2001 Adventure Guide: 15 Mountain Playgrounds

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You're a glutton. Your appetite for skiing is enormous: You wolf down big vertical in grand, sweeping turns, devour vacant bowls like you haven't skied in years, gobble up narrow trails and bumps with rapid-fire turns.

But your thirst for pleasure is bigger than that. It's not enough that a ski area has vast terrain, phenomenal skiing, pipes and parks, and high-speed quads. No, you want an endless string of adventures, for all your senses, all your vices. You want to abuse your body all over the mountain, nourish it that evening with elk tenderloin and raspberry crème brûlée, and then soothe it with a massage, perhaps aided by a hot tub or a few single-malt Scotches. Or maybe you want to pass a day without putting your ski boots on: snow tubing or ice skating or dogsledding or shopping or bungee jumping or maybe just lounging around the base village. It's all possible at a Mountain Playground, because at a Mountain Playground you get it all.

But you can also get away from it all. Some days you want a change of pace: a deserted slab of mountainside, the wind in the trees, the enormous quiet of wide-open spaces. Or perhaps the laid-back atmosphere of a plain old burger joint. Amid the energy and activity of a Mountain Playground, you can, if you choose, find moments of quiet when it's just you, the mountain, the elements, and a few friends. You have choices. That's the point.

A Mountain Playground combines the best of the natural world with the best of the civilized world-a kick-ass ski hill joined with a significant ski town or village that imparts depth of character and personality. In fact, the Mountain Playground experience is so broad and unpredictable that you can visit one many times and always discover something new. On and off the snow-before, during, and after skiing-an infinite series of experiences awaits you. And this is a good thing. Variety, after all, is the spice of life. So be as much of a glutton as you like¿at a Mountain Playground, there's always more than you can stomach.

AJAX, Colorado
Like another celebrity who once made a name change, the mountain formerly known as Aspen retains its identity as a sexy performer with an infectious beat. And we're not talking about stretch-pant-clad bunnies with bobbing implants. The Ridge, Face, and Shoulder of Bell are classic draws for those who prefer the rhythm of the moguls. Runs off the Back of Bell and Gentleman's Ridge can be slices of gladed heaven on powder days. And the supersteep Mine Dumps are always fun, whether the snow's funky or fresh. The country's only skier-specific terrain park (remember, no boarders allowed here) lets new schoolers strut their best moves.
What's New: The name.
Adventure Angle: Snowcat tours off the mountain's back side.
If you're a local...you call the so-slow Gent's Ridge chair "the Couch."
Info: 800-525-6200; www.aspensnowmass.com
-Cindy Hirschfeld

BEAVER CREEK, Colorado
The main terrain package at Beaver Creek has a triple-nipple structure. Cling to skier's right for a well-balanced (but often crowded) peak that keeps you within minutes of a grilled ahi sandwich; once you're feeling worthy, Hermanate yourself down Birds of Prey to Red Tail Camp and one of Colorado's best sundecks. From there, slide over to the Grouse Mountain lift and rubberize your legs on some of the country's finest sustained bump skiing. At day's end, make some lazy arcs in Larkspur Bowl, to skier's left. Après-ski? Enjoy the archetypal billionaire's Disneyland. This is Robb Report stuff.
What's New: More snowmaking guns and increased grooming.
Adventure Angle: Scoot down the little cat track to Royal Elk Glade and you'll find yourself on an honest-to-God wilderness adventure.
If you're a local...you grab an après-ski margarita at Coyote's.
Info: 800-525-2257; www.beavercreek.com
-Charles Glass

BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado
As a town and a ski area, Breckenridge has about everything you'd ever want. Among its 2,000 skiable acres are hordes of cruisers, knee-busting bump runs, deep-powder bowls, and endless glades. And the Freeway terrain park and the Superpipe are among the biggest and best in North America. Beyond skiing, there's snowmobiling, dogsledding, ice hockey, museums, outlet shopping, and, most importantly, a vibrant nightlife and a good local music scene. Breck's the busiest resort in the U.S.-with good reason.
What's New: The Quicksilver Super6 was upgraded last year to become the highest-capacity lift in the U.S.
Adventure Angle: Peaks 7, 8, and 9-large bowls and steep chutes.
If you're a local...you get fresh tracks in the bowls, lunch at Border Burritos, work the park all afternoon, and après at Eric's.
Info: 800-404-3535; www.breckenridge.com
-Brian Metzler

