by Crai S. Bower | Photo © Chris Kamman
Fresh powder brings out the best of every ski area, be it a local bunny hill boasting 250 feet of vertical or an abundance of “shreddable” acres. Fortunately, the variety of ski environments in Northern Rockies and Coast Mountains are as varied as the mountains that host them. Here’s a handful of top spots, each with resort amenities to keep your “down time” as enjoyable as your hours on the slopes.
For a skier, almost any day traveling via twin planks upon snow composes a brilliant day. Take a near-mythical morning last February at Silver Star Mountain Resort in British Columbia. A foot of new snow greeted us in the morning. Little compares to skiing the glades when conditions get puffy and deep. Off we shot into the Silver Woods, dropping upon Glade Runner, then slipping down Mine Shaft. We slid into Sherwood Forest next and then grabbed the Comet Express to examine the 6,282-foot summit. After the slopes, one of Silver Star’s dinner tours is a great way to enjoy more of the terrain and an excellent meal. Tours via snowshoe, snow mobile, sleigh, cat and more give diners plenty of options. The lodging options are abundant and fit every preference from budget to grand.
At Whistler-Blackcomb, in western B.C., the terrain and amenities transcend the need to ski. No ski area has achieved this level of slope-side ambiance like Whistler, a village where about half the winter visitors harbor no intention of ever clicking into a binding. But what a mountain they’re missing, more than 200 named runs across 8,000 skiable acres. The options for après ski prove as dizzying. Despite the village crawl on a Saturday night, Whistler also purveys plenty of premier dining. The Bearfoot Bistro is often hailed among the best resort restaurants in the world, Quattro continues to combine Italian carb loading with nuance and Araxi always pleases a refined palate.
Though I’ve taken my kids to Whistler for years, I maintain Sun Peaks Resort remains one of the best family ski areas in North America. Three mountains allow skiers and snowboarders of every level to find parallel tracks, and non-ski recreational options include an outdoor pool and skating rink. But it’s the isolation of the resort that I really like, ideal for adolescents and preteens to feel independent within a self-contained environment. You won’t go wanting for tantalizing terrain either. Sun Peaks’ 3,678 skiable acres is the third largest area in all of Canada and is the training home for the Austrian Ski Team. For a thrill off the slopes, book a dog sled excursion from Mountain Man Dog Sled Adventures (mountainmanadventures.ca).The village has everything from small hotels and budget hostels to deluxe hotels. Dining here is strictly informal, reflecting the resort’s family-friendly reputation and its roots in the casual town of Kamloops.
My pick, when the snow grows deep, remains Big White Ski Resort. Big White’s Sun Rype Bowl hovers above arguably B.C.’s best glade skiing, ten sylvan superstars easily accessed by the Gem Lake Express chair. Big White’s broad profile means skiers spread far and wide with no congestion in sight. Located near B.C.’s famed Okanagan wine region, wine touring is one of the most popular and worthwhile diversions from the slopes. And the list of where to bed down during your Big White holiday has plenty of excellent hotels and lodges to choose from.
“… wine touring is one of the most popular and worthwhile diversions from the slopes.”
As its name suggests, Montana boasts plenty of mountain. Yet Colorado and Alberta seem to steal all the Rocky Mountain ski cred. This anonymity may appeal to the locals, but the moment you discover Whitefish you’ll wish they had let you in on the secret earlier. Three thousand skiable acres, 11 chairlifts, and 300 inches of annual snowfall are the foundation of a holiday in Whitefish, Montana. The town center is every bit as authentically western as Jackson Hole, with about as many nightlife spots. And, when it comes to hospitality, both the AAA Four-Diamond-awarded Lodge at Whitefish Lake and the more intimate European-style Kandahar Lodge pamper guests with impeccable attention to detail.
The famous big Montana sky is reflected in 3,832 acres of white fluff at Big Sky Resort, a rival to any destination in North America. Loaded with slopes to satisfy every level of skier, Big Sky lays out interesting sections of exclusively intermediate and beginning terrain. Best of all, this terrain revels in southern exposure, providing a healthy dose of sunshine. But fear not rippers, these are the Rockies. You’ll find about a dozen advanced runs facing south, but the stars really twinkle across east-facing Andesite Mountain and, soaring to 11,166 feet, Lone Mountain. Warm lodges, condos and cabins dominate the Big Sky hospitality scene. The village doesn’t gallop deep into the night like Whitefish, but you will find impressive fine dining options inside the Rainbow Ranch Lodge and Jack Creek Grille & Bar. Families can claim simpler fair including pub grub and even Hawaiian-style sushi.
Western Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort and B.C.’s Big White could be cousins, broad and bold areas that invite the skier to discover her own lines down the hill. Targhee’s reputation as a gonzo gathering is well deserved, but the resort’s “Kids Fun Zone” provides some respite for the next generation. Targhee is accessible only through Teton Valley, Idaho. It receives an abundance of light powder snow, more than 500 inches annually.
Also in western Wyoming, Jackson Hole sits in a flat valley surrounded by the rugged Grand Tetons. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort receives about 460 inches of powder a year. With its own airport accommodating commercial nonstop flights, it’s easily accessible, and lodging choices are many, from the 5-star, 5-diamond Four Seasons near the slopes, to the full-service Snow King Resort closer to the town of Jackson, to vacation and condo rentals.
Idaho’s Tamarack Resort thrills skiers with a steep 2,800-feet vertical test that will swiftly move up your go-to menu of go-for-it ski destinations. Tamarack is the only resort I know that actually limits access, but rarely will the crowd tick north of 2,000, the maximum number allowed. Tamarack also stands alone from many of its high-octane peers by offering several intermediate passages down from the 7,700-feet Tamarack Summit. Tamarack Village offers its own lodging options from the cozy Lodge at Osprey Meadows to luxury chalets and resort homes geared for a crowd.
Like reading a frequently played green or repeatedly casting the same stretch of river, a familiar ski hill carries certain advantages. Yet the explorer’s cells still flow within our Northwest bloodstream, sharing capillaries with the need for adventure and our love of the outdoors. So why not add a couple of new hits to your ski parade this winter. I wager you’ll be spinning your wheels back this way for years to come.
- Whistler: whistler.com
- Big White: bigwhite.com
- Sun Peaks: sunpeaksresort.com
- Silver Star: winter.skisilverstar.com
- Tamarack: tamarackidaho.com