Top 5 Ski Areas: Best on a pow day, plus best after the storm

December 25th, 2013 by

One thing unites us all as skiers: snow. And the deeper the better. It’s the bottomless days that stick with us and haunt our dreams during the scorching imprisonment of summer. Here, we highlight our top five North American picks for pow in 2014, plus the top five “best after the storm.” This information is originally presented in Freeskier’s 2014 Resort Guide.

Bill Whalley, Snowbird UT

Pitted: Bill Whalley at Snowbird, UT. Shot by Brent Benson.

Best on a pow day:

01. AltaSnowbird

AltaSnowbird, located within the snowy confines of Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, benefits greatly from the lake effect, thanks to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake. This dynamic duo is graced with over 500 inches of blower powder each year, a bounty that does not go to waste. The steep chutes, bowls, glades and cliff bands of the two mountains combine with the generous annual snowfall to offer the best powder skiing in North America. Furthermore, it’s easy to sample the goods on both sides of the divide thanks to a combined lift ticket and an access gate located along the ridge that separates the two resorts. It’s located just minutes from Salt Lake City but you should anticipate an early start to beat the traffic or the locals will leave you with their leftovers on a powder day.

02. Whistler/Blackcomb

Whistler Blackcomb averages 462 inches of annual snowfall that blankets a whopping 8,171 acres of skiable terrain. The diversity of terrain makes each powder day an adventure, as skiers can romp down wide open powder fields, dip and dodge through optimally cut glades, and launch down some of the best pillow lines in the world.

03. Jackson Hole

From the wide-open powder fields of the lower faces to north-facing couloirs that get blown in nipple-deep, powder days in the Tetons can be unreal. With an average snowfall in excess of 450 inches and virtually unlimited features to send it off of, you’ll have no shortage of time spent in the white room at Jackson Hole.

04. Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows both average 400+ inches of annual snowfall and boast some badass terrain. The line for Squaw’s KT-22 begins filling in well before the lift starts spinning because people know that they’ll find no better lift in the region after one of those famous Tahoe blizzards.

05. Heavenly

This aptly named resort combines perfectly spaced trees with Pacific storm systems for some incredible skiing. Overlooking Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border, it benefits from destination-tourist-skier-effect, meaning less skiers vying for those powder-filled tree lines.

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Cody Townsend skiing at Mt. Baker

Cody Townsend at Mt. Baker, WA. Shot by Grant Gunderson.

Best after the storm:

01. Silverton

When you limit the number of daily customers and days of operation, it’s a good bet the snow will stick around long after the storm is over. Located in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, Silverton operates Thursday through Sunday and usually sees less than 80 skiers a day due to its remote location, challenging terrain and limited capacity. One double chairlift drops you off at just over 12,000 feet but that’s all the help you’re going to get. After that, it’s up to you and your own two legs to scurry around the mountain, which tops out at 13,487 feet, to access the awaiting powder. You’ll find plenty around the 1,819 acres of skiable terrain, but if you want even more, you can sign up for any number of affordable heli drops, which cover a 22,000 acre zone. The sheer acreage, combined with over 400 inches of annual snowfall, ensures that you’ll always be able to find good conditions at this southeastern Colorado destination.

02. Snowmass

With 3,332 acres of skiable terrain and 4,406 feet of vertical, Snowmass rarely feels crowded. Most Aspen locals opt to stay close to town, skiing either Ajax or Highlands, leaving freshies at Snowmass for days. So get out of town, take a ride up Big Burn and devour the goods.

03. Alyeska

Alyeska received 710 inches of snowfall during the 2012-13 season and consistently averages over 650 inches of annual snowfall. That means that on a “bad” year, it’s still racking up snow totals that put other mountains to shame. Get yourself up to the tiny town of Girdwood and help those people push some of the white stuff around.

04. Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker, located in Northern Washington, is home to one of the highest average annual snowfall totals in the world at 708 inches (15 year average), as well as the world record for most snowfall in a single season, 1,140 inches in 1998-99. Those numbers and Baker’s out-of-the-way location make finding untracked powder a breeze, even days after the most recent storm.

05. Red Mountain

While Red Mountain continues to improve its facilities, adding a new chairlift to access the 6,719-foot Grey Mountain, the resort is still a diamond in the rough. A diamond that averages 300 inches of annual snowfall spread across 4,200 acres of terrain and a 2,919-foot vertical drop.

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Get some! How to make the most of a pow day:

01. Show up early.

02. If you already screwed up the first part, yell “single!” three or four times from the back of the lift line, then cut everybody and get on the lift by yourself.

03. Use ample sunscreen so your boss will believe you were out “sick.”

04. Be aggressive at crowded resorts—rubbin’s racin’!

05. Don’t wait for your friends.

06. Give people bad directions to protect your stashes—If anyone asks, you heard the best run is one called Devil’s Taint and it’s “over there.”

07. Carry snacks so you don’t have to stop—bagels with cream cheese, PB&Js and Tater Tots make great pocket food.

08. High five EVERYBODY.

Also Read: Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America: The best of 2014

This information was originally presented in Freeskier’s 2014 Resort Guide, now available on iTunes.

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Freeskier Magazine—This is skiing.