2001 Adventure Guide: 10 Great Unknowns

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Great unknowns are usually hard to get to. And they're hard to ski right the first time. It's a major traverse to the really good powder, and some of the best skiing isn't on the trail map. The marketing department is a guy who chews tobacco and is carrying an extra 30 pounds and runs a snowcat all night, but he'll still ski your ass off all morning if he'll ski with you at all. The little strips of Gore-Tex on the trees tell you that they've been gladed the hard way. Local cars sport bumper stickers that tell you to Question Authority or maybe just to go away.

They're the ski areas in the "Here Be Dragons" spots on the map, the Shangri-las of the ski world, the rumored, the silence-protected.

As with the original Shangri-la, their pleasures are austere rather than luxurious. They bless you with quiet moments of contemplation as you note the painted-over names on lift towers that came from somewhere else. Riding their poma becomes ceremony as you begin to understand that anyone can do it, but few can do it well. Their runs are short, sharp, and intense. Sometimes, their lift lines are, too. Your partner on the chair will want to know how you found out about this place. You will be advised not to tell anyone else about it.

Great Unknowns typically are not sites of intensive capital development. Nobody's getting rich in local real estate. The base lodge is plywood rather than log. The ski racks look like museum displays, and the parking lot is filled with old Ford pickups. The roads there need paving, straightening, sometimes plowing.

Go to them to ski. Ignore their published vertical and acreage, which are laughable underestimations when your subjective reality is a clear thousand feet of bumps that will make your knees grateful for a leisurely ride on their old Yan double chair.

Ski them once and you'll go back, because the skiing is too good and the prices are too right. Because you danced with someone in the bar who was more comfortable in this world than you've ever been in yours. Because everybody seemed to be friends. Because skiing was tied deeply to place here, and you wanted to get to know every inch of it.

ALYESKA, Alaska
Just outside Anchorage, next to a tiny, seaside mining town, rises a whopper of a mountain, its treeless, craggy heights deluged with snow (700 inches annually). Half the resort is old school: Wide cruising boulevards lead to a 1960s A-frame day lodge adorned with trophy kills and historic skis. The North Face is another story: Ungroomed steeps dive straight toward the Westin Alyeska Prince, a 307-room luxury hotel, from where a modern tram zooms up 2,200 feet in under four minutes. The staff may be quirky, but who cares: With powder like the movies and alternating views of ocean waters and glaciated peaks, your senses will be on sweet overload.
What's New: Telemark, ice-climbing, and avalanche instruction.
Adventure Angle: The supremely good cat and heli-skiing.
If you're a local...you drink and shoot pool at Chair Five.
Info: 907-754-2285; www.alyeskaresort.com
-Susan Reifer

BERTHOUD, Colorado
Colorado's oldest ski area, 1,000 acres straddling the Continental Divide, sprang back to life a couple years ago, retaining all of its skiing-as-it's-meant-to-be character. Berthoud is to ski resorts as Meister Brau is to microbrew. Everything here, including price, is low-key-except for the buzz-inducing steeps and tree shots. The real terrain awaits discovery through a series of backcountry-access gates. Open bowls, tight trees, steep, superfast chutes-it's all here. And precious little is groomed. A shuttle van whisks skiers from runouts along Highway 40 back to the base area. This place makes A-Basin look like a full-service resort.
What's New: A full refund if you don't like the skiing in the first hour.
Adventure Angle: Hit 7-Mile Run, a short, classic backcountryescent.
If you're a local...you enter the BadAss series of freeride comps.
Info: 800-754-2378, www.berthoudpass.com
-Cindy Hirschfeld

GORE MOUNTAIN, New York
Up until four years ago, Gore was destined to remain a Great Unknown. Then its owners, the taxpayers of New York State, permitted their politicians to spend more than $14 million on improvements, which tripled snowmaking capacity, added new lifts, cut new trails, and, last year, opened a new peak: Bear Mountain. Although Gore's trying hard to enter the big leagues, it's not quite there yet. Thankfully, with some of the East's steepest pitches (if only they were longer), glades you can disappear in, meandering cruisers, and '60s-chic day lodges, Gore has held fast to its true character: a place for skiers who don't require pampering.
What's New: Sagamore, a blue cruiser off Bear Mountain summit.
Adventure Angle: Freeheeling in the Burnt Ridge backcountry.
If you're a local...you head for Lower Steilhang on a pow day.
Info: 518-251-2411; www.goremountain.com
-Paul McMorris

