts from face to face over the course of a day. The area can suffer from some crowding early in the day, but as skiers spread out over the wider area, things loosen up and lifts flow better for the rest of the day.
This is a resort that buzzes with activity, on and off the slopes. If you’re looking for a deep breath of serenity and peace, this isn’t your best choice, but if that deep breath comes before plunging into a thrill-packed holiday of challenges on the slopes, high-energy fun off of them, and as little sleep as you can get away with to keep up with the action – then welcome home! Great clubs and bars, numerous parties, quality restaurants and even some worthy tourist spots, like the Ski and Snowboard Museum – it’s all there waiting for you.
Whitefish Mountain (Montana)
A Mecca for the expert who has come to ski, and for whom partying is a lower priority. Something on the slopes for everyone, and busy bars come nigh time, but a true magnet for the daring skier who wants a challenge.
This resort, just outside of Whitefish, Montana, has 105 marked trails and 3000 acres of terrain waiting to be discovered. Perched on the mountainside above Whitefish Lake, the mountain offers good choice of runs for beginners and a solid offering of blue runs, but what stands out about this place is that fully half of the runs are designated as expert – black and double-black runs. Are your eyes wide with anticipation right now? Have you just slid to the edge of your seat? Us too.
The resort spreads out from the village, up the front slope to Summit House. This peak sits atop the ridge that separates the front face from the north side and from Hellroaring Basin.
Both the front and north sides have excellent green and blue runs, as well as a few black ones, but as you might have guessed it’s Hellroaring Basin that will attract most of the expert attention.
Don’t worry if your group is of mixed ability levels either. Even on Hellroarer, there are blue alternatives, long and satisfying, that start at Summit House and run a wide arc, right to the bottom of the mountain, where experts and intermediates can meet up to share stories of their exploits.
There are lodging options in the town of Whitefish itself, but the resort has a good number of choices at various levels of luxury and, for a popular ski resort, fairly reasonable rates. Best of all, the area is designed to allow a high number of ski-in, ski-out facilities, so for those of you who think you should have been born with skis already attached… you’re in luck.
There are good bars and restaurants in the area, including the Summit House Restaurant and Bar, the Hellroaring Saloon and Eatery, Ed and Mully’s Bar and Grill, and Café Kandahar. The nightlife and party scene exist, but on a chiller level than many resorts. Good drinks, good cheer, and camaraderie describe it better than ‘high-octane party scene’ would. Discos are in short supply, but fun and good cheer abound.
…and Mountain, and Highlands, and Buttermilk
Worthy of its party-town reputation, Aspen spreads the visitors out over four resorts during the day, meaning wide-open slopes, and high-intensity nightlife. Great skiing. Great fun.
Aspen is a great destination. It is large enough to support a significant number of people, without the slopes themselves getting too crowded during the day. Come night time, there are plenty of people around to keep the scene vibrant and interesting, as party-goers stream down from all four resorts to converge on the town, filling the clubs, bars and restaurants to capacity. Skiing this area means that a single lift ticket gives you access to four resorts: Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Buttermilk and, of course, Aspen Snowmass.
Aspen is a spot that is far enough away from Denver to discourage crowds from swelling too much, except during some peak times, but it’s still reachable. You’ll see more cars with ski boxes strapped to the roof than you will without them, but many will turn off for the excellent skiing at Vail, thinning the stream of more intrepid adventurers putting in those additional two hours on the road.
For a little additional money, you can fly right into Aspen directly from one of twelve major cities, and avoid the four-hour drive altogether. If you’re coming in from abroad, that’s the way to go. Some even walk the five minutes from the airport to Aspen Buttermilk, and let a lift serve as a shuttle to their lodgings; it doesn’t get much simpler than that!
As the name would indicate, the area has an excellent supply of reliable snow, much of it groomed, with a healthy amount left as powder – for guests to pack and mould on their own. You can spend your whole holiday skiing new terrain, or you can return to favourite areas as often as you like. There are challenging expert runs (like our favourite: Burnt Mountain Glades), long, satisfying blue runs, and runs and facilities that let beginners know they’re more than just an incidental afterthought.
Just in case you think Aspen is all about partying – and there is a great deal of that – there is more to the place too. Excellent eateries such as the Ajax Tavern, Cliffhouse, and Bonnie’s are just a few of the many on offer in the area. From a quick bite, to a multi-course eating experience, whatever your palate is looking for can be found at Aspen.
Isolated and lesser-known, but easy to get to and vibrant, this place may have just enough of everything – as long as you’re not looking for a wealth of steep, expert runs.
Set apart and alone toward the north end of central Colorado, this area is a lesser-known gem, but is quickly on the rise, coming onto the radar of avid skiers from Colorado and all points further out.
It has snow as reliable as a Swiss clock (well, almost that reliable – it is weather we’re talking about), fantastic terrain, and a supporting community that has all the vibrancy and life a ski-resort-town should have. In short, Steamboat has everything you want, isn’t over-crowded, and best of all, you can fly in directly from a number of major destinations.
Expert skiers will find challenging areas here, but not the long, steep, indulgent runs of some other resorts. There are a lot of technically-challenging treed runs though, and good powder can be found. Intermediate skiers will love the challenge of the steeper, higher-up slopes, getting a taste of pushing their boundaries before settling into the numerous blue runs that make up much of the area.
Beginners aren’t to be left out either, with a good supply of green runs, wide and obstacle-free, for fun while honing your skills… and perhaps eyeing those blue runs for later in the trip.
Despite its frontier-like isolation, there is a wide variety of accommodation available, from cheap motels to elegant homes and luxury hotel suites. You can arrange a ski-in, ski-out option, but since the community isn’t large, getting to the slopes from a less expensive HQ is no problem either.
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