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Resort Guide 2023

Top 10 Most Challenging Resorts in the West

From chutes and couloirs to rock bands and knee-quivering vert, these resorts never disappoint skiers on the hunt for a challenge.

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In it for the adrenaline? We know the type. When stomach-dropping vertical and mandatory air get your blood pumping, you have no choice but to seek out the tough stuff. Lucky for you, there’s no shortage of seriously challenging terrain throughout our Western mountains.

Resort Guide 2023: Top 50 Resorts in North America

Reader Resort Survey respondents returned the title to a resort that’s topped this list in the past, and, in a good snow year, is especially deserving of it. The other nine resorts are hardly hacks, too.

Top 10 Resorts in the West For Challenging Terrain

No. 10: Telluride Ski Resort, Colo.

Score: 9.35
Other Strengths: Overall Satisfaction, Terrain Variety
Weaknesses: Value, Access

Telluride Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort)

What Readers Say

“Telluride is the most challenging of all the resorts in the West. My son and I have been two times in the last seven years. We love the extreme terrain that is groomed and the varied layout between the Old West town and the new development above the town. The charm of the Old West comes through even with the glitz of the celebrities. No lines and friendly operators make it a great resort.”

“First time to Telluride last year and it will be a staple for every winter. We had fabulous snow the whole trip and the long groomers around Galloping Goose were great for beginner skiers. There was seriously rad lift-accessed terrain and some great glades that felt completely empty. Food scene is the best we have experienced and the amount of ski-on/ski-off hotels was a treat. The resort felt pretty empty and their focus on keeping lift lines low is fabulous. Can’t wait to go back now that (the I guess beloved for being slow?) Chair 9 is getting replaced with a high-speed detachable lift.”

“If you’re looking for the most difficult terrain, Telluride needs to be on your list.”

No. 9: Big Sky Resort, Mont.

Score: 9.31
Other Strengths: Lifts, Terrain Variety
Weaknesses: Nightlife, Value

Big Sky Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Big Sky Resort)

What Readers Say

“Big Sky is a good mountain that seems endless. It has amazing terrain, especially off of the tram. It is not the most accessible, it being necessary to fly into Bozeman and drive an hour and a half. The new lifts are very nice and serve a majority of the resort.”

“We liked Big Sky but we are ‘East Coast advanced’ and stood no chance against the amount of expert terrain in Big Sky. It’s so massive that getting around on was very difficult.”

“Something—lots of something—for everyone on the hill. Excellent groomies (better than Deer Valley) for the beginners to intermediates, two whole sides of the mountain (North and South) and a bowl in between for experts and as hairy stuff as any crazy person could want off the tram, off Headwaters and off Challenger.”

No. 8: Whistler Blackcomb, B.C.

Score: 9.38
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Après
Weaknesses: Value, Grooming

Whistler Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts)

What Readers Say

“If been skiing here for 25 years and it’s the best resort in North America. If I could only ski one place, this would be it. Copious amounts of snow, varied terrain, massive amounts of challenging terrain. It can get crowded but it’s easy enough to avoid the hordes with a little planning.”

“This resort is not very easy to get to, but has some of the best terrain I’ve skied. I’d summarize it by saying it has all of your favorite bits of resorts in the U.S. Rocky Mountains combined into one.”

“Whistler is a great resort. Two huge mountains with the best terrain you can find. It’s a high-end experience with a laid back vibe.”

No. 7: Crested Butte, Colo.

Score: 9.40
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Local Flavor
Weaknesses: Access, Nightlife

Crested Butte Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts)

What Readers Say

“Highest percentage of extreme terrain in country, ’nuff said.”

“Crested Butte is a great place if they have snow. Lots of north-facing steeper slopes. Cool old town. Worth the drive.”

“Crested Butte is a gem. It’s known for its challenge but the groomers are spectacular and extensive and the town is picture-perfect. As soon as you arrive at Crested Butte you can feel thats it’s different than any other ski resort and wonderfully unique.”

No. 6: Alta Ski Area, Utah

Score: 9.42
Other Strengths: Snow, Terrain Variety
Weaknesses: Nightlife, Après

Alta Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Alta Ski Area)

What Readers Say

“The terrain is second to none and dual access with Snowbird makes it special.”