MAGIC MOUNTAIN, Vermont
What's unknown about Magic is whether it'll open from one season to the next. And this year, it will (we hope). As with previous incarnations, the trails will still be rugged, sometimes too much so. The lifts will still consist of one triple and one double. They'll still creep along. There will still be picnic tables in the lodge, and maybe even a guy sleeping on the floor. There won't be a bar. The skiing will still be the steepest in southern Vermont, the best terrain still in the glades. The new owners call themselves The Olde Fashioned Skiing Company. They don't plan on changing much.
What's New: Snowmaking now covers 87 percent of the mountain.
Adventure Angle: Goniff Glades and Red Line.
If you're a local...you use your season pass to get half-price tickets at Mad River Glen.
Info: 802-824-5645; www.magicmtn.com
-M.M.

MONTANA SNOWBOWL, Montana
From its rustic A-frame day lodge to the gelände jump outside, Montana Snowbowl looks like something out of a vintage ski movie. Forget Sonja Henie, though; most days, the only folks here are a few Missoula families and class-cutting ski bros from the University of Montana. The former come for the slow pace and reasonable prices; the latter, for the serious steeps that tower 2,600 feet above the lodge. There are only two slow doubles (and two surface lifts), but who needs high-speed quads when you get 300 inches a year and average 500 visitors a day?
What's New: More snowmaking on Sunrise Bowl and Bowl Outrun.
Adventure Angle: It's unmarked, but China Bowl (just past Far East) offers some of Montana's tightest, steepest trees.
If you're a local...you end the day at the slopeside Last Run Inn.
Info: 406-549-9777; www.montanasnowbowl.com
-Rob Lovitt

MT. HOOD MEADOWS, Oregon
How do you hide a ski area that's got 2,777 vertical feet and 2,150 skiable acres? One way is to stash it in northwestern Oregon, where Mt. Hood Meadows sprawls across the thick forests and lava-flow canyons of the state's highest peak. From high-alpine bowls and tree-lined trails to the black-diamond drops of Heather Canyon, Meadows is all about varied terrain. And although there's no slopeside lodging-the nearest beds are 12 miles away-the place rocks on thanks to equally abundant night-skiing and après-ski options.
What's New: Two children's lifts/teaching tools.
Adventure Angle: For $10 a ride, the Superbowl Snowcat climbs 1,000 feet to access the steeps of upper Heather Canyon.
If you're a local...you know that the Mt. Hood Express chair opens at 8 a.m., an hour before anything else.
Info: 503-337-2222; www.skihood.com
-R.L.

RED LODGE, Montana
It used to be quaint, little, and unknown. But with about 800 acres of new terrain added in recent years-mostly double-black-diamond-it's gotten more burly than quaint, and it's not really little. Fortunately, it's still unknown. There's an endless supply of expert-only chutes and glades, ungodly bump runs, and even a few gnarly steeps at this 1,600-acre gem. And $34 lift tickets. The authentically western town is straight out of the late 1800s and, given the mix of rough-cut locals and wide-eyed tourists, provides an interesting nightlife.
What's New: Big expansion plans for the mountain and base village.
Adventure Angle: Red Lodge has four vast, uncharted areas that offer some of Montana's best tree skiing.
If you're a local...you probably work on a ranch.
Info: 800-444-8977; www.redlodgemountain.com
-Brian Metzler

RED MOUNTAIN, British Columbia
Have you ever been to a ski-club hill? You know, the kind of place with a funky lodge, slow lifts, and zero flash? Now picture that "hill" with two towering mountains, 2,900 vertical feet of kick-ass terrain, and huge whacks of untracked. That's Red Mountain, where the locals live to ski and are actually willing to share the goods. Afterward, head to nearby Rossland, a classic mining town turned ski town, and you'll see why everyone from the Old Bastards Powder Team to cash-strapped Whistler refugees call this home.
What's New: A 102-room slopeside condo-hotel is being built.
Adventure Angle: The resort's Tree Hosting program offers three hours of off-piste guided skiing for C$125.
If you're a local...you skip the line at the Silverlode chair, hike up to the Motherlode lift, and beat everyone else to first tracks.
Info: 800-663-0105; www.ski-red.com
-R.L.

