The USA and Canada represent the cornerstones of many a skier’s bucket list – from the champagne powder and huge steeps of the Rockies, to the endless trees and backcountry of the East and West Coast ranges, heading to these snowsport heavens has never been easier.
North America can be divided up into four major geographical regions, each with its own unique characteristics and profile.
However, North American skiing can generally be separated from Alpine skiing by two major factors; an abundance of trees, as most of the skiing is done below the tree line, and a much closer collection of runs on each mountain – as opposed to the Alps, where skiing can be strung out along a whole valley. This provides a greater focus and attention on the skiing itself, and glades, bowls and bumps are all part of the challenge of skiing on the other side of the Atlantic.
Be prepared though; lift tickets are eye-wateringly expensive. To open the whole mountain for the vast numbers of skiers that pass through some resorts, the infrastructure can be superb, but you will need to pay for it. Lift tickets will regularly exceed $150 a day at the headline resorts.
In recent years, the owing corporations behind two major resorts, Vail and Aspen, have gone around hoovering up ownership of many North American resorts. The end result is several resorts can be served by one big lift ticket, opening up huge opportunities to explore for locals and for those planning the bucket list road trip.
Resorts in this part of the world lay in the Appalachian and Laurentian Mountain ranges; low, forest covered, rolling mountains running from Northern Georgia to the heart of Quebec. Characterised by smaller (by comparison), low altitude resorts, almost entirely covered top to toe by trees, the bitter temperatures offer great snow surety, although quality can suffer compared to the champagne powder of the Rockies. However, Killington and Stowe, famous for their tree skiing, in Vermont, USA, and Tremblant, Quebec, Canada, still regular feature in any skier’s list of top North American resorts.
The East Coast also has significant Olympic pedigree, with Lake Placid, in upstate New York, hosting the famous 1980 Winter Olympics. Transfer times can be quick, especially from Montreal, and flight times are comparatively short. These are excellent for those looking for a change of location for their annual week’s skiing.
Getting There: Boston and New York offer the best connections to New England resorts or upstate New York, served by domestic connections. Montreal is just 80 miles south of Tremblant, and offers a superb taste of French-Canadian culture. Several minor resorts also line the St. Lawrence between here and Quebec City
The Rockies and Tetons
The central belt of mountains in both the USA and Canada is often considered the holy grail of North American skiing. Enormous steeps meet endless trees, and incredible altitudes provide brilliant snow surety and world famous “champagne” powder.
From Aspen, Winter Park and Breckenridge in Colorado in the south, through Park City and the resorts around Salt Lake City, via Jackson Hole in the Tetons, to Canada’s legendary collection of Revelstoke, Marmot Basin and Banff, the choices and opportunities are endless.
High altitudes – Denver, the gateway to the Colorado Rockies, lies outside of the mountains and yet is nicknamed the “Mile High City” for its altitude – gives consistent snow cover and a top layer of icing sugar-like powder known as “champagne” powder. Forests give way to the jagged peaks of the Great Divide, and huge bowls combine with mile after mile of bump skiing to define the ultimate challenges that can be found here.
Skiing the Rockies is best saved for true adventures; road trips through Canada from the Plains to the hill; exploring the incredible National Parks, such as Yellowstone, that surround the skiing; or simply sampling the endless choice provided by the collection of resorts around Salt Lake City.
Getting Here: Denver, Salt Lake City and Calgary are you best aiming points for the Rockies. Denver offers connections on to Aspen or transfers to resorts close to the “Mile High City”, as well as being one of the largest cities on the western edge of the Great Plains.
Salt Lake City lies buried in the mountains and can be considered in a similar position to Innsbruck in Austria; a gateway and hub to many resorts close by, such as Park City, Alta, Snowbird and Deer Valley. It also offers the best connections to the Tetons to the northeast, including resorts such as Jackson Hole and Big Sky.
Situated at significantly lower altitudes than the Rockies – Whistler’s base is only at 670m – lies the resorts of the Coastal Ranges of Western Canada. However, thanks this region sitting in the wettest temperate ecosystem on Earth, when it snows, it pours.
Whistler is, of course, the anchor of the Pacific Northwest. One of the world’s largest resorts, it offers endless opportunity, from Olympic downhill runs, to incredible parks, to brilliant bowls and glades. Situated just 90 minutes from downtown Vancouver, it could not be more accessible either.
The incredible volume of snow received over a winter, combined with endless miles of untouched mountains, means this is the heli- and cat-skiing capital of North America. Don’t be afraid to grab your fat skis and head off the beaten track to get the most from this corner of the world.
With Vancouver and Seattle lying close by, and the return British Airways direct flight departing in at 2100 hours, it offers a great opportunity to explore two exceptional West Coast cities around your skiing. Long flight times also mean this region is best explored over more than just a week to make the most of it.
Getting Here: Vancouver Airport is around two hours from Whistler, served by direct flights and cheaper connections through Calgary and Toronto to London, Manchester, and Glasgow. Fast and frequent public transfers mean it is possible to reach Whistler the same day as landing, especially if flying direct. For those looking for even more of an adventure, Seattle lies about three hours to the south across the border in the USA, with frequent coach connections and the Cascades Amtrak service, one of North America’s great scenic railway journeys.
The Lake Tahoe region is a hidden gem of North American skiing. The lake itself lies at nearly 2,000m, offering a brilliant base for good quality snow throughout the year. This has suffered in recent years, especially during California’s drought years, but continues to offer brilliant snow and terrain throughout the winter.
Offering skiing above and below the treeline, the variety of resorts offers a huge selection of terrain throughout the winter, including Olympic downhill runs and huge steeps. Often seen as the Rockies little brother, the Sierra Nevada should not be easily overlooked as a heaven for skiing adventures.
Getting Here: Carson City or Reno, both in Nevada, and Sacramento, California, are the closest cities, however neither see direct flights from the UK. Las Vegas and San Francisco offer the most useful connections for those looking to spend time away from the hills.