A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
If you’ve skied one United States ski resort, well, you’ve skied one United States ski resort. Skiing in America at more than 400 unique mountain resorts is varied in every respect from the size of the mountain in terms of elevation as well as skiable acreage; in the clientele it attracts from a nightly party scene to a small family mountain where kids rule the roost.
The best part is skiing and snowboarding in the United States is much more than the famous mega resorts of the Rocky Mountains like Aspen or Vail or Sun Valley. It’s the classic New England beauty like Stowe and Killington, the so-called “Beast of the East.” It’s the ski-from-the-top of Snowshoe in West Virginia. It’s the cozier popular resorts like Boyne and Crystal Mountains in the Midwest. It’s the magnificent High Sierra resort of Mammoth Mountain or the close-to-Los Angeles gems like Mountain High and Snow Summit.
Skiing and riding here has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. Yes, there are still some family-owned mom and pop ski hills and a good number of independents, but major conglomerates have purchased and grown branded resort groups much like how a restaurant or hotel franchise works. The largest groups are Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Co., Boyne Resorts and POWDR. It doesn’t mean they’ve taken a cookie cutter approach, but the ownership style is generally unmistakable.
The good news is you now can ski multi-resorts by purchasing one of the major pass programs such as Alterra’s IKON or Vail Resorts’ Epic pass. And don’t overlook the popular Indy Pass for a ton of variety. There are others, too.
It's skiing and riding in America and it’s all waiting for you. Let’s take a quick tour and read about places with a best skiing in the US.
The major ski resorts in the Northeast will be found in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. New York state has 43 ski areas, more than any other in the United States (Michigan in the Midwest is a close second).
Here are some of the most popular ski resorts in the Empire State you’ll want to visit, but by no means the only ones as there are many others you’ll fall in love with. (Remember the state motto: I Love NY”.)
Two resorts are actually owned by the State of New York and both will make for a terrific ski vacation. Gore Mountain in North Creek is the biggest ski area in the state with a vertical drop of 2,400 feet and more than 423 acres on which to play. The vibe is old-fashioned friendly. No glitz here, just plenty of skiing.
Whiteface Mountain is just a few miles from Lake Placid with plenty of all kinds of skiing. It’s the highest peak east of the Rocky Mountains at 4,386 feet at the summit. The Olympic Authority maintains skating and skiing facilities all over the area, legacies of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
Hunter Mountain and nearby Windham in the Catskill Mountains are the “go-to” resorts for the thousands of Manhattan skiers who descend on them every winter weekend. Hunter is powered by what arguably has long been the “Snowmaking Capital of the World.”
Windham Mountain is close by with 284 acres of skiing, 54 trails and 4 terrain parks.
Moving to the New England states from New York is a breeze as the green mountains of Vermont are right next store. Ski resorts run up the spine of the state from Stratton and Bromley all the way up to the tip top of Smugglers’ Notch and Jay Peak. The huge expanse of Killington sits in the middle near the town of Rutland. Here’s a short take on some of the most popular resorts.
Stratton Mountain, close to the outlet shopping mecca of Manchester, is possibly the most upscale resort in the state. It’s a beautiful setting (winter and summer) with a lively village at the base of the mountain. Bromley, across the valley in Peru, is a delightful throwback ski area dating back to the 1930s created by Pabst Brewing Company scion Fred Pabst.
Mt. Snow in Dover came online in the 1950s and became an instant favorite. Today, it remains a family-friendly, good skiing and riding mountain. Okemo in Ludlow long has been one of the best run family mountains. Both are now part of Vail Resorts.
To the central region of Vermont: Killington is a big, sprawling ski mountain spread over 7 peaks. This resort is BIG. Ski or ride over 3,000 acres with more lifts on a single mountain than any other in North America. Sugarbush in the Mad River Valley is a long-time skier favorite. Mad River Glen, Sugarbush’s neighbor, is a true throwback ski area with narrow runs cut among the trees and a longtime motto: “Ski It If You Can.” (No snowboarders allowed.)
Up north: Stowe is well-known as the granddaddy of American ski resorts, certainly in the East. The mountain village of Stowe and the resort are about 45 minutes from Burlington. The area's lift system includes a gondola that shuttles guests between Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, and its "sister," easier mountain, Spruce Peak. Smugglers’ Notch is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the country.
Jay Peak, in the way-northern town of Jay just south of the Canadian border, may have the most abundant snowfall in the Northeast. Look for some of the East’s best terrain providing skiers and riders with exciting tree glades, long groomed trails, and abundant natural snowfall. And a big waterpark, too.
