How to Shred Like a Local at the Best Mountain Towns in America

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We asked resident pros at North America’s biggest resorts for their advice on how to ski like a local, including where to stay, what to eat, and how to score the most powder. Here’s your insider’s guide to the best ski trip of your life.

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How to Ski Like a Local in Stowe, Vermont

When Vail Resorts bought Stowe in 2017, locals worried that it would become too crowded as Epic Pass holders flocked to its slopes. That hasn’t happened. In fact, skier traffic has remained stable, and Vail has added welcome improvements. This year, that includes Adventure Zones, a well-marked, off-piste slope that’s a perfect introduction to glade skiing.

Being Slopeside Isn’t Worth the Expense: Field Guide Lodge, which is in town, 15 minutes away from the resort, is a boutique hotel with a hipster-cool vibe. “Sort of Scandi design meets church camp picnic,” says Joe Cutts, a Stowe local and SKI magazine editor. “It’s inexpensive and super accessible.”

Spring for Award-Winning Food: “Go to Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, 20 minutes away,” says Cutts. Its sister restaurant of the same name, in Burlington, won a James Beard Award, but this one is just as good and will serve up one of the best Vermont farm-to-table meals— including dishes like crispy rabbit loin—you’ve ever had.

Take in a Show: Head to Burlington, about 45 minutes away, and catch a concert at Higher Ground. They host everyone from Vampire Weekend to Nick Offerman. Beforehand, get pho at Pho Hong. “It’s a hole-in-the-wall that’s cheap and tiny,” says Cutts. “There will be a line, but it’s worth it.”

Stay on the Mountain—Like Right on the Mountain: Book the Stone Hut at the top of Stowe Mountain. Built in 1936, it got a major overhaul three years ago but is still rustic and heated with a wood stove. And if you stay there on a night it snows, you’re guaranteed early-morning powder turns before anyone else. “It’s truly a local gem—nobody outside northern Vermont really stays there,” says Cutts.

Alta/Snowbird, Utah

These twin ski areas have always been known for two things: great skiing (500-plus inches of snow per year) and the fact that there’s very little else to do. Recently, though, both resorts have made improvements to make downtime more enjoyable. At Snowbird, that includes SeventyOne, a new restaurant with a 1970s diner vibe, which serves amazing steaks and heaping sundaes to celebrate a powder day.

Get Snowed In: One of the quirks of Alta and Snowbird is that they’re located at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon, and the road to them is occasionally closed for avalanche control during snowstorms. But stay at the resorts and come morning, you’ll have the powder all to yourself, as commuters from Salt Lake City wait for the road to open. Even just the possibility of winning this powder lottery is reason enough book a room at Rustler Lodge, right at the base of Alta, with a heated outdoor pool and the best food in the canyon.

Explore Down Valley Down Valley: Chances are you’ll eat dinner at the Rustler. “But if you do feel like venturing out,” says Andrew Pollard, a pro skier from Salt Lake City, “the Cotton Bottom Inn, at the base of the canyon, serves amazing garlic burgers and beers.”

Earn Your Turns: Mount Superior, a backcountry area just across the canyon, is always loaded with snow. If you’re up for it, it’s worth the three-hour climb. Hire a guide from Utah Mountain Adventures.

Courtesy of Alta/Lee Cohen

Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado

Aspen continues to be the place where ski bros and elites go to rip big lines and live decadently. And 20 minutes away, Snowmass is still one of the best resorts around for families. This year, the resort added to Snowmass Village, building the Collective, home to an event space for concerts and Sam’s, a restaurant on the top of the mountain with an open kitchen and lots of seating on a big deck with views of the Rockies.

Fly to Drive: Aspen flights are notorious for getting canceled due to bad weather. Instead, fly to Grand Junction, 120 miles away. You’ll definitely get in and out on time, and it’s an easy, two-hour drive through a dry desert with no alpine passes—meaning snow-free roads.

Hit the Two-Seater: “Everyone goes to the gondola on a powder day,” says Colter Hinchliffe, a pro skier and Aspen local. “Instead, go to lift 1A. It’s a slow two-seater, but it gets to the best parts of the mountain—including steep skiing on Corkscrew. Plus, the views are better, and there’s no line.”

Ride Down by the River: Rent a fat-tire bike from Ute Mountaineer, and cycle part of the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile path that runs along Roaring Fork River. “It’s great,” says Hinchliffe, “because it still gets you outside, and you can do it with buddies or your family.”

Drink It Up: Aspen’s nightlife is unrivaled for a small town. Hit up one of the new spots, like Bad Harriet, a speakeasy-style bar that serves craft cocktails and small bites. “There’s seating for only about 50 people, and it makes for a fun, friendly atmosphere,” says Hinchliffe. “And check out Skye Gallery, an art gallery that throws events with music and art and always turns into a fun party.”

