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White Lines: North American Ski Resorts

For those in search of perfect North American powder, look no farther than these 10 ski resorts
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 2)

When people visit Aspen, they expect glitz. They want chic nightspots and long wine lists, and they are rarely disappointed. Sometimes forgotten amidst the luster is that Aspen also has a lot of awesome skiing.  

The resort comprises four ski areas, linked by the most user-friendly free bus system in ski country. Only one, Aspen Mountain (called Ajax to confuse tourists) is in town, a stone's throw from the best hotels and restaurants. Skiers here are in for some surprises: unlike the other three mountains, Ajax does not allow snowboarding. Also, it may be the only large ski mountain in the world without a single green run. For a mountain that draws people as much to be seen sipping Martinis as to ski, Ajax is surprisingly difficult. If you do ski, and ski fairly well, this is the place to be.  

Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands are just outside of town. Aspen Highlands is the locals' mountain, the least pretentious with the most difficult terrain. It has runs for skiers of every ability, but is a must for advanced skiers who will relish the uncrowded runs, steep tree glades and perfectly formed moguls. Buttermilk is a pure beginner's mountain, and may be the best place in the country to learn to ski or snowboard.  

Snowmass is Aspen's largest and most removed mountain, more than 12 miles away. It has its own village, with more than 700 condominiums, over 90 percent of which are slopeside, making it popular with families. If you want space, not nightlife, stay here. Its size has earned it the nickname Snowmassive, and it has something for everyone, from placid learning areas and green cruisers to steep, narrow bump runs from the summit.   Aspen offers loads of quality skiing, with generally reliable snowfall, but it is in the area of off-mountain activities where Aspen has no peer, with plenty of restaurants, entertainment and recreation.  

Planning a trip: Getting to Aspen requires a four-hour-plus drive from Denver, and that's in good weather. The Aspen airport is convenient, with frequent flights, but closes often, making Aspen a good place to get stuck. Few major cities, much less a ski town, can boast two Mobil five-star hotels: Aspen has the St. Regis and the posh slopeside Little Nell. The Hotel Jerome has the best cigar menu in town.


The five large and 10 smaller ski resorts that surround Lake Tahoe are spread out over a 30-mile area. That's the good news for their competition. If these resorts were clustered like the mountains of Aspen or Salt Lake City, there would be little reason to ski anyplace else.  

Good skiing comes down to terrain and snow, and you will not find more of either anyplace else. Kirkwood, the area's snowiest resort, has led the United States in total snowfall four of the past five winters, and averages 593 inches, or nearly 50 feet, of snow annually. There are exceptions, such as the winter of 1995 when more than 800 inches fell, but there are few bad years.  

Tahoe has no standout mountain, no Snowmass to occupy skiers for a week. Coming here means skiing multiple mountains. The two biggest are Squaw Valley USA, site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, and Heavenly, which straddles the Nevada-California state line. Each anchors a number of ski areas at either end of the huge lake.  

At the northern end is Squaw, known for extreme skiing, where filmmakers come to shoot footage. As a local told me on the lift, "If God didn't want us to ski off cliffs, he wouldn't have made Squaw." Still, there is plenty of skiing for all abilities, with numerous cruisers.  

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