Mammoth Mountain | Best Ski Resorts in the US

Spring Break: My Favorite U.S. Ski Resorts

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I’m currently bemoaning the fact that I won’t get a chance to ski this winter for the first time in six seasons—I know, woe is me; life’s so hard—but I guess that’s what happens when you start two businesses, buy a house and plan to go back to work on a ship for two months, during which you will be teaching a writing workshop and need to prepare your curriculum. This coupled with extreme jealously that all my ski industry pals were together in Tahoe at Snowcial this past weekend having fun without me, and you get a wishful-thinking post on where I’d go skiing if I were still in school and had the luxury of a Spring Break.

Best U.S. Ski Resorts

For Size and Affordability: Heavenly Ski Resort, California

I have a friend whose boyfriend makes a living on the online casino circuit, but he also comes to South Lake frequently to play the tables there. Along Stateline, which technically is in Nevada, you can work your magic at the slot machines after a long day on the slopes (and maybe even catch a Hammer show in the later hours). Me, I prefer to spend every waking hour at 9,000 feet testing Heavenly’s 97 runs (and parachuting down when I’m too tired to ski), but those who dig cheaper accommodation and a nightlife scene tend to gravitate to the South Shore for the high-rise hotels and party atmosphere (something I actually just detailed for Playboy, of all publications). Just try and avoid the weekend crowds if you can, as Heavenly in particular can get quite congested.

Heavenly Ski Resort, California

For a Slice of Luxury: Vail, Colorado

The one thing Heavenly doesn’t have that I crave is the true ski resort experience. When I want this, I go to Colorado instead. We had an absolute blast at Four Seasons Vail last year with the ski-in, ski-out, valet service—an extreme luxury when you’re as clumsy carrying around skis and boots as I am—and there are so many highly-acclaimed restaurants on Vail Mountain that you won’t go hungry when it’s time to refuel.

Vail, Colorado

To Get Away from the Crowds: Mammoth Mountain, California

Because it’s more difficult to reach—though you can take a quick-and-easy direct flight from San Jose or Los Angeles—Mammoth Mountain is generally one of the less crowded resorts in California, and it still offers top-notch skiing, too. Plus, there are plenty of other snow-fueled activities on tap, like visiting the peak via snowcat, snowshoeing under a full moon or testing your skill on a snowmobile.

For East Coast Getaways: Killington, Vermont

The tough thing about being back in the South is that we have ZERO decent ski options within a day’s drive from us. We could opt for Snowshoe but it’s too far to go by car for a long weekend, and flight options to West Virginia aren’t abundant. (And don’t even try to tell me North Carolina has skiing; I’ve been there and done that and wouldn’t agree with you.) When I was living in New York, my friends and I rented a cabin in Vermont. Killington was icy but the slopes weren’t bad—if you can’t make it out West, it’s a decent option.

Killington, Vermont

For the Family: Northstar, California

I went to ski school at Northstar when I was but seven years old and remember it ever-so-fondly. When we were back there with our Epic pass a couple seasons ago, I was happy to see the ski school is still up and running and quite popular among family travelers. Plus, Truckee is a convenient drive from Reno (around an hour) and much more diverse in its offerings than some of the other Tahoe resorts, which tend to sway more toward the serious skier or the partier.

Northstar, Tahoe, California

For the All-Around Experience: Keystone Ski Resort, Colorado

When I think about my favorite ski resorts, I keep coming back to Keystone. It has a nice mix of trails—blues and blacks, for skiers or boarders—it has a charming village, it has nice accommodation and it has great on-mountain offerings. Plus, it’s just so darn pretty and not too terribly far from Denver, the hub into which you would fly.

Keystone Ski Resort, Colorado

And with that, I think I might cry if I have to think anymore about how badly I want to be out on the slopes right now—particularly, as it’s been crazy cold here in the South these past two months, and if I have to endure an actual winter, I might as well enjoy myself, you know? Plus, I’ve really been itching to test the water—er, snow—at the resorts in Utah, New Mexico and Montana, all states I’ve visited but have yet to ski.

Skiing in Vail

How about you: What’s your favorite ski resort in the United States?

  • March 4, 2013

    Vail will always be No. 1 in my heart. I love the expanse and the challenge of the mountain so much — plus it’s where I started as a little kid. The resort, unfortunately, is pricing me out of anything more than a day visit. For a cheaper place to stay I love Breckenridge!

    One of these days I’m going to give Heavenly another try. The setting is so, so beautiful, but we had terrible, awful, no-good conditions so I didn’t get to appreciate the mountain at all.

    • March 4, 2013

      I know what you mean. My views of certain resorts tend to be swayed either way by the snow conditions.

  • March 4, 2013

    I’ve always been interested to see what your view on Utah’s resorts would be, hope you make it here one of these years!


    • March 5, 2013

      Oh, you know I’d love it. You know my thoughts of Utah!

  • March 4, 2013

    Even though you make skiing look so glamorous and fun, I still have no desire to get on the slopes. You need to take my husband with you next time you go!

