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The U.S. doesn’t have a Powder Highway, but if we could nominate one route to be this country’s equivalent of the B.C. version, it would be this one, meandering from Utah to Montana via Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Jackson Hole, and Big Sky. With an average annual snowfall of 450 inches across all five resorts, this 513-mile stretch is basically one long face shot. What’s more—these mountains have terrain steep enough to keep you moving in all that pow. How steep? Let’s put it this way: It’s no coincidence that some of North America’s best big mountain skiers—Jess McMillan, Marcus Caston, Griffin Post, Angel Collinson, and Lynsey Dyer, to name a few—hail from these resorts.
But mind-blowing snow and steeps aside, there are other reasons to explore these resorts in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. Each of these mountains has something unique to offer skiers of all abilities. Looking for a skier’s-only powder paradise? You’ll find it at Alta. The longest ski season in Utah? Keep circling back to Snowbird. On-hill dining that’s out of this world? Tuck in at Snowbasin. A world-class ski resort with a world-class national park in its backyard? Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park make an impressive duo that would be hard to beat if it weren’t for the neighboring pair of Big Sky and Yellowstone National Park, giving them a run for their money.
And the most compelling reason of all to make the powder pilgrimage this season: these resorts all happen to be on the Mountain Collective pass, which gives skiers access to two days at 18 resorts around the globe for $489. Enough said?
The Fastest Lifts in the West
Resorts in this part of the country are killing it when it comes to ski lift infrastructure.
Jackson Hole, Snowbasin, and Snowbird all made SKI’s Reader Resort Survey Top 10 list for Best Lifts in the West. And while Big Sky isn’t on there, we’d expect it to be next year after having installed the Ramcharger this season—the most technologically advanced chairlift in the world, and North America’s first eight-seater featuring a bubble. The new monster lift is able to transport 3,600 skiers per hour to the top of Andesite Mountain, which will really spread out the huge crowds at Big Sky ( j/k, there are no crowds at Big Sky).
Steep & Deep
Get ready to remove the water wings and dive into the deep end. These mountains are home to some of the steepest runs in North America.
Corbet’s Couloir- Jackson Hole
We know you’ve heard of it. With a vertical entrance into a 50-degree pitch, Corbet’s is a rite of passage for expert skiers. Those who take the leap of faith into the couloir are rewarded with the goods stashed in the runout and, of course, eternal glory.
The Big Couloir- Big Sky
In a few words: a run so steep that anyone planning to ski this gnarly chute under the Lone Peak Tram must sign out at the patrol shack at the top, and be accompanied by a buddy, the necessary avalanche equipment, and backcountry know-how.
Dictator Chutes- Big Sky
Big Sky’s Lone Peak boasts double-black diamonds galore, but there are three standouts: Lenin, Marx, and Castro, forming the Dictator Chutes. Named after infamous dictators for their demanding, unyielding nature, each descends at about 45 degrees.
High Rustler- Alta
On a powder day, head straight up the Collins lift and along the High Traverse to High Rustler, arguably the most famous and intimidating line at Alta. The first turns on a 45-degree pitch eventually give way to a more moderate slope.
Great Scott- Snowbird
There are as many expert runs as expert skiers on this mountain, so it’s inevitable to have varying opinions about the most challenging run. But most will agree that Great Scott, at the highest point on the Cirque, is equal parts intimidating and awesome.
If you’re comfortable in tight spaces, test yourself on Gunsight. The narrow, steep entrance demands skillful hop-turns and doesn’t permit second-guessing. After the first 10 turns, you’ll find yourself in a gradually widening chute that’s just good fun.
HOW STEEP IS STEEP? Slope steepness is calculated in degrees and percent, though skiers generally use degrees. A 45-degree slope is equal to a 100 percent grade. For comparison, the maximum grade of a federally funded highway in the U.S. is 7 percent, or 4 degrees.
Alta’s iconic ski lodge gets a serious facelift.
Like many ski areas in the west, Alta evolved from a mining town established in the 1800s to the iconic ski resort it is today. Alta’s Snowpine Lodge is the only building in Little Cottonwood Canyon dating back to those early mining days, having served as a general store, post office, and army barracks before officially being established as a hotel in 1938. While Alta devotees treasure their resort’s quaint and rustic past, it’s safe to say that, after nearly 100 years, its oldest building was in need of a little updating. Enter the new and improved Snowpine Lodge, slated to reopen its doors in January 2019. Resurrected on the same slopeside site as the original building, the new Snowpine Lodge is Alta’s first ski-in/ ski-out luxury hotel, offering 79 rooms, 11 dorm beds, a full-service spa and restaurant, and convenient access to the new Snowpine ski lift adjacent to the hotel. To ensure the lodge’s longstanding history isn’t forgotten in all the updates, remnants of the building’s original stone interior remain to highlight the property’s past. Get more info at snowpine.com.
