Winter is well underway in the Northern hemisphere, and the snow is calling. Weekend warriors and ski bums alike are flocking to their nearest mountain to take advantage of this storm season’s historic dumping. But not all mountains are created equal. The best of the best combine size, charm, and comfortable lodging with a variety of terrain for ideal shredding. Likewise, the best mountain-ready vehicles offer size, comfort, and winter-friendly powertrains to handle treacherous roads. And whether you’re a skier, snowboarder, snowshoer, or an après-ski enthusiast, a properly equipped vehicle is a must for a fun and safe adventure.
Check out some rugged vehicles near each mountain. Select the all-wheel drive and ski rack features to narrow your search to serious contenders only.
Here are five of our favorite ski resorts, each representing a different region of North America. Plan ahead for your next trip, and pray for fresh powder.
When thinking about legendary ski resorts around the world, Vail immediately comes to mind. Vail has earned its legendary status by offering massive and varied terrain, a vibrant nightlife, and tons of fluffy Rocky Mountain snow. A modern and efficient lift system helps minimize lines, especially useful in handling the big weekend crowds. Vail’s renowned back bowls offer 600 vertical meters of beautiful bowl skiing for advanced riders. The less athletically-inclined members of your party can shop in fur boutiques or dine at five-star restaurants instead of waiting in the lodge.
Vail is huge (read: yuuuge). With 193 runs, 31 lifts, and a picture-perfect village, it is the quintessential world-class ski resort with something for everyone. Cruise down tree-lined groomers or backflip off cornices — Vail has you covered. Just a short two-hour drive from Denver, Vail is easily accessible and highly accommodating for your winter recreation needs.
Okemo Mountain Resort, VT
For an overall pleasant skiing experience in the Northeast, look no further than Okemo Mountain Resort. It may not have the steepest runs, the highest peak, or the most snow, but Okemo makes up for its lack of wow-factor by getting all the little things right. A solid selection of 121 trails includes luxuriously long blue and black cruisers that flow over rolling hills. Okemo is known for the best snowmaking in the Northeast and constant grooming.
Despite a recent surge in popularity, the mountain rarely feels crowded. Both locals and first-timers note an exceptionally friendly and effective resort staff. Okemo is ideally suited for families, but might not have enough steeps for impatient advanced riders. Okemo is a quick drive from anywhere in New England, perfect for weekend getaways.
Squaw Valley, CA
The Lake Tahoe area has more than a dozen outstanding resorts, but if we had to choose an ambassador, it would be Squaw. Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley is hallowed ground for many of the pioneers of modern skiing. Your favorite Warren Miller movie was probably filmed here — countless pros call Squaw home. And though it is known as a mecca for extreme skiing, Squaw Valley has terrain for cheese pizza gapers and ski film stars alike.
The village at Squaw is nothing much to write home about, but you’ll want to spend all of your time either moving up or down any of Squaw’s five peaks. From the village, you can ride North America’s only funitel (look it up) to the Gold Coast Lodge. The hike-to Palisades offer 60 degree chutes and 80 foot cliffs, if you’re into that sort of thing. For maximum send, take the KT-22 lift to access the famous Fingers chutes.
Advanced skiers and riders will never tire of Squaw, but the newly-absorbed Alpine Meadows Ski Resort can provide respite for beginners, and is just a shuttle ride away. Tahoe is the go-to for Bay Area natives but draws skiers and boarders from all around the world. There’s a Tahoe-area resort to fit any style or budget, but to us, Squaw is king.
Park City, UT
Since last season, Park City Ski Resort has been connected via gondola with neighboring former Canyons Resort, creating an uber resort with over 300 marked trails and 7,300 acres of skiable terrain. Park City is owned and operated by Vail Resorts, who continuously invest in improvements on both sides of the gondola. The incredible size means plenty of terrain variety for all skill levels and tastes. Advanced riders can enjoy themselves amongst the trees, the alpine, or on-piste in the deliciously dry Utah snow.
Park City’s terrain parks are consistently ranked tops in the world by ski and snowboard magazines. If you get queasy watching pros on the superpipe or launching off 70 foot jumps, there are plenty of smaller rails, boxes, and other slidey metal objects on which to pretend you are Shaun White. Or if cracked ribs sound like a bad idea to you, try the 4000 foot alpine coaster sled ride.
Park City is much more than a ski town. Home to the Sundance film festival, Park City is a shopping and culture hub with a thriving après scene and a 1950s-mining-town-style main street. If you’re looking for excellent snow, world-class parks, or luxury snakeskin cowboy boots, this is the mountain for you. Park City is less than an hour outside of Salt Lake City, meaning easy access for those who have to fly in.
Mammoth Mountain, CA
Mammoth is the official resort of Southern California. This means large weekend crowds, but its 3,500 skiable acres accommodate 28 lifts and a balanced mix of trails. With 400 inches of Eastern Sierra snow and 300+ days of sunshine per year, Mammoth sees plenty of California bluebirds when it isn’t dumping. Because of the altitude and snowfall, Mammoth offers reliably comfortable spring skiing; when California isn’t in drought, lifts toward the top are often open until mid-June.
Mammoth’s extensive terrain parks have played a large part in the growth of snowboarding, with Southern California riders flocking to its kickers and pipes for decades. Mammoth routinely hosts slopestyle competitions and attracts many pros to its playgrounds.
Mammoth mixes historic charm with all the infrastructure of a modern well-developed resort, and does so without a whiff of pretension. The village, Mammoth Lakes, is classic rustic Sierras with enough nightlife to entertain the Los Angeles crowd. Rest aching knees at outdoor hot springs or hit the nearby tube park with the kids. When the pass is open, Mammoth is just over an hour from Yosemite National Park. The drive to Mammoth from LA or Las Vegas can become monotonous, so be sure to use a winter-capable car with road trip comforts.