Ski Vacations are chock full of activities that go way beyond skiing. We’ve known some ski vacationers who go for the spas, while others go for the shopping; still more opt for an all-out foodie fest where time on the slopes takes a second seat to dining at the finest mountain town restaurants in the world. The beauty of the modern ski vacation, of course, is that one can go for the skiing, or for the spas, or for the delectable eats, and still have time for these action-packed activities at the world’s top resorts.
Photo: Whistler Blackcomb
While some destination ski resorts – especially those in the Alps – were built to accommodate leisurely getaways from the cities, others started as winter sports meccas whose residents continue to live and breathe the extreme sports lifestyle. In destinations like Jackson Hole, just a few miles outside the glitz and glamour of a swank downtown, adventure seekers will find ski mountaineering, ice climbing, backcountry snowmobiling and wildlife excursions suited for big time thrills. It doesn’t mean you’ll be sprinting up the Grand Teton by the end of your holiday week, but seasoned experts in these sporty towns are happy to teach you the tricks of their mountain adventure trades – with plenty of stellar photo opportunities to boot! Keep reading for the top 7 resorts for an action packed ski vacation.
Teton Village, Wyoming
Best For: Ice climbing, mountaineering
Popularized in the late 1960s as one of the extreme skiing meccas of North America, Jackson Hole quickly shifted from an old cowboy town to a world-class ski and adventure sports destination. What we love about Jackson Hole is the diversity of activities: luxury spas and high-end art galleries mingle with dive bars and eco-hotels, all surrounding the winter hub of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. There you’ll find opportunities for tandem paragliding and guided backcountry ski tours, while the surrounding area offers even bigger endeavours like ice climbing and ski mountaineering in the Teton Range. Prices are steep (a single guided day in the mountains averages $425 USD ($581 AUD)), but guides are highly trained in skills and safety. For something a bit more low-key, start with ice climbing at the Exum Ice Park in downtown Jackson: group lessons start at $75 USD ($103 AUD) per person.
Whistler, British Columbia
Best For: Bungee jumping, bobsleigh/skeleton rides, ziplining
Ski Magazine’s #1 Resort for 2017 capitalises on its stunning natural scenery, both on and off the slopes. At over 8,000 skiable acres between two major mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb), the resort offers skiers and riders plenty of options for on-slopes adventures. But on that occasional day off, thrill seekers will find more fun in the greater Whistler area. The 2010 Winter Olympics left strong impressions on the town, and the state-of-the-art sports venues now offer tourists activities like skeleton and bobsleigh rides on an amateur track. If getting off the ground is more your style, consider the 50 metre bungee jump drop from a bridge across the Cheakamus River ($124 USD ($170 AUD) per person) or a ride on North America’s longest zipline with Ziptrek EcoTours (note: you may reach speeds up to 100km/hr!)
Best For: Heli-skiing, snowbiking, paragliding
Few can forget the epic 1993 hit movie Aspen Extreme, which put the ski bum lifestyle on the map and resulted in thousands flocking to the small Colorado town for a glimpse of the ultimate mountain lifestyle. Since then, Aspen has grown more refined, and attracts all varieties of ski vacationers for its chic shopping, eco-hip hotels, and laid-back local lifestyle. When it comes to Colorado resorts, we love Aspen for its extensive offerings, which include off-slopes options like fat tire winter biking and tandem paragliding. For those looking for exclusive big mountain powder skiing, consider a day with Colorado Heliskiing, which offers day packages (that include air taxi) starting from $12,000 USD ($16,414 AUD) for groups of 4.
Best For: Sledging, night skiing
While plenty head to the Alps to wine and dine, few can ignore the sheer magnitude of these mountains and rich cultural history that’s complemented grown of major ski resorts. A ski vacation to the Alps entails far more than skiing (and even après skiing) – so plan for plenty of off-slopes time when you book your European ski getaway. Grindelwald is one of these most cherished ski destinations for its challenging slopes and variety of ways to explore them. Leisurely activities include winter walks and cross-country skiing, while the other extreme would be a ride on Europe’s longest tobogganing run: Big Pintenfritz. There’s also plenty of night skiing and sledging in the area, which can get quite “extreme” after a strong mulled wine.
Big Sky, Montana
Best For: snowmobile tours, National Parks, backcountry skiing
Big Sky is fondly named after Montana’s state slogan, and the sprawling expanse of the Madison Mountain Range is only a small part of the draw of a Montana ski vacation. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of far southern neighbour Colorado, Montana boasts a big mountain culture all its own. The ten gallon hats on old-time ranchers are as real as the big-horned sheep you’ll see on the side of the Big Sky access road, and the authenticity of the adventure culture is tangible. While backcountry skiing is an obvious draw in these beautiful mountains, the main attraction for tourists is the access to Yellowstone National Park. Tour by snowcoach or snowmobiles to see thermal pools, Old Faithful, and wildlife inaccessible by car in the winter.
Best For: avalanche education, heli-skiing
Located a short drive up Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird gets big points for accessibility (just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport) without drawing overwhelming crowds. It’s a fun-loving mountain with big local draw and extensive off-piste terrain. The resort has played host to the Freeskiing World Championships for several years, and also boasts some of the best heli-skiing in the Rocky Mountains. Another Snowbird perk is the emphasis on safety in the backcountry: ski vacationers can take avalanche safety awareness courses to go one step beyond a standard guiding experience, and start to build their own backcountry skiing skills over time.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Best For: horseback riding, snowbiking, adventure park
Crested Butte prides itself on ranking as a top destination for winter adventure – and it delivers with action-packed days for adults and kids alike. A favourite pick for families, we love Crested Butte for its Winter Adventure Park of bungee trampolines and climbing wall for kids, as well as unique activities like snowbiking (it’s like riding a bike on skis) and – get this – snowcat driving lessons. The Winter Trail Rides, although not exactly extreme, offer guests a mellow way to explore surrounding areas, and often include up-close and personal views of elk, mule deer, and big horn sheep.