The all-time undisputed absolute BEST TRAILS* - Ski Mag

The all-time undisputed absolute BEST TRAILS*

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Best Trails 1004

They'll all take you from high to low, from one place to another, but after that, the similarities end. Great trails come in countless varieties. But for certain applications, some are simply peerless. These, we're certain, will please the pickiest.

What makes a trail a treasure? Layout, location and pitch, to be sure. But how a trail speaks to you depends as much on who you are, how you ski and what's in your head (or what needs to get out of it) as it does on the specifics of design.

There is one distinct quality all great trails share: a sense of drama. Like a nail-biting whodunit, any great trail employs foreshadowing, suspense and even shock, then denouement. "There should be a sense of discovery," says Chris Cushing of SE Group, one of the world's premier trail designers. "A great trail puts skiers through a series of emotions. That's what makes skiing what it is."

With that in mind, we set out looking for the best trails in America-East and West-bearing in mind all the moments and emotions that define skiing. These are just our picks; we're sure you've got your own. To share them with us and other readers, send them to liftlines@skimag.com. We promise to hit the slopes this season and try yours too.

BEGINNER TRAIL

East: Polecat, Wildcat, N.H.

Polecat purrs with mellowness but still knows how to thrill. Its winding classic layout screams New England, giving even novice skiers a taste of turning, cruising and soaking up the view--in this case, magnificent Mt. Washington. It's a true sampling of what skiing is about, and even experts can't seem to stay away from it. But don't worry, Wildcat enforces safe skiing. You'll never get schussed on Polecat.

West: Why Not, Steamboat, Colo. This winding, bobbing, weaving trail is a thrill for beginners, yet entertaining enough that expert friends don't mind tagging along. Secluded among the trees, yet wide enough to give tentative turners plenty of space, Why Not is just plain fun, yielding surprises around almost every bend. It empties out onto the easy-to-board Thunderhead Express, but when you're ready to take on a bit more vertical, you can zip past that and cruise Right-O-Way, a slightly steeper catwalk that descends to the base area.

INTERMEDIATE TRAIL

East: Timberline, Okemo, Vt. Okemo is the corduroy capital of the East, and its jewel of midrange skiing is Timberline, a wide-open cruiser that's almost always groomed to perfection. Its gentle rolls afford intermediates a chance to feel some pitch, but it always mellows out again. Adding to the fun is the Green Valley Triple, which rides up over Timberline, giving intermediates their first official place to show off.

West: Pandemonium, Durango Mountain Resort, Colo. Don't let its black diamond fool you: Pandemonium is the quintessential intermediate cruiser. The folks at DMR (formerly Purgatory) can take credit for choosing its path, but Mother Nature gets most of the credit. Glacier-formed "benches" make Pandemonium a carnival ride of drop-offs and rolls. Intermediates test themselves on the steeps, then catch their breath on the flats in between. By the end of its 2,000-vertical-foot descent, you can't help but whoop-and feel the urge to take on bigger challenges.

EXPERT TRAIL

East: Chinclip at Stowe, Vt. We know-the Front Four are legendary. But sometimes we prefer the not-so-obvious. On Chinclip-over on the Gondola side of the mountain-you'll not only avoid the crowds of Goat and Starr, you'll find respectable steeps stirred up with more charismatic twists and turns and an endless sea of moguls. As any good expert trail should, Chinclip keeps you on your toes and always at the edge of your comfort zone.

West: Great Scott, Snowbird, Utah Legendary for its steeps and deep snow, Great Scott challenges even the best. Take a 45-degree pitch, toss in rock outcrops, bury it in Utah powder and you've got yourself ahallenge. And since the Snowbird tram runs directly overhead, you've got to be on your game. Don't fret, though: Those tram riders know what you're up against.

