Where else can you shop at Dior, dine like you’re in New York and in between, ski at any of four legendary resorts on the one lift ticket? Nowhere but Aspen. The authentic former mining town lives up to its reputation for being celebrity central, with skiing literally on the doorstep thanks to Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen gondola emanating from the edge of town. A few minutes away by shuttle are the enormous Aspen Snowmass, the challenging Aspen Highlands and beginner’s hill Buttermilk. Aspen’s home to all the famous hot spots, Snowmass is a ski-in ski-out snowy slice of heaven, while hiking and skiing Aspen Highland’s back bowl is a bucket list experience for many.
Nestling within a spectacular box canyon surrounded by the steep-sided 14,000 foot peaks of the San Juan range, Telluride is consistently ranked the most scenic of all US resorts. It comprises a vibrant old mining town, as quirky as it is quaint, and a modern pedestrian village on the other side of the ski area. Both settlements are linked by a unique free gondola that doubles as a people mover as well as a ski lift. Terrain here ranges from seriously tricky, with heart-in-mouth steeps, bumps and chutes, to blissfully cruisy with plenty of novice runs on lower slopes.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This must-visit resort is set spectacularly on the flanks of the jagged Teton Range which rises dramatically from the flatlands below. The ski area is famous for its expert slopes yet also has some of the most satisfying intermediate terrain found anywhere, plus excellent learner slopes. Teton Village at the ski area base is home to a few majorly upmarket hotels and the renowned Mangy Moose Saloon. The other option is to stay 20 minute’s drive away in the lively and entertaining Jackson, a town that celebrates its Wild West-cowboy roots like no other. Many John Wayne movies were set here.
Squaw Valley, California
A flame still burns at the entrance to Squaw as a legacy to its hosting the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. There are quite a few reasons to visit: a whopping 40 feet (12 metres) average snowfall a year, a vast terrain offering of around 6000 acres (2430 hectares), the unique on-mountain facility High Camp with everything from an Olympic museum to dining to a swimming pool and sundeck, and a neat pedestrian village below in which there are plenty of lovely lodges to unwind. Squaw’s terrain is hugely diverse too, as it now takes in the neighbouring ski area of Alpine Meadows. When daredevils discovered Squaw’s steep terrain in the early 1980s, the resort was attributed to being the birthplace of extreme skiing.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte’s calling card, aside from pretty scenery, is its extreme inbounds terrain, every inch deserving of the double black diamond tag. It will test both skills and nerve. As for the less advanced, they need never fear stumbling onto any such runs thanks to a clever terrain layout. Easier slopes are particularly inviting, being mostly wide, open spaces that allow for effortless cruising, and accessible right from the base, too. Crested Butte ski area is laid out across a prominent peak about 10 minute’s drive from the funky authentic town. Laid back, compact and unique, there’s terrific dining and quirky cafes. The ski area’s expansive base lodge is surrounded by plenty of modern lodging.
Vast, swanky, with superb skiing for intermediates in particular, Vail is also conveniently located right alongside the major US interstate I-70. As the third largest ski resort in the country there are 5289 acres (2140 hectares) of slopes to explore spread across seven bowls, both front and back sides of the mountains, and on the adjoining Blue Sky Basin area. Choose from groomers to glades to bumps and refuel at the excellent on-mountain lodges and eateries. Vail’s pseudo-Tirolean pedestrian village is built to charm. This is the place for that quintessential winter resort experience, full of plush lodges, upmarket shops, divine dining, and at night, glittering in fairy lights.
Ski to your heart’s content across 4800 acres, enjoying expansive views of Lake Tahoe’s brilliant blue waters, then partake of all city-style conveniences in South Lake Tahoe below. Heavenly is the largest of the Lake Tahoe resorts and its terrain straddles the California/Nevada border. The lifestyle here is as large as the ski area: there is plenty of glittering casino-style gambling action and entertainment just metres from the Stateline running through South LakeTahoe. Take in a show from a leading entertainer, enjoy fine dining and a roll of the dice. Or not, the choice is yours. With Heavenly topping out at 10,070 feet (3070 metres) and touting a vertical of 3520 feet (1075 metres), a spa massage or jacuzzi may be the winning ticket.
This picture book-like ski town delights children and adults alike with its gaily coloured buildings dating back to Breckenridge’s beginnings as an 1850s mining settlement. Its festive atmosphere is infectious, imbuing a sense of magic into a holiday here. Breckenridge is also huge. Visitors have five peaks to explore including high alpine bowls, and there is a large modern network of lifts and gondolas to help. The resort’s top elevation of 12,998 feet is among the highest of any US ski area. Love doing tricks? Then you will love it here thanks to the four terrain parks and full size half pipe.
Mammoth Mountain, California
Six hours drive or one hour’s flight from LAX, Mammoth presents big mountain skiing for all abilities on a ski area set above a pretty Intrawest pedestrian area called The Village. A gondola connects the Village to the large Canyon Lodge, the main base area with more lodging and access to the slopes. Mammoth’s total of 34 lifts ferry riders to 78 miles (126 kilometres) of slopes which range from the genuinely hair raising to mild and mellow glades for family cruising. Advanced riders will adore the famous double black diamond runs off Mammoth’s highest ridgeline like Hangman’s Hollow, and the Dropout Chutes. The Village is flanked by Mammoth Lakes, a sprawling town with every amenity, plenty of shopping and outlet stores nearby.
A renowned family favourite, Steamboat is an ideal resort for building confidence and improving skills thanks to its excellent intermediate slopes and glades. It is also one of the Colorado resorts more likely to receive top notch champagne powder.
Steamboat’s deep snowfalls are the stuff of legend. The town has a wild west flavour (it’s the perfect place to buy authentic, good quality cowboy-style boots and hats) and is filled with dozens of bars and lively restaurants. At the base of the ski area is a modern mountain village offering plenty of plush lodging and eating options.
Aspen Hero Image: © Aspen Ski Resort / Jeremy Swanson