What to Expect When Skiing Different Regions in North AmericaPublished on 12/21/2022 · 7 min readFrom Stowe, VT to Bachelor, OR, Ski Expert Abe F. explains what it's like to ski in different regions and at different resorts in North America!
On Lone Peak at Big Sky, Mont., with Wyoming in the distance. Photo by Abe F.
East Coast skiers are often told that if they haven’t skied out west, then they don’t know what they’re missing—and it’s true. But what’s less commonly said is this: West Coast skiers who haven’t skied back east don’t know what they’re missing either! Despite the reputations and beliefs, there are so many great reasons to ski all over the country and see what different regions have to offer.
The New England region offers a unique skiing experience. With almost all of the terrain below the tree line, runs in the Northeast are often narrow, twisting avenues lined with big snowy pines. Runs with this type of construction have a few perks—they provide a nice challenge when groomed by forcing skiers into some aggressive turns, and when ungroomed, they often form consistent bumps with good shape and spacing. These types of runs allow resorts to create intricate, far-reaching networks of trails that feel surprisingly varied, private and peaceful despite the crowds and smaller acreage. Wide boulevards in more prominent spots and under lift lines allow for skiers to get a taste of some bigger turns while creating an opportunity to show off! Between trails, most of the woods are nicely thinned and provide countless gladed adventures.
Conditions in the Northeast can be particularly challenging as lower temps and elevations lead to a lot of thaw and re-freeze. Less annual snowfall requires enlisting the assistance of snowmaking machines. But the East Coast usually gets a handful of big storms every year that leave top notch powder, and meticulously maintained slopes offer some of the best hardpack in the country during long stretches of the winter.
A few highlights of New England skiing to mention are Outer Limits at Killington, Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire, and the town of Stowe in Vermont.
Outer Limits is on every list of Best Mogul Runs in America for good reason. It’s long, steep, and always bumped up. It’s right under a quad chair and ends at a big lodge, so there’s always someone watching. There’s no better spot to practice your mogul skiing; if you can ski the steep icy bumps of Outer Limits, you can ski bumps anywhere.
Tuckerman’s Ravine is the most famous backcountry spot in New England. The rocky cirque and expansive snow field feel like a Colorado adventure. The American Inferno races held on Tuckerman’s insane steeps in the 1930s were some of the first extreme skiing competitions ever. And much of the bowl stays skiable into July!
The town of Stowe is the quintessential New England ski town. Stowe was chartered in 1763, when skiing had hardly even reached the continent, but nestled at the base of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s tallest peak, Stowe was poised to become the country’s first ski town. The country’s first ski patrol started in Stowe, and the resort was home to some of the first lifts in the country as well. Places like Bethel, Lincoln, and Manchester are also full of rich history and a passion for skiing, but if you can only visit one, Stowe is at the top of the list.
Skiing out west offers an incredible variety of terrain and conditions. The southern and northern Rockies differ from each other, and the Cascades and Sierras are even more unique, so to call it all “out west” is really an oversimplification. Still, a quick look at some of the northwestern sub-regions should give you an idea of some of the different alpine experiences to be had all over the western half of the country.
In the continental U.S., no state has more peaks above 14,000 feet than Colorado. As the elevation king, Colorado resorts hold snow extremely well and the snow is good and light. Acreage out in Colorado is some of the best in the country as well, with Vail, the beloved behemoth, leading the way in that category. Most Colorado mountains offer a tremendous variety of terrain and wide-open snowfields. Classic ski towns like Breckenridge and Steamboat make you feel like you are in the center of the skiing world.
Utah has a similarly passionate ski community to be found in places like Park City and Ogden, and while their mountains don’t have quite the elevation that Colorado peaks have, meteorological effects occurring between the Salt Lake and Little Cottonwood Canyon create the most—and arguably the best—powder in the country. Alta Resort gets over 500 inches of snow every year and it’s definitely the spot to go to if you want to maximize your chances of a powder day.
Further north, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana offer incredible views of jagged Teton peaks along with some of the most iconic extreme skiing spots in the country. Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole and Big Couloir in Big Sky are two famous runs that any expert has got to overcome. The combination of huge mountains and sparse populations in this region lead to some of the shortest lift lines in the country and big powder stashes that can still be found days after snowfall. With much terrain above the tree line in this region, the off-piste high alpine adventures have an almost European feel. Jackson, Wyo., is an iconic ski town that’s really worth a visit, and Sun Valley, Idaho is a famously scenic location that is home to some of the most important people and events in the history of American skiing.
The Lake Tahoe area is home to some of the best skiing in the Sierra Nevadas. Weather from the lake creates some huge blizzards and it’s not uncommon to get 20 inches of snow or more from one storm. In the colder months, it’s generally a high-quality snow for skiing, but because of the lower elevation in the Sierras, the snow can be fairly wet and heavy in the early and late seasons. That’s not all bad news though as the “Sierra Cement,” as it’s sometimes called, piles up in great quantities and slowly softens late into the year leading to superb spring snow conditions and tee-shirt skiing under the California sun. The KT-22 area at Squaw Valley is the region’s must hit spot for experts who want to ski in the tracks of legends like Scot Schmidt and Shane McConkey.
The Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest offers some excellent skiing and big snows as well. The elevations in the Cascades are similar and even a bit higher than some in the Sierras, and they are further north as well. On Mount Bachelor, this creates snow that is relatively dry for the region and gives it one of the longest ski seasons in the country, spanning from November through May. Some other resorts in the region that aren’t quite as tall as Bachelor experience some wet and heavy snow, but world-class resorts like Crystal Mountain and Mount Baker offer excellent terrain, laid-back vibes, and lots of sunny days.
The Canadian Rockies
In the Canadian Rockies, places like Kicking Horse and Revelstoke offer ridiculous vertical and acreage in down-to-earth locations that haven’t been built up so much. And of course, Whistler-Blackcomb, with underrated ski town vibes, is the absolute giant that everyone should experience—even if snow on the bottom half can be a bit wet. Alyeska is the premiere resort for the truly rugged who want to explore all the way up to Alaska, where the frigid temps create a wonderfully dry snow.
The Midwest & Mid-Atlantic
Finally, the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic are dotted with local hills that may be a bit smaller, and have seasons that are a bit shorter, but they are home to some excellent groomers and terrain parks, perfect learning spots, and super passionate skiers.
No matter where you find yourself skiing this winter, whether it’s the destination spot of your dreams, or just your local hill, be glad you’re skiing! And when the time is right, experience as many different alpine regions as you can, they all have something to offer! If you have any questions about the gear to bring along, hit up a Curated Ski Expert for free, personalized gear recommendations and advice.