The Best 5 Ski Bowls in America
Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson drops some knowledge about the ski areas with some of the best bowls for riding on the continent.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder for long enough, you will most likely find that you’ve grown to love yourself a quality bowl. These aren’t KFC Famous Bowls or acai bowls but will satisfy all the same. No, it’s not the bowls that the many secret shacks adorning the treed areas of our favorite ski areas are associated with either. (However, all locations on this list are in places that allow for recreational access to those types of bowls as well—for legal adults of course).
Yes, of course, we all love them, and although tasty, I’m not referring to bowls of cereal either. However, much like the foundation of a healthy and well-balanced breakfast, these bowls are going to be best served full of frosted flakes. Just, in this case, they’ll be frosted snowflakes. Let’s dig in on the what, why, how, and where, as it pertains to some of the finest ski bowls of North America. These bowls are sure to have you coming back for seconds!
Bowls: What, Why, How
Most typically, in mountain cultures, a “bowl” is referencing a large-scale terrain feature that is most prominent in alpine or subalpine areas. These basins are natural geological formations that are shaped by glacial erosion. These wide bowl-shaped depressions contain thousands of acres of skiable terrain within its boundaries. Bowls usually feature a thin tree cover or can be mostly void of trees, giving the rider increased visibility and an essentially open canvas to draw their lines.
Skiing or snowboarding powder in an open bowl is a riding experience unique unto itself. When on top of a bowl that is soft and still mostly undisturbed, everything all of a sudden will seem right in the world. A multitude of line choices lie directly in front of you, and the choice is completely yours. No more groomed trails or signs telling you where – this is what freedom feels like. These are the sort of places magic still happens, and under the right conditions, most anything feels possible.
Many of these bowls offer lots of expert terrain, which means that these areas should be taken seriously and approached with caution. These bowls’ steeps and deeps are certainly not the place for beginners and many times are not suitable for most intermediate riders. Advanced skiers and boarders who have honed their skills and paid their dues learning the ins and outs of their craft will receive their dividends when venturing out into these bowls.
North America’s geology lends itself to the creation of these cirques and they are quite common in the US and Canada—common enough that there is a good chance that a ski resort near you offers some type of bowl skiing or riding.
Here's a list of five notable ski resorts whose slopes house some legendary bowls. Just make sure to bring your appetite because they are sure to leave you wanting seconds.
1. Sugar Bowl, CA
Sugar Bowl is one of the first oldest ski areas in California. Located upon the summit of Donner Pass, it can receive a mental amount of snowfall in winter. In 1846, the famously misfortuned Donner Party was snowbound and forced to spend winter here, many died of starvation, and those that didn’t survived on the remains of the fallen. Luckily, today there are bowls o’ plenty just waiting for us to feast upon the snow that has fallen.
When the conditions are right, the terrain on Sugar Bowl’s main peak, Mt. Lincoln, offers some of the best inbound riding possibilities around. The Palisades is an experts-only area that features several spine lines, cliff drops, and chutes and connects with Sugar Bowl Proper. It offers several premium spine lines and cliff drops and is certainly an experts-only area. Judah Bowl at the other end of the cirque is a bit more approachable yet is still a double black diamond run and should be ridden with intelligence. Backcountry access from the resort off the backside Judah Bowl offers a few big bowls full of boulders and a nice long run all the way down to Donner Lake.
2. Fernie, BC
Yes, Fernie is in British Columbia, and I’m aware that British Columbia is a province in Canada, not a state in the US. However, I’m including it in my list of “America’s Best Bowls” because it is on the continent of North America, its proximity to the border makes a day trip from Montana State super doable, and, of course, there are the five epic bowls. Yes, five!
Lizard Bowl is the namesake of the local mountains, the Lizard Range, and lies the heart of the five bowls at Fernie Alpine Resort. Currie Bowl is as scrumptious as it sounds and you can even enjoy a Curry Bowl in town after a hard day of riding it. Don’t sleep on the Timber, Cedar, and Siberia Bowls, though, either. There is so much good terrain to explore.
3. Bridger Bowl, MT
Bridger is just outside of Bozeman, Montana. It boasts 2700 feet and 300 inches of annual snowfall and is known for having some of the best inbounds ski terrain in the state. The lines you can access with just a short hike here are extremely memorable.
Options really open up once the summit ridge is attained—but with this great freedom comes great responsibility. Very steep, technical, and potentially hazardous terrain exists, and it is up to you to make good decisions regarding safety and line choices. Schlasman’s, a local favorite, brings you up into Mundy’s Bowl and requires a beacon, shovel, and probe just to get on the chairlift
4. Vail, CO
Vail's Back Bowls, much like their market share in the ski resort industry, are immense. Head to Sun Up Bowl for that early morning glow and the first signs of snow softening up in the sunlight. Sun Down Bowl will deliver the corn skiing late into the afternoon. The Orient Express meets with the Silk Road to connect China Bowl, Siberia Bowl, and both the inner and outer Mongolia Bowls.
These bowls are going to offer the most suitable conditions for the intermediate skier or rider looking to open things up a bit. Vail’s Back Bowls are a relatively safe and approachable introduction to more open and ungroomed terrain. They are the gateway drug to the bigger and more extreme ski bowls on this list.
5. Mammoth Mountain, CA
This one is near and dear to my heart. My first memory of linking seamless, high-speed powder turns was created here in Mammoth’s Cornice Bowl, which is a testament to how the openness of a bowl can be a very user-friendly introduction for upper intermediate riders to get laps on steeper runs. The gondola takes you up to the summit ridge where you are completely above the tree line and looking down at wide-open terrain.
The location's exposure to heavy winds and massive snowstorms result in a thick cornice growing off the summit ridge. The Mammoth cornice has become a famous drop, and hitting it is a sort of rite of passage launching you into the bowl below.
Like any bowl, it is more about the contents of that bowl than the bowl itself. (It’s deep, I know.) Quality ingredients are what help make up any great bowl, culinarily speaking, and I suppose it’s similar when it comes to these bowls, too. The right geological factors and a healthy amount of winter snowfall come together with the access that a ski resort’s infrastructure brings into the mix, making a perfect recipe for success for us winter sports enthusiasts.
These places can bring supreme enjoyment, but along with that, there are many inherent risks that exist as well. It is important to understand these risks and to always ride within your limits. Know what your capabilities are, familiarize yourself with the resort’s trail map, use the ski slope rating system, and always plan your runs accordingly.
Something that you never want to stress when on the slope is the condition or dependability of your gear. Stay safe out there, putting the odds in your favor with some quality gear, and communicate with a Curated Winter Sports Expert today for advice or ideas for your next ski or snowboard gear purchase.