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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 4)

Planning a trip: less than two hours from Denver, Vail is one of the most accessible ski resorts in the country. Vail village is a European-style pedestrian area, with numerous shops, hotels and restaurants. The ritzy Beaver Creek is a small, pedestrian village with limited access, and the Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek is the top ski resort hotel anywhere, with seamless ski-in, ski-out valet service. Lift tickets are also honored at Keystone and Breckenridge, less than an hour away.    


This twin mountain resort near Canada's west coast has been enjoying a string of record years, and is a near-perfect ski vacation destination. The planned resort village between the mountains, a guest-only pedestrian community with 200-plus shops, restaurants and hotels, has set the standard for the industry. From New England to the Sierras, resorts are racing to duplicate the village concept that was pioneered here.  

Whistler and Blackcomb have the first- and second-highest vertical rise of any ski resorts on the continent, an enviable statistic. Both have abundant above-tree-line skiing, and Blackcomb's bowls lead onto a glacier, allowing skiing well into summer. Lower on the mountain are gorgeous pine glades, and most of the blue and green cruisers. Both mountains are especially appealing to less advanced skiers, since they offer easy and intermediate routes from almost everywhere. While above-tree-line skiing at most mountains consists of only black runs, Whistler and Blackcomb let novices experience the alpine environment of the bowls, a rare treat.  

Unlike most multimountain resorts, the gondolas of Whistler and Blackcomb's main villages come within a hundred yards of each other, making it easy to ski both mountains in a single day. The resort has also become a snowboarding hot spot, with cachet stemming from local hero Ross Rebagliati's Olympic gold in Nagano.  

With huge mountains, a stunning village, and no need to ever drive or take a bus, Whistler-Blackcomb seemingly has it all. But two weaknesses prevent this powerhouse from being higher on the list. While most ski areas are broad, set up along a ridge that allows skiers to spread out, Whistler-Blackcomb's layout is high and narrow, resulting in long lift lines. There are no lifts from top to bottom, and the entire village tries to get on a handful of base lifts. Congestion continues as you ascend. All-day skiers will be surprised to find out how much time is spent in line, as three chairs are required to reach the top of either mountain. The trail layout is far from user-friendly. It can be hard to reach particular lifts, or avoid long traverses and slow-moving trails to the base.  

Weather is another sticky issue. While last season was one of the best, with lots of deep, dry powder, this cannot be counted on. Rain is a common visitor to these parts in winter, as are fog, high winds and low visibility, which can shut down the best parts of the mountain.  

Planning a trip: With fair weather and rare airport delays, Vancouver is easy to get to. The drive to the resort, under two hours, however, can be treacherous. Regular bus service is available, but the best choice is Vancouver All-Terrain Adventures, which offers a fleet of winterized luxury Chevy Suburbans. The Chateau Whistler, a gem of the plush Canadian Pacific Hotel chain, is easily the standout lodging choice, with its ski-in, ski-out valet, and a full array of facilities. Don't miss dinner at the Bearfoot Bistro. Not only is this Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner by far the top eatery in town, it is probably the best restaurant at any ski area on the continent. It also has a cigar bar with an extensive cigar selection, including the rare 150th Anniversary Partagas.    


Scandals aside, the selection of Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics Games was no mistake. The area combines great mountains with the best snow on earth. Easy access to Salt Lake City, plus the full-service offerings of Park City, means a complete complement of hotels, condos, restaurants and nightlife. Park City, like Telluride, is an old mining town turned ski Mecca. It is linked to its three ski areas by an efficient free bus system. The typical ski week at Park City will consist of all three resorts, and perhaps a day trip to Snowbird or Alta.   For intermediate skiers, the 3,300-acre Park City ski resort is a treasure, its large areas consisting of nothing but adjacent blue runs and taking all the guesswork out of map reading. While these mountains are tall, there is no above-tree-line skiing. Four high-speed six-passenger chairs make getting up and around a breeze.  

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