Image above appears courtesy: Red Mountain Resort
We get it. You only have so many trips available to you. While we won’t begrudge you if these behemoths in North America are a top priority to shred, we thought it would be fun to share some alternatives to the most popular ski resorts. In short, this isn’t the list of the most affordable ski resorts or a selection of our favorite non-Ikon or Epic pass holdouts. It’s rather a list of some of the most popular ski resorts to avoid and where are the best places to go on your ski trips instead to find the same vibes at a less crowded destination.
For The Ski-Town Culture: Taos Not Aspen Snowmass
Aspen has always been the hotbed of the ski-town scene. Après isn’t just a few brews but rather an extension to the high quality skiing available at the assortment of ski resorts. For those with a discerning palate and enjoy the good stuff in life, look no further than Taos for one of your ski trips. When it comes to snow quality, nobody can compete with them. In fact, the snow is so dry that it seems to be made of bird feathers (don’t worry – no birds were harmed in the making of the snow). Then finish the day strolling through the promenade and celebrate with a dish of New Mexican cuisine. A fusion of Pueblo culture (i.e. Apache, Navajo) with Hispano Spanish & Mexican, your tastebuds will be cheering from all the unique flavors.
For The Powder Hound: Powder Mountain Not Snowbird
The terrain at Snowbird is amazing. Yes, the snow is deep. The problem is everyone in Salt Lake City knows it and that attracts skiers like bees to honey on a powder day. Not to mention every year the traffic to little Cottonwood Canyon has gotten worse and worse. If you want to enjoy the legendary deep snowfall but without the masses, head to Powder Mountain. First, Powder Mountain only releases 1,500 daily lift tickets. Second, it isn’t on the Epic or Ikon Pass. And lastly, there’s over 8,464 skiable acres to explore, if you’re willing to put in some hiking. Be forewarned! While the ski area’s village isn’t developed just yet, it’s only a matter of time before the major Summit Village is unveiled.
Get Lost In The Woods: Red Mountain Resort Not Steamboat
There’s something special about tree skiing or jumping into glades. Once you head off the main trails and make your own path, you’ll become addicted. It’s true that Steamboat’s slopes feature some of the most famous tree skiing on the planet. But, with over a million people visiting annually, expect them to get tracked out pretty quickly. For those wanting deep, dry snow and a varied selection of tree skiing, look no further than Red Mountain. Experts will enjoy Captain Jack’s Trees & Beer Belly while intermediates will froth over the goods flanking the Paradise Lift. With over 3,850 acres to feast upon, there’s a reason why their motto is “the last, great unspoiled resort” and why we think it’s one of the best places to go for one of your ski trips.
For A Storm Day: Homewood, not Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows
Squaw has been the beating heart of extreme skiing for decades. A place that pushed athletes like Shane McConkey to the forefront. So, when the snow does fall, nearly every skier and snowboarder seems to come out of the woodwork within a 200-mile radius. On a busy powder day, expect A LOT of competition at one of the most popular ski resorts in North America. And with minimal tree skiing, visibility on a storm day can be difficult.
Skip the stress and head to the western side of Lake Tahoe to Homewood Mountain. The views are spectacular, and the terrain is off the hook! And storm days won’t be a problem. Homewood offers some of the BEST sheltered glade skiing when the winds are blowing. And compared to the other resorts in Tahoe, you’ll have the powder pretty much to yourself. They also now feature cat skiing! It’s the only one-of-its-kind in the Lake Tahoe Basin and why we find it one of the best places to ski on a powder day for one of your Tahoe ski trips.
Local Freshies tip: If you’re staying on the south shore keep your eyes peeled on road closures. On massive storm days CalTrans shuts down the Emerald Bay segment due to avalanche concerns.
New England-Style Skiing: Smugglers’ Notch Not Stowe
Stowe is the true embodiment of what people envision as a pretty New England ski town. Mount Mansfield, the tallest peak in Vermont, looms over the valley. It has a gorgeous bar at the summit and a grand resort hotel too. Heck, it’s even dubbed the Ski Capital Of The East and rightfully so due to the famed “front four” classic New England ski trails staring you down. Unfortunately, with it joining Epic, everyone else knows that too.
A better option if you still want to take in the culture but avoid the masses is to head over to its smaller neighbor, Smuggler’s Notch, who is still fiercely independent. Mount Mansfield still presides over Smuggs. The three inter-connected peaks provide 2,610 vertical feet of skiing across 1,000 acres. You can still find advanced and technical fall line skiing on Madonna Mountain. Enjoy and sample the sweet New England Maple-y glades. And the village of Smuggler’s Notch oozes that Vermont charm with a few less of those Wall Street brokers you’ll find in Stowe making it one of the best for one of your ski trips.
For Those That Need Leg Room: Big Sky Not Whistler
Whistler is HUGE! Nearly 8,171 acres and 5,020 vertical feet of skiing & snowboarding available to you. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular ski resorts. But when you compare that to Big Sky with its 5,800+ acres and 4,350 vertical feet along with a 1 skier per acre average, it’s kinda hard to NOT want to visit Big Sky. From four mountain peaks to explore featuring more than 300 runs, featuring everything from steep chutes to smooth groomers, you’ll have lots of options if you do visit.
For The Steep n’ Deep: Revelstoke Not Jackson Hole
There’s a reason why Jackson’s residential home starting price is at a whopping cool million. Surrounded by not one but TWO national parks, stunning vistas of the Tetons, and with some of the best snow on the planet falling on the steep terrain, there really is nothing like it. But the secret’s out and lift lines continue to exponentially increase. Just like the original settlers heading West for space, it’s time to head north… to Revelstoke. Home to a vertical drop that’s bigger than Jackson’s, steep terrain that’ll challenge the hardiest folk, and over 480 inches of snow annually, this place is downright glorious. AND, if you have a bit more money in the bank, you can even get a few days of cat or heli skiing in on one of your ski trips.
For The Family: Sun Peaks Not Vail
Since its inception in the 60’s, Vail’s goal was to provide the ultimate in winter fun. Inspired by mountain towns in Bavaria, the village gives a nod to classic European alpine architecture, but at the same time, high-end luxury such as pedestrian-friendly heated streets. Just like Vail, Sun Peak’s village gives a nod to European-style buildings as well, although when most think of British Columbia their thoughts go to Whistler where it’s rowdy, rambunctious, and home to a maritime snowpack (i.e. heavy snow). Just a few hours east though, Sun Peaks provides a more relaxed atmosphere that caters to everyone in the family. Together with snow that is as light and dry as you’d find in places like Colorado blanketing the 4,270 acres, you’ll have plenty to explore. And that’s why we think it’s one of the best places to go for one of your family ski trips.
Of course there are places like Jackson Hole that you NEED to ski once in your life, but after you do, it might be time to expand your horizons and check out some other locales that are a bit less crowded. For more about indy ski areas that feel less corporate, tips on when to visit certain ski areas, or even what gear to pack for a vacation head over to our in-depth guide: