Popularity has its price; just ask Lindsay and Paris. The glitterati of our nation’s mountains — Vail, Park City, Stowe and Killington – also suffer from overexposure leading to pumped-up ticket prices, long lift lines, traffic jams and hordes of frustrated skiers.
Luckily, there are a gaggle of lesser-known mountains that offer killer ski- and board-friendly slopes.
Sugarloaf, Maine: For families
If you like the sprawling, family-friendly Sunday River, you’ll adore Sugarloaf Mountain (sugarloaf.com) – it’s equally beloved by families and advanced skiers for its vertiginous 4,237-foot height, it’s 2,820-foot continuous vertical drop, the greatest acreage (921) of skiing on the East Coast and dozens of fast-moving lifts, trails and glades.
Why it’s often ignored: It’s a hike – 2.5 hours by car — from the closest major city, Portland.
Why it shreds the competition: The remote mountain inspires such cultish devotion, its followers have been dubbed “Sugarloafers,” according to Ethan Austin, communications manager. Don’t buy it? Log on to sugarloafsticker.com to see the resort’s trademark sticker on everything from vans to lunch-boxes across all seven continents.
When to go: Mid-November-early May
Ticket to ride: Window lift ticket rate is $77.
Getting there: Fly to Portland International Jetport from JFK (JetBlue offers daily service and great deals). From there, rent a car, or hop on a bus or Amtrak.
Where to stay: Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel, rates start at $69 a night until Dec. 9, and $99 thereafter.
Mammoth Mountain, California: For thrill-seekers
If you dig party-hearty Tahoe, you’ll lose your heart to Mammoth Mountain (mammothmountain.com), with its challenges, wild rides and tricked-out slopes for skiers and boarders. Mammoth gets 400 inches of annual snowfall on its 11,053-foot peaks — and it offers 150 runs, three half-pipes, more than 50 jumps and 80 rails and jibs.
Why it’s often ignored: East Coasters tend to gravitate toward Colorado, Utah and Wyoming when they head West.
Why it shreds the competition: “We’re the tallest ski resort in California,” said Daniel Hansen, public-relations manager for Mammoth. “And folks with family-sized bottles of sunscreen can’t get enough of our more than 300 days of sunshine. With bluebird skies like that, winter never gets old.”
When to go: Early November-June.
Ticket to ride: $92 for adults
Getting there: Fly directly to Mammoth by connecting through Los Angeles (LAX) or San Jose (SJC) via Horizon Air or from San Francisco (SFO) via United Airlines.
Where to stay: Stay at Mammoth Mountain Inn and go for the Lift & Lodging Package to score a bed and a ticket to ride for $109 per person.
Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho: For laid-back resort fanatics
If Park City gets your pulse racing, you’ll love Schweitzer Mountain for uber-resort vibe – not to mention its 6,400-foot elevation, 92 Alpine runs, two gigantic open bowls, “tree skiing” and a terrain park for beginners and experts.
Why it’s often ignored: Too often, Schweitzer (Schweitzer.com) intimidates family and beginner skiers (50 percent of its slopes are designated advanced and expert only).
Why it shreds the competition: See above. Also, “With 2,900 acres of terrain, we’re bigger than many of the household names out there,” said Dave Kulis, director of sales and marketing for Schweitzer. “You won’t find lift lines. … Most importantly, however, is the friendly, unpretentious vibe.”
When to go: Late November till it melts (generally in late May).
Ticket to ride: $65
Getting there: Schweitzer’s gateway airport is in Spokane, Wash. (GEG). From there, rent a car and drive the two hours to the resort.
Where to stay: The best deal on the mountain is at the Selkirk Lodge. Rates start at $164 a night and include breakfast and two free ski or snowboard clinics. (Cheaper rates are available at motels five to 10 miles away from the mountain).
Crested Butte, Colorado: For serious powder heads
Crested Butte is one of the few resorts in Colorado that has managed to maintain its old-school character in the face of relentless development and Disney-fication. The resort may require a few more hours on the road, but the traveling time will earn you a mountain with thousands of acres (1,167), a lofty summit (12,162 feet), enough lifts to propel 20,310 people up the mountain in an hour, several feet of fresh powder (300) to grind and a fraction of the wait found at more well-known mountains.
Why it’s often ignored: Big-name resorts like Vail, Breckenridge and Aspen steal its considerable thunder with their slightly more convenient location and glitzy guests.
Why it shreds the competition: Off-piste devotees bow down to the light and dry powder snow, which is buffed in Colorado’s high altitudes and drained of excess moisture during its passage across western deserts. By the time it descends onto the mountain’s massive bowls, its terrain park and its 121 trails, the snow is uniquely sugar-like.
When to go: November-April
Ticket to ride: Varies, starts at $59 per day.
Getting there: American Airlines, Continental and United fly into Gunnison Airport from Dallas, Houston and Denver. Alpine Express shuttle buses meet flights and provide door-to-door service.
Where to stay: Elk Mountain Lodge (elkmountainlodge.com) is a cozy B&B with great rates and specials: two days of skiing and lifts are just $134 per person, per night.
Best local slopes
Mount Peter, New York: For day-trippers
Why it shreds the competition: Located in the heart of the Hudson Valley, Mount Peter is only 50 miles from Manhattan and offers a terrain park, racing programs
Ticket to ride: $40
Getting there: Hit the road and you’ll be there in an hour flat. Directions are at mtpeter.com.
Mountain Creek, New Jersey : For partiers
Why it shreds the competition: It boasts 167 skiable acres and the region’s highest vertical drop (1,040 feet). Not only is the whole mountain open for night skiing, its terrain park has been rated one of the best in the country. There’s even a snow tubing park across the street.
Ticket to ride: $69.99 gets you three days of skiing.
Getting there: New Jersey Transit – or your own set of wheels (it’s only 47 miles from the George Washington Bridge). Directions are at mountaincreek.com.
Jiminy Peak, Mass.: For serious slope-hounds
Why it shreds the competition: Though devoid of any death-defying drops, zany attention-grabbing parks and fancy bells and whistles, Jiminy Peak (jiminypeak.com) is the only mountain resort in North America that generates its own energy using wind power. It’s also the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England. It has three terrain parks, day and night skiing, a six-passenger high-speed and a roller coaster built into the mountain itself.
Ticket to ride: $59.
Getting there: Drive or take the shuttle; $76 buys a round-trip ride and a lift ticket.