Make this your best ski vacation winter ever – by choosing where to go carefully.
Ski and snowboard travel has changed radically in recent years as the industry paradigm has shifted from single visit lift tickets and one-resort season passes to national and global passes covering multiple top resorts worldwide. By far the most popular of these are the Epic Pass from Vail Resorts, which covers both Vail-owned/managed properties (Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Park City, Whistler/Blackcomb, etc.) and partners, and Ikon Pass, from Alterra Mountain Company (Deer Valley, Mammoth, Palisades Tahoe, etc.), anchored by the mountains of top ski resort operators Aspen Skiing Company (Aspen/Ajax, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk) and Boyne Resorts (Big Sky, Brighton, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, etc.), plus numerous partners including many of the leading independent areas such as Jackson Hole, Alta, Steamboat and others.
The new model has lowered the daily costs of skiing and snowboarding considerably and given travelers more variety and freedom of choice, which is a very good thing. But the anti-silver lining has been crowds and jam-packed trails, often accompanied by parking shortages and giant lift lines at some participating resorts, big and small. This has been compounded by pent up travel demand from the pandemic lockdown, and increased outdoor recreation across the board, also spurred by COVID. As a result, many travel agents and ski tour operators I’ve talked to tell me that more then ever their clients are asking to be sent someplace less crowded, which has become the main focus in choosing a ski vacation destination, rather than the traditional factors such as the best spas, restaurants, hotels or even terrain.
From groomers to steeps, there’s a powder day waiting for you out there somewhere.
But if you have one of these passes you don’t have to compromise this winter, you can have it all. You can still take advantage of both your home mountains(s) and one or more amazing weeklong ski vacations across the country or around the globe.
If you have an Ikon or Epic Pass here are some top places you should consider for your main winter getaway.
Big Sky is the second largest ski resort in the United Sates, arguably the best, and topped by … [+]
Big Sky, MT: This one is a no-brainer, and arguably the top ski destination choice in the country right now, period. It’s huge, the second largest resort in the nation, but that’s just the start. It is also removed from big urban drive markets, the kind that cause traffic jams on Colorado’s I-70 every weekend and crowd resorts in the Pacific Northwest. Recent massive infrastructure upgrades include some of the industry’s fastest 6 and 8-passnegr chairs and even before the new state of the art tram that is under construction, Big Sky has one of the most efficient lift systems in North America. That disperses the relatively few visitors over a gigantic mountain, and the final piece of the puzzle is that despite being the “Next Big Thing,” with soaring popularity (especially as a second home destination), the area is still underserved in terms of hotel rooms (though several are in the pipeline). For now, this combination of awesome terrain for all abilities, lots of snow and unheard of crowds make this a great “Big Trip” choice. Read much more about Big Sky here.
Stunning scenery in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Dolomiti Superski, Italy: Both passes have international partners, but it’s hard to beat Dolomiti Superski, the world’s largest interconnected lift and trail system, with nearly 900 runs connected by hundreds of high-speed chairs, gondolas and trams, all sprawling across one of the most beautiful alpine landscapes on the planet, the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This will be the third straight year I chose the Dolomites for my own vacation. Why? Read the long answer here. Short answer: because it’s gorgeous, it’s huge, ultra-efficient, includes dozens of charming and entirely ski-in/ski-out villages, offers multiple famous World Cup Downhill courses and will host the 2026 Winter Olympics. On top of all that, it’s Italy, with great food and La Dolce Vita at every turn. Plus you get to take advantage of the strong Dollar/Euro rate right now.
Schweitzer, ID: What’s the largest ski resort in Idaho? Almost everyone I ask gets this wrong, because many people can only name one ski resort in Idaho, and it’s not Schweitzer. The very definition of a “hidden gem,” this mountain is big and it’s in the overlooked western side of the state, closer to gateway airport Spokane than Boise. I wrote extensively about Schweitzer here at Forbes last year because the mountain just got its first notable upscale lodging, the new Humbird boutique hotel – and it is awesome (read more here). But the real secret of Schweitzer, besides lots of skiing and no crowds, is the unique layout of the mountain. It was originally developed by a timber company on private land, while almost all major resorts lease from the Forest Service or other government entities. As a result, they can do whatever they want, and what they have wanted to do is thin and glade the stands of trees between just about every run. So, while it looks like a conventional ski resort, you can basically ski any line from the summit down in any direction, through as many or as few trees as you want, for an endless array of lines and combinations of trails and trees, so it skis even bigger than its impressive 2,900-acres would suggest – and unlike just about every other resort.
Banff National Park is drop dead gorgeous, and Lake Louise is one of its most iconic spots.
Ski Big 3, Alberta: Banff is Canada’s answer to Yellowstone, the country’s oldest National Park, but there are no ski resorts in Yellowstone while Banff National Park contains three, a unique situation. Banff is also one of the world’s greatest mountain towns, the area is naturally stunning, and it includes a vast array of lodging choices with awesome luxe choices such as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, Fairmont Lake Louise, and the gastronomic boutique marvel Post Hotel. But the main event is its two different very large resorts, both relatively uncrowded and both gorgeous, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village (the third in Ski Big 3, Norquay, is smaller but extremely convenient to downtown Banff, a great arrival or departure half-day option). Sunshine is lesser known and has the longest non-glacial ski season in Canada thanks to it 7,200-foot base village elevation, and quickly disperses skiers across more than 3,300-acres including some daunting expert terrain. Lake Louise gets some lines on holidays, but last winter underwent one of the biggest terrain expansions in North America, adding the 480-acre West Bowl, full of glades and steeps, plus a new high-speed quad chair. That brings the total to 4,200-acres and makes it one of the largest ski resorts on the continent, but with less visitors than the other famous Northwest Canada destination, Whistler. And thanks to the shared lift ticket you get both huge mountains for the price of one, and with your Ikon pass, that price is zero. It’s been a few years since I wrote about this in detail, but you will get a good idea of the stellar appeal by reading this.
