Easterners who are serious about winter sports have two basic options. The first is to take the long drive to New England resorts and pray for snow. But last season, Killington, Vermont, had a cumulative snowfall of only 81 inches. Stratton, also in Vermont, saw a meager 60.
Admittedly the winter of 2016 was a terrible anomaly for the East Coast, but then there’s always the second option: Spend the same number of hours on a plane rather than in a car, and head west. Yes, you have to pay for airfare, but the resorts are bigger and better, and the chances of actual snow are much greater (even if this year has been off to a slower than usual start).
Here are a few tried-and-true places that won’t let you down — and all accessible via nonstop flights from JFK or LaGuardia.
Park City, Utah
When the Vail Resorts company combined Park City and Canyons into one behemoth in 2015, it created a 7,300-acre, 41-lift playground. The new Park City (parkcitymountain.com) is among the very few places in North America to offer the same exploratory thrills as the sprawling resorts of the French Alps. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to do the same run twice, Park City is for you. It also has thriving night life and luxe accommodations — though a local favorite, the cozy Harper Lee-themed Atticus Coffee & Teahouse (atticustea.com), won’t break the bank — and sits a mere 40 minutes from Salt Lake City’s efficient airport. Just don’t go during the Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 19-29), when the town is overrun by movie people and lodgings are scarce.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
With Delta adding a direct flight from JFK to the Jackson Hole airport during ski season, this iconic Tetons resort has become a lot more accessible. The town itself has somehow managed to preserve a frontier vibe despite the luxury trimmings. Don’t be fooled by the amenities, though: For many expert skiers, Jackson Hole (jacksonhole.com) is a bucket-list destination. And the ultimate achievement is making it down the stomach-churning Corbet’s Couloir in one piece. The rest of the mountain isn’t as gnarly, but it’s still plenty challenging — Jackson Hole isn’t the most welcoming place for beginners, but intermediates and up will be in heaven. Advanced skiers who want to improve their skills should consider signing up for one of the resort’s four-day steep-and-deep camps. They might be ready for Corbet’s by the end.
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Calif.
It’s feast or famine at Lake Tahoe: The next-to-last season was snow deprived, while 2015-16 saw gigantic dumps. JetBlue’s nonstop flights from JFK to Reno make it easier to take a chance, especially since Reno is farther away but cheaper than Salt Lake (go figure). A good bet is the combo of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows (squawalpine.com), on the north side of the lake (they scored just under 500 inches in 2015-16). Squaw Valley offers a unique mix of world-class amenities, excellent service, lively-verging-on-rowdy ambience and extensive terrain spread over six peaks. There’s something for everybody, from meandering, mellow blue runs to the couloirs and chutes accessed by the infamous KT-22 chair (nwsdy.li/KT22). When the wind picks up, as it is prone to do at Squaw, take a free shuttle and use your pass at Alpine Meadows, which is smaller but also less crowded and friendlier, with good backcountry access. Ski in/ski out accommodations are pricey at Squaw (Alpine doesn’t really have any), so you might consider staying in nearby Truckee (truckee.com) or Tahoe City (visittahoecity.org). Note that Squaw will host two women’s World Cup events March 9-12, which should be worth the trip.
Beaver Creek, Colo.
Just 13 miles down I-70 is Vail's sister resort of Beaver Creek (beavercreek.com), where the emphasis is on service and mellow comfort — chef-hatted employees even distribute free warm chocolate-chip cookies at the end of the day. Competitive thrills are available as well: While this year’s World Cup race has been canceled due to uneven coverage, snow is on its way and the Birds of Prey downhill course will soon be ready to test advanced visitors (nwsdy.li/birdsprey). At the annual Talons Challenge (held on Feb. 25 this season), participants will try to complete 14 black- and double-black diamond runs in a single day (nwsdy.li/talons).
Access tip: You can fly to Denver, rent a car and drive two hours to Beaver Creek, or you can fly to Eagle County (eaglecounty.us/airport) — it’s a little pricier but you can book a shuttle to the resorts and skip the rental car.
As the owner of a dozen resorts, including the gigantic Park City and Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, Vail Resorts is the 800-pound gorilla of winter sports. But it’s worth checking out where it all started, because Vail (vail.com) is iconic for a reason: It’s truly great. The resort is so big that it offers something for every skier, and the back bowls alone cover 3,000 acres. (The entirety of Killington is about half that.) The downside is that Vail can get crowded, so it’s best to avoid holiday weekends.
Access tip: You can fly to Denver, rent a car and drive two hours to Vail, or you can fly to Eagle County (eaglecounty.us/airport) — it’s a little pricier but you can book a shuttle to the resorts and skip the rental car.
The name Aspen usually summons visions of celebrities enjoying après-ski. But Aspen (aspensnowmass.com) actually is a demanding mountain that will keep expert riders and skiers on their toes. Aspen is so challenging, it’s holding the World Cup finals March 15-19 — the first time they’ve been held outside Europe in 20 years. And yes, the night life is good, too, as long as you’re prepared for the sticker shock. Down the road, sister resort Snowmass is more low-key, with wide, uncrowded blue runs that will keep intermediate visitors happy for days on end. With a well-designed lift network, top-notch grooming and a superior ski school, Snowmass is particularly suited to families with members of varying levels. The coolest addition to the slopes is a food trailer that a snowcat tows to a different spot every day.
While Ogden (ogdencity.com) itself isn’t a resort, this old-school burg is just 30 minutes from a pair of great ones, Snowbasin (snowbasin.com) and Powder Mountain (powdermountain.com). And it boasts something the other two don’t have: plenty of lodging, a historic main drag crowded with plenty of restaurants and an indoor place where you can surf on artificial waves (flowriderutah.com). Snowbasin, which hosted some Alpine events at the 2002 Winter Olympics, is fabulous for families and intermediate skiers and riders; it’s also renowned for its day lodges: Think chandeliers, panoramic windows and Kobe beef hot dogs. Powder Mountain, on the other hand, is said to be no less than the largest American ski resort, at 7,967 acres. An extra 1,000 acres of “side country” is accessible via a $20 cat ride — dirt cheap by cat-skiing standards. Best of all, Powder Mountain caps visitors at 2,000 a day, ensuring low density. After a long day on the snow, make sure to hit the Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville. Established in 1879, it’s a sterling example of a divey Western bar.
Colorado, Beaver Creek, Beaver Creek Ski Resort
Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude (skisolitude.com) has long been Utah’s best-kept secret, which meant blissfully empty runs and powder stashes days after neighboring resorts had been picked clean. It remains to be seen whether Solitude’s new owner, the fancy Deer Valley, will succeed in getting the word out. In the meantime, this low-key charmer has been upgrading its lifts and amenities. There could be more on-site accommodation options, but the village base is lovely, a faux-Alpine town square surrounding an ice rink. As a bonus, Solitude offers direct slope access (on the same lift ticket) to neighboring Brighton (brightonresort.com), a funky hill beloved by local snowboarders.