Let me say right off the top that the readers are almost always right. Blessed with the opportunity to read pages and pages of their unexpurgated remarks, I must confess that their accolades and reservations seem spot on. For the most part. The eyeball-rolling exceptions make you wonder whether all respondents are required to be carbon-based life forms. I’ve seen silver medals awarded for on-mountain cuisine that couldn’t earn a tenth of a star in any legitimate restaurant review. An appalling number complain about the weather, shocked to discover that they have winter at mountain resorts!
It’s not so much the individual observations that make my polypropylene undies twist; it’s the overall rankings. The specifics ring true; it’s the generalities (Vail’s No. 1!) that rankle. I’ve been fortunate enough to ski a lot of resorts in this great land of ours, many of them many times. I, too, have favorites. But rather than pick an overall winner, I focus on the essentials that define a quality ski experience. To me, that is, my democracy of one. And the winners are:
Best Snow: Alta. No one can touch Mt. Baker for sheer quantity, and Grand Targhee might win for best snow you don’t have to compete for, but year-in and year-out, Alta delivers in the one category that matters most: face shots. That you have to climb to the best runs is all the better as it thins the herd. And with no snowboarders heel-sliding every chute entry to rubble and massacring every fall line makes the great snow even better.
Best Terrain: Jackson Hole (as our readers agree). You can’t believe what’s considered in play here. Yeah, there are downsides. Get over them. There’s more inbounds, scare-yourself skiing than anywhere, not including the now-legal out-of-area terrain. Tip to visitors: Wear two layers of adult protection if you intend to chase the locals around. Tip to locals: They’ve invented something called “soap.”
Best Two-Event Town: By “two-event,” I mean the daytime and the nighttime. If you want to medal, you have to compete hard in both events. No place does this better than Whistler. The twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb harbor hordes of kick-butt descents, the O.B. is the stuff of legends, and the nightlife runs throttle open. They didn’t invent partying here, but they seem intent on perfecting it.
Best Cruising: Sun Valley. Deer Valley is groomed better than Augusta, but it doesn’t have Sun Valley’s continuous fall lines. You can go very, very fast here, and if it’s early and the slope is uncrowded, they might not even yell at you to slow down. Beautiful people abound: Most of the locals look like a DNA experiment gone terribly right.
Best Skiing Near Me: Sorry Alpine Meadows, it’s Squaw Valley. KT-22 alone contains more amazing fall lines than most ski areas, and that’s just a fraction of this mega-mountain. There are a lot of truly great skiers on this hill, but less happily there is also a lot of ‘tude. The upside is you can listen to some dude carry on about his exploits du jour, not noticing the doting mother beside him on the sun deck is Tamara McKinney and the stunners across the way are Eva Twardokens and Darian Boyle.
Best Resort that Always Kicks My Butt: Snowbird. Perhaps nowhere else can one get so much high-quality skiing in so little time. When the tram line is short, there is indubitably no better place to be on a powder day. You can do twice the mileage you can manage at Alta (or almost anywhere else), and the terrain takes a back seat to no one. I know there’s not much to do but ski-so leave it all on the hill, as this mountain invites you to do.
My Favorite Skiing Near Me: Alpine Meadows. Alta in the Sierras. A little climbing goes a long way. I’d say more, but I don’t want to encourage too many of you to poach my stashes. Stay away. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.