Thrills and chills: a USA ski holiday guide

It’s hard not to be enchanted by luscious snowfall, spectacular natural scenery and the fantasies of a winter wonderland conjured up by skiing in the United States. The vast ski options across the US offers something for everyone on piste, from the novice to the powderhounds chasing double-black runs, as well as budget or luxury après ski experiences.

It’s hard not to be enchanted by luscious snowfall, spectacular natural scenery and the fantasies of a winter wonderland conjured up by skiing in the United States. The vast ski options across the US offers something for everyone on piste, from the novice to the powderhounds chasing double-black runs, as well as budget or luxury après ski experiences.

Plan ahead

Many resorts are concentrated in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, but there are also alpine resorts in California, central and North-Eastern US states. Travelling from Australia to LAX, one can easily find direct flights to Salt Lake City (Utah), Denver (Colorado), or Jackson Hole (Wyoming).

The best time to book depends on a resort’s geography. Dates for the start and end of the ski season vary from region to region due to differing weather patterns. In Colorado, some ski resorts are open as early as mid-October, although most begin admitting visitors from mid to late November, closing by early to mid-April. In Utah, the ski season starts a little later, with many resorts opening their gates in mid-December for a season that lasts until mid-April.

Early-season discounts are often easy to come by, but keep in mind that snow conditions may not be optimal, rendering many trails inaccessible. Snow-forecasting websites can provide valuable insight.

Finding the right resort

For those hitting the slopes for the first time, Colorado’s Buttermilk is a sensible choice. Its proximity to Aspen means there’s plenty of après-ski activities to entertain the adults and it has the added benefit of expansive, gentler terrain for beginners.

Other children-friendly resorts include Montana's Big Sky, which offers dog-sledding and snowmobiling in addition to the usual skiing and snowboarding. At the time of researching this article, children under 10 also get to ski free with lodging.

Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico offers terrain to suit all skill levels along with a renowned snowsports school designed for children. As an ancient pueblo (village), home to museums, art galleries, and adobe inns, it offers a charming cultural twist on the traditional alpine resort.

Beginners and intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders will be at home in Telluride, enveloped by three 4,200-metre peaks that dazzle visitors with natural beauty and a lack of crowds. Anyone pursuing gnarly runs won’t be disappointed with the range of double-black diamond and steep-cut runs on offer.

Snowbird, a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City Airport, caters to skiers and snowboarders with a little more experience under their belt. Thirty-eight per cent of its runs are for intermediate-level skiers, while 35 per cent are suitable for experts.

Skiing on a budget

When most people think of the US ski experience, lavish, full-service resorts like Vail or Breckenridge often come to mind. But there are plenty of options for those who prefer to ski without the frills—or the crowds.

According to a survey conducted by TripAdvisor, the average weekly cost of vacation rentals at the most affordable ski resorts can range from around $1000 AUD (Townsend, Tennessee) to $1700 AUD (Lake Tahoe, California). Remember to factor in the cost of lift tickets—the average cost on some mountains can exceed $100 per day in peak seasons—as well as equipment hire.

Before you leave

A little prep goes a long way to a fuss-free holiday. Here’s a checklist of things to do before jetting off to America’s snowy peaks.

  • Travel insurance is vital, particularly in the US where medical costs are high. For the budget traveller, basic international policies cover many eventualities. There’s also comprehensive international travel insurance, which adds cover for theft of money, travel delays and lets you add-ons activities such as snow sports. Check the fine print to make sure your policy provides the cover you need.
  • To stay connected while you’re away, a travel SIM is cost-effective way to control spending and prevent nasty surprises on your next phone bill. 
  • Having cash on hand before you arrive is useful, especially in the US, where tipping is customary. Order foreign currency online or in person at participating post offices; no commission fee is charged1.