Top 5 Ski Resorts in North America
Rankings based on quantity & quality of in-bounds and lift-accessible backcountry terrain
1. Whistler Blackcomb
Expansive is an understatement when describing the largest ski area in North America. This 8,100 skiable acre double mountain resort is rife with steep chutes, powder bowls, and couloirs. The Blackcomb Glacier allows year-round skiing and hosts the hottest summer freestyle camps around. Huge vertical (5,280 ft) although bottom third of mountain no value-add. Amazing lift-accessible backcountry accessible from Blackcomb further solidifies this mega-resort's #1 ranking. Host of the 2010 winter Olympics.
View Whistler trail map (mappery.com)
2. Squaw Valley
The best terrain in Lake Tahoe, although watch out for crowds on weekends. Catching fresh tracks down The Slot is a life-changing experience. Mid-week is the time to go -- no crowds and also that's the only time the Palisades chutes off of Squaw Peak are open. Get a copy of the book Squallywood by Robb Gaffney for the full story on Squaw's best spots.
View Squaw Valley trail map (mappery.com)
3. Jackson Hole
With a vast collection of steeps and chutes, Jackson offers plentiful challenges. Home to the stomach-dropping Corbet's Couloir, the Alta Chutes, periodic temperature inversion, and the Mangy Moose (great nachos). A lot of vertical to be had here -- a few runs from the retired Tram and you could call it a day (a new one is planned for 2008!). Continue to reap a powder harvest several days after the storm by heading into the prime backcountry bowls past the Hobacks -- full avy gear of course!
View Jackson Hole trail map (mappery.com)
4. Lake Louise/Sunshine Village
Two full-on ski areas with some of the best lift-serviced terrain in North America. At Lake Louise, tight lines, cornices, and drops dot the landscape and pose an unending assortment of thrill-rides. The ER chutes accessible from the Paradise Chair afford some of the steepest drops down the backside. The Whitehorn 2 Gullies from the Summit Platter present a sequential series of challenges. Sunshine Village has the most extreme expert terrain in the area with the Delirium Dive offering a true in-bounds backcountry experience.
Read my Away.com article on these two sister resorts here.
View Lake Louise trail map (mappery.com)
View Sunshine Village trail map (mappery.com)
Although each offers up a different flavor of the ski experience, combined, these areas offer the best in Utah. Adjacent to one another, the terrain is similar at both -- consistently steep wide-open bowls and plethoras of glades. The snow in this region, famous for lightness, is a key driver of its high North American ranking. If you're looking to accumulate vertical quickly, looping down Mineral Basin on the backside of Snowbird is a great way to go. Also, head to the top the the famous Alf's High Rustler at the end of Alta's season for one of the greatest on-mountain galas in existence.
View Alta trail map (mappery.com)
View Snowbird trail map (mappery.com)
6. Crested Butte
Home to the steepest lift-accessible terrain in the US -- I'm not exaggerating. On a powder day head immediately up the North Face platter lift to the 550-acre Extreme Limits, a playground for dare-devils. Here you can pretty much go as big as you want, 50-foot hucks are a dime a dozen. Lines such as The Hourglass in the newly opened Third Bowl and classics such as the insane Peak (from the tippy top!) provide endless options to quench your thirst for steeps. Banana and Funnel are two leg-burning straightshots not to be missed. Look for good snow up on the Headwall/Big Chute area days after a storm. Get a copy of the Crested Butte Extreme Limits Ski Guide for more beta on the plethora of gems lying in wait.
View Crested Butte trail map (mappery.com)
Most skiable acres out of any US resort (5,289 acres). The vast Back Bowls (including Blue Sky Basin) almost vault this into the Top 5. However, you won't find the consistent steeps, cliffs, and chutes that you'll find at the other resorts in the Top 5. Look for backcountry gates that provide access to powder preservations remaining long after a storm. End your day the right way by popping out a backcountry access gate and skiing all the way to the Minturn Saloon. Make sure you have a ride home though!
View Vail trail map (mappery.com)