Heading to New Hampshire: Cranmore Mountain Resort is where skiing took off in America. Hannes Schneider, the celebrated Austrian skimeister and father of modern skiing, first opened his ski school and introduced skiing to the masses from New York and Boston. The original skimobile lift is now a museum piece. The ski area maintains it charm and interesting terrain today after all those years.
Bretton Woods is the state’s largest ski area with 98 trails spread out across three mountains grouped according to their difficulty. It’s home to the Omni Mount Washington Resort, site of the historic international Monetary Conference of 1944.
Loon Mountain is conveniently located off I-93, a two-hour drive from Boston and Manchester and a four-hour drive from Providence R.I. This is a big mountain (2,100 foot vertical, 61 trails, 3 peaks) so there’s plenty of terrain to satisfy all ability levels. Waterville Valley has hosted numerous international races and World Cups. Intermediate skiers like the idea of the number of blue trails from the top. There’s a nice village vibe here.
Cannon Mountain is the highest ski area summit and longest vertical in the state. Add in the adjacent 98 acres of Mittersill area for easier sliding. Don’t miss dropping into the New England Ski Museum at the base of the iconic aerial tramway.
South to Massachusetts: Two of the best here are Jiminy Peak in the Berkshire Mountains where the Fairbank family has developed a family-friendly gem with excellent skiing and riding. The Crowley family has done the same in Worcester with Wachusett Mountain, close to the Boston market.
A final Eastern note: If you happen to be in New York City or visiting Aunt Ella in New Jersey, don’t overlook a ski day at Mountain Creek.
The 76 ski areas here may be smaller than those of the East and certainly of the Rockies, but this is where skiers are born and where they hone their skills and love for the sport before taking off every year for a Western, or perhaps European, vacation.
Looking for family friendly? One of the best places to keep the family entertained for a long weekend or more is Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, near Traverse City. We’re talking 58 trails, cross country, too, 250-plus guest rooms and, an award-winning Crystal Spa. No one in the family will be bored here.
Hard-core skiers will want to head to Mt. Bohemia in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Mount Bohemia is extreme and intense where you can test your skills against this ungroomed mountain. There’s generous Lake-effect snow falling on the longest vertical in the region. There’s even a “backcountry” here.
A relatively close cluster of ski areas surrounds Boyne Mountain, a best bet in Michigan. Its sister, Boyne Highlands, is in Harbor Springs. Nubs Nob is also in Harbor Springs. Find Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek in Bellaire and Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville.
A super family-friendly hill is Chestnut Mt. In historic Galena, Ill., close to Chicago overlooking the Mighty Mississippi. There’s plenty of skiing and riding on 48 trails and the vertical is a non-daunting 475 feet.
The family-owned, ultra-family-friendly Snow Trails Resort in Mansfield, Ohio is a great option. The lodging is close by, but not right at the resort. The terrain is 60 percent beginner and intermediate.
Lutsen Mountains in northern Minnesota may be the most Western-style of the Midwest ski resorts and is where American downhill star Cindy Nelson called home. Meanhile, little Buck Hill in the Minneapolis suburbs is where superstar Lindsey Vonn grew up.
Colorado is host to many of America’s most famous mega resorts and it’s where so many families come for winter vacations. This is where you will find the most powder days in the United States.
Aspen-Snowmass is a world famous resort that is actually four ski resorts. Aspen Mountain (locals know it as Ajax) towers over what may be the best ski town anywhere and is filled with black diamonds among the rare greens and blues. Buttermilk is the perfect place for beginners or learners to play. Aspen Highlands is the locals favorite with spectacular views of the Maroon Bells. Everyone can ski it, but expert skiers revel on the uncrowded slopes. Snowmass is a village and huge mountain of its own and is the most family-friendly of them all.
Vail is an exquisite mountain resort with a Bavarian vibe. It’s upscale in every way, but not in the manner that puts off visitors of all sorts who come from around the world.
Vail ski resort is the largest ski area in the state covering 5,317 skiable acres. Some 31 lifts take you to 193 trails with an impressive color combo of green, blue and black. To top it off, strong skiers and riders can drop into the incredible back bowls for the ski experience you’ll never forget. Be sure to head 20 minutes or so down the road to Vail’s sister — Beaver Creek. Here, you’ll find a self-contained, high-end, classy base area with a manageable mountain for the whole family,
Breckenridge, 90 minutes from Denver, is the historic mining town with gorgeous vistas and more diverse terrain than you can handle in a week, for sure. There’s tons of challenge at Breck, but it is also a favorite mountain for families.
