Contrary to popular belief, Whistler Blackcomb will stay open—and skiable—when the Olympics hit this February. Only 10 percent of the mountain will close to the public, leaving, oh, 7,500 acres for non-elite athletes. “Most of the major chain hotels are already near capacity,” says Breton Murphy of Tourism Whistler. “Look for condos and town houses, or lesser known chalets. Everything in Whistler Village is within walking distance of the lifts.” A good thing, given all that’s in store: Downtown events will range from ceremonial (performances at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center) to crazy (concerts every day). And if you’ve ever wanted to party with the Jamaica Bobsleigh Team, they’ve named the Savage Beagle their official headquarters for the Games (whistlerblackcomb.com).
Want in on the newest Olympic sport? Ski cross—the exhilarating, high-crash-quotient race event that hurtles four skiers through banked turns and jumps—will make its Whistler debut this year. And Sugar Bowl is hosting the ultimate pregame show. February 1–17, watch gold-medal hopefuls take their final practice runs on the resort’s new course before giving it a whirl yourself: After the athletes depart, Sugar Bowl will open its ski cross terrain to the public. Of course, there’s also the rest of the mountain, which has everything from groomers to high-alpine steeps. And 461 inches of snow a year (sugarbowl.com).
Mama always said you get what you pay for. Unless, of course, you pay for a full day of skiing but wind up in the lodge by noon soaked with rain. This winter, Mount Bachelor gives skiers and boarders a break on those less than stellar days with the most revolutionary offer of the year: The resort will reduce the price of daily lift tickets to match snow conditions, visibility, and the amount of available terrain, and charge $49, $59, or $69 depending. It’s not just the low-snow days that could land you a deal. Too much fluff will also do the trick if avalanche safety crews are forced to delay openings or close certain areas. Translation: Play the weather right and you could nab some of Oregon’s finest skiing—think rolling volcanic terrain, above-tree-line bowls, deep maritime powder—for 50 bucks (mtbachelor.com).
In the early days, Northstar-at-Tahoe was little more than a sleepy day resort for the park-and-pipe set. That was so 2006. Last winter, a 150,000-square-foot overhaul completed the Village at Northstar, and now comes the biggest upgrade of all: In December, the 170-room Ritz Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe, will open mid-mountain, with a connection to the Village via a new gondola (doubles from $249; ritzcarlton.com/laketahoe). Aside from its 17,000-square-foot on-site spa, the hotel’s premium attraction promises to be Manzanita restaurant, which will add dishes like pancetta pizza and duck meatballs to the resort’s burgers-and-fries-heavy menu. Just don’t expect the skiing to go soft. The same combination of woody steeps and deep Sierra snows that made Northstar a hit with the hard core remains, including those underestimated tree stashes beneath the Martis Camp Express, which dip through and around massive, lichen-covered ponderosa pines. Thankfully, some things never change (northstarattahoe.com).
Snowmass has always offered a quiet reprieve from the hustle and bustle of downtown Aspen. Which is a nice way of saying that, other than skiing, there’s absolutely nothing to do here. Or there wasn’t. Last season the resort completed a $1 billion renovation of its tiered base village, bringing in new restaurants and bars like Junk and Sneaky’s Tavern. And this winter marks the opening of Snowmass’s first ski mountain hotel from luxury chain Viceroy (doubles from $370; viceroysnowmass.com). The LEED-silver-certified, 173-room retreat rides the line between luxe and eco-friendly, with interiors that blend reclaimed locally sourced wood with embossed crystal. Of course, since these amenities lie 3,000 vertical feet below Snowmass’s marquee Hanging Valley Wall—a collection of rocky chutes loaded with deep, light snow—their impact on the ski experience itself is minimal (
Across the Rocky Mountains, wannabe ski pros like to boast about the tallest cliffs they’ve hucked and the steepest slopes they’ve run. Unless they come from Sun Valley. Here in America’s first destination ski resort, braggarts still obsess over the holiest of old-school grails: vertical. “Sun Valley remains the best place in the world to rack up vertical and get your legs tired,” says Reggie Crist, a former Olympian and longtime resident. And starting this winter, the vert chase gets easier when the resort launches its first ever gondola. The Roundhouse will whisk skiers 2,000 vertical feet up Bald Mountain to its namesake restaurant, sparing them a windy, two-chair ride. Also on tap: a new 58,000-square-foot golf and Nordic center with 25 miles of cross-country track for those of us who don’t mind a little horizontal too (sunvalley.com).
Great skiing, tough liquor laws—for years, Utah has been fighting this seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy. But in 2008, legislators began to loosen the rules (sayonara, sidecars!), and now comes the state’s first legal distillery since 1870. Best of all: It’s reachable by ski. Access High West Distillery and Saloon’s bar and tapas restaurant (it’s the old converted livery building, skier’s right) via the Quittin’ Time run in Park City Mountain Resort, where you can drink small-batch whiskey that comes straight from cask to table (highwest.com). The bourbon’s no joke—owner Dave Perkins studied with master distillers in Kentucky—and the Swiss-trained chef pairs fondue and raclette dishes with guests’ choices of whiskey or vodka. Now if they could just do something about those shot meters (parkcityinfo.com).
It’s not that Jay Peak Resort doesn’t have lodging. It’s just never had very good lodging. But that will change in February, when the Northeast’s snowiest ski resort opens its first luxury hotel, the Tram Haus Lodge (doubles from $129; 800-451-4449). Jay may be small (just 485 acres), but it’s big on vertical (2,153 feet) and sees 377 inches of snow a year. Locals chalk it up to the “Jay Cloud,” a perceived geographical anomaly that they claim channels moisture directly onto Jay’s slopes. While it’s strange to hear skiers praying for clouds, at least now you’ll have a comfy refuge should the weather really turn nasty (jaypeakresort.com).
Used to be, whenever Cannon Mountain skiers got a craving for the backcountry, they’d hop the Taft Slalom run over to nearby Mittersill, whose tree stashes had been abandoned since the ski area closed in the ’80s. Now you can hit Mittersill legally. Earlier this year, Cannon acquired the rights to its 130-acre neighbor and will begin running a weekend and holiday shuttle between the two hills this winter. It also thinned Mittersill’s glades and brush, and set aside $3 million for a new double chair (slated for 2010–11). Trail names are TBD—which means you’ll need good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity to find your way around (cannonmt.com).
In the ’60s and ’70s, Saddleback Maine charged as much as neighboring Sugarloaf for lift tickets. But years of neglect left the resort a tangled mess of poorly cut trails and aging lifts. Enter the Berrys. Since buying Saddleback six years ago, the family has been quietly restoring this 4,120-foot peak to its prime. They’ve increased the skiable terrain by 46 percent, put in two new high-speed quads, and will open a 44-acre glade this winter. Strangely, the hill price has hardly changed: A lift ticket costs just $49, some 35 percent less than similar Maine resorts. Of course, word is getting out. Skier visits are creeping up, and for 2009 the marketing team expanded their target area. All the way down to Boston (saddlebackmaine.com).