Published: November 2008
Ready, Set, Ski
North American resorts are gearing up for another all-star season—and we’ve got the beta. From British Columbia to Maine, here’s the best of what’s new for winter ’09.
Text by Pieter van Noordennen

Last year, nearly every snowy region in the country got hit. Hard. The glut of powder stood in stark contrast to the bare slopes of years past and served as a welcome reminder: There’s plenty of first-class skiing close to home. While we can’t guarantee the same snow-cast for the coming season—though with Colorado’s August dusting, it’s shaping up to be a good one—we’re happy to report that ski resorts across the continent are holding up their end of the bargain, with more terrain, accommodations, events, and, of course, après energy.

1. Whistler, BC
The Road to 2010

Before the International Olympic Committee crowned Whistler Blackcomb host of the 2010 Winter Games, it was already the greatest ski hill on the continent. The twin-mountain resort has the most inbounds terrain of any North American destination (8,171 acres) and a coastal snowpack that’s more predictable than a Jeff Foxworthy sitcom—not to mention 90-plus restaurants, including the award-winning Sushi Village and Bearfoot Bistro. Question is, can Whistler Blackcomb get any better?

Actually, yes. And it will, in December, when the resort unveils the Peak 2 Peak gondola. A marvel of modern engineering, the $52 million ride will connect the summits of Whistler and Blackcomb, crossing 2.73 miles and a 1,430-foot-deep chasm in 11 minutes. Translation: Getting from one mountain to the other will no longer require trekking through Whistler Village with your skis grinding into your shoulder. Visitors this winter can also expect an open invitation to the resort’s one-year countdown party, which kicks off in February with a week of live music and Olympic venue tours. Do yourself a favor and take it all in now, before the 2010 hordes descend—this is as good as Whistler will get (whistlerblackcomb.com).

Stay: Nita Lake Lodge opens this year with floor-to-ceiling fireplaces and a 24-hour concierge (doubles from $149; nitalakelodge.com).

Outdoor Ed> Forget any traumatic ski school memories you may have—Alpine Meadows’ new steep camps in North Lake Tahoe will actually push your skills to the next level. Geared toward intermediate and advanced skiers, the weekend sessions cover everything from steep chutes to peak-to-base speed runs to the art of schussing on crud (three days, $658; skialpine.com).

All-Access> It used to be that in order to reach California’s Mammoth Mountain—and its stash of 150 powder-packed runs—you had to drive (A) six hours north from SoCal or (B) three hours south from Reno-Tahoe International Airport. Starting in December, Horizon Air will offer option C: daily one-hour flights from L.A. to Mammoth Lakes, a little-used airport 13 miles from the resort ($208 round-trip; alaskaair.com).

Flying High> The Alta of British Columbia, Revelstoke gets 40 to 60 feet of snow per season, and skiers can access it however they like—via lift, cat, or chopper. Since opening last year, Eagle Pass Heliskiing has used maybe 10 percent of its permit area, leaving a small country’s worth of steeps and lodgepole forests up for discovery. Thrill seekers can sign up for an exploratory ski week this spring to help guides scout new lines while catching deep, untracked powder (March through April; seven days, $8,714; eaglepassheliskiing.com).

2. Telluride, CO
Colorado Opens Up

Ask any ski bum: Bear Creek—a swath of bowls, gullies, and chalk-covered shoulders just outside Telluride—is some of the best backcountry in Colorado. It’s one of the reasons hard-core skiers still live in this mountain town, despite its influx of Oprahs and TomKats. And why they’ve been willing to hike 45 minutes for a single run, again and again. Imagine, then, how jaws dropped when Telluride Mountain Resort announced its plans to build a lift almost directly to Bear Creek’s front door.

Starting this winter, the Revelation Lift will drop skiers within a short walk of the Bear Creek gate. This is experts-only territory—take an avalanche awareness clinic with San Juan Outdoor School ($95; tellurideadventures.com) and never head out-of-bounds without a partner, gear, and training. For the rest of us mortals, the lift will also lead to Telluride’s new Revelation Bowl, which delivers an inbounds experience so close to backcountry skiing, you’ll wonder if you should have brought a beacon. Though the area is small (50 acres), its northeast-facing slopes are sure to capture plenty of blown-in powder from southwesterly winds. Runs range from blue to black, meaning low-angle hero turns when the fluff starts to fall (tellurideskiresort.com).