Other Colorado favorites: Telluride is a world-class snow destination in a box canyon. A free gondola from downtown to the ski village, a town all itself. The mountains are huge here. Steamboat ski resort is the real wild west and the skiing covers an entire mountain range above the classic Western town. Copper Mt. is another of the large, popular resorts on Colorado’s I-70 — the straight (sort of) shot up the hill from Denver about 1.5 hours. Winter Park is Denver’s mountain “hometown” on the “other side” of Berthoud Pass and is a 1.5 hour drive from the Big City. And don’t forget Crested Butte near Gunnison with a rollicking ski town.
Utah is known for the "greatest snow on earth" and you can count on that being accurate. Head up Little Cottonwood Canyon out of Salt Lake City and ski and ride at Snowbird, an exciting resort to enjoy day and night. And just up the canyon a bit is legendary Alta, where the snow is likely to be the best to ski in the country on any given day. The resort is a throwback to less frenetic times.
Head up Big Cottonwood Canyon and take to the slopes of Brighton and Solitude. The two both operate on similar terrain and powder heads their way regularly. Brighton is a sure bet for beginner skiers and snowboarders and Solitude, owned by the same folks who bring us Deer Valley resort, has loads of intermediate and advanced action.
Head up to Park City from the airport -- it's only 35 minutes or so away. You'll burn those ski legs here at massive Park City Mountain Resort and elegant Deer Valley. The old mining town has everything you'll want, need, drink or eat.
Idaho has excellent skiing as well, starting of course with the iconic Sun Valley Resort, the first destination ski resort in the United States. Baldy (Bald Mt.) is considered one of the best ski mountains in the country with a consistent pitch and 65 runs on both sides of the mountain. Dollar is an ideal learning destination and kids will love the Wundercarpet.
Schweitzer is Idaho's largest ski area in Sandpoint with 3,000 acres to play on and it is perhaps the most family-friendly of all. You’ll also find long cruisers and steeps, bumps, tree lines, chutes and more; every kind of trail any member of your family will want.
Others to consider in Idaho include Tamarack, a four-season destination resort in west central Idaho; affordable and fun Pomerelle in the Sawtooth National Forest and snowy, powdery Brundage near McCall.
The kingpin of Wyoming ski resorts is Jackson Hole and is wild-west skiing and riding at its best. This a skiing and snowboarding Mecca, thanks to its 2,500 acres of challenging in-bounds terrain and open backcountry gate system that provides access to over 3,000 acres of skiable terrain. Don't overlook Grand Targhee.
New Mexico is home to Taos Ski Valley, the southwest’s most famous ski resort. Taos is primarily known for its steep and difficult terrain, but there’s beginner and intermediate trails off the top of every single lift. For the advanced to expert skier/rider Taos Ski Valley offers some of the most challenging and varied terrain in the country, especially off its hike-to ridges. The area’s 111 runs are divided with 24 percent for beginners, 25 percent intermediates and 51 percent advanced. There are 14 lifts, including a gondola. Kachina Peak now includes a lift up its iconic 12,450-foot peak. The vertical drop here is 3,274 feet.
Don’t overlook Red River, a small town in northern New Mexico where the mountain literally rises from the town’s western-style Main Street. Nearby Enchanted Valley has excellent cross-country skiing.
Another good choice here is Angel Fire Resort. It is located 8,600-feet above sea level and has views of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico. But the top ski elevation is 10,677 feet. One of the reasons Angel Fire is popular with families is there is good terrain for all skill levels. Texans flock to the resort town of Ruidoso in the south-central part of the state where Ski Apache sits high above it (really high: it tops out at 11,500 feet).
California has some terrific ski areas from mega resorts in the High Sierra to smaller, but fulfilling, smaller places to play high above Los Angeles.
Two of the biggest and best are Heavenly on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore in the town of Stateline and Palisades-Tahoe on the North Shore (formerly known as Squaw Valley). Heavenly ski resort covers 4,800 acres straddling the California-Nevada line and has incredible views of gorgeous Lake Tahoe. All that and great casino hotels right at the base.
Palisades Tahoe ski resort was home to the first televised Olympics in 1960 and is a favorite of skiers in the Bay area of the state. Located off Highway 89 between Truckee and Tahoe City, you’ll play on 3,600 acres with a complete village at the base. There’s something for everyone here for certain. Don’t overlook Northstar in Truckee and Kirkwood along Highway 88 either.