Sunday River & Sugarloaf, ME: Eastern skiing is more about drive market, and there’s no shortage of people craving snow with several huge urban areas to draw from. But if I was going to bother getting on a plane to ski the east, it would be for the two biggest and best (and among the least crowded) resorts in New England, both in Maine. They are pretty far apart and it’s hard to choose between them, so I picked both, as it is an either/or win-win decision. Sunday River is a longtime favorite of mine, Sugarloaf has the only above tree line resort bowl skiing in the East, and both are big and remote enough to dispel crowds.
With a world-class mountain that runs right into a wonderful town, Telluride has it all – except … [+]
Telluride, CO: Another easy first pick, Telluride has long been among my personal favorites in the entire world. The mountain itself has what I consider to be the very best variety of terrain for every ability, and while all resorts claim to have something for everyone, it’s often not the case. Here it is, and Telluride has green, blue, double blue, black, and double black, all in spades, plus easily accessed short hike-to, in-bounds extreme terrain rivalling the “worst” of infamously challenging places like Jackson Hole and Crested Butte. It’s just a great mountain, but also one of the most charming ski towns anywhere, somehow persevering its Butch Cassidy (home to the first bank he ever robbed) Old West charm in the face of modernity and pricey second homes. But because it is in a canyon surrounded by protected land, Telluride has been spared the “down valley” sprawl affecting many other mountain communities, development is limited, and there no large hotels, only some great boutique players and lots of rentals. Great town, great food, great terrain and lift lines so rare you will likely never see here. I’ve written extensively about all these factors, including the most important one, the completely erroneous but widely held belief that Telluride is hard to get to. It’s not, it’s closer to its gateway airport of Montrose (lots of flights) than Vail is to Denver, but as long as enough people keep believing this myth, you’ll have it to yourself.
There’s more to love about the Swiss Alps than just world-class skiing.
Andermatt-Sedrun, Switzerland: Both passes have international partners, but Vail Resorts went a step further and bought its first resort in the Alps, so unlike most partners, Epic Pass holders have unlimited, unrestricted access to one of Switzerland’s most renowned ski areas, three interconnected mountains with a vertical drop over 4,500 feet and famously good off piste/backcountry skiing. That’s in addition to the massive state of the art lift and trail network, all covered in some of Europe’s most reliable snow, and dotted with multiple charming alpine villages. In total there are nearly three dozen lifts and more than 70-miles of marked runs, all just 60-miles from Zurich and also easily accessible via Milan and Geneva. Plus, fondue!
Crested Butte has awesome skiing, but has also managed to keep its small town charm alive.
Crested Butte, CO: There are a lot of resorts on the Epic Pass, but the collection of big, marquee Rocky Mountain destination ones is more limited and includes some of the nation’s busiest. Besides independent partner Telluride, of the Utah and Colorado options, Crested Butte is your best bet for beating the crowds, and also has preserved its less developed, smalltown local charm, while offering tons of expert terrain. Crested Butte is another personal favorite of mine, and where I chose to set a Guinness World Record for skiing while writing a history of the famous record book.
Les Trois Vallees, France: Epic’s answer to Ikon’s Dolomiti Superski, this is France’s biggest massively interconnected ski and snowboard playground, with seven fully contiguous resorts spanning the namesake three valleys. You get reliable high-altitude snow, exposures and altitudes to allow for skiing in all weather conditions, and total terrain the resort claims is equal to the five largest U.S. mountains combined. But the biggest appeal of Trois Vallees is the sheer range of options, multiple towns with distinct characters and tons of lodging, from mom and pop to over the top rental chalets to some of Europe’s poshest luxury ski hotels and craziest après scenes. If you aren’t familiar with the name Trois Vallees you will certainly recognize some of the towns and resorts it includes, among the most famous in skiing: Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens. Plus you get to take advantage of the strong Dollar/Euro rate right now.
Most of the skiing at Stowe is on Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.
Stowe, VT: Yes, Stowe can get crowded, but it’s further from the New York metro area and less crowded than Epic’s other Vermont and New York options and better than the New Hampshire ones. Stowe is my favorite ski resort in Vermont, and I live in Vermont, and it’s easily – by a wide margin – the best ski town (one of the only true ski towns in the East), with a great array of lodging and dining options. Large scale recent investments have made it more user-friendly than ever, most notably connecting the long separated two mountains comprising the resort, and base amenities have been upgraded in a huge way. Stowe aims to please and while smaller Spruce Peak is one of the best beginner spots, the steeps and infamous “Front Four” at Mt. Mansfield remain the gold standard for expert black and double black runs in New England.
Great Ski Vacations – The 10 Best Places To Use Your Epic And Ikon Passes This Winter – Forbes
Make this your best ski vacation winter ever – by choosing where to go carefully.