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North America is home to over 400 ski resorts. Sadly, a large number of these are now manufactured for the masses – owned by large corporations, the small-town charm and the very things which made Whistler Blackcomb, Mammoth Mountain, Heavenly and Aspen so special are being lost. Lift tickets have significantly increased along with lift lines, while B&Bs, small shops and local delis have been replaced by Starbucks, designer stores and multi-million dollar homes where the lights only come on during holiday time.
Thankfully, should you wish to get back to the roots of what a ski or snowboard trip should be – a picturesque town, great terrain, no crowds, affordable prices and an experience which will leave you desperate to return, there are a few secret spots that still exist. Here are our favourites.
Grand Targhee, Wyoming
While Jackson Hole steals the spotlight where Wyoming skiing is concerned, vetted skiers harbour a soft spot for nearby Grand Targhee. Next to the Idaho border, this resort sits on the western side of the Teton mountain range – which means its slopes get first dibs on storms rolling in from the Pacific Coast. Powder is probable most days and you’re likely get pristine runs all to yourself (albeit ones that aren’t quite as challenging as Jackson Hole’s). True, fancy lodgings and restaurants are better in Jackson Hole, but there’s no reason you can’t hit up both ski resorts in the same trip. Only an hour apart via the Teton Pass, regular shuttles run to and from the Jackson village.
Silverton Mountain, Silverton, Colorado
If you’ve been dreaming of untracked powder, a capped number of skiers and snowboarders or being able to jump out of a helicopter all summer long, Silverton is calling your name. It’s not easy to get to (expect one or two connections from most major West and Coast cities) and you won’t find any luxury accommodation here. What you will find is a single chairlift which gives you access to some of the best big-mountain terrain in the country. Tickets start at $59/day and there is the option of guided skiing. For an extra $179 you can book a heli-drop, or fit in a full day of heli-skiing for $999 – some of the most competitive rates in North America. Silverton is open Thursday to Sunday with new terrain opening most days, meaning fresh powder is yours for the taking regardless of when it last snowed. You won’t find any beginner pistes or groomed runs here so a beacon, probe and shovel are all mandatory equipment.
Retallack Lodge, Retallack, British Columbia
Be sure to book a cat skiing or boarding package early, as this is the only way you can experience Retallack. Tucked away deep in the Selkirk Mountains, having visited Retallack you’ll struggle to return to ‘normal’ skiing – this is where backcountry dreams are brought to life. Averaging over 550 inches of snow a year, Retallack promises eight to 15 runs a day and accommodates a total of just 24 guests at a time. The powder here is so good that the feeling of weightlessness is one you may never experience again – until you return, which you doubtless will. Packages start at $750/day and include all food and accommodation.
June Mountain, June Lake, California
Twenty minutes north of its much larger sibling Mammoth Mountain, and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, lies June Mountain. This is the gem of southern California; lift lines are shorter; the powder more untracked; and the out-of-bounds options are almost limitless if you know where to go. The resort is family friendly, with a top-notch ski school and a world-class terrain park. It’s no wonder that iconic snowboarders such as Danny Kass got their start here. June Lake Loop often gets closed during heavy snowstorms, but should you find yourself inadvertently stuck here, nothing beats sitting inside at Tiger Bar, having a drink and watching the snow fall outside. The seclusion is almost eerie at times, but the tranquility of it is what makes June Mountain so special.
Mount Snow, West Dover, Vermont
Ski and snowboard during the day and then embark on a culinary adventure in the small town of West Dover, VT by night. Vermont is home to world-class food scene and West Dover is no exception. You’ll find local produce, hearty portions and creative dishes all served in a small batch of restaurants spread across both sides of Route 100. Chances are you won’t go wrong with any of the restaurants you step foot into, but Two Tannery Road is a firm favourite. The Waffle Cabin at the base of Mt Snow is also not to be missed.
Taos Ski Valley, Taos, New Mexico
New Mexico is not a winter destination which first comes to mind, but those who take a chance will be generously rewarded. Up until 2008, Taos was a ski-exclusive resort; no snowboarding was allowed. Although the slopes are now open to everyone, Taos prides itself on having kept its rugged, authentic quality. Solitude feeds the soul here and you can feel the spirit which reverberates throughout all of New Mexico go right up into the mountain. Come to Taos to ski the steep, often tough terrain, and to experience the rich spiritual traditions, art scene and natural beauty of the town, all of which makes for one of the most unique on and off hill experiences out there. Be sure to go the Rio Grande National Monument and the Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.
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