Mammoth Mountain is the state’s highest lift-served resort with a summit at 11,053 feet and boasts 300 days of sunshine annually. The resort, on the border of Yosemite National Park, offers endless outdoor play. Its sister ski area is June Mountain 20 minutes away and always worth visiting on your winter vacation. Mammoth has been known to have skiing available until the Fourth of July some years.
Southern California ski areas towering high above the City of Angels are clustered in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. Big Bear Mountain Resort and the venerable Snow Summit (where snowmaking was perfected by the legendary Tommy Tyndall) are on the shore of Big Bear Lake in the San Berdoos. Mountain High in Wrightwood in the San Gabriels is the closest ski area to sprawling Los Angeles (1.5 hours) and has that big-time snowboarder vibe. It’s a combo of three resorts in one.
North to Oregon, head to Bend where the hills above it are alive at Mount Bachelor. It’s only 20 minutes from Bend and is the Pacific NW's largest resort playground and the 6th largest ski resort in North America. This is a big-time skiing, snowboarding mountain. Visit Timberline on Mt. Hood where you can ski during the summer months. It’s where lots of national teams train. Mt. Hood Meadows is a more traditional ski resort usually picking up 30 feet or more snow each ski season.
Next up (literally) is Washington and generally excellent skiing and riding in the Cascades. Some of the best resorts to try are Summit at Snoqualmie, the most convenient ski area for most Seattle-area residents and home to the state’s most extensive night skiing operation. Crystal Mountain is a full-service resort and the largest ski area in Washington. This is a good choice for families. It’s 2 hours from Seattle, and even closer to Tacoma and Olympia. Mt. Baker, east of Bellingham and 3.5 hours from Seattle, is known for its incredible snowfall. The ski area averages 680 inches of snowfall each year.
Just east of Southern California, there’s good skiing usually in Arizona at the Snowbowl north of Flagstaff just under 3 hours from Phoenix, and Sunrise Park Resort in Greer, about 4 hours away. If you get lucky on a snowy day high above Tucson, head up the long access road to Mt. Lemmon, the farthest south you’ll likely ski in the U.S.
Vail, the iconic ski resort with its famous back bowls meets this criteria.
Buttermilk Mt. in Aspen has long been a beginner favorite for beginners and families, but is also the home to TV’s “X” Games.
Snowmass in Aspen will keep intermediates busy for days.
Go for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming which is the closest in America to European-style skiing. Mad River Glen in Vermont and Mt. Bohemia, Mich. also are good regional choices.
Crested Butte hosts extreme skiing championships. You can’t go wrong.
Vail’s back bowls offer wide open spaces.
Telluride ski resort in Colorado down the Plunge will satisfy your tree skiing itch.
Head to Lake Tahoe region.
Ski Cooper, where the World War II Ski Troops trained near Leadville is a refreshing break from crowds and has excellent ski terrain.
Vail Resorts announced a $300 million-plus improvement plan in 2021.
Breckenridge ski resort is home to four world-class terrain parks.
Smugglers’ Notch in northern Vermont is consistently the best family ski resort in the country.
Aspen is the best ski resort and wins this one hands down.
Dodge Ridge, close to California’s San Francisco Bay Area, is a good bet for your money. It’s owned by Mountain High in So. Cal.
Ask anyone and you'll get more opinions than you thought existed. But, readers see at OnTheSnow.com have chosen Aspen-Snowmass as Number One. And, yes, we agree.
That's a toss-up between Colorado and Utah with perhaps just a slight edge to Colorado. But, just slight. Vermont tops the list in the East while Michigan wins in the Midwest.
Mt. Baker in Washington comes in at 680 inches a year and actually received over 1,000 inches a while back. Alyeska, in where else but Alaska, comes close at 670 inches. Others that fare well include Sugar Bowl in California at 500 inches; Brighton in Utah at the same level and Sierra-at-Tahoe just under at 480 inches.
That's debatable of course, but our pick is Alta, high atop Little. Cottonwood Canyon in Utah.
Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah and Beaver Creek both let you walk out the door and ski. The lodging at both is upscale, not inexpensive, but well worth it for the convenience.
Our pick is The Roundhouse at Sun Valley, Idaho. It's like;y the very first on-mountain restaurant and it still retails the atmosphere and quality at this terrific ski resort.
Call this one a toss-up for apres-ski opportunities between Aspen-Snowmass and Breckenridge, both in Colorado.
Breckenridge, Colo. takes that honor at 12,989 feet at the summit. Bring along an aspirin as that can give you the infamous Rocky Mountain splitter.
It’s Aspen, but well worth your second mortgage. OnTheSnow visitors ranked it Number One in the Country for the 2021-22 season.