SNOWBASIN, Utah
Until recently, there were good reasons why Snowbasin was undiscovered. A nasty eight-mile access road made it hard to get to. The lifts were old and slow and in the wrong places. New millennium, new resort. A slew of new lifts now serve more than 3,000 spectacular acres, and a brand-new access road makes coming and going immeasurably easier. Despite all this, fewer than 100,000 people visited last year. Don't expect that to last. Skiing this good can't go unnoticed. And with snazzy base facilities under construction for the 2002 Olympics, Snowbasin should soon rival places like Snowbird and Park City.
What's New: The new access road brings Salt Lake 15 miles closer.
Adventure Angle: From the tram, ski the Olympic downhill.
If you're a local...you hit the Shooting Star Saloon for après.
Info: 801-620-1000; www.snowbasin.com
-Peter Oliver

STEVENS PASS, Washington
Straddling the Cascade Crest and the twin peaks of Big Chief and Cowboy Mountain, Stevens Pass could be considered the Jekyll and Hyde of Northwest skiing. Down low, legions of beginners learn the basics on the likes of Skyline and Easy Street, blissfully unaware that, up above, the lunatic fringe is hucking into the chutes on 7th Heaven and thrashing the bumps on Double Diamond. And that doesn't even include the back-side bowls in Mill Valley, where everybody becomes a raging powderhound.
What's New: Opened last year, the $8-million Granite Peaks day lodge is so stylish, you'd think you were at Whistler.
Adventure Angle: Wild Katz, Schim's Meadow, or the Winnie Chutes.
If you're a local...you avoid the crowds at Granite Peaks and savor your Stevens Pass Amber Ale in the Pacific Crest Lodge.
Info: 206-812-4510; www.stevenspass.com
-R.L.


Top 10 Value Resoything else.
Info: 503-337-2222; www.skihood.com
-R.L.

RED LODGE, Montana
It used to be quaint, little, and unknown. But with about 800 acres of new terrain added in recent years-mostly double-black-diamond-it's gotten more burly than quaint, and it's not really little. Fortunately, it's still unknown. There's an endless supply of expert-only chutes and glades, ungodly bump runs, and even a few gnarly steeps at this 1,600-acre gem. And $34 lift tickets. The authentically western town is straight out of the late 1800s and, given the mix of rough-cut locals and wide-eyed tourists, provides an interesting nightlife.
What's New: Big expansion plans for the mountain and base village.
Adventure Angle: Red Lodge has four vast, uncharted areas that offer some of Montana's best tree skiing.
If you're a local...you probably work on a ranch.
Info: 800-444-8977; www.redlodgemountain.com
-Brian Metzler

RED MOUNTAIN, British Columbia
Have you ever been to a ski-club hill? You know, the kind of place with a funky lodge, slow lifts, and zero flash? Now picture that "hill" with two towering mountains, 2,900 vertical feet of kick-ass terrain, and huge whacks of untracked. That's Red Mountain, where the locals live to ski and are actually willing to share the goods. Afterward, head to nearby Rossland, a classic mining town turned ski town, and you'll see why everyone from the Old Bastards Powder Team to cash-strapped Whistler refugees call this home.
What's New: A 102-room slopeside condo-hotel is being built.
Adventure Angle: The resort's Tree Hosting program offers three hours of off-piste guided skiing for C$125.
If you're a local...you skip the line at the Silverlode chair, hike up to the Motherlode lift, and beat everyone else to first tracks.
Info: 800-663-0105; www.ski-red.com
-R.L.

