Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Resort Guide 2022

The Top 10 Resorts With the Most Challenging Terrain in the West

Trees, couloirs, and cliffs, oh my! When high angles get your blood pumping, these are the ski areas that should be on your go list.

Lock Icon

Unlock this article and unwrap savings this holiday season.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

Now 30% Off.
$4.99/month $3.49/month*

Get the one subscription to fuel all your adventures.

  • Map your next adventure with our premium GPS apps: Gaia GPS Premium and Trailforks Pro.
  • Read unlimited digital content from 15+ brands, including Outside Magazine, Triathlete, Ski, Trail Runner, and VeloNews.
  • Watch 600+ hours of endurance challenges, cycling and skiing action, and travel documentaries.
  • Learn from the pros with expert-led online courses.
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

Couloirs. High-angle glades. Cliff drops. When you’re looking to amp up the challenge, those are just some of the terrain features you’re looking for. So where are your best bets for finding such challenging terrain in the Western U.S.? The following list comprises the resorts that ranked in the Top 10 for challenge in the 2022 Reader Resort Survey, and are a great place to start.

10. Telluride, Colo.

Score: 9.35
Other Strengths: Variety (#3), Dining (#4)
Weaknesses: Access (#33), Family (#21)

Telluride Challenge
(Photo: Keri Bascetta)

What Readers Say

“Telluride is a skier’s mountain. There is terrain for beginners to experts, with amazing backcountry areas that will challenge the best, and open horizons for newbies. In 33 years of skiing there I have only been ‘skunked’ one time by marginal snow.”

“I was blown away by Mountain Village and the accessibility into the town of Telluride. The food was AMAZING (although slightly expensive), the skiing was incredible, and the atmosphere is top notch. We had a mix of groomer days and powder days and we loved every minute on the terrain.”

“Telluride is amazing because of the quality of snow and terrain and it’s never as busy as so many other resorts we’ve skied! We keep going back to it over and over again because we just can’t find anything as good anywhere else we’ve been!”

9. Palisades Tahoe, Calif.

Score: 9.38
Other Strengths: Après (#13), Variety (#14)
Weaknesses: Snow (#33), Grooming (#33)

What Readers Say

“From ‘first timer’ to ‘challenging death,’ there’s something for EVERYONE at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, both. Food from authentic Mexican to steak and/or burgers, to vegan, drinks from non-alcoholic to fine wines and wine tasting, door-to-lift lodging, and friendly/helpful staff that treats you as if you saw them yesterday! What more could one ask, except a longer ski season?”

“You can build amenities and lifts but you can’t build a mountain. Squaw/Alpine’s terrain is unmatched in North America. Closest thing to skiing in Europe and always challenging no matter how good you are.”

“The steeps and chutes at Squaw/Alpine are unbeatable, and the stoke on a powder day is amazing. Not to mention, most powder days we get here are also bluebird. Prime skiing is under the lifts which makes it all the more fun to watch people sending it! Local vibes are great but there are certainly far more tourists than ever before and the locals and tourists do not mesh in Tahoe whatsoever.”

8. Alta Ski Area, Utah

Score: 9.39
Other Strengths: Snow (#1), Overall Satisfaction (#9)
Weaknesses: Nightlife (#31), Grooming (#30)

Alta Challenge
(Photo: Craig Moore)

What Readers Say

“Alta has a lot of challenging terrain that hits my sweet spot. The snow is simply amazing. It’s a skier’s mountain for sure.”

“The snow! Easy to find powder, even when the slopes are stripped clean next door at Snowbird. This place is a cathedral for skiers. It’s definitely for those more advanced. The terrain is challenging but so much fun. If you are a serious skier, you have to go at least once.”

“It’s never busy because it’s skiers only. The terrain options are second to none! Fantastic Utah powder, trees, steeps, and groomers if you like.”

7. Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.

Score: 9.46
Other Strengths: Variety (#1), Nightlife (#1)
Weaknesses: Snow (#28), Value (#24)

Whistler Challenge
Powder skiing on Whislter Blackcomb (Photo: Guy Fattal)

What Readers Say

“Amazing mountain! Incredibly varied and challenging terrain! Blackcomb Mountain is nothing short of hidden gem, if the Whistler side of the resort is packed with people, which it tends to be, Blackcomb mountain is the place to be!”

“It’s the resort I have skied the most in the past 12 years. I love the variety of terrain and lift access. There is something for everyone.”

“I’ve skied all over North America and my last 10 trips were to Whistler Blackcomb. Love the steeps, the trees (especially Blackcomb), the variety of terrain can’t be beat. Fun après in the Village and Creekside. Great dining and fun nightlife. The people of Whistler are very welcoming. It’s home.”

