Help us find a less popular ski and snowboard resort.
June 27, 2020 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Where should we go skiing/snowtubing in the winter in the U.S.?

Note: If it's unhealthy to travel winter 2020-21, we'll go in a future winter.

Internet searching is really good at finding popular resorts. That isn't what we want.

We are looking for a U.S. winter vacation spot. We would like to go skiing (downhill, beginner to intermediate; it's been 20-something years since we've skied) and snowtubing. Horsebacking riding would be a bonus. Other wishes: private cabin with fireplace or woodburning stove, maybe an hour or two from an airport, don't really care about shopping or restaurants. We want something off the beaten path/small/quiet.
posted by Ms Vegetable to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I would be hesitant to book a very small resort (<10 runs) if you are intermediate level. If you find half the runs are too fast or too slow for your ability level that could mean skiing the same 5 runs all week.

Here are some smallish resorts:
Arapahoe Basin
Deer Valley
Solitude UT
Blue Knob PA
Elk Mountain PA
Smuggler's Notch VT
SundayRiver ME
posted by Lanark at 11:08 AM on June 27, 2020

Massanutten Resort in Virginia. ~2 hours from DC, ~1 hour from Charlottesville. Indoor waterpark, ski resort, snow tubing, plenty of AirBnBs with gas fireplaces on the mountain less than 10 minute drive from the amenities!
posted by schwab at 11:35 AM on June 27, 2020

I have a few thoughts, even though I'm someone who has been on exactly one skiing holiday. One is that a ski resort in the western US and a ski resort in the Northeast look different--the landscape is different, the mountains are different, etc. I don't know how the skiing differs, but it's worth asking yourself if you have expectations of "ski resort" that are only going to be met in one part of the country. (I'm sure there's a decent amount of variation among the western ski areas, too, but Tahoe is way more like Colorado or Taos than it is Vermont.)

Another thought is to ask whether by "resort" you mean "we will book accommodation and skiing from the same business" or if you would be open to picking somewhere like Tahoe (obviously popular and well-known, but where I've been) where you could book a cabin and go to different ski areas on different days. On my one skiing holiday, we booked an apartment in a motel that didn't have a ski area and split our skiing time between the big resort (Kirkwood? it starts with a K and is on the CA/NV border) and a smaller one that was much cheaper.

I'll mention also that I've heard of Steamboat, so it can't be that "less popular". I live in NYC (which is seemingly the lifeblood of Vermont ski resorts) and have a parent who lives in Vermont--my impression is that Stratton and Stowe are the big names in Vermont (and maybe Smuggler's Notch, or it just has a memorable name). I can't imagine someone making the Middlebury Snow Bowl their holiday destination (that said, you do see people carrying skis out of hotels, so who knows), so some of the places on the list Terrapin linked may be similarly small, but there is probably a happy medium there. Another less obvious possible area is Coeur d'Alene/northwest Idaho--certainly people I've known who've lived there ski a fair bit. The airport is in Spokane.
posted by hoyland at 11:43 AM on June 27, 2020

Response by poster: Snow tubing is very important. I don't ski (tried it, did not enjoy it, and other reasons), and a lot of the places listed don't seem to have snow tubing.

Area of the country is not important.

We would prefer this to be a "lazy" vacation - so not a ton of time figuring out which ski runs/mountains/etc to go to. No preference as to "resort" being accommodation/skiing from the same business or staying at an airbnb and then going to one or two mountains. But preferably not a ton of driving to the mountain each day.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:20 PM on June 27, 2020

"Smallish" can cover a pretty wide range. Steamboat is huge compared to Smuggler's Notch. Smuggler's Notch should be plenty big for your needs and there are places nearby where you can rent a cabin (not at the resort, though - that's all condos.) If I could go anywhere, I personally would probably pick somewhere out west where they get more snow and less ice. However, unless you live at a high elevation, you might want to avoid going to a place with a really high elevation because it can take time to acclimate and skiing when you're out of practice is going to be tiring enough. Steamboat has a lower elevation than a lot of other resorts in Colorado, so it could be a good choice for that reason. But if you live in the east, sticking to eastern resorts makes sense for cost reasons as well as for avoiding high elevation problems.

If you have to book way ahead of time, before you know what conditions will be like, or if you plan to book for early or late in the season, when conditions can be iffy, it's safer to go with a place that gets a consistently large amount of snow year after year, or makes a lot of snow. (That place would not be Smuggler's Notch, not in December anyway. And I wouldn't even think about making plans for somewhere further south than VT/NH/Adirondacks unless you can wait to book until you know they have enough snow. I'd probably look out west.)

