Besides the Swiss Alps, the Western United States is perhaps the best-known region on the planet for those who are passionate about their winter sports. Whether it is skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or even just some simple sledding, the mountain ranges of California, Utah, and Colorado offer both ideal conditions for winter sports as well as an incredible backdrop for vacation goers.
As a self-proclaimed snowbird, I’ve made the voyage to just about all the top ski resorts in the Western United States (as well as many in the East, but that’s a story for another day). Taking into consideration the overall experience, typical conditions, and the propensity for big crowds (a pet peeve of mine), here’s what I’ve found to be the top ski resorts in the Western United States.
Vail, Colorado – Ah, Vail. The second-largest ski resort in North America, and the largest in the U.S. If you thought places like Mammoth Mountain were spacious, you won’t even know what to do with yourself once you hit the slopes at Vail.
When I first made the trek to Vail, I boarded the first lift at 9:00 am and didn’t stop for a moment’s rest until the last lift closed for the day. By that point, I hadn’t even hit half the runs. The diversity of these runs is what really makes Vail special. So high in the sky, the powder is just about always on the ground, and a wide selection of everything from beginner to expert slopes allows fun for everyone.
Admittedly, the bias seems to be towards the expert runs, but beginners can consider that motivation to get their skills up. These runs are fantastic. Though large crowds are a pet peeve, this one gets a pass due to the sheer size of the resort. You’ll wait in line for lifts, but there are so many and things are so spread out you won’t be completely overwhelmed by them at a reasonable time.
Don’t go on President’s Day if you don’t want to brave the crowds. Let the celebrities and yuppies go to Aspen, the real winter sports enthusiasts will be in Vail.
Snowbird, Utah – Another ski resort that seemingly boasts powdery perfect runs all season long. In fact, typical snowfall levels provide 500 inches a season of fresh powder. While
Snowbird has great runs for all levels, there’s a heavy bias towards the expert skier with some incredibly steep and challenging runs to be conquered. The state of Utah has long claimed to have the best powder conditions in the United States, and making the pilgrimage to Snowbird will be all it takes to make a convert out of you (as it did me).
Squaw Valley, California
Squaw Valley, California – Nestled next to the incredibly scenic Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley is best known for playing host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. Being close to my home, Squaw Valley has always been a favorite of mine and was the ski resort where I learned just about everything I know about snowboarding and skiing.
With six peaks offering tons of vertical play, there’s something for everyone here, from the slight and simple run to the impossible-looking vertical run. Perhaps the most appealing part of Squaw Valley is the ability to bring the family and keep them entertained for days, even if they don’t share your passion for winter sports.
The village contains a wide variety of shops and beautiful lodging and the resort’s High Camp. A swimming pool and ice skating rink (among other things) are located on one of Squaw’s massive peaks which can only be accessed by gondola ride. It’s not uncommon to find celebrities soaking in the hot tub and adventure seekers can try out the bungee jumping.
This one takes the prize for the best all-around family vacation spot, as well as the most scenic surroundings. However, Tahoe’s propensity for hardening snow makes the powder conditions less-than-desirable at times. As long as you pick a good time, though, you won’t miss a thing.
Last Note on Ski Resorts in the Western United States
When it comes to these top ski resorts in the Western United States, you can’t go wrong with any of them. Ultimately, you have to decide who you’re trying to please (just you or the family too) and what time of year you will be going. Obviously, some regions will have better snow conditions than others depending on when you’re planning on taking the trip. Take some time to research any one of the resorts listed here (or another that interests you, the country’s full of great ones), and you’re sure to have the time of your life. Good luck on the slopes!