    • March 5, 2013

      We will leave you in the lodge to sip hot Irish whiskeys and look pretty in your snow gear!

  • March 4, 2013

    A nice account of some of the most beautiful ski resorts. Though I am more of a island/ocean kind of guy, never venture into mountains, as it has never been my idea to rejuvenate and have fun. But keystone caught my eyes, it looks beautiful and I would love to see the place sometimes.

    • March 5, 2013

      Agreed, I only want to be cold if I’m skiing. If I’m not on the slopes, I’d rather be at the beach!

  • March 4, 2013

    I would love to snowboard in California and Colorado. So far I’ve only been able to go to Vermont and various New England ski resorts.

    • March 6, 2013

      Which were your favorites up that way? I need to give more a try.

      • March 6, 2013

        Hey Kristin!
        In Vermont I’ve been to Bolton (a lot of flat spots if you’re a snowboarder and don’t goto fast), Killington (huge awesome mountain), Stowe & Smuggs (both large mountains but not like Killington). In NY/MA I’ve been to Wyndham, which is cool, I posted a video of me totally falling on the big air bag on my myhorseeatsicecream youtube page if you want to check it out, and that’s a big mountain too. Also Butternut and Catamount. Those are both smaller but offer a great place for intermediate and beginners because the lifts are not as long as they are in Vermont so I think it’s better for the morale!

  • March 5, 2013

    I’m crying along with you that we couldn’t get to Colorado for skiing this season. Our first ski experience was at Keystone and it has set our expectation so high. You are right about NC. But it’s a great option for someone who starts learning. Just think of it as a bunny slope. 😉

    • March 5, 2013

      Agreed, but alas, I’m past the bunny slope days. Bring on the Rockies!

  • March 5, 2013

    I’m well impressed with the standard of skiing over in the states, however, being European my heart (and favourite black runs) will always be in the French alps. 🙂

    • March 5, 2013

      Confession: I’m still quite timid when it comes to European skiing. It took me so long to work up to black runs in the States, and I feel like I would be the equivalent of a beginner skier if I attempted the Alps!

  • March 5, 2013

    It’s not in the US, but it’s seriously close enough, Whistler! Growing up and living in Washington state gives a few extra benefits a) from Seattle – Whistler it’s around a 4 hour drive; b) Edge pass! WA state residents get a pretty hefty discount on lift tickets (as long as you purchase ahead of time) – and the card also gives a small discount on other goods; c) best village/ski resort atmosphere ever – there’s stuff to do for folks who love skiing, who want to shop, who want to eat/drink – it’s awesome! Oh, plus the drive (once you get out of Vancouver) is absolutely gorg.

    • March 5, 2013

      Dying to go to Whistler. DYING. I love BC (and the rest of Canada) so much, I have no doubt it’s fantastic.

  • March 5, 2013

    Very cool slopes indeed. I have only skied in a small- no wait, two small resorts near the Great Lakes. Not as fancy as these, for sure…

  • March 5, 2013

    *sigh* You’re going to make me do this, aren’t you?

    (Please keep in mind that I still think you’re totally badass and have nothing but love and respect for you, even as I give you this mild tongue-lashing.)

    Before I read your article, I skimmed through to see what your favs would be. And I’m not going to lie, I was a little irritated that all but one were West coast. But then I reminded myself that it’s all about a person’s experience, that of course *your* favorites were only going to include mountains that *you’ve* skied, and that living in San Francisco you probably would have mostly skied West coast. That makes sense. Then I chided myself for being such a bitch.

    But then I read your article, and I was with you until this line: “if you can’t make it out West, it’s a decent option.” And that kinda pissed me off. I’m *constantly* having to defend East coast skiing to family and friends who insist that I should come out West for some “real” skiing. Yes, East coast skiing is different than West coast skiing, but that doesn’t mean that all East coast mountains are inherently inferior. You may not have been crazy about Killington, and that’s cool, but until you’ve been to some of the other amazing mountains out here–Stowe, Whiteface, Jay, Mt Snow, and Mad River Glen, for starters–don’t write off the East coast. There’s more to us out here than just “better than nothing.”

    As for my favorite, Gore Mountain all the way because it’s the exact opposite of most of the resorts you described. It doesn’t have any lodging, fancy restaurants, or waffles halfway up, but it’s got a great gondola, a bar for after-skiing beer, and runs that will make you believe that your death is imminent. It doesn’t have all the fancy shit, but that’s okay with us because we’re there to do one thing, and one thing only: ski. (And maybe drink a beer.)

    • March 5, 2013

      That is totally fair and deserved. I *haven’t* been many places at all up in New England. In fact, when I say “East Coast skiing,” I mean anywhere east of the Mississippi and thus, I don’t think it’s quite fair to lump in my experiences in North Carolina and Virginia and Indiana, now is it?

      I do want to do some skiing in New Hampshire. However, I will say that I wasn’t impressed by Killington’s “snow” as it was all man made and then super icy at the top. But I could be tempted to try elsewhere in New England, fo schiz. As long as you leave the ice at home. (That shit scares me, as my constant fear is tearing an ACL.)

