Skiing and snowboarding are undeniably exhilarating, and while they don't make for the cheapest vacation in the world, with some legwork, your travel agent can find deals. For the most part, mountain resorts attract and cater to a higher-end clientele. The best resorts, however, have a little something for everyone, from youth to empty-nesters, singles to families, experts to first-timers. Here is a roundup of destinations in the western U.S. that every winter sports enthusiast must visit.
Aspen's status as a trendy destination for the stars is well known—its restaurants, boutiques, nightlife and champagne powder attract deep-pocketed skiers and snowboarders. Ask about the back-country skiing tours and the zipline tethered-jump apparatus on Snowmass Mountain, snowshoe tours, paragliding and hot air balloon rides.
In addition to Aspen Mountain ("Ajax"), there are three excellent ski/snowboard resorts to choose from: Snowmass, the largest of the four with the most diverse terrain ranging from beginner to expert; Aspen Highlands, the locals' favorite featuring the experts-only Highlands Bowl (accessible only via Snowcat), and Buttermilk, home of Winter X Games, which return in January 2008.
Vail is primarily a skier's resort, with more than 85 percent of its visitors on skis. Skiers here are generally intermediate to advanced males; without a doubt, however, the resort also appeals to families and snowboarders.
Vail Village is stocked with luxury boutiques and mountain-chic locales for après ski and nightlife. Vail Mountain, the largest single ski/snowboard mountain in the U.S., has close to 200 trails, seven powdery bowls and the thrilling experts-only Blue Sky Basin in the back country. Opening on November 16 for its 45th season, Vail Mountain ski/snowboard resort is replacing two lifts with new high-speed quad chairlifts, which will expedite the trip to Two Elk Restaurant, China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin.
The Vail Children's Snowsports School, Golden Peak and Small World Nursery were completely remodeled this summer to increase space for their three- to six-year-olds program. Mountain Plaza will have new skier service amenities near the Vista Bahn, including a coffeehouse, ski/snowboard rental and retail shop and ski storage.
The resort is also offering a Fly In/Ski Free promotion. Fly to Vail/Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE) November 16, 2007 through April 13, 2008 and ski or snowboard for free the day of arrival at Vail or Beaver Creek with a boarding pass and lodging confirmation.
Park City, Utah
Park City attracts affluent visitors from all over the country.
The 18-hole championship Park City Golf Course converts into a 20k Nordic cross-country skiing course in winter.
Park City's three resorts were hosts of the 2002 Winter Olympics. They are Park City Mountain Resort, where Olympic gold-medal snowboarder Shaun White trains; über-luxurious Deer Valley, which does not allow snowboarding; and The Canyons.
Visitors showing a same-day airline boarding pass, a completed redemption coupon and photo ID can receive one free lift ticket at any of those three resorts. The Silver Passport offers access to all three at a discount off the daily lift ticket window rate. If you book 14 days in advance and are staying for least three nights, you can pre-purchase this interchangeable pass for adults and children.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
The two most popular ski/snowboard resorts in the Lake Tahoe area are Heavenly and Squaw Valley USA. Heavenly Mountain Resort touts itself as "kind of like Vegas, but with skiing."
This summer, Heavenly began construction on its new Olympic Express chairlift, the first major project in its recently approved 10-year master plan, which includes more new lifts and on-mountain restaurants. The chairlift, expected to open in December, will provide much quicker access to East Peak Lodge and midmountain Nevada terrain.
Squaw Valley USA is home to North America's only Funitel cable car and the KT-22 high-speed quad. Other winter activities include sleigh rides, snowmobiling and dog-sledding.
The new, 3,861-square-foot Trilogy Spa features an original blend of services with a warm Alpine influence. Sweet island scents, tropical products and fresh-cut flowers adorning the spa are imported directly from Hawaii weekly.
New this season, Squaw will open its until-now restricted borders for special back country tours; pre-registration is required. Groups will be led by experienced back-country guides.
Also for the first time this winter, the resort is offering moonlit snowshoe tours around Squaw Valley's upper mountain peaks. Snowshoers will trek to upper mountain vistas to take in spectacular views of the snow covered Sierra and Lake Tahoe and enjoy hot chocolate and apple cider.