Big Resorts vs. Small Local Gems: Which is Better?

Curated expert Michael Biasuzzi overviews the pros and cons to help you figure out which style of resort is best for you.

Tracks left by skiers and snowboarders through fresh powder

Photo by Curated expert Ellie Frost

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Skiers and snowboarders have many options for places to ride, both big and small. Big resorts are often owned by larger companies that offer multiple locations and provide a similar experience at each resort, with some minor differences. The large resorts offer easy access, many amenities, usually have multiple options for skiing and riding destinations, and try to cater to a larger audience. There are a few “big players” in North America, and companies like Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Collective, Powdr Resort Corporation, and Boyne Resorts are leaders in the industry. With multiple locations, these companies cater to guests looking for a similar experience on a unique landscape and the ease of riding with just one company.

Then there are the smaller, local mountains where most people learn to ski or spend hours after school or on the weekends at their neighborhood hill—for those lucky enough to live in an area with multiple skiable options. Smaller mountains tend to offer less amenities and have smaller operations but also offer more affordable prices for all their products and services. Which is best for your skiing experience? Only you can decide. Both options provide unique experiences that become lifelong activities, destinations, and memories.

The view from a chairlift of the forest and runs below

Photo by Curated expert Ellie Frost

Large Resorts

We can’t talk about big resorts without mentioning Vail Resorts. Owning properties all over the world, Vail is committed to providing the best luxury resort experience at all its destinations. Thirty-nine unique resorts fill out its portfolio where skiers and riders of all abilities and backgrounds can find something to enjoy. Offering multiple options for lodging, dining, and activities besides amazing skiing and snowboarding, big resorts like Vail, Beaver Creek, Stowe, and Whistler Blackcomb—just to name a few—offer more than just a world-class snow experience and are all-in-one resort experiences.

If you are looking for luxury lodging, easy purchasing, and lots of amenities, a big resort might be the best choice for your skiing or snowboarding adventures. Looking for a location with many options for skiable terrain? Another benefit of large resorts compared to a local hill is that they offer multiple base locations and have many lift options over multiple skiable areas. High-speed lifts usher guests up, while surface lifts make learning easier than ever for beginners to get up the bunny hill. These resorts have more snow-making abilities, grooming staff, and equipment, providing more consistent skiing and riding conditions.

Providing similar experiences at all their destinations, large companies like Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Collective make access to the lifts easy with one direct-to-lift pass product. Vail makes getting your turns easy with its EPIC Pass, and the IKON Pass is the best way to access the great resort line-up in the Alterra Mountain Collective, as well as its partner resorts. Earlier this year, with the purchase of a Killington 365 Season pass, you would have received a free IKON Pass. This deal gave unlimited access to Killington all year and five days at all Alterra locations.

These passes make hitting the slopes easy and provide multiple options and convenience, but they come at a high upfront cost, depending on when you purchase. For the best rates, the time to purchase passes is early in the year (March to June), as prices rise and sales end as the start of the season approaches. For more information on the EPIC Pass, visit www.epicpass.com, and for more information on the IKON Pass, visit www.ikonpass.com.

Pros – Large Resorts

  • Lot of lodging and dining options.
  • Great on snow experience, with multiple terrain areas and support services.
  • Easy lift access, with one pass product being usable at multiple resorts.
  • Integrated new technology for better customer experience.

Cons – Large Resorts

  • Pass products have high upfront costs and day ticket rates can be high.
  • Crowds can be overwhelming.
  • Prices for other services are higher than smaller options.
  • Parking can be expensive or limited at destination resorts.
Snowboard expert Jessi Scott snowboarding in fresh powder after a blizzard

Photo by Curated expert Jessi Scott

Small / Local Gems

Luckily, growing up in Vermont I had the opportunity to experience both worlds just minutes apart and adore small resorts, or local gems. With less snow-making and grooming equipment and staff, local hills rely more on natural snowfall to operate, producing more variable snow conditions. These destinations often have smaller base lodges and less terrain available to explore, with limited lift services. Some of the amenities, like lodging and dining options, might be limited and provide little off-snow activities.

However, the lift lines and crowds are often smaller at the local gems, providing more time on snow for patrons. Many smaller resorts have great snow-sports learning centers and are often charging lower prices than large resorts. Prices on everything from lift tickets, to rental equipment, to food will all be more affordable than when visiting a large resort.

Independently owned and operated, small resorts rely on dedicated staff and volunteers to operate. Due to the separate ownership, patrons must buy their lift access through the exact destination they wish to visit. Planning multiple trips to small resorts can get confusing with the different rates and unique mountain policies. However, a small group of resorts formed a partnership to provide one pass product that gives you access to multiple resorts. The Indy Ski Pass allows patrons two days of riding at over 50 different resorts! More information on the Indy Pass can be found directly at its website www.indyskipass.com.

Pros – Small / Local Gems

  • Lower prices for lift tickets, rentals, lessons, and the other same amenities offered at large resorts.
  • Great snow-sport programs to improve skills and introduce first-timers to snow sports.
  • Smaller crowds and lift lines, which means more time on the slopes.
  • Great, friendly, and passionate staff willing to go above and beyond.

Cons – Small / Local Gems

  • Less snow-making and grooming means more variable conditions; they rely on natural snowfall.
  • Limited amenities and options for guests.
  • Outdated technology and older equipment is often found at smaller resorts.
  • Lower number of staff; often use more volunteers to operate.

Which style resort is best for you, large or small? Only you can answer that, based on the type of trip you are looking for. If you’re planning a relaxing ski vacation with lots to do besides a terrific on-snow experience, then a large resort is the place to be. If you’re like me and want to spend more time on the snow over the glitz and glam, keep it local.

Traveling with multiple people of multiple skiing abilities and ages? The larger resorts might be better equipped to provide the best personal experience for everyone. Traveling with a bunch of hard chargers? The local gem off the beaten path could be the best choice for those memorable on-snow moments. Large or small, there are many amazing, outdoor winter recreation destinations available, and I hope to see you out there!

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Written By
Born and raised in Vermont, winter sports have been my lifelong passion. In high school my friends would spend our weekends at Statton, Pico, Killington, or Jay Peak searching for untouched snow or working for a free pass. During the week you could find us in the backyard or hiking out into the wild...

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