Courtesy of Aspen Chamber/Chris Council and Emily Chaplin

Whistler/Blackcomb, British Columbia

This year marks the completion of a long-awaited upgrade to the lift system at North America’s largest resort, at 8,171 acres. Among the recent changes is a new gondola up Blackcomb Mountain, which eliminated a primary bottleneck, making it a cinch to shred the resort’s 419 inches of annual snowfall.

It’s Worth it to Splurge on Lodging: If you’re flying to Whistler from afar, make it easy on yourself by staying at the Fairmont, at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. It’s spendy, but the lift is directly out the lobby door, and the lines here are way shorter, thanks to Blackcomb’s new gondola. Also, the Mallard Lounge, inside the hotel, is where locals hang out post-ski, so you know it’s good. Plus, the complimentary cars will take you anywhere in town.

See a New Kind of Northern Lights: Last summer, the visual arts company Moment Factory, which has created shows for the likes of Madonna and Arcade Fire, installed Vallea Lumina, a multimedia light show in the woods outside town. “We’re all pretty excited about it,” says Max Issac, who’s worked in Whistler for nearly two decades. “The experience is inspired by old mystery tales and takes you on a walk through our old-growth forests. It’s great.” And if that description sounds delightfully, well…half-baked, just wait until you see the show.

Romance the Hut: One of the mountain’s overlooked opportunities is Blackcomb Snowmobile’s “mountain fondue.” Essentially, you get to drive a snowmobile (or ride in a heated snowcat) to a backcountry hut, where you gorge on fondue. It sounds contrived, but after an evening ride, melted cheese will never taste better.

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming

If forecasters are right, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will receive more than 500 inches of snow this winter for the third straight year, making the ski area, once again, one of the best bets for hardcore powder skiers. In recent years, it’s also pushed to make novices feel more welcome, too. That includes, new this season, the Eagle’s Rest chairlift, which accesses the mountain’s easier terrain. Another reason to feel good about Jackson: This year, the resort will be powered entirely by wind energy.

Skip the Resort, Stay in Town: This is common knowledge for anyone familiar with JHMR, because all of the best restaurants are in Jackson (about 20 minutes away from the ski village). But there’s another reason you’ll want to be in town, too…read on.

Ski in Town: “Skip the morning at JHMR on a powder day,” says Forrest Jilson, a local pro skier. “If you rush out there, you might be standing around forever waiting for avalanche reduction.” Instead, head to Snow King, the local town hill, and ski its deep, crowd-free powder. At 1,500 vertical feet and 400 acres, it would rank as the East Coast’s best resort by far. After a morning there, head to JHMR to clean up the scraps.

Soak It Up: Most people go to Astoria Hot Springs, which is convenient and right outside town. Instead, cross-country ski to Granite Hot Springs. “You’ll work for it,” says Jilson. “But the springs are much nicer and in the middle of nowhere in a gorgeous setting. And very few tourists know about it.”

A Hotter Grill: Everybody tries to go to the Snake River Grill, which is great, but you’ll need to book several weeks in advance. Glorietta, which opened just a few years ago, is just as good, has a hipper, more laid-back vibe, and serves delicious cocktails at a long bar that looks directly onto a wood-fired oven. Plus, you can usually get in sans reservation.

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Sun Valley, Idaho

Big changes are on the horizon for America’s original destination ski resort, an old-school town still dripping with A-listers and laid-back ski pros tearing up its 220 inches of annual powder. Construction begins next summer on a new lift that will access 380 acres of expanded terrain. The biggest news for this season, though, is its inclusion on Vail Resort’s Epic Pass, which allows for seven days of skiing on the mountain’s perfectly manicured, delightfully steep fall lines.

Win the Airbnb Lottery: For the truly devoted ski bum, the best place to crash is the private condos at the Edelweiss, with a hot tub and heated saltwater pool located directly across the street from the Warm Springs lifts. Celebs buy the rooms to use as their personal ski lockers, but a handful are available to rent on Airbnb. There’s no better place to stay if you manage to score.

Go With a New Local Fave: “The Cookbook serves this dish of Bolognese sauce over spaghetti squash that’s so, so good,” says Zach Crist, X Games champ and owner of Sun Valley Guides. “There’s also Rickshaw, an old standby of mine that just keeps getting better.”

Yurt It Up: About 30 minutes north of town, Galena Lodge serves delicious soups in a rustic cabin surrounded by some of the best cross-country ski trails in the U.S. Book a night at one of its yurts for an unforgettable night with family or friends.

Get Well: The new Zenergy health club has an outdoor saltwater pool and hot tub, with views of Bald Mountain that are better than at any hotel in the valley. It also has saunas, a spa, an incredible yoga studio, and a state-of-the-art gym. A three-day pass is only $195.

CSNafzger / Shutterstock

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