Forget queuing up at Aspen Snowmass or Jackson Hole – if you’re looking for a mellower ski experience this winter, chances are you’ll find it in lesser-known ski resorts such as Whitefish in Montana or Grand Targhee in Wyoming. The following places offer plenty of snow, a variety of runs for all levels of ski ability and hardly any lift lines. Read on for some of the best off-the-radar ski resorts in the US and plan your next snowy escape, away from the crowds.
Swap the highly trafficked Big Sky Resort in Montana for the state’s fairly undiscovered – but still beautiful – Whitefish Mountain Resort on the Big Mountain. Lying in the Flathead National Forest west of Glacier National Park, it boasts grassy green slopes in the summer and over 25ft (7.6m) of snow during the winter. There are 3,000 acres (1,214ha) of skiable terrain here, while the views of Flathead Valley from the summit are majestic. At the foot of the mountain, you’ll find the sparkling waters of Whitefish Lake, which borders the quaint town of Whitefish. The resort’s famous “snow ghosts” – pine trees coated in fog and ice – serve as the ideal backdrop to every cool winter photo.
When it comes to skiable acreage, you won’t find a larger US resort than Powder Mountain Resort, which is east of Eden in Utah. Powder Mountain has about 8,484 acres (3,433ha) of snow to swish through, while still remaining largely crowd-free. With a maximum of 1500 skiers and snowboarders roaming its slopes, it feels like a private ski heaven. And when your legs become too tired to handle the skis, you can pass by the Powder Keg bar in Timberline Lodge to drink beer on tap and enjoy some live music.
If you’re looking for some of the most spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, then Diamond Peak in Incline Village, Nevada, is where you will find them. The Tahoe area is no doubt filled with ski resorts, so it might be hard to pick your favorite. But unless you’re really looking forward to queuing up on the slopes of Heavenly Ski Resort, Diamond Peak is a much quieter – and just as heavenly – alternative. It’s community owned, which explains the convivial atmosphere, and comes with 30 runs and 655 skiable acres (265ha). Follow the Crystal Ridge run for the most magical Lake Tahoe vistas.
This ski resort in Wyoming just a few miles from Jackson Hole, offers stunning views of the Tetons. Receiving around 42ft (12.7m) of snow annually, the laid-back Grand Targhee is not as popular as Jackson Hole – yet it’s equally fit to please skiers of all levels. There are green runs around the Shoshone lift, tree runs appealing to intermediate and advanced skiers, and steep blues off the Blackfoot and Dreamcatcher lifts. Cat skiing is also possible on Peaked Mountain. Plus, you’ll rarely see extensive lift lines here, which is part of the fun. For delicious, post-ski food, head to the Branding Iron restaurant.
A ski resort is probably the last thing you would expect to find in the town of Taos, within the northern New Mexico desert. But just a few miles away, uphill in the Sangre de Cristo range, is one of the best resorts in the US. Thanks to the area’s arid climate, the snow here is super dry – making for some irresistible, powdery slopes that reach an altitude of more than 8,000ft (2,438m). The region comprises Native American, Spanish and Anglo traditions, allowing for a cultural blend that makes the Taos Ski Valley even more interesting to explore. On your way to the resort, make sure to visit one of Taos’s renowned art galleries.
Alyeska Resort is Alaska’s only year-round resort, so it makes sense that it’s the most popular. Still, if you’re seeking a less busy place to ski – without lift lines and in close proximity to the state capital, Juneau – the Eaglecrest Ski Area will do the trick. It offers 640 skiable acres (259ha), 36 runs ranging from beginner to double black diamond level, 5mi (8km) of Nordic trails and backcountry access for the seasoned skier. Eaglecrest receives an average snowfall of 27ft (8m) annually, with the ski season typically running from December to mid-April. Expect to find many community- and family-oriented activities here, including a snow-sports school offering classes to children and adults with disabilities.
Popular with the rich and famous since the late ‘30s, Sun Valley in Idaho used to be Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place, and is still frequented by celebs like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is where the world’s first chairlift was installed back in 1936, giving skiers easy access to wide, groomed runs. Sun Valley sees 18ft (5.6m) of snow annually and has 2,400 acres (971ha) of skiable terrain spread out over two mountains – the beginner-friendly Dollar Mountain and the steeper Bald Mountain (also known as Baldy) that boasts a vertical drop of 3,400ft (1,036m). You will find more than 70 runs here, along with 25mi (40km) of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Lift lines are practically non-existent, guaranteeing a stress-free ski experience.
When you think of Arizona, a desert landscape is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Yet the state is also home to a few ski resorts, the most famous – and busiest – being Arizona Snowbowl in the city of Flagstaff. For a less-crowded alternative, give the laid-back Mount Lemmon Ski Valley a go. With only three lifts and eight runs, this ski area just north of Tucson will make you appreciate the open space and the astonishing natural landscapes – it sits within the Coronado National Forest – which you will have all to yourself. Mount Lemmon soars up to 9,157ft (2,791m) above sea level and sees around 15ft (4.5m) of annual snow. Keep in mind there is no grooming here, which makes even the mildest of runs challenging.
If you don’t feel like mingling with celebrities and ski royalty at Aspen Snowmass, this should be your go-to ski resort in Colorado. The less-sparkly but just as impressive Telluride lies in Mountain Village, and stretches across the northwestern San Juan Mountains and partly across the Rockies. The resort area, which is now a National Historic Landmark, is actually home to the highest concentration of 13,000- and 14,000-foot (3,962m and 4,267m) peaks in North America. With over 300 days of sun, about 25ft (7.6m) of annual snow and 2,000 acres (809ha) available for skiers of all levels, Telluride is an excellent choice for skiing in style, but also in peace.
Banner Elk town in North Carolina is sandwiched between two ski resorts – Sugar Mountain Resort to the south, and Beech Mountain Resort to the north – and is among the top ski destinations in the US. While Sugar Mountain Resort is the larger and more visited of the two, Beech Mountain is where you should go if you’re aiming for a more relaxed ski experience. Apart from being a local favorite, the resort is considered the highest in the Eastern US – with a summit of 5,506ft (1,678m), receiving about 7ft (2m) of yearly snowfall. Eight lifts and 17 trails are available here, catering to beginners and experts alike.