Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
1. BIG SKY, MONT. Technically, the chutes and gullies on Big Sky’s Lone Peak are within the ski area’s boundaries; you can access most of them from the Lone Peak Tram, and ski patrol does avalanche control to preempt slides. But in every other respect, this terrain is as wild as it gets. All comers are encouraged to carry a beacon, shovel and probe, and a patrol escort is required in some places. If you plan to hit Big Couloir, which threads more than 1,000 vertical feet of rock walls and cliff bands, sign up for a tee time in the patrol shack at the top of the tram.
2. CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN, WASH. The new Northway Lift has opened up nearly 1,000 acres and 1,500 vertical feet of sidecountry skiing in what was previously backcountry territory. It’s all superb ungroomed terrain, but for the best of it head skier’s right off the lift and proceed to the wide-open Morning Glory Bowl. Veer right and hit Penny Dawg’s Cliffs, then continue straight to the run-out on Glory Days, which has lots of nice glades and puts you back at the bottom of the Northway chair.
3. LAKE LOUISE, ALB. With inbounds terrain worthy enough for a World Cup downhill race, Lake Louise has plenty this side of the ropes to please most visitors. But if you yearn for your very own wilderness, take a hike out of one of Lake Louise’s three backcountry gates. From the top of the Larch Express, bootpack 30 minutes up Lapalian Mountain’s Elevator Shaft, then traverse across the rock bands to Purple Bowl. Or, if you’re really gluttonous, traverse past Purple and above Wolverine Ridge to Wolverine Bowl.
4. ALPINE MEADOWS, CALIF. Thanks to an open-boundary policy, the sidecountry options are virtually limitless at Alpine. Little Alaska Bowl is a favorite for its east-facing aspect and its fun flutes and spines. Take the Summit 6 chair, then follow High T past the radio towers and beyond the boundary line. Drop into the bowl about five to 10 minutes past Grouse Rock. Beware: Toilet Bowl, on skier’s right, is a long couloir with a mandatory 10-footer at the end. Stay to the left and enjoy the rollover effect: The terrain is so steep in places it appears to drop off right in front of you.
5. STOWE, VT. Stowe’s Bruce is a backcountry original that was cut in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s off-map and outside the resort boundary but can be accessed from the top of Stowe’s Forerunner Quad, no hike required. The trail never widens beyond 20 feet, and it drops 2,600 feet through the Green Mountain National Forest before spilling out near the Mount Mansfield Touring Center.