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Get Your Legs Ready for Ski Season By Hiking Up These 7 Ski Areas

Everyone wants legs of steel as soon as the chairlifts begin turning. But in order to get there, it’s time to start putting in the work now.

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As summer tips towards fall, what better way to prepare for ski season than to hike up some of your favorite ski runs that you will be carving down through powder in a matter of months.

It’s hard to get in ski shape without actually skiing, but a solid climb with 2,000-plus vertical feet is sure to get your quads fired up and enable you to kick back and float through the powder. After all, if you can hike up a mountain in the summer, you should be good to shred down it come this winter.

Whether you are hiking into the backcountry for some turns or catching a lift into some back bowls of your favorite resort, these are seven ski resorts with some scenic vertical hikes and a couple of extra credit climbs that will ensure your legs will be good to go come ski season.

Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

  • Trail: Mammoth Mountain Trail
  • Distance: 10 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 2,000-plus feet
  • Lift service down: Not available

Get ready for a mammoth hike at this California ski resort. This trail shares the resort’s name and starts at the Eleven 53 Interpretive Center with a large multi-use trail. It then snakes its way up the back of the mountain until it tops out around 11,000 feet with stunning views of the San Joaquin river valley unfolding below as your reward. Return to the main lodge via Red’s Lake and let the surrounding wildflowers and peaks distract you from the fire in your legs.

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Telluride, Colo.

  • Trail: See Forever
  • Distance: 6 – 8 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 1,700-plus feet
  • Lift service down: Available

As soon as you roll down the main street of Telluride and crane your neck skyward to see the vertical box canyon cliffs that surround you, the lactic acid will already start flowing through your legs. This area is rich in hiking trails that you could climb all summer long. But, if you have to pick just one, check out the See Forever Trail to the Wasatch Connection. The trail climbs sharply from the St. Sophia Gondola more than 1,500 feet in less than 3 miles to the Wasatch Connection. True to its name, the views will stretch forever across the San Juan Mountains as you ascend. From there, the steep and rocky terrain continues for another 1.4 miles to the Wasatch Trail. To really make sure your legs are toast, forgo the cush gondola ride down and instead descend more than 3,500 feet into Telluride via the Wasatch and Bear Creek trails. Then you will really earn that post-hike beer.

Telluride Bonus Hike: Mt. Sneffles

Mt. Sneffles, fourteener
Photo: “Mt. Sneffles. A Fourteener” by Chuckcars is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Venture outside of the ski area and sample one of Colorado’s famed Fourteeners, peaks that exceed 14,000 feet. While there are plenty to choose from in this part of Colorado, we recommend Sneffels. Check out the Blue Lakes Trail to the 14,150-foot peak. The 13-mile hike includes 5,501 feet in elevation gain along with some of the most stunning high alpine views Colorado has to offer. Keep in mind that Fourteeners offer a whole different level of difficulty with hiking, including route-finding, scrambling, exposure, and weather. Make sure you do your homework and are prepared before tackling any of these peaks.

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Sun Valley, Idaho

  • Trail: Bald Mountain
  • Distance: 10 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 3,000 plus feet
  • Lift service down: available

Sun Valley may be best known for its 3,400 vertical feet of skiing and more than 2,500 acres of varied terrain, however, don’t sleep on this area in the summer and take to the trails to summit the 9,150-foot Bald Mountain Peak. While there are a number of trails that spiderweb across the mountain, we recommend taking the Bald Mountain Trail, which switchbacks up to the summit. This trail is reserved for hikers only, which is nice because it eliminates the worry of a mountain biker barreling into you. Take the lift down for free, or hike back down to make it an extra-long day.

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Whitefish, Mont.

  • Trail: Danny On Trail
  • Distance: 8 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 2,000-plus feet
  • Lift service down: available
Danny On summit
Photo: Courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort

Located just outside of Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a scenic ski area that has been attracting skiers since the 1940s. Those scenic slopes come alive in the summer, offering amazing hiking trails to visitors. The best hike to get you in shape quickly is the Danny On Trail hike. The trail is dedicated to Danny On, a Forest Service ecologist, renowned nature photographer and conservationist who died skiing the mountain at age 55. The trail climbs from the village to the summit of the peak, offering views of Glacier, the Canadian Rockies and Flathead Valley below. Take the lift down or for extra credit, continue to the East Rim Trail and Flower Point, which connect to the Danny On Trail, to extend your hike.

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Angel Fire, N.M.

  • Trail: Trek between Summit & Base
  • Distance: 4.55 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 2,000-plus feet
  • Lift service down: Available
Angel Fire scenic overlook
Photo: Angel Fire Resort

This hike is sure to fire up the legs. While Angel Fire started as a small ski destination in Northern New Mexico in the late 1960s, it has since grown into a year-round resort offering an array of activities including hiking. The summit trail is steep and rugged, offering a solid hike for skiers-in-training. The summit includes a small loop for hikers to enjoy the views of the New Mexico landscape before descending.

Bonus Hike Near Angel Fire

Why not just keep hiking from one ski resort to the next? You can do just that with the South Country Trail, which connects Angel Fire and Taos Ski Valley, N.M.. This nearly 50-mile out-and-back hike travels through the forest and includes nearly 8,000 feet in elevation gain. Obviously, for this hike, you will need to be prepared to spend a night or two on the trail to complete it – unless you are a beast!

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Alta Ski Area, Utah

  • Trail: Collins Gulch
  • Distance: 5.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 2,000 feet
  • Lift service down: Not available

Alta is a must-ski for anyone in Utah. This resort in the heart of the Wasatch Mountains offers more than 2,600 acres of skiable terrain. Come summer, that springs to life with high alpine hiking and amazing views full of wildflowers. Collins Gulch is one of the more challenging hikes at Alta. From the Wildcat Base parking lot, set out on the Collins Gulch trail and climb the steep service road to the Albion Basin around 10,000 feet. For those who still have some gas in the tank, the trail continues on towards the summit of Mount Baldy at 11,057 feet.

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Stowe Mountain, Vt.

  • Trail: Chin via Long & Cliff Trail
  • Distance: 10 miles round-trip
  • Elevation: 2,800 plus feet
  • Lift service down: Available
Stowe summer

If you are going to hike a mountain, you may as well hike to the top of your state, right? At Stowe Mountain Resort you can train hard by climbing 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield, the tallest mountain in Vermont. From the base, take the Chin Trail via the Long Trail—the oldest long-distance trail in the country—and connect up with the Cliff Trail near the summit. The hike up offers scenic views of the alpine terrain, Lake Champlain, the Adirondacks, and the White Mountains. While less than a mile long, the final pitch of Cliff Trail is considered an advanced-level section. Be aware of steep exposure, rock scrambling and some climbing to reach the peak. Once you stand atop Mansfield’s “Chin,” you are at the highest point in the state of Vermont.

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