SNOWBASIN, Utah
Until recently, there were good reasons why Snowbasin was undiscovered. A nasty eight-mile access road made it hard to get to. The lifts were old and slow and in the wrong places. New millennium, new resort. A slew of new lifts now serve more than 3,000 spectacular acres, and a brand-new access road makes coming and going immeasurably easier. Despite all this, fewer than 100,000 people visited last year. Don't expect that to last. Skiing this good can't go unnoticed. And with snazzy base facilities under construction for the 2002 Olympics, Snowbasin should soon rival places like Snowbird and Park City.
What's New: The new access road brings Salt Lake 15 miles closer.
Adventure Angle: From the tram, ski the Olympic downhill.
If you're a local...you hit the Shooting Star Saloon for après.
Info: 801-620-1000; www.snowbasin.com
-Peter Oliver

STEVENS PASS, Washington
Straddling the Cascade Crest and the twin peaks of Big Chief and Cowboy Mountain, Stevens Pass could be considered the Jekyll and Hyde of Northwest skiing. Down low, legions of beginners learn the basics on the likes of Skyline and Easy Street, blissfully unaware that, up above, the lunatic fringe is hucking into the chutes on 7th Heaven and thrashing the bumps on Double Diamond. And that doesn't even include the back-side bowls in Mill Valley, where everybody becomes a raging powderhound.
What's New: Opened last year, the $8-million Granite Peaks day lodge is so stylish, you'd think you were at Whistler.
Adventure Angle: Wild Katz, Schim's Meadow, or the Winnie Chutes.
If you're a local...you avoid the crowds at Granite Peaks and savor your Stevens Pass Amber Ale in the Pacific Crest Lodge.
Info: 206-812-4510; www.stevenspass.com
-R.L.


Top 10 Value Resorts

  1. Alta, UT

    Mad River Glen, VT: Besides having supercheap tickets, Mad River is as close to pure skiing as modern society will allow. That's worth a lot.

    Berthoud, CO: Berthoud only charges full price when it's got four or more inches of fresh. And full price is only $34-already cheap.

    Big Sky, MT: A totally uncrowded, totally huge, and totally affordable resort. Need we say more?

    Apex Mountain, BC: Since even the well-known Canadian ski areas are cheap, the ones you've never heard of, like Apex, are steals.

    Anywhere else in Canada: It might sound like a cop-out, but it's true.

    : $35 for 2,200 skiable acres and 500 inches of the world's most perfect powder. Alta is still the Costco of the ski world.
  2. Bridger Bowl, MT: For Bozeman locals, the Ridge at Bridger is worth its vertical in gold. Bridger will exchange it for $33.
  3. Bogus Basin, ID: The originator of the $199 season pass. It's 16 miles from Boise, which means there are plenty of cheap places to stay. And the $35 lift ticket will make your mother proud.
  4. Silver Star, BC: With 3,065 skiable acres, a pastel village, and a favorable exchange rate, it's better than a 30 percent sale at Penny's.
  5. Red Mountain, BC: Only 125 miles from Spokane, Washington, and only C$42 a day, Red is an easily accessible bargain for Northwesterners.

Resorts

  1. Alta, UT

    Mad River Glen, VT: Besides having supercheap tickets, Mad River is as close to pure skiing as modern society will allow. That's worth a lot.

    Berthoud, CO: Berthoud only charges full price when it's got four or more inches of fresh. And full price is only $34-already cheap.

    Big Sky, MT: A totally uncrowded, totally huge, and totally affordable resort. Need we say more?

    Apex Mountain, BC: Since even the well-known Canadian ski areas are cheap, the ones you've never heard of, like Apex, are steals.

    Anywhere else in Canada: It might sound like a cop-out, but it's true.

    : $35 for 2,200 skiable acres and 500 inches of the world's most perfect powder. Alta is still the Costco of the ski world.
  2. Bridger Bowl, MT: For Bozeman locals, the Ridge at Bridger is worth its vertical in gold. Bridger will exchange it for $33.
  3. Bogus Basin, ID: The originator of the $199 season pass. It's 16 miles from Boise, which means there are plenty of cheap places to stay. And the $35 lift ticket will make your mother proud.
  4. Silver Star, BC: With 3,065 skiable acres, a pastel village, and a favorable exchange rate, it's better than a 30 percent sale at Penny's.
  5. Red Mountain, BC: Only 125 miles from Spokane, Washington, and only C$42 a day, Red is an easily accessible bargain for Northwesterners.