What to Look for in a Ski Destination

Posted by JD on March 12, 2013

Vail, Jackson Hole, Whistler, and Park City – each is a crown jewel of North American skiing and rightly thought of as a destination ski resort.  Destination, when used in the adjectival sense of the word, means an attraction to which people are usually willing to travel a great distance to because it is a distinctive and interesting place.  What factors should we weigh when putting together a ski destination trip?

Snow conditions and reliability - I have had the pleasure of skiing almost every major resort in the Western United States and Canada. Colorado’s elevation really helps keep snow for long periods; Wyoming and its majestic Tetons have copious amounts of snowfall. The Sierras too can be epic, but it also prone to boom and bust with 36” dumps in 24 hours followed by 6 weeks of nothing.  My decision to permanently home base our skiing in Park City was not a lightly-considered decision and even in the worst ski year in a long time - 2012 - Park City and the Wasatch stood tall as usual.  “The Best Snow on Earth” may be a clever tag line, but it also the truth.  Do NOT overlook a resort’s snowmaking capabilities either, particularly early in the ski year. 


Lest we all forget - Snow - the reason we are all here

Location and accessibility - If you plan on going off the grid from some period of time then honestly location and accessibility are of secondary concern.  Unfortunately, most of us cannot live a life like Thoreau with our own Walden Pond – instead we usually have a limited time and a strong desire to get to our ski destination ASAP.  Flying to major airports and taking a car or shuttle from them is the most reasonable and oft-used mode to get to our destination.  Driving from Denver to Vail or to Aspen is uncompromisingly beautiful, but it is also possibly one of the more interminable drives imaginable depending on weather and traffic.  I have spent some time at the Vail Pass camped out at gas stations with 70 of my newest friends waiting for the Pass to open.  Salt Lake City on the other hand may just be the most perfect fly-drive combination anywhere.  Getting snowed in at SLC is a very rare event.  The prospect of selecting from 7 major ski destinations all within 35 minutes to 1 hour away from the SLC airport is manna sent from the ski gods.

Accommodations – Destination ski resorts have a wide range of accommodations and while there is no shortage of high end digs slope-side, you can find quality and luxury options if you are willing to give a little bit on location.  If you forego ski-in/ski-out accommodations and sacrifice some mountain proximity you can find excellent lodging options with a little creativity.

Nighttime snow storm in the village

Dining/Nightlife – Can often be the cleft by which ski trips are determined.  If this is a serious ski trip with an emphasis placed on the quest for snow and turns then nightlife and dining can be tucked away in the priority queue; for others not having access to some serious dining and nightlife options can be a deal breaker – consider the type of trip and audience you anticipate and plan accordingly.

The Ski Mountain – Some destinations are renowned for the challenging terrain – Squaw Valley and Jackson Hole come to mind.  Others are great cruiser mountains – Northstar in the Sierras or Steamboat in Colorado are really great for intermediate skiing. Whistler and Park City Mountain Resort are two resorts for example, that truly offer the full range of terrain from the novice to the gnarliest.

Whatever your ski destination – own it!


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Comment posted by Kristen on March 12, 2013 9:33 PM MDT

I completely identify with this....we've skied sooo many places, and with the family, it makes it so easy to come to Park City. Sometimes with the easy route you give up something....but you actually get it all here. Although it's fun to explore new and unique places, we have more time to enjoy the limited vacations we have if they are easy to get to.

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