HEAVENLY, California
With a new gondola connecting the casino core of South Lake Tahoe with the heart of the ski area, this season Heavenly ups the, ahem, ante, on its resort experience. Classic mogul runs, miles of groomed cruisers, and two steep canyons-Killebrew and Mott-are now only minutes from the high-rise hotels and 24-hour gambling and debauchery of South Tahoe. But there's entertainment enough on the hill: Early season, Heavenly has some of the best snowmaking in the West. Midwinter, the tree skiing here is phenomenal.
What's New: The gondola and a skier-service building.
Adventure Angle: Brave the scary-ass drop-off at the top of Killebrew Canyon to reach its steep chutes and sweet tree skiing.
If you're a local...you've already skied the out-of-bounds line under the new gondola back toward the casinos.
Info: 800-2-HEAVEN; www.skiheavenly.com
-Chaco Mohler

KEYSTONE, Colorado
Keystone, a Mountain Playground? Isn't it flat as Kansas, crowded as a cattle car, and asleep by 9? Poor Keystone; it can't shake its old rep, despite the last decade's additions of North Peak, the Outback, and River Run village. The tree skiing and open bowls of the Outback are as vast as Vail's much-hyped Blue Sky Basin, but perhaps more exciting and certainly less skied; North Peak's bump runs are equally unknown and deserted. Result: a huge, private preserve for experts. And thanks to River Run, Keystone's nightlife rocks past 11 p.m.-on weekends, at least.
What's New: High-speed Ruby Express six-pack replaces the slow-speed Ruby triple on the backside of Keystone Mountain.
Adventure Angle: Get a free tour of the Outback (970-496-4FUN).
If you're a local...you head to the Goat for after-ski.
Info: 800-404-3535; www.keystoneresort.com
-Rick Kahl

KILLINGTON, Vermont
To ski or to play? With 200 trails, 32 lifts, seven mountains, and three terrain parks on the one hand; and snow tubing, events galore, and an overwhelming selection of party venues on the other, that's the question for the Killington-bound. Most say "both" and ski hard all day, from October through June, and really get busy when the sun goes down. And though Outer Limits, the Fusion Zones, and the like earn this skiers' circus a well-deserved rep for challenging terrain, it has a gentler side as well. The Rams Head Family Center is a novice's oasis, while the underutilized Pico Mountain is for those who prefer breathing room.
What's New: 30 percent more manmade from Woodward Reservoir.
Adventure Angle: Ski the summer hiking and singletrack trails.
If you're a local...you hit the woods on powder-day afternoons.
Info: 800-621-MTNS; www.killington.com
-Paul McMorris

MOUNT SNOW, Vermont
Host to contests like the Pig Air and the Winter X Games and music events like the New York Invasion (moshing in ski boots), Mount Snow might scare off more puritanical New England folks. But at its core, Mount Snow is a family mountain. It has sweet bumps and glades on the North Face for experts, some of the East's best terrain parks for new schoolers, and meandering groomers in Sunbrook for the less skilled. For partiers, it has the Snow Barn.
What's New: Sister mountain Haystack will only open weekends and holidays, making it a great hike-to destination on a powder day.
Adventure Angle: Launch the 15-footer somewhere inside the Sunbrook area (finding it is part of the adventure).
If you're a local...you grab lunch at the Perfect Cup and eat it while skiing the ridge trail between Mount Snow and Haystack.
Info: 800-245-SNOW; www.mountsnow.com
-Shawn Magee

PARK CITY, Utah
The impending Olympics are transforming the face of both Park City the town and Park City the mountain. Buildings are going up at blistering speed, and new lifts have made a big ski area even bigger. When the crowds do come, the ski area should be able to handle them. Its layout tends to disperse skiers rather than bring them together in high-traffic bottlenecks-and with more than 3,000 skiable acres, there's enough terrain for all comers. More good news: Park City's Main Street remains unadulterated by all the growth around it. It's still a thriving nexus of restaurants, boutiques, and clubs dressed up handsomely as a historic mining town.
What's New: A 54,000-square-foot base lodge.
Adventure Angle: Hiking Jupiter Peak almost always means freshies.
If you're a local...you've ski jumped-on your regular Alpine gear.
Info: 800-222-PARK; www.parkcitymountain.com
-Peter Oliver

