White Lines: North American Ski Resorts
For those in search of perfect North American powder, look no farther than these 10 ski resorts
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99
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Utah enthusiasts lay claim to "the greatest snow on earth." It is not ego, but realism that fuels this sentiment, and few in the ski business would disagree. Skiers flock to Utah for its famous "Champagne powder." Like the best Champagne, which is dry with tiny bubbles and served in vast quantities, the small flakes created by fronts passing over the Wasatch Range are dry and light and exceptionally deep.
The whole state basks in the glory of this snow, but one place gets more than anywhere else, and that is Little Cottonwood Canyon, 45 minutes from Salt Lake City. Here, Alta and Snowbird Mountains sit side by side, receiving 500 inches of snow annually. Alta bears more than a passing resemblance to Jackson Hole. Although not as big or as steep, but with more blue and green (beginner) runs, Alta is a wide-open set of bowls with far more skiing than the 40 listed trails, a virtually infinite number of routes through bowls, trees and chutes. Alta's founders went looking for great terrain and snow, and they stopped when they got here. Six decades later, it has maintained a rustic feel, and it is one of only four major mountains in the United States that still ban snowboarding.
Snowbird has similar terrain but a much different personality. Whereas Alta is vintage skiing, Snowbird has faster lifts, a 125-passenger tram to the summit, and a large, modern hotel. Snowbird also has a much higher percentage of expert terrain, and is opening more. The brainchild of entrepreneur Dick Bass, whose mountaineering exploits were captured in the book Seven Summits, Snowbird reflects his identity: big, tough and adventurous. Fans enjoy the long, steep top-to-bottom powder runs. While Alta and Snowbird are competitors, they enjoy a synergy, as almost all overnight guests to the canyon ski both mountains.
Planning a trip: The canyon has very limited development, so most lodges offer full American meal plans. Many visitors choose to stay in Salt Lake City and commute for the nightlife and dining options. But on snowy days, when there is danger of an avalanche, the road to the canyon is often closed in the morning, a Catch-22 that causes tourists to miss the skiing when it is at its best. If you plan to come here, stay at the Alta Lodge, the Cliff Lodge or one of the handful of other European-style properties, and turn yourself over to the get-away-from-it-all seclusion of the canyon.
3 TELLURIDE, COLORADO
Although Aspen and Vail may get the majority of the tourists visiting Colorado's ski resorts, Telluride is fast giving them a run for their money. It's in the middle of nowhere, and its fans, including Ralph Lauren and Oprah Winfrey, want to keep it that way. The town is memorable, with skiing to match.
Telluride--thought to be a clipped version of "To Hell You Ride"--is another mountain with mystique. The bumps on its long, steep mogul trails, which go by such names as Spiral Stairs, Kant-Mak-M and Mine Shaft, can burn out well-conditioned thighs on a single descent. Linking these three top-expert, double-black-diamond classics results in the longest, steepest, bumpiest run imaginable. Plenty of less publicized trails, however, also offer top-notch skiing.
The mountain juts up steeply from town, just two blocks from Main Street. From the peak, additional runs drop off the back, down to a second base at Mountain Village, a contemporary upscale neighboring town, which is the secret to Telluride's success. By locating new construction here rather than in the older section, Telluride has preserved its Old West feel from the days when Butch Cassidy came here to rob his first bank. Telluride has the most authentic historic western feel of any ski town. Meanwhile, Mountain Village addresses the need for larger homes, hotels and additional shopping and dining. A gondola, which provides free transportation until 11 p.m. (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays), links the two. The Mountain Village area includes a lot of green and blue ski terrain, and despite its fearsome reputation, Telluride is a great place to learn to ski. Lift lines are unheard of, cruising runs plentiful, and the mountain gets a lot of snow.
Planning a trip: Telluride has its own airport, but it closes frequently because of bad weather. A larger, more reliable airport in Montrose, Colorado, sits at a lower altitude where there is much less snow, but it is an hour and 15 minutes away. The Peaks, a sister resort to the renowned Boulders resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, is the standout lodging. The Peaks has excellent food, great rooms, stellar service, ski-in, ski-out convenience and a branch of the acclaimed Golden Door spa, where you can relax with a much needed post-skiing massage.
4 ASPEN, COLORADO
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