Powder Play

Searching for snow and mountain scenery? It’s not too late to plan an epic adventure. Here’s what you need to know to prevent meltdowns on your last-second ski trip.

By Alex C. Pasquariello

So you didn’t plan the perfect winter ski trip this summer. As long as you don’t want to shred on holidays or on peak three-day weekends, there’s still time to cobble together a trip to one of North America’s top winter playgrounds.

Touching down in ski country gets easier every winter as airlines add nonstop service from major cities to top ski regions. For the lowest prices and best seat selection, fly midweek and at midday and avoid the front and back ends of the ski-weekend rush.

Utah rocks some of the fastest and most convenient access to powder riding in North America, having 11 ski resorts within an hour’s drive from Salt Lake International Airport, a Delta hub with nonstop flights from 90 cities. This winter marks a new era in the Wasatch, as Park City is debuting as the largest in ski area in North America, the result of two resorts combining for more than 7,300 powdery acres and ski-in access to historic Main Street’s bars and restaurants. Hit the halfpipe or meander through gorgeous glades, then slide into High West Distillery for craft whiskey and great pub grub.

Jonesing for steep and deep? High in the Tetons, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is easier to reach than ever now that nonstop flights connect it to 13 cities. City slickers benefit from more-frequent departures from Newark, Chicago, Dallas and L.A.; new flights from New York’s JFK take off in December 2015. Landing at the base of the Tetons at the only airport in a national park is a scenic start to a vacay, and the 20-mile drive to the resort winds through a wildlife refuge. Wake up early for the first Aerial Tram to the top of Rendezvous Mountain for some 4,000 feet of vertical and 360-degree panoramics of the Snake River Valley and Grand Teton National Park.

Deep in the Colorado Rockies, sister resorts Vail and Beaver Creek manage to remain exclusive even while Eagle County Regional Airport, 35 miles away, connects this iconic ski country with 11 major markets nonstop, including New York’s JFK, Miami, Toronto, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas and L.A. Book tony Beaver Creek for a luxe resort village, immaculately groomed trails and the World Cup racing pedigree of the Birds of Prey course. Big sister Vail boasts seven high alpine powder bowls and a lively après scene in a resort village teeming with restaurants, bars, boutiques and galleries.

Still thinking about driving? Make sure you’re in four-wheel drive, and remember that most mountain towns don’t want your car and provide plentiful public transportation and airport shuttles. Towns, resorts and hotels also charge a pretty penny for parking. Do the math and you may find that flying saves you time and money.

Whether you plan six months in advance or at the last second, often the best prices on flights, lift tickets, rentals and rooms are in early season (mid-November through mid-December) and spring (March through mid-April). If you crave bluebird days on soft snow, spring riding in the West is a true joy. Generally, the higher the altitude the resort is, the longer into April it can remain open. Vail and Beaver Creek, for instance, are open through the third weekend in April; Jackson Hole, on the other hand, is open through the first week of April, after which it shuts down to protect wildlife habitat. Follow snow reports and you’ll know which of your top mountains have the snow depth necessary to extend the season into spring, and be sure to pack your shades.

If you’re lucky enough to spend more than five days on snow this season, consider one of the winter’s new ski passes, but act fast, because they’re selling fast as snow continues to fly out west. For those looking to hit more than one resort this winter, there is the comprehensive Mountain Collective Pass. It provides two days of riding at each of 13 resorts, including Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Aspen, Colorado; Snowbird and Alta, Utah; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Whistler‐Blackcomb, British Columbia. After using their two days at one resort, pass holders pay half‐price for additional lift tickets. East Coast skiers should check out M.A.X. Pass with five days at some 22 resorts, including Killington and Stratton, Vermont; Sugarloaf, Maine; and Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. When you’re ready to shred the Rockies the pass includes Winter Park, Copper Mountain, and Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: December 2015