There is a certain group of people living in the West who look forward to the end of summer and wish for fall to hurry up and leave. These folks crave the cold because once winter arrives, it’s time to take part in their favorite pastime—skiing and snowboarding. These die-hards start their annual “pray for snow” dance in early November in the hope that their local mountain will be up and running by Thanksgiving. While many would never get up before the crack of dawn to go to the gym or get an early start on work, if it’s a big time powder day, they are on the road before our alarm clocks have even sounded.
There’s an excellent chance that there is a ski hill or resort less than 90 minutes from where you are, and that’s what makes this part of the country so great. Whether it’s a full-scale resort with high-speed quads, five-star dining and $8 beers, or a mom and pop outfit serving nachos and homemade chili, there’s an incredible skiing experience nearby for just about everyone’s taste.
The Full Scale Resorts
Big Sky Resort, Bozeman Montana
5,800 Acres, 300 named runs, 4,350 feet of vertical drop
Big Sky is the crown jewel of Montana ski destinations. Located a short beautiful drive from Bozeman, this is one of the largest mountains in the west. The village is enormous and despite hundreds of thousands of visitors, lift lines are generally short. You can enjoy fine dining at Everett’s at 8,800 feet in the air or choose from 48 other dining options. Four hundred inches of annual snowfall and runs as long as six miles guarantee for a memorable day on the mountain with plenty to keep you entertained off the mountain too.
Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler, British Columbia
8,171 Acres, 200 named runs, 5,280 feet of vertical drop
More skiing terrain than any other resort in North America, Whistler is on the bucket list of almost all serious skiers and riders. If you’re still feeling crowded, the mountain offers heli-skiing to untouched powder. Travel from mountain to mountain on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the highest and longest lift in the world. Whistler is just six years removed from hosting the winter Olympics so plenty of history to be found here as well.
Ski Towns to Explore
Schweitzer Mountain, Sandpoint, Idaho
2,900 Acres, 92 named runs, 2,900 feet of vertical drop
Schweitzer is the backdrop to one of the more beautiful communities in the Inland Northwest. From the peak, guests look down upon Sandpoint and massive Lake Pend Oreille. While everything you’ll need for a vacation can be found on the mountain, a trip into town shouldn’t be missed. Downtown Sandpoint offers local shopping, unique restaurants and breweries, all in a pedestrian friendly setting.
Red Mountain, Rossland, British Columbia
4,200 Acres, 110 named runs, 2,919 feet of vertical drop
The secret is out. Red Mountain continues to pile up accolades from national media in large part due to Rossland, the ideal small town ski village. About 3,500 people call this place home, but they are all in on the outdoors. About any outdoor activity can be found here, and the mountain is less than 10 minutes from downtown so no matter where you stay, it’s easy to commute back and forth. Rossland is the southern tip of Canada’s “Powder Highway” which connects seven of Canada’s top ski destinations, making it an ideal starting place for those looking to experience several mountains in one trip.
Mom & Pop Outfits
Discover Basin, Phillipsburg, Montana
2,200 Acres, 67 named runs, 2,388 feet of vertical drop
“Disco” is the perfect setting for groups with all ability levels. The front side is great for beginners, kids and those who just want to cruise. On the back, you’ll find the Limelight lift where the only way down is through 18 double black runs, testing even the most experienced skiers and riders. Day passes are affordable, and the vibe in nearby towns of Anaconda and Phillipsburg are pure western Montana.
Mission Ridge, Wenatchee, Washington
2,000 Acres, 26 runs, 2,250 feet of vertical drop
While smaller and receiving less snowfall than many Northwest resorts, Mission Ridge sees an average of 300 sunny days a year giving you a better chance of a bluebird day. There’s a great mix of intermediate and expert terrain with great groomer skiing all day long. Just 15 minutes from Wenatchee or guests can stay in the scenic town of Leavenworth if they’re willing to go a bit further.
Skiing on the Side, Bluewood, Dayton, Washington
400 Acres, 24 runs, 1,125 feet of vertical drop
You might not think of being able to combine a wine tasting trip and a ski trip, but that’s what you’ll find in the Walla Walla Valley. Bluewood may be small in stature, but it sees more than 300 inches of snow annually and offers variable terrain parks, excellent tree terrain and no pass is more than $40. Need a break from sifting through more than 200 wineries in Walla Walla and Dayton? Then Bluewood is the perfect distraction. Want to get off mountain? A trip up the backside in a snowcat is just $10 or $19 for unlimited rides.
Banff National Park, Banff, Alberta
Sunshine Village, Lake Louise Ski Area, Mount Norquay
With 8,000 combined acres, Canada’s first National Park is home to three excellent mountains, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Where you would go wrong is focusing entirely on skiing during your trip. Banff National Park offers some of the most awe-inspiring peaks, mountain lakes and high-alpine terrain in the world. You can camp or find five-star accommodations, be spoiled at a spa or slip into an outdoor hot spring, find elk, moose and bear, or visit a film festival or museum. This is truly one of the more remarkable areas in the west, so ski a day but leave plenty of time for other exploring.
...And a whole lot more
There are all kinds of unique destinations across the Northwest. Both Lookout Pass and Lost Trail Powder Mountain straddle the Idaho and Montana border allowing you to ski in two states at the same time. Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho has an indoor water park with an endless wave feature allowing you to ski and surf in the same day. Crystal Mountain puts you up close and personal with Mount Rainier, one of the Northwest’s biggest icons.
Even if the conditions aren’t prime, ski towns usually play host to a slew of unique dining, shopping, nightlife and people watching options so your trip can be just as fun off the slopes as it is gliding down them. Make this the season you find a new favorite hill. Plan a weekend to check out some of the incredible areas across the northwest and explore what other towns have to offer.