STEAMBOAT, Colorado
Steamboat Springs might be the friendliest, most relaxed town you ever visit. And with good reason: The folks here get repeated doses of champagne powder-not to mention therapeutic soaks in the nearby Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Terrain highlights include ethereal tree runs, endless bumps, carvalicious corduroy, steep chutes, and wide-open cruisers, all of which get buried beneath the abundant powder. Off the hill, indulge on everything from sushi, microbrews, and locally raised Yampa Valley beef to activities like hot-air ballooning, dogsledding, snowmobiling, and ice driving.
What's New: Pony Express, Steamboat's newest high-speed quad.
Adventure Angle: Perfectly spaced glades: Try Closet or Shadows.
If you're a local...you head to the Slopeside Grill for après-ski brew and $5 gourmet pizzas.
Info: 970-879-6111; www.steamboat-ski.com
-Mark North

SQUAW VALLEY USA, California
Local diehards like to think Squaw was created just for them. But so do San Fran's beautiful people, who snapped up much of Intrawest's swanky new real estate. In truth, Squaw-site of the 1960 Winter Olympics-can host the world. Where else in California can you frolic among the big open bowls of six peaks, play broomball or bungee jump on-mountain, grab hold of a climbing wall, and eat gourmet cuisine? Tahoe's big daddy delivers the terrain and soul of a big-ass Skier's Mountain with the amenities and charisma of a world-class playground.
What's New: A six-pack and a new guest-services center.
Adventure Angle: Try to hang with the locals on the KT Chair.
If you're a local...you know exactly what time to leave home to be at the front of the KT lift line on a powder day.
Info: 800-545-4350; www.squaw.com
-Susan Reifer

SNOWMASS, Colorado
"Slowmass" my ass. The nickname that some people throw SnowmaNT SNOW, Vermont
Host to contests like the Pig Air and the Winter X Games and music events like the New York Invasion (moshing in ski boots), Mount Snow might scare off more puritanical New England folks. But at its core, Mount Snow is a family mountain. It has sweet bumps and glades on the North Face for experts, some of the East's best terrain parks for new schoolers, and meandering groomers in Sunbrook for the less skilled. For partiers, it has the Snow Barn.
What's New: Sister mountain Haystack will only open weekends and holidays, making it a great hike-to destination on a powder day.
Adventure Angle: Launch the 15-footer somewhere inside the Sunbrook area (finding it is part of the adventure).
If you're a local...you grab lunch at the Perfect Cup and eat it while skiing the ridge trail between Mount Snow and Haystack.
Info: 800-245-SNOW; www.mountsnow.com
-Shawn Magee

PARK CITY, Utah
The impending Olympics are transforming the face of both Park City the town and Park City the mountain. Buildings are going up at blistering speed, and new lifts have made a big ski area even bigger. When the crowds do come, the ski area should be able to handle them. Its layout tends to disperse skiers rather than bring them together in high-traffic bottlenecks-and with more than 3,000 skiable acres, there's enough terrain for all comers. More good news: Park City's Main Street remains unadulterated by all the growth around it. It's still a thriving nexus of restaurants, boutiques, and clubs dressed up handsomely as a historic mining town.
What's New: A 54,000-square-foot base lodge.
Adventure Angle: Hiking Jupiter Peak almost always means freshies.
If you're a local...you've ski jumped-on your regular Alpine gear.
Info: 800-222-PARK; www.parkcitymountain.com
-Peter Oliver

STEAMBOAT, Colorado
Steamboat Springs might be the friendliest, most relaxed town you ever visit. And with good reason: The folks here get repeated doses of champagne powder-not to mention therapeutic soaks in the nearby Strawberry Park Hot Springs. Terrain highlights include ethereal tree runs, endless bumps, carvalicious corduroy, steep chutes, and wide-open cruisers, all of which get buried beneath the abundant powder. Off the hill, indulge on everything from sushi, microbrews, and locally raised Yampa Valley beef to activities like hot-air ballooning, dogsledding, snowmobiling, and ice driving.
What's New: Pony Express, Steamboat's newest high-speed quad.
Adventure Angle: Perfectly spaced glades: Try Closet or Shadows.
If you're a local...you head to the Slopeside Grill for après-ski brew and $5 gourmet pizzas.
Info: 970-879-6111; www.steamboat-ski.com
-Mark North