“Alta was great because of their amazing expert terrain that is open fairly early in the season (I went in early December) and great snow quality. The resort employees were really friendly when we asked for a tune-up, and the lifts were pretty good.”

“Alta is a classic ski area. We love to go there for the amazing and challenging ski terrain. However, it is certainly limiting in nightlife and restaurant choices.”

No. 5: Palisades Tahoe, Calif.

Score: 9.42
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Overall Satisfaction
Weaknesses: Nightlife, Value

Palisades Tahoe Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Palisades Tahoe)

What Readers Say

“Palisades also encompasses Alpine Meadows. This is a resort with some of the steepest mountains anywhere. Skiers at the resort are the best in the Tahoe basin.”

“Best skiing in the Tahoe basin. Good beginner terrain and as well as areas of expert terrain (former Squaw side more than Alpine). Traffic and parking can be problematic on powder and weekend days. Go early! Customer service has improved but still could be better.”

“It has the the best overall terrain balance for me and any visiting friends, from beginner to expert “kill yourself” terrain. The ‘anywhere you see you can ski’ (unless otherwise marked, of course) casual policy and the lack of requiring us to stay only on groomed (like they do at Heavenly) with both off-piste and relaxed tree skiing gives me a freedom I can’t find at 90 percent of other resorts around me.”

No. 4: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Colo.

Score: 9.45
Other Strengths: Value, Overall Satisfaction
Weaknesses: Nightlife, Lodging

Arapahoe Basin Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Arapahoe Basin)

What Readers Say

“We went to A-Basin in a snowstorm, and it was some of the best conditions ever. Their high elevation and great expert slopes made for an amazing day, with some of the best nachos ever at the 6th Alley bar.”

“A-Basin remains a gem. There are challenges for the expert that match any—consider the Steep Gullies. It’s a fantastic locals place that has a very loyal following. I would recommend that a visitor in CO for a week of so spend at least one day experiencing the above tree line terrain and the craggy peaks.”

“Best skiing in Colorado. Especially when the East Wall hike is open.”

No. 3: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyo.

Score: 9.48
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Overall Satisfaction
Weaknesses: Family, Value

Jackson Hole Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Jackson Hole)

What Readers Say

“Great mountain. Very challenging mountain. Don’t come here until you get good—really good.”

“I love skiing groomed blue runs at a high rate of speed. I consider myself an experienced skier, and even for me this mountain is too steep to just let loose on many of the blue runs.”

“Tops for challenge. Lots of steep and foreboding terrain here. Vertical is relentless with very few flat areas or run-outs. You do a lot of turning here. Multiple micro-climates ensure that snow conditions are never uniform, JH might get lots of snow but it can range from cold smoke powder at the upper elevations to wet slop at the lower. Small, efficient lift system but is a lot more crowded than it used to be. Can be difficult in low snow years as rocky terrain generally requires more coverage to ski. Not much terrain for beginners. Overall, a beautiful place to both ski and visit with lots to do, off-slope due to its proximity to two national parks.”

No. 2: Snowbird Mountain Resort, Utah

Score: 9.56
Other Strengths: Terrain Variety, Overall Satisfaction
Weaknesses: Nightlife, Après

Snowbird Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Snowbird)

What Readers Say

“Snowbird is an advanced terrain resort. Intermediate and advanced skiers will be very comfortable at Snowbird, beginners not so much.”

“Snowbird is one of the most wonderful ski areas in the world. It’s immense, with a wide variety of terrain, though tilted toward more advanced skiers. And it is an easy 1 hour drive from SLC, a major airport that is easy to reach from anywhere.”

“Very challenging terrain! Felt like I needed a guide! Very disappointed by the lack of après options, but the skiing is killer!”

No. 1: Taos Ski Valley, N.M.

Score: 9.80
Other Strengths: Local Flavor, Terrain Variety
Weaknesses: Après, Nightlife

Taos Challenge RG23
(Photo: Courtesy of Taos Ski Valley)

What Readers Say

“Taos: a four-letter word meaning STEEP!”

“For expert skiers who don’t want après-ski and nightlife. And beginners and intermediate skiers for the ski school. It’s excellent.”

“Not willing to give up secrets, don’t come here!”