The most runs, highest altitude, best grooming, steepest slopes, best fall line, best ski village…the list goes on and on. There are so many choices across the US in search of the ultimate destination resort. If we focus exclusively on the US, there are three resorts that I believe continue to deliver a great experience on and off the slopes.
Vail Mountain turns 50 this year!
It goes without saying that Vail is a remarkable resort and it is already experiencing a great season with all the early season snow. Over 50 years ago, Pete Siebert, an Army veteran of the 10th Mountain Division who trained south of the mountain had a vision to develop a resort. Pete and Earl Eaton, a local ski racer, first climbed Vail mountain in 1957 and agreed it would be perfect. Over the years, Vail has expanded with back bowls and China bowl in 1988, making it the largest ski area in North America. You cannot easily find the opportunities for wide open and light powder skiing in the bowls like Vail offers. In 2000, Blue Sky Basin opened and it remains one of my favorite parts of the mountain. Moving around the mountain is relatively easy and Vail offers all sorts of terrain. I continue to believe that Vail has the best grooming of any mountain I have ever skied. It’s fun to ski the corduroy snow after a big night of mountain grooming. There are plenty of steeps and bumps, if that’s your interest and loads of intermediate and cruising runs. The village extends from Lionshead to Golden Peak and offers a plethora of restaurants and shops in between. Be sure to check out Bol, a cool bowling alley that offers some of the best appetizers in Vail. You don't have to bowl to enjoy it! One of my favorite places to stay is Manor Vail in the Golden Peak part of Vail. It is convenient, somewhat affordable and a nice place for a family. Check out VRBO or book directly.
Squaw Valley is awesome
Although the adult lift ticket price has escalated to $119 a day or more during the holidays, it’s worth finding a discounted ticket and spending a few days on the mountain. Squaw Valley was the host to the entire 1960 Winter Olympic Games. Since Squaw joined forces with Alpine Meadows in 2012, the resorts offer joint access to over 6200 acres, 43 lifts, and 270 trails. High camp has an elevation of 8200 feet and the mountain tends to get some of the best snow in Tahoe if you are fortunate to time your stay with a storm. The Funnel off of Emigrant chair and Broken Arrow are my two favorite black diamond runs. For cruising and enjoying the sun, I continue to enjoy trails at Shirley Lake chair. There is something for everyone at Squaw. After a long day of skiing, it’s fun to enjoy the bars and restaurants the village has to offer. Bar One remains a tradition at Squaw and often times Johnny Mosley will stop by to say hello. Rent a house or condo in the village or stay in Tahoe City, which is not far away. You may want to enjoy drinks or a meal at the River Ranch at the entrance to Squaw. It's always a treat.
Mammoth Mountain is friendly and fun
I finally had the chance to ski Mammoth this season! It has been on my bucket list since high school. The area has 3,100 feet of vertical, rising to an elevation of 11,053 feet and enjoys a long ski season. The resort was founded in 1953 by Dave McCoy. In 1936, McCoy became a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which involved skiing up to 50 miles per day. He also joined the Eastern Sierra Ski Club and at age 22, he became the California State Champion in skiing. He was later set back by a serious ski injury while racing and was originally told they needed to amputate his leg. Fortunately a doctor from San Francisco saved his leg and eventually he was able to ski again. Dave set up a rope tow on Mammoth in 1942, continued to develop the resort and ran Mammoth for 68 years, including raising six children with his wife, Roma. Mammoth has some amazing trails and an expanse of land that extends almost 360 degrees. My favorite run is Dave’s, named after Dave McCoy. It has a perfect fall line and holds snow for days. There are plenty of intermediate runs and incredible opportunities for advanced skiers, too. The panoramic views are exceptional and Mammoth seems like an entirely different world. The range is part of the Sierras, yet is reminiscent of mountain ranges in Canada. The people are incredibly friendly and are serious about skiing and enjoying the mountains. The original Mammoth Mountain Inn at the base of the Main Lodge is a perfect place to stay. Walk out the lobby and you are a stone’s throw from the gondola. Also across the street is the Yodler Restaurant & Bar, which is legendary with authentic Bavarian food and drink. You won't want to miss Mammoth - it's worth the trip!