TO FALL IN LOVE

East: Toll Road, Stowe, Vt. Not sure if it's the real thing? Take the Toll Road, where three miles of winding, tree-shaded cruising provide the perfect setting to carve relaxing turns in rhythm with the one you might (or might not) love. The trail-a road in summer-was cut in 1890 as a way for romance seekers to get up and down the mountain in carriages. When you come to the lovely Stone Chapel, pause and look into each other's eyes: In that sun-drenched spot, you'll just know if it's right. Then wind your way to the bottom, where a long, romantic chair ride awaits. Or straight-line it back to the Quad and hop in the singles line.

West: Forget-Me-Not, Breckenridge, Colo. True to its wistful name, this trail speaks to anyone looking for a love connection. First, there's the T-bar ride, which nudges you together, connected in a way more modern lifts don't allow. Up top, your adrenaline will pump with great views and great terrain, and there's just enough pitch to put a potential mate to the all-important ski ability compatibility test. Will it be love? Or see-you-back-at-the-lodge?

TO GET OVER IT

East: Obsession, Sunday River, Maine Can there be a better way to drive out the demons of obsession than to dive full throttle into a good ski run? Sunday River's Obsession starts wide, narrows a bit and never lets up. You'll turn, jump, adjust to fall lines and just plain let everything else go on this long, challenging trail. By the end, he/she's been forgotten, and you're back in the game.

West: Lover's Leap, Vail, Colo. Blue Sky Basin is the perfect place to turn the page. Lover's Leap is named for an Ute Indian chief's daughter who, forbidden to marry her soul mate, joined hands with him and leapt to her death. Pause atop its entrance cornice, kiss heartache goodbye and plunge, with both feet, into life's next chapter. Unlike that Indian princess, you'll survive.

TO HEAD FOR LUNCH

East: White Nitro-to-Wedge, Sugarloaf, Maine This combination is the perfect destination run: moments to charge, moments to relax and, at the end, a reward. From the top of the famous Snowfields, dive onto the steeps of White Nitro, knowing you'll be bailing out onto eminently cruiseable Wedge below. Arc turns on Wedge all the way down to the base area-2,820 feet of honest vertical from where you started-and head for Sugarloaf's signature lunch spot, The Bag, where a giant juicy burger is your reward.

West: The Plunge, Telluride, Colo. The Plunge starts out high atop this megamountain, then tumbles down steeps lined by trees so thick it seems civilization must be miles away. As it descends, it offers up ever-changing views of the dozen or so fourteeners that surround you. Somewhere, way down there, you know there's a town, but as you cruise turn after turn, it feels like forever. Finally, there you are in the middle of downtown Telluride. Kick off the skis, grab some sushi and relax for a spell before riding the Gondi right back up to the mountain.

TO STOP FOR A SNACK

East: Upper Rumrunner, Smugglers' Notch, Vt. Spend a morning on the slopes of Sterling Mountain, then pop into the Top of the Notch restaurant near the summit. It's rustic and comfortable, so you'll feel fine in your sweaty ski gear. The views of Smuggs and Stowe are splendid. The food is gourmet but quick, so eating there won't eat into your ski day. And with some of their famed stew in your belly, you'll be ready to head out again.

West: Amphitheater, Jackson Hole, Wyo. Pound Jackson's fearsome Expert Chutes under the rarely crowded Thunder Quad, then glide down Amphitheater to the Thunder Shack. Grab some barbecue, a homemade muffin or a hunk of delicious pesto bread and take in the scenery from the picnic tables. It's food worth waiting for, though you'll never have to. And the next big Jackson Hole run is just a lift ride away.

TO GAWK AT MANSIONS

East: Cathedral, Attitash/Bear Peak, N.H. Attitash has been around for 40 years, but the boom in breathtaking slopeside real estate is new. Along easy-to-ski Cathedral, you'll see spectacular homes, all of them huge yet hugging the landscape in a way that fits. On sunny days, the owners are often out on their decks, sipping concoctions and yelling hellos.

West: Lift 10 at Telluride, Colo. Whether you choose to glide down the forgiving Galloping Goose, Double Cabin or Bridges, you'll glide right by some of the most magnificent slopeside real estate there is. The average home is 5,000 square feet and worth about $3 million. The largest (17,000 square feet) is a bargain at $14.9 million. And your neighbors? Dan Quayle, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Tom Cruise and Daryl Hannah.