6. Revelstoke Mountain Resort, B.C.

Score: 9.52
Other Strengths: Snow (#7), Value (#7)
Weaknesses: Lifts (#31), Family (#31)

Revelstoke Challenge
Craig Murray, Revelstoke backcountry, BC (Photo: Ryan Creary)

What Readers Say

“Revelstoke Mountain Resort is my favorite place to ride. Out of the 100+ days I ski each season, I continue to love and recommend Revelstoke for its abundance of snow and awesome terrain.”

“Would recommend this resort to anyone looking to expand their skillset and looking for adventure and varied terrain. This mountain has something to challenge every level of skier with big terrain and outstanding backcountry variety with chutes and open bowls and excellent tree skiing. Some of my most favorite tree runs are located on this mountain off the Ripper chair and bottom of North Bowl. Excellent deep fluffy B.C. interior dry powder with large dumps consistently!”

“Some of the best resort riding anywhere. Steep, long, and challenging. It’s the real deal.”

5. Big Sky Resort, Mont.

Score: 9.54
Other Strengths: Variety (#2), Grooming (#7)
Weaknesses: Access (#28), Après (#26)

Big Sky Challenge
(Photo: Patrick Conroy)

What Readers Say

“It’s absolutely huge. If you know where to go, there’s powder for at least a week after every storm. Never crowded. Always excellent snow. Almost never a serious line at any lift. Terrain ranges from beginners to stuff that scares even me. And lots of everything at both ends and in between.”

“Great challenge and great snow. One of the few where I look and say, ‘Naah.’ ”

“Big Sky has some of the most challenging runs I have found, well served with lifts and trails. It is also one of the most beautiful ski mountains. It is more isolated than most in the Rockies, however that gives it more of an old-world European flavor that we really enjoy.”

4. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Colo.

Score: 9.56
Other Strengths: Value (#3), Local Flavor (#5)
Weaknesses: Family (#32), Lodging (#31)

Arapahoe Basin Challenge
Doug Evans A-Basin backcountry (Photo: Liam Doran)

What Readers Say

“A huge day resort with no accommodation and minimal food choices but excellent terrain and challenging steeps. Great options for people who are willing to hike to terrain.”

“It’s called The Legend for a reason. I’ve skied all over the U.S. and Europe and A-Basin is one of the most varied, interesting and challenging places I’ve ever been.”

“Interesting high mountain terrain and season that last long after others close. Scenery is epic, people are like minded.”

3. Snowbird, Utah

Score: 9.57
Other Strengths: Snow (#3), Access (#10)
Weaknesses: Family (#33), Local Flavor (#33)

Snowbird Challenge
(Photo: Kelsey Johnson)

What Readers Say

“A great resort for a serious skier with challenging terrain. The rooftop spa was great après skiing. Not too much to do at night though.”

“Greatest snow on Earth and always steep and deep. Love the Bird!”

“I go to Snowbird when I’m skiing well and want a challenge. Snow conditions are like Alta. Better lift layout. Traffic and parking are a pain lately.”

2. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyo.

Score: 9.78
Other Strengths: Snow (#8), Après (#11)
Weaknesses: Family (#29), Lifts (#26)

What Readers Say

“True western town, very welcoming and filled with great restaurants and shopping. The resort is challenging and almost always has great snow. With proximity to two national parks, the scenery is fantastic.”

“Top of my list. Best steeps, variety, and snow quality.”

“It’s currently my home town resort. It’s uniquely western, a bit cowboy, a bit hippie, and lot upscale! The scenery is spectacular, and the backcountry is beyond comparison. The snow is always good, and is mostly excellent. The parking is appalling.”

1. Taos Ski Valley, N.M.

Score: 9.81
Other Strengths: Local Flavor (#3), Value (#5)
Weaknesses: Access (#27), Nightlife (#23)

Taos Challenge
(Photo: Liam Doran)

What Readers Say

“Taos is in the midst of a terrific upgrade program. In the last 5 years their ability to make, keep, and groom snow has multiplied many fold. The mountain is varied and the challenges are definitely there. With all the changes, it has managed to retain its special ambiance. I love this resort.”

“Taos has some, of if not the best, terrain and challenge. It’s said, ‘If you can ski Taos, you can ski anywhere.’ I’ve found that to be true.”

“Grew up skiing at Taos. The New Mexican vibe is extremely unique. Taos is an amazing place to visit year-round, and the ski resort, despite being in the Southern Rockies, has some extremely challenging skiing and a good variety to boot. Taos isn’t on the radar of a lot of skiers and riders who assume that places in Montana, Utah, or Colorado have the best skiing in the U.S., so it never seems too crowded.”