A smaller place can be more crowded, with bigger lift lines and more people skiing near you. A bigger place can actually feel more quiet while you're on the slopes. If you hate waiting in lift lines or spending a long time sitting on the lift, a bigger place with more lifts and faster lifts could give you a better experience. You'll spend a lot more time actually skiing at Stowe vs. Smuggler's Notch because Stowe has more lifts and they're faster and have more capacity. But you aren't going to want to ski hard all day. You may be happy to take breaks on the lifts.

Smugg's does have snow tubing. Stowe doesn't. Not sure about other Vermont resorts.
posted by Redstart at 12:27 PM on June 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

You should look for a place that is NOT in network for either the Ikon Pass or Epic Pass so that rules out most. Both offered steep discounts for the '21 season to entice people who were wary because of COVID, and if things go better than expected this winter all the resorts they partner with will be packed to normal levels. The main thing for avoiding lift lines and having to share chairs with people when skiing is to 1) get lucky and not hit a powder day that brings out locals 2) go mid week never the weekend 3) get up early and take lunch either by 11am or after 1pm to avoid sharing cafeteria space with others. Every mountain I have ever been to has a cheek-to-jowl packed lodge at noon and it's very hard for me to imagine places restricting capacity - how do you tell everyone that only 25% of chairs are available for lunch and still make enough to pay the lift operators and cooks? I'm honestly not sure it's feasible and I definitely wouldn't make any non-refundable plans/lift tickets at this point.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:52 PM on June 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Area of the country is not important.

As a tuber, it wouldn't be. But taking into account Redstart's point about the iciness difference between NE and western resorts, area probably matters a bit more than you think for beginner and intermediate skiiers, depending on what they're accustomed to. If there's a beginner snowboarder in your group, they'll be spending enough time on their butt that they'll appreciate western powder.
posted by blerghamot at 1:01 PM on June 27, 2020

What about Mount Hood in Oregon? We've stayed at Timberline before and just loved it. The Snowtubing Adventure Park is a short drive and has tubing. There are other skiing / boarding options nearby as well - here's an article on some of the options.

It is close to Portland - so not too much driving. Oh - and there are private cabins for rent in the area too - but I don't have any recommendations on that. But here's a link to one site with rentals. :-)
posted by hilaryjade at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2020

Speaking for the western US ski areas...your desire for off the beaten path and close to an airport will be in tension. Also cabin or whole house accommodations will be possible most places but keep in mind that they may be very rare and very expensive right at a ski area. Staying away from the ski area opens up the possibilities enormously but it also means you are spending 20-30 minutes in transportation time each day.

Case in point, Loveland Ski area is the closest ski area to Denver's airport and Google suggests it is currently a 90 minute drive. All of the Denver/I-70 resorts are beyond Loveland and take a lot longer to get to especially when you factor winter traffic and winter weather. None of these places are what i would describe as off the beaten path. These places attract the millions of people that live in the Denver-Boulder metro area as well as an international clientele.

The major ski resorts of Salt Lake City/Park City (Alta/Snowbird/Deer Valley/Park City/etc.) are super close to the airport but that makes them not off the beaten path.

I've never been but you might explore Sundance Utah. It is south and east of Salt Lake City whereas the majority of the action is due east. Unclear if they have tubing but likely there is some somewhere near by.

Big Sky Montana is a little over an hour south of Bozeman's airport. There aren't a lot of flights but because this a key access point for Yellowstone, it is more than you would guess. It is an enormous ski resort (2nd largest in the US) but because it isn't the easiest place to get to and there isn't a major population center nearby means that it feels very un-busy. They will have all the traditional ski resort amenities and I checked that they do have cabins (although I have no idea how expensive they are).

One last suggestion for the non-skiers..mrs. mmascolino doesn't like to ski but she does love snowshoeing. Almost any place that has cross-country skiing will also cater to snowshoers.
posted by mmascolino at 10:04 AM on June 28, 2020

Albuquerque NM has nearby skiing and access to a major airport. Beyond that, unless you are ok with a few hours of driving, that is going to be difficult to find. If you are good with driving, then Ruidoso NM (in late Jan-March) would be good. Earlier than that the snow is iffy. Pagosa Springs also is good, and the stinky hot springs are pretty cool. All these places have tubing parks with manmade snow, so they are good anytime from early Dec - early April.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2020

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