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Where to Ski This Winter

SmarterTravel

Yes, it’s likely still hot where you live, but it’s not too early to start thinking about your winter vacation plans. Presumably, you’ll find acceptable snow and facilities in most developed ski centers. So you obviously want to select your destination on the basis of some combination of the total destination experience, the extent of ski and other winter activity options, accessibility, and the cost at options available to you.

If you’re looking for the “best,” regardless of other factors, TripAdvisor posts its list of the 26 best skiing vacations in the U.S. and Canada. The top seven areas and 19 of the rest are in the West. Here are the rankings: Banff, Alberta; Lake Tahoe, California; Whistler, British Columbia; Park City, Utah; Vail, Colorado; Alyeska, Alaska; Breckenridge, Colorado; Lake Placid, New York; Aspen, Colorado; North Conway, New Hampshire; Durango, Colorado; Stowe, Vermont; Mammoth Lakes, California; Big Bear, California; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; Mont Tremblant, Quebec; Taos, New Mexico; Juneau, Alaska; Killington, Vermont; Telluride, Colorado; Teton Village, Wyoming; Big Sky, Montana; Crested Butte, Colorado; Olympic Valley, California; Snowbird, Utah; and Sun Valley, Idaho.

For the more expert skiers, among CNN’s current rankings of the world’s best ski runs, the top 10 in North America are Dave Murray Downhill, Whistler; Glen’s, Snowbird; Skyward, Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid; The Palisades, Squaw Valley; Blackcomb Glacier, Whistler; Corbet’s Couloir, Jackson Hole; Delirium Dive, Sunshine Village, Banff; Inspiration, Whitefish, Montana; The Wall, Kirkwood, California; and High Boy, Alta, Utah. These are all tough runs: Novices need not apply.

For more diversity, consider a large ski resorts. These massive complexes offer a wide variety of runs, from bunny slopes to expert, along with other winter activities.

As to ambience, you have a wide range of choices. Some of the biggest areas are self-contained complexes or isolated areas developed primarily for skiing, such as Aspen and Vail, where you find lots of organized winter fun apres-ski activities. Others are either near or within commuting range of more diverse cities, such as those near Denver, Salt Lake City, or North Conway. If you want to combine skiing with more diverse vacation activities, you can find nearby day-trip skiing at destinations popular for reasons other than skiing, including Los Angeles and Seattle. And don’t forget Europe.

If you’re considering costs, late last year TripAdvisor and the British Post Office (don’t ask why) issued total daily or weekly ski vacation cost estimates, including accommodations, meals, and lift tickets, and presumably will do so again. Meanwhile, last year’s overall findings are probably still relevant:

  • The main cost differences among the many big ski areas are in hotel costs, with the per-day spending highest at the self-contained and isolated centers and the lowest in areas adjacent to cities with a broad range of hotel and restaurant options.
  • Overall daily costs in Europe’s less expensive ski centers in Austria, France, and Italy are enough lower than costs at comparable U.S. and Canadian centers to warrant consideration. Reduced destination costs can offset a big chunk of the higher airfares from much of North America.

If you’re close to zeroing in on a place you’d like to ski, start thinking about early-purchase discounts on lift tickets and passes. More on that soon.

The big imponderable for the coming season year is weather. Last winter, the widespread western drought left many runs without adequate snow. The situation was so bad that the local ski center in my home area, Mount Ashland, Oregon, never managed to open at all. At this point, you probably don’t have any useful information about next year’s weather. But in case of a repeat on last winter, you might want to consider places that can remain open even in bad snow years.

Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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