But there's one response that never surprises me, and that's, "Oh, I've been there?to ski."
Growing up in a ski town you come to recognize the importance of tourism in your community and the amount of pride you take in your mountains. After all, these jutting geological features in your backyard are what people travel from all over the world to enjoy. And when taking such a vacation, travelers are expecting the finest mountains to ski.
Deciding which are the best ski resorts in the United States is tricky because so many factors are involved in what defines high quality, but undoubtedly the main features include: the amount and quality of snow, accessibility, and vertical feet. Because of this, the top spots all belong to the West, and when you hear about each location you'll understand why.
Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons, Utah1 of 8
This area is great for multiple reasons, one being the plethora of choices involved in resort selection. In Little Cottonwood you have Alta and Snowbird; in Big Cottonwood you have Brighton and Solitude. Being in the same region, these resorts all get some of the best snow in the world, which is consistently powdery and accumulates nearly 600 inches a year—the only other place that gets more is Alaska.
A huge benefit to these resorts is their accessibility; they're only 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, which has an international airport that can be reached from any major city. A lot of prime ski locations don't have this benefit.
Of the four resorts, Snowbird is consistently rated the best. This is due to the elite ski lifts that go all the way from the base to the top, prime runs, and a pristine ski lodge (Cliff Lodge). Snowbird shares a boundary line with Alta, which is also a great resort and has some of the cheaper prices of any major resort. Alta, however, does not allow snowboarding.
Alta and Snowbird can get quite busy at times, leading to frustrating lines. This is when Brighton and Solitude become indispensable; only one ridge north you can enjoy the same snow with much shorter lines.
Jackson, Wyoming2 of 8
Guarded by the majesty of the Tetons, this quaint mountain town offers inspiration to the weary traveler year-round. In the winter Jackson Hole Mountain Resort becomes arguably the best ski destination in the country, with world-class ski lifts, consistent snow (450 inches of it a year), over 4,100 vertical feet of skiing and incredible terrain.
And it only keeps getting better: the Jackson Hole Airport continues to add flights to major cities and is only 35 minutes from the slopes. Another great benefit to this resort is the fact that it's run by skiers and therefore waiting lines for the lifts are generally kept to a minimum due to great planning.
If you're looking for an even more remote location in this region, however, you can make the cumbersome journey to the other side of the ridge and ski Grand Targhee. This resort is more laid back, not as vertical as Jackson, and not as crowded.
Telluride, Colorado3 of 8
This place barely seems real, and after visiting you'll look back nostalgically convinced the experience was a dream-like fairy tale. The town rests in a perfect box canyon with a clear view of 14,000-foot mountains, creating an environment that few other ski towns can offer—you'll believe you've been transported to a remote village in the Alps. There's also a free gondola that gives people access to and from the mountains.
In addition to this, the skiing is great, with incredible routes and fall lines. This place is also known for its cleanliness. The only downside to Telluride Ski Resort is that it doesn't get as much snow as many of the other top resorts.
Vail, Colorado4 of 8
Known as the most eminent spot in Colorado, taking the crown from Aspen, this place is almost a mega-resort with more than 5,000 acres. With this large area comes a large crowd, but most days you wouldn't even notice it.
This place gets a lot of snow due to its position on the west side of the pass and offers a gondola from Vail Village to Vail Ski Resort, which helps control the transportation of the large crowds.
Only 20 minutes away you'll find another praise-worthy resort, that of Beaver Creek. This is one of the youngest resorts in the country and also one of the fanciest. A great benefit to this resort is that it's very family-friendly, meaning it has great access, good ski schools, accommodating chairlifts and inviting runs for the novice.
Park City, Utah5 of 8
This area is very cool, something which has a lot to do with the relationship to the city and ski runs. Park City has a lot more amenities than most ski towns—it's the home of the Sundance Film Festival—and is only 35 minutes from a major airport. Surrounding the city you have three resorts all within 10 minutes of each other: Park City, Deer Valley and Canyons.
Park City Mountain Resort is great for families because there's a lift in the middle of the city that goes right up to the slopes. This means you can ski into town, grab some food, and then head right back up.
Canyons is the biggest ski resort in Utah (4,000 acres) and has some of the best lift operators. Because it's so big and spread out, skiers are advised to stick to one area and not waste too much time changing locations.
Deer Valley is the fanciest of the bunch, something which is noticeable when observing the Empire Canyon Lodge. The food here, however, is great and affordable. But, like the previously mentioned Alta, this resort does not allow snowboarding.
Squaw Valley, California6 of 8
This resort offers a lot of diversity, both in terrain and ski lifts. It has the only funitel, a type of aerial lift, in the US. Due to a joint ownership, Squaw Valley is now also affiliated with Alpine Meadows, meaning a dual pass can be purchased and there's only a 10-minute shuttle between the two.
The diversity in the terrain, which is the best in the Sierras, allows both novices and world-class skiers to use these slopes. However, conditions have been known to be unpredictable in this area, with snowfall being sporadic. The snow is also much heavier than that of the other resorts mentioned.
Because this resort is so close to the San Francisco Bay Area, it gets really big crowds and the lines can get irritating.
Big Sky, Montana7 of 8
Last but not least, you have the resorts of Montana—resorts that are consistently underrated. This, however, leads to much of the charm and appeal. The resorts of Montana still remain hidden gems, with a mom and pop ambiance; you'll be comforted to find the same regulars skiing the slopes each time you visit. Big Sky Resort has high quality ski lifts and good consistent snow. Some of the major complaints about this resort are that you have to fly into Bozeman to access it and the base village is weak compared to a lot of the other ski resorts mentioned.