I keep hearing messages that skiing in North-America is worth considering as an alternative to the Alps. But I have no clue where I should start looking. So my question is simple, if you need to fly in, where do I fly to and which mountain ranges delivers the same (or better) level of ski experience as when skiing in the alps.
There are literally hundreds of ski resorts in North America. Flying in to any of the major ones will be no problem at all. Some of them have their own airports, and almost all will run shuttles from the nearest major airport.
If you are used to skiing the best of the Alps then you will need to go to one of the really top resorts to get the same experience in North America. North American resorts have generally less vertical and on average less spectacular runs - but not by much. Unless you are a top class skier you won't notice the difference. North American skiing also works slightly differently to the Alps - the ski resorts own the entire area of the slopes, and you are expected to ski "within bounds". That's different from the 'village to village' skiing that is normal in the Alps. The individual resorts are big, but they aren't linked like the Alps; after a few day's stay in one you will find you've skied every run. North American ski areas are typically less crowded than their counterparts in the Alps, giving you more skiing per hour.
Always fly the extra distance to get to the Rockies in the West. If you are used to the Alps, the East will disappoint, and the flights aren't that much longer.
Some good places to start:
- Whistler Blackcomb is the chic, cool, place to ski - especially after the Olympics. You will pay a little extra premium for its cool factor, but the skiing is excellent. It also has good nightlife. Fly to Vancouver.
- Banff and Lake Louise are both top notch family ski resorts, a little less cool than Whistler, but better value. Banff actually has two resorts, Mt Norquay and Sunshine Village, and Lake Louise is only a short distance away (with shuttles). Banff has some nightlife, but Lake Louise very little. Fly to Calgary.
- Fernie has a huge snowfall and masses of powder. Fly to Calgary.
- Panorama has an interesting mix of groomed cruising runs and untended backbowls. No nearby town, so the nightlife is what the resort provides. Heli-skiing available. Fly to Calgary.
Calgary and Vancouver should be direct flights from major European airports.
Finally, a link to a central site for at least half the North American ski resorts.
There are a large number of ski resorts in the states, with varying degrees of notoriety, and almost all of the big ones are fairly easy to reach. Depending on where you're starting from, you may need to change planes once, but from most major European airports it shouldn't need twice. There are even charter flights to some of them! Nip into your nearest travel agent and ask them for their brochure on North American skiing and you should get a good idea
Taking a few of the big resorts to give you an idea...
Whistler Blackcomb hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, so it's a pretty good spot! You'd fly into Vancouver, and then there are airport bus transfers out to the resort, so given the number of direct flights from European cities to Vancouver it ought to be pretty easy! You're looking at a few hours on the bus for the transfer.
Banff is another well known Canadian resort, and is about 90 minutes west of Calgary. They have airport transfer buses too, and you can fly direct from London (but I think possibly no other major European cities). Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, at a variety of ski resorts around it, so you'd even have a choice of resorts here!
Friends of mine always rave about Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada-California border. No direct flights from Europe though, you'll have to hub it. Another they like is Colorado (near Boulder and Denver) where you have a large number of resorts, many well known (such as Aspen). You should be able to get direct flights here, then bus/drive out to whichever resort takes your fancy
There are loads of other places of note too, but that seemed enough to get you started!
Colorado native chiming in:
There's all manner of ski resorts within easy reach of Europe in Colorado. There's a direct flight from Frankfurt to Denver International Airport, and if you're willing to accept a stop-over, a large number of flights that pass through Chicago.
From there, you have options. You can hop another flight to some of the nicest ski areas I've ever been in (having skied Colorado, Utah, California, the East Coast and Austria): Vail/Beaver Creek, Aspen (and Snowmass), or Telluride.
Additionally, there are ground transportation services that will drive you and your gear the ~2 hour drive to the cluster of ski areas around Frisco, CO. This includes the following:
- Keystone, probably the most posh outside Aspen/Vail/Telluride.
- Copper Mountain, something of a favorite of mine, and a decent middle-ground ski area with good terrain
- Arapaho Basin. Mind-numbingly freezing in the winter, perfect in the Spring and skiable into May/June many years. A favorite among natives, with some great introductions to more advanced skiing.
- Breckenridge. A large area with a thriving town at the base, really good for active nightlife and the like.
There's also Utah. Snowbird, Snow Basin and Park City/The Canyons/Deer Valley are all an easy drive from Salt Lake City.
In the case of Colorado, I'd suggest you drive, and plan to take it very easy your first day. You've experienced several thousands of feet in elevation gain over the span of a few hours, and it's rather easy to get altitude sickness, especially if you're drinking. Take it easy, let your body adjust, and make sure to drink plenty of water.
There are several groups of U.S. ski resorts worth considering, but I will mention two of them. The one nearest to Europe on the east coast is in Stowe, Vermont. To get there, you would fly into Boston (or New York City). The disadvantage is that you would need several hours of overland travel, because there are no international airports around Stowe.
The second group of ski resorts is in the Far West, around Denver. (Not only Denver itself, but also Aspen, and some places in Wyoming). Here, some overland travel is involved, but less than to Stowe. And there is a wider selection of resorts. On the other hand, it takes several more hours of air travel to get to Denver, cancelling the advantage of less overland travel.
I'll just chime in one additional piece of information on the subject. US has hosted Winter Olympic games 4 times in its history, so possibly starting with resorts with access to the trails used by Olympics:
- Lake Placid (1932, 1980) - You can go to Whiteface mountain Resort which is fairly easily accessible from Montreal, New York City, or Boston.
- Squaw Valley (1960) - A ski Resort around Lake Tahoe in California which probably best accessed via San Francisco.
- Salt Lake City - Which held it's Alpine disciplines in Deer Valley. Unfortunately no direct flights from anywhere in Europe to SLC but it is not that difficult to get there.