Sun Valley, Idaho, opened in 1936, making it the first ski resort in the states.
Here’s a look at some of the icon places at or near popular ski resorts. Remember all vacation life is not on the slopes.
East: Stowe, Vermont is a 200-year-old village with a quaint main street and two ski resorts: Stowe Mountain Resort, and Smugglers' Notch Resort. Vermont charm and a historic flavor.
Lake Placid, the nearby Adirondack town of Whiteface Ski Resort, was the site of the 1980 and 1932 Winter Olympics. The town is full of superb dining and entertainment options. North Conway, N.H. was named one of the best ski towns in the world by National Geographic, as it is close to seven ski resorts from Cranmore to Bretton Woods.
Midwest: Take a ski break from Boyne Mountain (40 miles), Boyne Highlands (9 miles) or Nub’s Nob (12 miles) and head to Bar Harbor in Northern Michigan. The town is situated on 5 miles of Lake Michigan waterfront.
Rockies: Breckenridge has a Victorian core to the former mining town. Look for colorfully painted buildings from the 1880s and '90s now home to shops, galleries, restaurants and bars. Fun Fact: There are over 100 bars and restaurants in the town, one of which – Gold Pan Saloon – has the longest continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi.
Steamboat Springs is a ski town that is also an authentic ranching center, more down home than glitzy. Crested Butte often refers to itself as “the last great Colorado ski town,” and for good reason. The town, which is just minutes from the base area, has streets lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
Vail Village and nearby Lionshead offer diverse shops, a lively bar and restaurant scene, luxurious accommodations, friendly neighborhoods and breath-taking mountain views. Vail Village is modeled on Bavarian village styles with pedestrian streets. There’s there’s Aspen – a ski town and resort like no other. This is John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a true Western town. Check out the funky, nearly 30,000-square- foot Mangy Moose building, a one-stop dining, musical entertainment and food shopping tradition.
Ketchum, Idaho, home to Sun Valley Ski Resort, is "America's First Destination Ski Resort." Celebrities flocked to the area to see America's new grand dame of ski resorts when it opened.
Park City, Utah is one of the best preserved mining towns in the U.S., and you'll see historic shops built during a 19thcentury silver mining boom turned into vibrant art galleries, independent boutiques, and inventive restaurants as you explore Historic Main Street. It’s home to the annual Sundance Film Festival each January.
Red River, New Mexico, is an authentic ski town built by miners, not developers. It is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, 36 miles from Taos. Whitefish, Montana is located on the shores of Whitefish Lake and at the base of Big Mountain, home to Whitefish Mountain Resort.
Stateline, Nevada straddles both California and Nevada and boasts 5 casinos, including its famous Harveys Wagonwheel. Lake Tahoe is the largest Alpine lake in North America, and is surrounded by 15 ski areas.
The best way to reach the destination resorts of the Far West, if you don’t live within at least a day or two’s drive, is via the silver bird. Major airports such as Denver International are within 2-4 hours of many of the world-class mega-resorts. Be sure to check how to either connect there or in a number of cities for direct flights into small airports in Aspen, Vail (Eagle), Gunnison, Steamboat (Yampa Valley) and others. You also can pick up van shuttles from DIA as well as all types of car rentals.
A fun way to visit Winter Park is to take the Ski Train from Denver’s Union Station directly to the resort.
Another great airport hub is in Salt Lake City where you can land in the morning and ski or ride all afternoon as the major destination resorts such as Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley, Snowbird and Alta are under an hour’s drive. Rent a car or take a quick shuttle.
Boston’s Logan Airport is a several hour drive to the Vermont, N.H. and Maine resorts and if you plan it right, flying into Albany, N.Y., Hartford, Conn. or Lebanon, N.H. can get you even closer depending on the destination. Fly into Burlington, Vt. for Stowe and other Northern Vermont ski resorts.
San Francisco International Airport is your best bet when heading to the multi-resort mecca surrounding beautiful Lake Tahoe. Then, it’s about a 3-hour drive to the lake. Your choice in the Midwest if flying in will be Detroit, Chicago’s O’Hare, Minneapolis or Milwaukee, though there are some small airports scattered around for connections. Most Midwesterners, however, hop in the family car.
Skiing in the United States is a totally different experience than in Europe and both are wonderful. There’s more of a “get in the last run for my dollar” skiing in the U.S., while Europeans take a more relaxed view of the ski day. The historic mining towns turned ski resorts of the West are fascinating and provide an apres-ski atmosphere second to none.