Kings & Queens of Corbet’s
Could Jackson Hole get any gnarlier? Well, yes. In fact—it just did.
As if Jackson Hole didn’t already have a reputation for being a go-to destination for hard-charging skiers looking to scare themselves, the resort decided in February 2018 to launch a new freeride event that would solidify that reputation: The Kings & Queens of Corbet’s, an epic throw- down between some of the best big mountain skiers and riders worldwide, held in Jackson’s notorious Corbet’s Couloir. Though—is “in” the correct preposition to describe an event that has competitors launching themselves off the lip at the top of the couloir, over the mouth of it, and into the narrow chute? That’s about the gist of this competition: men and women send it into Corbet’s, and their airs and runouts are evaluated by a panel of judges. At the end of the day, only one man and one woman is crowned the King and Queen of Corbet’s and walks away with the $8,000 first place cash prize.
Read more: Freedride World Tour
Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Park
When snow blankets the northern states, Wyoming’s most famous parks transform into winter wonderlands, devoid of the crowds and motor vehicles that besiege them in the summer. Take advantage of the snow and explore the parks on skis and sleds.
Old Faithful Snow Lodge: Book a stay at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Snow Lodge and you’ll get to explore Yellowstone like few others. Located within the park’s interior, the Old Faithful Snow Lodge offers a quiet refuge at 7,300 feet and various accommodations, from comfortable rooms to cabins. Take advantage of the lodge’s premium location and explore the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails that set out from the lodge’s doorstep and lead to the park’s famous falls and geysers.
Eco Tour Adventures: Jackson Hole Wildlife Tour Adventures offers a number of ways to get out to enjoy the solitude of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone during the winter and get up close and personal with wildlife along the way. Book a full-day or half-day snowshoeing or cross-country ski tour with experienced guides who will lead you into the depths of the parks to the best wildlife viewing spots. If booking a full day tour, expect to be out in the field for six to eight hours.
Scenic Safaris: For those keen on covering more ground within the parks, a snowmobile tour is the way to go. Scenic Safaris out of Jackson offers numerous tour options in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park where you’ll travel through remote areas to explore the parks’ famous wilderness, wildlife, and geysers. Full-day tours will have you riding around 40 miles of groomed trails to the parks’ best wildlife viewing spots. Drivers must have a valid driver’s license.
While you’re in the area, check out the events happening at these Mountain Collective resorts
- 3-4: 2019 Backcountry Basecamp: Jackson Hole- Want to head beyond the ropes? Check out this educational backcountry demo weekend and try out backcountry-specific skis, attend educational workshops, and get an out-of-bounds tour from Jackson’s knowledgeable guides.
- 9, 30 & April 6: Music Under the Tram: Jackson Hole-A free spring concert series at the hottest venue in Jackson Hole: right under the resort’ iconic tram.
- 22: Smokin’ Aces Rail Jam: Big Sky– Watch skiers and riders throw down at this annual sunset slopestyle competition. Free to spectate.
- 11-14: 13th Annual Big Sky Big Grass: Big Sky– A four-day bluegrass music festival that includes a mix of small-stage and large-venue shows at the Montana Jack, Chet’s Lounge, the Carabiner, and Missouri Ballroom.
Are We There Yet? A smattering of eateries and breweries along the way so no one gets hangry.
|Location||Eatery or Brewery|
|Salt Lake City, Utah||Epic Brewing Company: Award winning beers, rotating seasonals, ad heart grilled sandwiches in downtown SLC, just minutes off I-15.|
|Ogden, Utah||Roosters Brewing Company: Stop into Roosters to experience Ogden’s eclectic vibe, great beer, and delicious food–from burgers to ahi rice bowls.|
|Jackson Hole, Wyo.||The Mangy Moose: This après-ski bar meets rustic steakhouse has been the place in town for food, beers, and live music since 1967.|
|Jackson, Wyo.||GATHER: Just a block off Jackson’s town square, GATHER dishes an Elk Bolognese that will blow your mind.|
|Big Sky, Mont.||Blue Moon Bakery: This family-owned and operated joint serves up made-from scratch baked goods, gourmet pizzas, and sandwiches.|
Originally published in the January/February 2019 print edition of SKI Magazine. For more great road trips and resort information, SUBSCRIBE NOW.