TO DABBLE IN TREES

East: Black Forest, Bretton Woods, N.H. This glade's gentle pitch gives a first-timer the confidence to make turns near the edge of the trail, then go in a little deeper and try some trickier stuff. The firs and hardwoods are nicely spaced-definitely still treeskiing, but with a little room to breathe. This part of the mountain always seems to get a little extra snow, and the deep shade helps it hang in there. And if you're not ready for the whole thing, there's a bail-out halfway down.

West: Rowdy Ridge, Beaver Creek, Colo. Gentle but with just enough bite, the Bachelor Gulch area is the perfect place to learn how to play in the glades. Cut tight turns among the trees on Coyote, cruise in the shadows of Wolverine Ravine, or play with the terrain in Renegade, a natural halfpipe. Best of all, they're all within view of a wide-open cruiser trail, so you can always find relief.

FOR BUMPS

East: The Rumor, Gore, N.Y. We know: There are more obvious choices. Killington's Outer Limits, Sunday River's White Heat, Sugarbush's FIS. But since these are already well-known, we dug deeper. The bumps on Rumor are insane. The top is often groomed flat, but the rest is one long glorious bump bash that'll test the wiriest physique. And on powder days? Sublime.

West: Screech Owl, Beaver Creek, Colo. Again, there are many great choices, but you can always count on Screech Owl. It's as steep as it is untamed. And long. Think you can take it nonstop? We're betting not. But try. Head for the Larkspur lift afterwards. You'll need the 11-minute ride to recoup.

FOR CARVING TILL YOUR QUADS BURN

East: Double Dipper, Killington, Vt. Steep and wild, Double Dipper keeps you on edge from start to finish. It's usually groomed, perfect for skiing hard and fast. See if you can keep carving top to bottom, but it's so steep, we're guessing you'll skid a turn here and there. Put simply, Double Dipper is a turner's paradise.

West: Sneaky's, Snowmass, Colo. One of the original Big Burn trails, Sneaky's stands the test of time, still edging out the competition as the best carving trail out there. Tracing the resort's perimeter, it starts off wide and relatively steep, then mellows a little, but it always makes you work. You'll encounter a series of steeps, occasional tree islands and a few surprises we'll let you discover for yourself.

FOR CRUISING

East: Cannon's Way, Cannon Mountain, N.H. Classic Cannon got the cruising thing right from the start. Cannon's Way, cut in the 1940s, skis like a water slide-pushing you up on edge and across fall lines, keeping you moving in a way that feels like the trail is doing the work and you're just along for the ride. It's fun enough to revisit time and time again.

WEST: China Bowl, Vail, Colo. It's wide open, perfect for huge, flowing turns. It pulls you downward, begging you not to stop. And on partly cloudy days when it's easy to read the snow and the terrain seebles. It's food worth waiting for, though you'll never have to. And the next big Jackson Hole run is just a lift ride away.

TO GAWK AT MANSIONS

East: Cathedral, Attitash/Bear Peak, N.H. Attitash has been around for 40 years, but the boom in breathtaking slopeside real estate is new. Along easy-to-ski Cathedral, you'll see spectacular homes, all of them huge yet hugging the landscape in a way that fits. On sunny days, the owners are often out on their decks, sipping concoctions and yelling hellos.

West: Lift 10 at Telluride, Colo. Whether you choose to glide down the forgiving Galloping Goose, Double Cabin or Bridges, you'll glide right by some of the most magnificent slopeside real estate there is. The average home is 5,000 square feet and worth about $3 million. The largest (17,000 square feet) is a bargain at $14.9 million. And your neighbors? Dan Quayle, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Tom Cruise and Daryl Hannah.

