When it comes to the ultimate ski vacation, you can't go wrong with jet-setting to a major destination resort. But you also can't go wrong with those ski areas that fly just under the ski vacationer's radar.
They're the ski resorts that may offer less terrain, but also fewer crowds; they're the mountains that lie off the beaten path, but also in the best winter storm locations in their regions. They're the places with solid communities of serious skiers, without the glitz and glamour of major resorts. If you're looking for a lively, crowd-free ski vacation destination this season, keep reading for our list of the top 6 amazing ski destinations you've (probably) never heard of.
The closest ski area to the Reno, Mt. Rose offers day trippers from the city a chance to ski some of the famous slopes of the Tahoe area without committing an entire weekend to the confines of a major destination ski resort. Mt. Rose is just 25 minutes from downtown Reno, which means you can steal away for a day or just an afternoon before returning to the city for dinner, dancing, and a night at the casinos. The mountain itself boasts challenging terrain and the highest base elevation of any Tahoe ski area. The lifts and lodges have the mom n' pop vibe, and the ski area's 486 ha sizes it small compared to its counterparts across the Lake – but for an understated getaway to some serious powder lines, this place is a big win in our book.
Best For: Gambling with a side of great skiing
Bridger Bowl is the locals' mountain of Bozemanites, and any given weekend morning you'll find serious skiers geared up on the corner of Main Street and North Rouse Ave. looking for a ride to this totally classic, non-profit ski area 26 km up the canyon. Bridger Bowl is known for its extremely light density powder – otherwise known as "cold smoke" – and you'll find plenty of it on the varied terrain. The bottom half of the resort is ideal for intermediates and beginners, while experts can head up The Ridge for a taste of big Montana powder fields without the hype and photo shoots surrounding similar lines at larger resorts. A hip and lively college town, Bozeman serves as the perfect base for concerts, craft beer, and delectable western eats.
Best For: Big mountain skiing sans the "scene" of big mountain skiing
Cruising up I-89 in Vermont, you're bound to spot a "Mad River Glen / Ski It If You Can" bumper sticker on one of various vehicles heading to the mountains. Known as the East's most challenging ski area, Mad River Glen is small but mighty: 5 lifts service 45 trails, nearly all of which are covered by solely natural snowfall. Experts love it for its challenging tree skiing, and those with a taste for nostalgia will get a kick out of the single-seater chairlift. Mad River Glen prides itself on being a mountain for skiers rather than one for industry: member-owned, the co-op is committed to low skier density, friendly community, and preserving the natural environment. Historic Waitsfield is charming for a weekend getaway.
Best For: A friendly New England getaway with tree lines reminiscent of the Rockies
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Between Pagosa Springs and South Fork skiers and riders find the oasis of Wolf Creek Ski Area, which boasts 647 ha terrain and "the most snow in Colorado" – an average of 1,092 cm annually. While skiers and riders of all levels can find superb terrain across the mountain, experts can head straight to the hike-to terrain, which spans a ridge of open bowls and patches of trees. A full day adult lift ticket is just $66 USD ($97 AUD) – a fraction of the cost of some major Colorado resorts. The resort is quite family-friendly, with a condensed base area and children's learning centre ideal for little ones just learning to ski. Nearby lodging and dining is comfortable and affordable.
Best For: Crowd-less powder days and a Colorado getaway for all budgets
Brian Head, Utah
Boasting Utah's highest base elevation and over 914 cm average annual snowfall, we are still shocked that Brian Head seems to escape the crowds of usual Utah ski resorts. That's great news for those seeking a no-frills, fun-packed ski vacation in the beautiful Wasatch Range. 71 runs spread across 263 ha means Brian Head is small enough for friends and family to navigate with each other, but big enough so that no one gets bored. True, there is only one high speed quad, but the charm of this resort rests partly in its less-developed infrastructure. If you're willing to kick back and slow down to the local pace, you'll find yourself relaxed, suntanned, and enjoying some of the best secret ski spots in Utah.
Best For: A step into simpler skiing times and off-the-beaten path Utah slopes
While most think of Jackson Hole when it comes to the Wyoming ski vacation, it must be known that just across Teton Pass is another resort with stunning views, world-class terrain, and a Wild West vibe. Grand Targhee, or "the 'Ghee" as its called by those who know it well, is famed for its 1,270 cm average annual snowfall and virtually zero lift lines – even on a weekend powder day. Terrain spans 1,053 ha across two mountains and one hike-to terrain area. You won't find the usual fixins' of a major ski resort at the modest base area, but you will enjoy affordable lodging, good gear shops, and lively après at the Trap Bar. Nearby Driggs, Idaho has fun local shops and a few chic restaurants.
Best For: The most average annual snowfall in the West in a laid-back, crowd-free atmosphere