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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 3)

Adjacent to Squaw is Alpine Meadows, another large area that offers expansive terrain, with a little more emphasis on beginner and intermediate skiing. Alpine also has a lot of tree skiing. Northstar-at-Tahoe is the largest of three small resorts nearby, and definitely worth a day of skiing.  

The southern end draws more tourists because of its waterfront casino hotels. From South Lake Tahoe, you can be skiing at Heavenly in minutes. While glitzier than Squaw, Heavenly has equally challenging terrain: stashes of double-black terrain for experts, better hidden than Squaw's in-your-face cliffs and chutes. The hardest skiing at Heavenly is in the trees, but mostly it's a cruiser's mountain, with wide-open blues and greens, and plenty of sunshine. Closer to the lake than any other Tahoe ski area and rising right from the edge of the water, Heavenly has arguably the best skiers' views in the world. Descending the face, you feel as if you are skiing right into the blue water.  

Kirkwood is Tahoe's hidden gem, with unbelievable expert skiing. The mountain is a horseshoe-shaped ridge, with steep runs all the way around. A topographically unique ski resort, everything is in plain sight, yet a third of it is off-limits to all but the best skiers. You don't see skull-and-crossbones trail designations too often, but you do here, so take them seriously. Much of the ridge line features cornices, or over-hanging ledges, that drop into tight chutes, steep tree runs and very steep bowls. Kirkwood's expert terrain is one of the few that rival Jackson Hole's for difficulty.  

Sierra-At-Tahoe is extremely popular with locals and snowboarders. Sierra has a mom-and-pop feel to it, and has a great mix of green, blue and black runs, making it a perfect family mountain.  

Planning a trip: Tahoe resorts do not have a lot of lodging at their bases. Many people stay in South Lake Tahoe and make the trip to the different mountains by shuttle bus or car. The Tahoe Queen, a paddle wheeler that whisks skiers from South Lake Tahoe to Squaw Valley daily and returns with an après-ski party cruise, is the most fun commute in ski country.    


Because of Vail's scale (a week is just enough time to scratch the surface), knowing how to get around is the key to getting the most out of the resort experience. The whole mountain has more than 4,600 acres of skiable terrain, and visitors can choose to ski at any of Vail's other mountains: Beaver Creek, Arrowhead and Bachelor's Gulch.  

Vail gets a bad rap for limited expert terrain. This is not true: you just have to know where to look. The main mountain has a front and back side, which are very different. On the front, tons of green and blue runs abound, with the blacks and double blacks hidden in the glades in the center of the mountain, off the ridge under the main chair to mid-mountain, and in the far northeastern bowl.  

The back bowls--the bread and butter of the resort-- are justifiably famous. Names like China and Siberia testify to their size. Avid skiers hit the lifts early to get over the top, and spend the day in the powder of the back bowls, where a handful of blue runs are mixed with dozens of blacks.  

Vail's secret identity lies down the road at Beaver Creek, its sister resort. This upscale village presents a prissy picture, but Beaver Creek contains some of the most difficult terrain. The moguls on the Birds of Prey runs--Golden Eagle, Peregrine and Goshawk--are extremely challenging. Nearby Grouse Mountain, one of Beaver Creek's three peaks, consists almost entirely of black and double-black runs. Adjoining Arrowhead and Bachelor Gulch feature more moderate terrain, a generous array of exclusively beginner and intermediate terrain runs.  

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