TO DABBLE IN TREES

East: Black Forest, Bretton Woods, N.H. This glade's gentle pitch gives a first-timer the confidence to make turns near the edge of the trail, then go in a little deeper and try some trickier stuff. The firs and hardwoods are nicely spaced-definitely still treeskiing, but with a little room to breathe. This part of the mountain always seems to get a little extra snow, and the deep shade helps it hang in there. And if you're not ready for the whole thing, there's a bail-out halfway down.

West: Rowdy Ridge, Beaver Creek, Colo. Gentle but with just enough bite, the Bachelor Gulch area is the perfect place to learn how to play in the glades. Cut tight turns among the trees on Coyote, cruise in the shadows of Wolverine Ravine, or play with the terrain in Renegade, a natural halfpipe. Best of all, they're all within view of a wide-open cruiser trail, so you can always find relief.

FOR BUMPS

East: The Rumor, Gore, N.Y. We know: There are more obvious choices. Killington's Outer Limits, Sunday River's White Heat, Sugarbush's FIS. But since these are already well-known, we dug deeper. The bumps on Rumor are insane. The top is often groomed flat, but the rest is one long glorious bump bash that'll test the wiriest physique. And on powder days? Sublime.

West: Screech Owl, Beaver Creek, Colo. Again, there are many great choices, but you can always count on Screech Owl. It's as steep as it is untamed. And long. Think you can take it nonstop? We're betting not. But try. Head for the Larkspur lift afterwards. You'll need the 11-minute ride to recoup.

FOR CARVING TILL YOUR QUADS BURN

East: Double Dipper, Killington, Vt. Steep and wild, Double Dipper keeps you on edge from start to finish. It's usually groomed, perfect for skiing hard and fast. See if you can keep carving top to bottom, but it's so steep, we're guessing you'll skid a turn here and there. Put simply, Double Dipper is a turner's paradise.

West: Sneaky's, Snowmass, Colo. One of the original Big Burn trails, Sneaky's stands the test of time, still edging out the competition as the best carving trail out there. Tracing the resort's perimeter, it starts off wide and relatively steep, then mellows a little, but it always makes you work. You'll encounter a series of steeps, occasional tree islands and a few surprises we'll let you discover for yourself.

FOR CRUISING

East: Cannon's Way, Cannon Mountain, N.H. Classic Cannon got the cruising thing right from the start. Cannon's Way, cut in the 1940s, skis like a water slide-pushing you up on edge and across fall lines, keeping you moving in a way that feels like the trail is doing the work and you're just along for the ride. It's fun enough to revisit time and time again.

WEST: China Bowl, Vail, Colo. It's wide open, perfect for huge, flowing turns. It pulls you downward, begging you not to stop. And on partly cloudy days when it's easy to read the snow and the terrain seems to fall away forever, it's one place you truly feel like you are flying.

TO CRASH AND BURN IN GLORY

East: Agony, Sunday River, Maine Agony is aptly named. Located directly beneath the Barker quad-Sunday River's most-used lift-it's narrow, steep and never, ever groomed. Taking it on means picking your way at times, praying for salvation at others. And with a lift full of spectators just waiting for carnage, the pressure's on. Pace yourself, and maintain a sense of humor and humility. You'll likely need it.

West: The Ridge at Bell, Aspen Mountain, Colo. It's big, it's long, it's visible from so many angles, and it can take you down hard at any moment. Lift riders love to watch folks hurl themselves down The Ridge, and since it's steep and open, when you wipe, you're in for a slide, which gives them plenty of time to comment as you crash and burn. But don't let that scare you off. There's nothing more satisfying than beating the odds on The Ridge. And if (or rather when) you don't, you'll at least have a great tale to tell.

TO IMAGINE YOURSELF A SKI LEGEND

EAST: Cloudspin, Whiteface, N.Y. Leonhard Stock wasn't even named to the Austrian Olympic downhill squad until pre-race trials were held on Whiteface's downhill slope. Not only did he earn a start, he went on to capture the gold. Today you can trace his route, with cowbells and cheers echoing in your head.

