1. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Why you must Make the drive: How can you call yourself a skier or snowboarder without making a yearly pilgrimage to the promised land of steep and deep? Even during high-pressure-sytem down times, Jackson’s terrain and stashes deliver.
The goods: The resort could keep you entertained for a lifetime, but quite often we ski and ride Jackson simply by taking the tram to the top and spending the day lapping the backcountry out the gates. There’s something for all comers here, from the easily accessible powder on Four Pines to the epic, must-do-once excursion out Granite Canyon.
Live it up: All roads on the mountain lead to the Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon (mangymoose.com), where bands from Blues Traveller to Burning Spear have played over the years. You may end up doing something you regret here. Also, be sure to take the time to visit the brand-new Melvin Brewing (melvinbrewing.com) facility and taproom in Alpine, Wyoming, about a 45-minute drive from the resort.
Passes: Jackson Hole is a member of the all-encompassing Mountain Collective. The $469 pass gives you two days each at 16 iconic ski resorts, including the Aspen Snowmass resorts and Telluride here in Colorado, and a bevy of bonuses.
2. Big Sky, Montana
Why you must Make the Drive: This steep-and-deep paradise in Montana’s Madison Range claims over 5,800 skiable acres of world-class terrain that includes everything from screaming groomers on Andesite Mountain to stashes in the trees on the Shedhorn lift to big scares up in the Big Couloir and North Summit snowfield.
The goods: The Big Couloir is the main attraction but the Patrol Gullies also provide fresh-turn thrills with the whole lift line watching. Those seeking a bit less action can check out the quiet, gladed terrain off the Southern Comfort chair.
Live it up: Just down the road from the mountain, Buck’s T-4 is the best place to stay and eat casual or foodie-pleasing meals.
Passes: Big Sky is part of the M.A.X. Pass, which gives you five days at 44 different mountains (including Winter Park, Eldora, Steamboat, and Crested Butte here in Colorado) for $729 or can be added to a season pass at one of those mountains for $379.
3. Taos, New Mexico
Why you must Make the drive: Just a five-hour trip away (we have spent longer trying to get from Denver to Vail), Taos is one of North America’s classic big-line ski hills. Even with a massive overhaul under way, it’s rarely crowded and often serves up blue-sky powder days with that distinctive smell of New Mexico pinyon pine in the air.
The goods: The new Kachina chair ferries you up to long, steep lines on the Ridge that you used to have to hike to earn—don’t worry, there’s still plenty to hike to, too. If you want ripping family fun, head to the groomers and trees off of Lift 4.
Good Stuff: Party down with pretzels and craft brew at the Bavarian on mountain, or head into town for real New Mexican food at the Guadalajara Grill (guadalajaragrilltaos.com), where they serve up big, casual portions. Order your chili Christmas style!
Passes: Taos is also a member of the Mountain Collective (see left).
4. Park City Mountain Resort, Utah
Why you must Make the drive: Since Park City (and its equally fun neighbor, The Canyons) is now owned by Vail Resorts, you would be crazy not to make the long drive down I-70 to Utah’s powder paradise. Park City averages 364 inches per year, so you are almost guaranteed freshies. And we sincerely belive that on the worst of I-70 traffic days, it may actually be faster to fly to Salt Lake City than do battle trying to get to Summit County.
The goods: When it comes to Park City Resort, Jupiter Bowl is the place to hone in on. You will want to hike out Pinecone Ridge when it opens up.
Live it up: They say that Park City is the Vegas of Utah … you decide exactly what that means. For booze, High West Distillery (highwest.com) is right at the bottom of the lift.
Passes: That Vail Epic Pass gives you unlimited skiing at Park City and the Canyons.