SQUAW VALLEY USA, California
Local diehards like to think Squaw was created just for them. But so do San Fran's beautiful people, who snapped up much of Intrawest's swanky new real estate. In truth, Squaw-site of the 1960 Winter Olympics-can host the world. Where else in California can you frolic among the big open bowls of six peaks, play broomball or bungee jump on-mountain, grab hold of a climbing wall, and eat gourmet cuisine? Tahoe's big daddy delivers the terrain and soul of a big-ass Skier's Mountain with the amenities and charisma of a world-class playground.
What's New: A six-pack and a new guest-services center.
Adventure Angle: Try to hang with the locals on the KT Chair.
If you're a local...you know exactly what time to leave home to be at the front of the KT lift line on a powder day.
Info: 800-545-4350; www.squaw.com
-Susan Reifer

SNOWMASS, Colorado
"Slowmass" my ass. The nickname that some people throw Snowmass' way doesn't do justice to the depth of its double-black terrain. Sure, the resort caters to families, with kid-friendly runs and a tubing park. And the cruisers off the Big Burn, Elk Camp, and Coney Glade chairs are all top-notch. But take a hike over to the cliff-banded chutes and glades of Hanging Valley, ski the butt-spanking moguls of Garrett Gulch, drop into the Cirque Headwall at 12,000 feet, or launch into the precipitous Gowdy's, and by day's end, you'll be crying "no mas."
What's New: Manmade moguls; lessons with video analysis.
Adventure Angle: Ski the speed-skiing course on Slot on Fridays.
If you're a local...you head for the underused Campground lift for superlong expert runs.
Info: 800-525-6200; www.aspensnowmass.com
-C.H.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho
Time was, the images associated with skiing were ones of non-chalant glamour, of beautiful people gracefully skiing down the hill, smiling under crisp, sunny skies. Time hasn't stood still, but those images of the good life still feel true here. Lunch is a civilized affair in a palatial day lodge; evenings are spent ice skating, strolling, and dining on braised lamb; days start late and involve long turns on rapturously long runs. What Baldy lacks in trendy huckability and steeps, it makes up for in consistent pitch, quad-crippling vertical, and views that are, well, timeless.
What's New: The Sun Valley Inn has been remodeled.
Adventure Angle: Any bowl off the Mayday lift that isn't groomed.
If you're a local...you party a lot. Ketchum's rowdy bars offset Sun Valley's well-bred ambiance. Try Whiskey Jaques or the Roosevelt.
Info: 800-786-8259; www.sunvalley.com
-Bevin Wallace

TREMBLANT, Quebec
The native Algonquin believed this mountain trembled whenever humans disturbed nature. Thankfully, even with all Intrawest's improvements since acquiring Tremblant in 1991, it has yet to self-destruct. Today, the trembling is a result of dancers gyrating in the pedestrian village's clubs and the dynamite charges breaking ground for one more hotel. While the skiing is predominately cruising terrain with the odd steep shot and glade, the real playground is the faux vieux Quebec village with bistros at every turn, frothy hot tubs, cinema, swimming pools, arcades, and shopping-a perfect place for the unskied who may be tagging along.
What's New: The 126-unit Westin Hotel.
Adventure Angle: The backcountry trails off the summit.
If you're a local...you slide from the summit lodge on lunch trays.
Info: 88-TREMBLANT; www.tremblant.ca
-P.M.

VAIL, Colorado
Call it big, expensive, and flashy; just don't call it predictable. Vail always surprises. It may attract a Disneyesque number of visitors, but with 193 trails on 5,289 acres, it's plenty roomy. The European-tinged base village does have glitz, but skiing in Blue Sky Basin feels a lot like skiing a simple resort in the Adirondacks-albeit one with sustained vertical. And all those celebrated diversions-Thrill Sleds, fancy boutiques, blue-square cruisers, and the innumerable restaurants and bars? They're great, because they lure people away from the main attraction: an embarrassment of grand, ungroomed steeps.
What's New: Pete's Bowl-125 quasi-naturel acres in Blue Sky Basin.
Adventure Angle: Do a backcountry trip to the Hidden Treasure Yurt.
If you're a local...you eat gooey breakfast sandwiches at Covered Bridge Coffee-and skip lunch.
Info: 800-525-2257; www.vail.com
-B.W.

WHISTLER/BLACKCOMB, British Columbia
Whistler/Blackcomb dwarfs every North American resort by every measure: skiable acreage or amplitude of nightlife, variety of nonski activities or simply good old vertical drop. You can fly-fish in winter, get pampere