Top tips

  • Take ID you don’t mind using losing, such as an International Driving Permit, for entry into bars and nightclubs. EVERYBODY gets checked in the States.
  • Drivers are allowed to turn right on a red light, so don’t be surprised if people beep you from behind if you’re sitting at the lights.
  • Carry cash for tips. Tipping culture is endemic here.
  • Don’t make any jokes about bombs or terrorism while going through customs. That’s when Americans really don’t understand irony.
  • Talk to people. Americans love foreigners, especially Brits and Irish.

getting there

Flights to the States are still reasonable and there are five main points of entry for the resorts featured in this guide. For Anchorage (Alaska) carriers include American Airlines (aa.com), Delta (delta.com), British Airways (ba.com) and United (united.com). For Denver (Colorado), try Northwest Airlines (nwa.com), Continental (continental.com), American Airlines (aa.com), Delta, Air Canada (aircanada.com) or British Airways. For the Californian resorts, points of entry are Reno or LAX and carriers include American, Delta, United, BA, Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com), Virgin (virgin-atlantic.com), American and Northwest, while for Salt Lake City (Utah) try Continental, NWA, AA or Delta.

red tape

US entry requirements are among the most stringent in the world. Any foreign citizen wishing to enter the US must obtain a visa beforehand – non-immigrant for a temporary stay, immigrant for permanent residence. How easy it is to obtain a non-immigrant visa depends on your country of origin, so check travel.state.gov/visa for more information. In the aftermath of 9/11, visitors to any American airport or public building are subject to invasive security checks.

health

Fully comprehensive health insurance is absolutely essential for any trip to the United States. Medical treatment is good but very expensive, and there are no special arrangements between the US and other nations for healthcare. Cover up to US$1 million, including hospital treatment and medical evacuation if necessary, is advisable.

eating

Depending on your viewpoint, a trip to America is either going to be a grease-dipped nightmare or something approaching food heaven. Think American food and you're likely to find yourself thinking of hamburgers, hot dogs, McDonald's, steaks and all-you-can-eat buffets. The reality is pretty close and it's easy to lose yourself in the frenzy of consumption that characterizes middle-class life in the States. It's cheap to eat here, and the portions are generally huge, with meat being the primary ingredient. And greasily delicious though the food can be, after a prolonged stay, it can get a bit too much. It's sometimes possible to feel your very cells yearning for fruit or some other wholesome source of vitamins and minerals. Of course, the upside of this culinary boon for the visiting skier is that it's easy to fuel up for the day ahead. American breakfasts are particularly prized, with their gargantuan array of cereals, pastries, cooked courses and coffees, while lunch on the hill is also pretty reasonably priced if you don't mind burgers, fries or sandwich variations such as the 'Reuben'. It's the same story during the evening, with most resorts riffing away on the same gastronomic themes – Italian, Tex-Mex, burgers, Chinese, Thai or French bistro. Whatever the genre, the themes remain the same – plentiful courses, free refills and choice. Lots of it. And there are the fast food outlets, which almost require a chapter of their own. Not surprisingly, things can get tricky for those who don't covet a rich, starchy diet or for any riders with strict culinary needs, such as vegetarians. Noted happy-clappy areas such as California will probably yield more options than the cowboy country of Jackson Hole.

crime & safety

America is so huge that the guidelines vary from area to area. Almost all trips to the States pass off completely uneventfully – especially in rural, mountainous areas – but it is worth noting a few points. Crime is an issue in America, especially in major cities where street and car crime is a problem. At the time of writing, the US domestic threat level in relation to terrorism stood at 'elevated', and foreign nationals were advised to be on their guard. In resort, board theft does occur. The US police are fair but very strict, and there are severe penalties for drug or violent crime. Check fema.gov for up-to-date information on the current situation in the States.

language

English is the main spoken language, although a large minority speak Spanish. Other ethnic groups are also widespread.

getting around

The USA has an agreement with most countries that means the renter's full national driving licence may be used for a period of up to one year in the USA. Provisional licences are not acceptable. International Driving Permits are generally not required in the USA but they are valid in conjunction with a full national driving licence. Americans drive on the right.

car hire

Car hire companies require a full licence for a year, regardless of age. The minimum age for renting a car is usually 21, although it can be as high as 25. Additional charges can be levied on drivers under 25 years of age. Most of the major car hire companies (hertz.com, avis.com) have offices in airports and cities.

public transport

In the States it's almost heresy not to travel by car, and a good indicator of social status. Still, the trans-continental and inter-city train service run by Amtrak (amtrak.com) is a great way of seeing the country. If funds are really tight, try the Greyhound network (greyhound.com) but it is slow and uncomfortable, if cheap.

opening hours

Shops in the States have longer opening hours than their European counterparts, with many city outlets staying open seven days a week from 0800-2100. American holidays worth keeping an eye out for include Washington's Birthday (the third Monday in February) and Martin Luther King day (the third Monday in January).

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