Nothing quite gets the adrenaline pumping like standing on the precipice of a 5,000-foot vertical drop and realizing the only way down is via the boards on your feet. But, long verticals don’t always mean steep and deep. They still can be pretty friendly groomed slopes. Consider Beaver Creek in the Vail Valley. Many of these slopes are long and fun, too. North America is no stranger to big descents thanks to the endless rugged peaks found throughout the Northern Rockies. Larger ski areas like Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia and Jackson Hole rank high among the biggest verticals.
So what does it actually mean when we talk about a ski resort’s vertical? Vertical is measured from the highest to the lowest points on the mountain. In other words, vertical is actually just the difference, presumably the “skiable difference,” between the peak and base of a ski resort. Take Breckenridge as an example. The base elevation of of 9,600 feet and a peak just under 13,000 feet equates to a vertical drop of just under 3,400 feet. It is simply a very useful measurement of how “tall” a ski resort is. That’s the amount of elevation change that you’ll be able to actually ski. Got it? Good.
Below we highlight a group of resorts where long and vertical are the name of the game.
Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada: 5,620 foot vertical
Revelstoke is the tallest ski mountain in North America, and you’ll find it in the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia. It’s a bit of a trek from the closest airport in Kelowna, but you’ll never get bored with a 5,620 foot vertical. Revelstoke Mountain is the only resort in the world offering lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing from one village, while the town of Revelstoke is nearby. While it may not be as convenient as other ski resorts, Revelstoke is hard to beat for its vertical terrain.
Whistler, British Columbia, Canada: 5,234 foot vertical
Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains make up the largest ski resort in North America. The vertical is 5,234 feet and the ski terrain is more than 8,000 acres. Whistler is a favorite of U.S. skiers and riders as well as those crossing the pond for their winter holidays. Besides, there’s skiing on the Horstman Glacier, too.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: 4,105 vertical drop
You’ll find the largest vertical in the United States at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort where the drop is 4,105 feet and you can ski and ride on nearly 2,500 acres. Jackson is a fun town (hang out at the legendary Mangy Moose) and everything you’ll want is at the base.
Aspen-Snowmass, Colorado: 4,050 vertical drop
You’ll find two of the longest verticals in the Rockies (for that matter in the USA) in the Aspen-Snowmass resort complex. Snowmass is a favorites of families (with plenty of groomers) and is a separate mountain and village a short ride from the iconic Aspen ski town. The vertical is 4,050 and the terrain involves almost 3,500 acres.
Don’t overlook Aspen Highlands 3,522 acres with 1,500 acres of skiing and jaw-dropping views from some chairlifts. Aspen Mountain itself (still called Ajax by long-time visitors) is 3,267 feet covering 750 acres. Both Highlands and Aspen Mt. are close to town, with Ajax at the foot of it all.
Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada: 3,790 vertical drop
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort offers a diverse mix of challenging terrain and excellent snow conditions, located near Golden, British Columbia. Kicking Horse features a long vertical drop at 3,790 feet. The ski area is home to large alpine bowls, long steep chutes and short lift lines covering 3,000 acres.
Beaver Creek and Vail, Colorado: 3,340 foot and 3,041 foot vertical drops
Beaver Creek and Vail, about 20 minutes apart by shuttle or car, offer plenty of long vertical. Family-friendly and very upscale Beaver Creek tops the list at 3,340 feet with 2,000 acres to ski and ride.
Lots of groomers, but tough stuff, too. Meanwhile, world-famous Vail is hardly a vertical slouch at 3,041 feet with 5,500 acres of terrain, including those incredible back bowls.
Snowbird, Utah: 3,243 foot vertical drop
Just a short jaunt from Salt Lake City airport up Little Cottonwood Canyon is Snowbird, a unique resort with vertical at 3,243 feet and skiing over 2,500 feet. The cable car takes you to the top and the fun is just beginning. Besides, Snowbird is virtually next door to Alta, the more rustic, laid-back “resort,” so enjoy them both.
Those are some of the longest verticals in North America. If your legs are still working here are a few others to put on your bucket list:
Sun Valley, Idaho: 3,241 foot vertical drop
World famous Sun Valley, where destination ski resorts began via the Union Pacific Railroad in 1936, long has been a favorite for skiers, riders and, of course, celebrities. This classic Pacific Northwest resort near Ketchum, Idaho is one of those very few resorts where “magical” is the only description that really applies.
Snowbasin, Utah: 2,960 foot vertical drop
Snowbasin Resort opened in 1940 and is one of the oldest operating ski areas in the US. It hosted the 2002 Utah Olympic Games’ Downhill and long has been a great under-the-radar place to ski and snowboard. The resort is in Huntsville, Utah, about a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City.
Mammoth Mountain, California: 2,885 foot vertical drop
This is the playground for the hordes of Southern California skiers and riders who make the 6-hour trek every winter weekend. It’s way big enough to handle the crowds on the mountain. It becomes an absolute destination paradise during the week.
Breckenridge, Colorado: 2,880 foot vertical drop
This resort on I-70 includes five peaks, 2,908 skiable acres, 187 trails, four terrain parks and the tallest chairlift in North America. Breckenridge Ski Resort offers subperb skiing and riding for all ability levels as well as a delightful old West town where nightlife reigns supreme.
Mt. Hood Meadows, Oregon: 2822 foot vertical drop
Meadows is a 90-minute drive from Portland offering up some of the best big mountain terrain for skiers and riders in the Northwest. There are 2,150 skiable acres, serviced by 11 lifts, 85 named runs, and that special vertical.