WEST: Golden Eagle, Beaver Creek, Colo. Since its debut in 1999, this instant classic has earned the respect of European racers, who grudgingly rank it among the world's most difficult. It's not the longest, but it's among the most technical, and as you exit the Flyway section onto the steeps of Pete's Arena, you can imagine you're Hermann Maier, taking gate panels in the face on his way to World Championship gold. Call ahead-they winch-cat it once a week-and get there early: first tracks on Golden Eagle corduroy are unforgettable.

TO TOUCH HISTORY

EAST: The Cog Railway, Mt. Washington, N.H. Starting this winter, skiers can ride the historic Cog Railway up legendary Mt. Washington and then ski down on either side of the tracks. The skiing is old-time New England style: natural snow, a bit of scrub peeking out at you here and there, and narrow trails from which you can dive in and out of the woods. But the overall feel is very cool. As the train chugs past, you get a real sense of history and of being someplace just plain special. Everyone should do it once.

WEST: Broadway, Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Back in the day, the legendary Dave McCoy tied some rope to his truck and hauled a bunch of future world champs up the side of Mammoth Mountain. Broadway is the trail McCoy first used to train his racers. Now it's lift-accessed, and you can ski it knowing the likes of Jill Kinmont and many others took the same path on their way to greatness. You might even bump into McCoy out there. Now that's a brush with skiing history.

seems to fall away forever, it's one place you truly feel like you are flying.

TO CRASH AND BURN IN GLORY

East: Agony, Sunday River, Maine Agony is aptly named. Located directly beneath the Barker quad-Sunday River's most-used lift-it's narrow, steep and never, ever groomed. Taking it on means picking your way at times, praying for salvation at others. And with a lift full of spectators just waiting for carnage, the pressure's on. Pace yourself, and maintain a sense of humor and humility. You'll likely need it.

West: The Ridge at Bell, Aspen Mountain, Colo. It's big, it's long, it's visible from so many angles, and it can take you down hard at any moment. Lift riders love to watch folks hurl themselves down The Ridge, and since it's steep and open, when you wipe, you're in for a slide, which gives them plenty of time to comment as you crash and burn. But don't let that scare you off. There's nothing more satisfying than beating the odds on The Ridge. Annd if (or rather when) you don't, you'll at least have a great tale to tell.

TO IMAGINE YOURSELF A SKI LEGEND

EAST: Cloudspin, Whiteface, N.Y. Leonhard Stock wasn't even named to the Austrian Olympic downhill squad until pre-race trials were held on Whiteface's downhill slope. Not only did he earn a start, he went on to capture the gold. Today you can trace his route, with cowbells and cheers echoing in your head.

WEST: Golden Eagle, Beaver Creek, Colo. Since its debut in 1999, this instant classic has earned the respect of European racers, who grudgingly rank it among the world's most difficult. It's not the longest, but it's among the most technical, and as you exit the Flyway section onto the steeps of Pete's Arena, you can imagine you're Hermann Maier, taking gate panels in the face on his way to World Championship gold. Call ahead-they winch-cat it once a week-and get there early: first tracks on Golden Eagle corduroy are unforgettable.

TO TOUCH HISTORY

EAST: The Cog Railway, Mt. Washington, N.H. Starting this winter, skiers can ride the historic Cog Railway up legendary Mt. Washington and then ski down on either side of the tracks. The skiing is old-time New England style: natural snow, a bit of scrub peeking out at you here and there, and narrow trails from which you can dive in and out of the woods. But the overall feel is very cool. As the train chugs past, you get a real sense of history and of being someplace just plain special. Everyone should do it once.

WEST: Broadway, Mammoth Mountain, Calif. Back in the day, the legendary Dave McCoy tied some rope to his truck and hauled a bunch of future world champs up the side of Mammoth Mountain. Broadway is the trail McCoy first used to train his racers. Now it's lift-accessed, and you can ski it knowing the likes of Jill Kinmont and many others took the same path on their way to greatness. You might even bump into McCoy out there. Now that's a brush with skiing history.

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