TOP NORTH AMERICAN SKI DESTINATIONS – Location and Setting

By February 5, 2009 Travel Journal

Among giants at Telluride.Now, we all know that accessibility is a major issue when anyone is planning a ski vacation.  How am I going to get there and will I spend half of my hard saved vacation time safely stowed in airplane aisles, on over-filled shuttle benches and in rental car lines?  It’s also safe to note that it’s not always difficult to go remote.  In some cases tiny 3 terminal ariports rest at the foot of mountain resorts and actually cater to major airlines.  But most often to get to the most spectacular settings you’ll have to do some amount of spine crunching travel.  For this list accessibility will play a minor role as it has relatively no affect on the skiing experience.

When we think of skiing we know there have to be slopes.  And mountains provide the best and most beautiful means of utilizing gravity to pull us down those slopes.  But not always are mountains the main source of eye candy to a skier.  Spectacularly blue lakes, bubbling sulfur springs and grazing moose often steal the show.

This category will cover a little bit of everything.  This isn’t a list of the 5 most jagged mountain ranges.  Some will boast the most dramatic vertical heights and others the most serene landscapes.  For my first mountain skiing experience at the age of 13 at Winter Park Colorado I remember being blown away by nothing more than the view.  Not the size of the slopes and not the quality of the skiing.  I proclaimed to my dad that it was “beyond Bob Ross.”  Obviously, it was an eye opening experience.

  1. Telluride, Colorado – Located in what is called a box canyon, Telluride really is as far as you can physically go.  The literal “end of the road.”  The town is surrounded on 3 sides (the box) by some of the most spectacular peaks and dangerous passes in all of North America.  Skiers really get the best of both worlds in this setting.  Perched high above the valley there are vertigo inducing vistas with the surrounding peaks and cliffs that plunge dramatically into the town.  But the slopes are high enough to enjoy great views of distant peaks.  Completely appreciating this the resort has dotted the slopes with “view point” markers surveying the surrounding ranges and giving local history.  From view point #2 at the top of the aptly named “See Forever” skiers can see all the way to Utah.  In 2007 our gang got one of those cheesy on-mountain photos.  The mountains that served as our backdrop were so spectacular that it looked like a studio shot.
  2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming – While on the slopes at Jackson Hole there are nice views of the distant peaks from across the wide Jackson Hole valley and the buttes that surround the town.  But “nice” is as far as I’ll go.  To the north lies one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in all of North America.  Unfortunately, only part of it can be seen from the slopes.  Jackson Hole ranks number 2 on my list for environs that surround the slopes.  The valley is a relative playground of staggering verticals and flat valley floors, caldrons of sulfur soup and a nearly dangerous abundance of wildlife.  Jackson is home to the largest elk refuge in the world, big horn sheep make their home on the rocky buttes and moose graze on stream banks.  Every community seems to have their own local moose and proudly watches after it just like any other neighbor.  Just to the north is, in my opinion, the greatest National Park in the world, Yellowstone.  There’s so much to see and do that sometimes it’s hard to find time for the slopes.
  3. Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California – I’ve never skied at Lake Tahoe before but certainly I’m familiar with the natural beauty of the mountain lake with its brilliant blue waters that dramatically contrast the white mountain-scape.  There are very few ski settings like it in the world and that’s why it scores third on my list.
  4. Big Sky, Montana – Montana is really all that needs to be said about the number 4.  It’s a state so expansive and diverse that it will have anyone hooked at first visit.  Similar to Jackson Hole, Big Sky sits just north of Yellowstone National Park and it overlooks the Gallatin River, the site of the filming of Redford’s beautiful snoozer “A River Runs Through it.”  The mountain itself is an massive monolith that really makes the skier feel very small.
  5. Lake Louise, Banff, Cananda – This is another location that I haven’t visited during the ski season.  But I feel confident to say that it ranks up there with some of the most scenic in the world.  That is not to mention that it sits smack in the middle of Banff National Park.  Breathtaking!

Honorable Mention: Alta, Utah has rocky crags and engulfing bowls well worth a mention.

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