Stay: The new Capella hotel brings a Moroccan-themed bistro into downtown Telluride (doubles from $375; capellatelluride.com).

Dawn Patrol> The early morning race for first tracks just got easier. A free, resort-wide ski valet program lets Colorado’s Crested Butte hotel guests stash their boards with slopeside porters at the end of the day and pick them up first thing the next morning (non-hotel lodgers can use the service for a fee). Hint: The 250 acres of new terrain in Teocalli Bowl promise an even better start to your day (skicb.com).

Southwest Showdown> At the end of last season, Taos shocked its purist fans by opening its doors to snowboarders for the first time. The northern New Mexican mainstay kicks off its first full rider-friendly season this month with a new, nondiscriminatory rental fleet and a snowboard school—and leaves ski snobs with just three more holdouts nationwide: Alta, Deer Valley, and Mad River Glen (ridetaos.org).

King Lines> From the Montana resort that first gave us backcountry gates comes inbounds terrain with a chance of avalanche. A new lift at Bridger Bowl leads to the 300-acre Schalsman area (named for a 19th-century miner who died here in—you guessed it—an avalanche), which is the resort’s first expansion in 30 years. A beacon is required to ride the lift; shovels, probes and partners are highly recommended (bridgerbowl.com).

3. Sunday River, ME
New England’s New Player

It’s three hours from Boston and boasts impressive stats for an East Coast hill: eight peaks, 131 trails, and 2,340 vertical feet. Now here’s the kicker: It’s not in Vermont. But the skiing at Sunday River, Maine, rivals anything you’ll find in its Green Mountain neighbor, and the vibe is as classic New England as it comes. Plus, the mountain just received a $14 million upgrade from its eager new owner, Boyne USA Resorts. The centerpiece of the development is the chondola (a hybrid ride that intersperses lift chairs among gondola cars), which will ease access into the mountain’s marquee sections, Oz and Jordan Bowl. In 2010 the chondola will begin shuttling dinner crowds to North Peak lodge as well, after the warming hut upgrades its menu to fine dining. Also in the works are plans for new accommodations and further development of the resort’s pod system, which segments the mountain according to ability. “Sunday River isn’t the mom-and-pop joint it was in the ’80s,” says Portland native Nate Hicks, 29, who grew up skiing the area. “I don’t mind the tourists from New York and Massachusetts either—as long as they stay on their side of the mountain” (sundayriver.com).

Stay: Bethel’s Sudbury Inn (c. 1873) offers a quaint alternative to the resort’s two mega-hotels (doubles from $109; sudburyinn.com).

Petits Alps> Exchange rates got you down? Quebec’s Mont-Sainte-Anne isn’t quite Chamonix, but the seaside resort retains a certain Euro feel. Test out the newly cut glades (called Beauty and the Beast) on the north side of the mountain, then retire to the Château Mont-Sainte-Anne, whose redesigned penthouse suites come with oh-so-French glass-walled showers overlooking the living room—mon dieu! (doubles from $197; chateaumontsainteanne.com/en).

'Dack Attack> Not since the Lake Placid Olympics have skiers in upstate New York been this excited. Whiteface will debut new terrain on Lookout Mountain, adding four trails and 1,560 vertical feet of Adirondack steeps, bumps, and glades on the resort’s northeast face. A new triple chair will also open access to Porcupine Lodge, which dates back to 1949 and will be refurbished as a warming hut (whiteface.com).

Trick Time> Former Winter X Games host Mount Snow gets its adrenaline fix once again—this time with the Mountain Dew Action Sports Tour, which comes to Vermont January 8 through 11. To prep for the high-flying spectacle—which will feature top freestyle skiers and boarders (including Olympic medalist Kelly Clark)—the resort will transform its 95-acre Carinthia face into one massive terrain park. Bonus: Spectators get to sample the park after the pros take their shot (mountsnow.com).