      • March 6, 2013

        It’s also fair to say that ice (or “hardpack, as we like to call it) is definitely a part of like for an Eastern skiier. They don’t call Whiteface “Iceface” for nothing. But it’s something that we learn to live with. We chase conditions pretty hard, many regulars won’t show up until the afternoon when things have loosened a bit, you learn to really dig into your turns, and those of us who are fortunate enough to have a quiver own a pair of good carvers with a tight turning radius. It’s also one of the things that makes spring snow, when everything gets soft but still holds its shape, FANTASTIC!

        I’m also willing to admit that much of my defensiveness probably comes from the fact that Eastern skiing is what’s available to me. And it’s not just proximity, either, it’s completely cost. We’ve looked at the cost of a trip out West, and it’s pretty much completely unattainable for us. Even with family who lives in Denver and owns multiple ski condos, who can afford Vail’s $109/day lift ticket, or Breck’s $104? Especially when you consider that our season passes to Gore cost us $400 for a midweek/non-holiday. Shit, we did Stratton two weeks ago for $120 for three days during President’s Week! Maybe one day I’ll get my Colorado/Utah ski trip, and maybe the experience will be so amazing that Eastern skiing can go fuck itself. But until then, I’m going to continue to ski the shit out of my Eastern mountain and I’m going to love every second out of it!

        Now if you’ll excuse me, I have my third date this week with a mountain, and we’re trying to catch first lift.

        • March 6, 2013

          You’re telling me: When we lived there, Heavenly and Northstar were each $92/day, but our Epic pass (good for both resorts and also Sierra-at-Tahoe) was just $369 for a season. So totally worth it even if you ski just five days (and we did three times that amount). There’s a reason we only go skiing in Colorado once a year (if that)–can’t afford anymore!

          Also, you’re more bad ass than I am, because I can’t handle the cold and ice! (Don’t judge! I’m Southern!)

  • March 5, 2013

    Cool slopes! But the thing is… I’m really afraid of speed, I won’t be a good skier in anytime soon. 🙂

    • March 5, 2013

      I still am after decades of skiing, and I fear it’s something that only gets worse the older I get!

  • March 6, 2013

    Love the winter wonderland photos!! Brrrr… We’ve been having sunny and 70s weather, but it’s supposed to get cold again this weekend for us. I was thinking of driving up to our little ski resort just to see some snow!

    • March 6, 2013

      Um, I will take your sunny and 70s any day! Send it this way, please.

  • March 6, 2013

    Wow!! Seems like you did enjoy a lot. Sikking is really fun and this game needs skills. Thanks for writing about this beautiful location. Now I am thinking about visiting this place.

  • March 6, 2013

    I have so many good memories of ski school at Northstar. It may not be the fanciest or the most professional mountain out there, but it really is a great place for a middle-of-the-road skier to be able to enjoy a lot of runs.

  • March 7, 2013

    All your ski posts, along with the relentless ski-drooling my current travel buddies are doing, is making me rethink my current status on cold weather sports. I may have an attempt at skiing or snowboarding in my future!

  • March 11, 2013

    All these lovely snowy photos make me wish we could have a decent enough snow that warranted getting bundled up and going outside. I wish the winters when I was kid, when sledding as the BEST winter activity and when snow ball fights were all the rage. The sloppy and wet snow we get these days just isn’t as fun.

  • March 17, 2013

    The snow is so beautiful. I never thought about going to a ski resort in the spring. I love seeing snow, although I do not have much experience with it. I saw snow for the first time as an adult.

  • March 25, 2013

    Beautiful ! Very beautiful indeed! I lived in the USA for almost 13 years and traveled to many places just to find out that i am yet to see plenty of many sites in the big and beautiful USA. I sure hope to visit this great site very soon. Now, a little bit about my last visit to pollo bay resorts in Victoria, Australia. It was awesome indeed! I stayed at whitecrest resort with spectacular ocean view and sounds of breaking waves right below my apartment! the accommodations at apollo bay are truly world class and reasonably priced. Gosh….i want to go back there again….

  • March 25, 2013

    Hi there,

    My personal favorite and one’s that’s on my wishlist would have to be the Vermont North Eastern region. This is because of the fact that it’s surrounded by a plethora of clubs (25, to be exact), so you get to meet like-minded individuals on a massive scale. At the same time, I love that you can engage in some geotoursim on top of all that skiing in this location.


  • March 25, 2013

    We skiied Sun Valley this year and it was gorgeous! Miles of terrain, practically empty and some of the best ski lodges!

  • February 5, 2014

    I do hope you have time to ski this year. And do come to Montana!

    • February 6, 2014

      I’ve been talking to Miss Tia about trying to do just that!

  • July 8, 2014

    Oh God. Great places for skiing that i wish to try it on! Love those beautiful pictures you got! You are really having fun. Wish to get in there someday!

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