Many U.S. ski resorts provide guides or hosts (commonly called mountain or snow ambassadors) that lead free mountain tours. These kinds of tours are mild and designed especially for families with kids, groups and ski clubs. Generally, free guided tours stick to intermediate terrain and provide a good way to learn the myriad of trails and lift systems at ski resorts that can sometimes be daunting for the aforementioned demographic.

However, if you’re looking for powder stashes, secret trees and other types of terrain that only the locals know, then consider paying for a guide. Ski resorts around the country provide guides that will show you the goods, both in- and out-of-bounds, saving you the time and effort of finding the best terrain on your own.

Guide fees can be many hundreds of dollars, but getting insider knowledge from highly experienced locals is priceless. Read on for some examples of both free and paid guided tours from select U.S. ski resorts.

Free Tours

Vermont’s [R198R, Killington Resort] provides Mountain Ambassadors that conduct daily tours open to guests of all abilities. Ambassadors help skiers and riders learn many of the mountain’s 140 trails and 22 lifts, a great way for newbies to get acquainted with one of New England’s biggest ski resorts.

Likewise, [R425R, Steamboat Resort] in northern Colorado provides once-a-day tours open to intermediate level and above skiers and riders. The mellow, family-friendly tours start at 10:30 a.m. daily on Thunderhead Peak at the top of the intermediate Vagabond trail.  

Whitefish Ambassadors

The Snow Ambassadors at Whitefish give tours of the mountain and teach guest's about Northwest Montana's natural environment. Photo Courtesy of Whitefish Mountain Resort.

In northwest Montana, [R46R, Whitefish Mountain Resort]’s Snow Ambassadors lead tours twice a day, seven days a week, on intermediate terrain and point out the resort’s more advanced and technical terrain for those who want to rip it on their own. Snow Ambassadors also teach guests about the local flora and fauna and discuss mountain history—a good experience for families.

Guides For Hire

[R350R, Schweitzer Mountain Resort] in northern Idaho has one of the most affordable in-bounds guide services in the nation.  For just $50 an hour, up to five people can reserve a Custom Private Tour. Schweitzer is large with plenty of hidden treasures, so this is a great value for those who want a local to lead them to the best snow and terrain on the mountain at a pace that best suits the group.

In California, [R201R, Kirkwood Mountain Resort] offers half- or full-day guided tours through the Expedition: Kirkwood Private Guides program. Kirkwood is full of secret stashes, and its guides lead clients to zones on the mountain that rarely get touched by the majority of the skiing and riding public. Clients also get priority lift access to maximize vertical and avoid waiting in lines on powder days.  

Kirkwood Resort

The Expedition: Kirkwood Private Guides program gets you to the most-pristine pow on the hill and skip lift lines doesn't hurt either. Photo Courtesy of Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

Meanwhile, some guide services increase the intensity by an order of magnitude when taking clients into big-time backcountry terrain. These types of services may include the use of skins, Telemark/alpine touring (AT) gear or split-boards as well as  beacons, probes and shovels.  

[R191R, Jackson Hole] Guided Backcountry Tours is one of the best. Pro guides take clients out-of-bounds via the resort’s access gates from the top of the Aerial Tram, elevation 10,450 feet. A guided day typically includes an early tram ride, avalanche transceiver training and some hiking or skinning. Clients average 12,000 vertical feet of skiing and boarding when they book a full day. Guided tours on nearby Teton Pass are also available.  

Crystal Mountain Resort

Find untracked powder with a guide at Crystal Mountain Resort. Photo by Chris Morin

[R124R, Crystal Mountain] in Washington partners with another top outfit, International Mountain Guides, that provides guiding and avalanche training services in the vast backcountry terrain available outside resort boundaries. IMG offers both day and overnight trips deep into the backcountry, or clients can also use Crystal’s chairlifts to augment their daily vertical—simply ride the lifts, dip out of bounds and shred fresh powder then return to the base area for another lap.

These kind of hardcore guided services offer skiers and riders a good way to learn new or augment existing backcountry skills, engage in route finding, assess terrain—and get access to coveted powder stashes and big-mountain lines while avoiding crowds at the resorts.