Sports

Ski Like a Local

Finding the best snow is easy with an insider’s know-how.
By David Keith
First, some basic rules: Avoid the main lifts; they work like cheeseburger-clogged arteries. Do a little research beforehand and head to the less crowded chairs, even if it means taking two or three to reach a starting point. Get up early; first tracks are for those who get first chairs. Skip lunch; put energy bars or granola in a pocket. Hike off the beaten paths and find those off-piste but inbounds. Listen to the wind at night to figure out where the gusts are blowing the snow; find the cliffs and overhangs where those flakes collected, and head there first thing in the morning.
The famous China Bowl at Vail

Vail Resorts, Colorado

With seven legendary back bowls, there’s a lot to cover at Vail, so pay attention here. If it’s a pow day, take the Cascade Chair (#20) to Chair 26 and drop into Game Creek bowl, then head to Sundown Bowl for first tracks. If you’re not used to powder skiing, head to Chair 14 for an easier introduction. Ski off the back to reach China Bowl, one of the world’s best for powder and intermediate skiers wanting an intro to bowl skiing.

For glades, head to Blue Sky Basin. Get off the main trail, Skyline Express, and look for Steep and Deep (aptly named), Lover’s Leap, Iron Mask, or Skree Field. Expert skiers hit Siberia Bowl: Rasputin’s Revenge is great on big powder mornings with lots of cliffs on which to play. Sun Up Bowl has Apres Vous at the west end with a choice of a steep chute or glades. On the front side are the expert runs of West Game Creek Bowl. Mud Slide will have a mix of powder pillows by mid-winter and trees to negotiate. Pump House, Narrows, and Front Side Chutes are worthy runs and, if Lindsey is groomed, get carving. If it’s not, it’s one of the best bump runs on the mountain. One of the steepest is Prima Cornice, and early in the season, Highline offers steep powder; after that, it’s steep bumps and no crowds (because it’s so hard). vailresorts.com

Vail’s hidden jewel is Beaver Creek. Get there early on weekends to enjoy a hot chocolate at the top of the lift. Larkspur Bowl is almost always groomed, but stay skier’s left heading toward Yarrow for ungroomed powder early in the day. Warning: It gets heavier as the sun warms the snow. Try Spider in Rose Bowl on a powder day to see how the bumps magically vanish on this black diamond run. Be prepared to ski well as those on the Rose Bowl Chair right above are watching.

Royal Elk Glades is expert-only gladed terrain at the west end of Grouse Mountain. Screech Owl, another super-steep black diamond run, is best navigated early, before the weekenders flatten out the powder. If it’s cliffs and carnage you seek, head to Stone Creek Chutes, a legit drop into inbounds fun. At the end of the day, enjoy some fresh-baked cookies at the village as the ski valets remove boots and stow gear. beavercreek.com

Early morning at Stowe’s ForeRunner Quad.

Stowe Mountain, Vermont

On a weekday with no fresh powder, get on the ForeRunner Quad early and hit the Famous Four. National, Goat, Starr, and Liftline all deliver awesome skiing. Bring good knees as Goat and Starr don’t get groomed and provide serious Eastern-style bumps. For groomed steeps, try Liftline, Hayride, or Nosedive. Stay sharp on all three; terrain changes and steep pitches come up quickly.

If there’s fresh powder during the week, get fresh tracks at the ForeRunner Quad before 7:30 in the morning and drop into Tres Amigos or Nosedive Glades for some tree skiing. Then take another run down Goat or Starr for powdery bumps. For real backcountry skiing, take the gondola to ChinClip and cut over to the Bench trees for some glades.

On the weekends, be at the ForeRunner by 7:15 a.m. If there’s no powder, just bomb the Famous Four, adding in a run or two on Hayride and Nosedive. After 10:30 a.m., let the weekenders have the mountain. You’ll have had your fun on first tracks. Breakfast tip: Hit the Octagon at the top of the Quad for the best, and most expensive, egg sandwich in Stowe.

On powdery weekends, be at the ForeRunner early and head to the trees. The weekend crowd won’t even know it exists, so be sure not to give away its location with yelps of joy. Adventurous, top-level skiers can take the gondola to hike up to the Rock Garden and drop into steep, narrow, gnarly craziness. stowe.com

Snowmass, Colorado

Snowmass’ claim to fame is its collection of glades. Take a warm-up run through the pines via the Big Burn lift to Powerline. Follow Mick’s Gully into the trees, and stay on the fall line all the way back to the lift. For a mixed bag, head to Sneaky’s Glades with its nicely spaced trees and rollercoaster-like pitches. If it gets too rough, bail out and take the Sheer Bliss lift up to Rock Island and just lap it over and over on a powder day. Added bonus at the top of Sheer Bliss: UP 4 Pizza, the highest-elevation pizza joint in the States.

For a steep downhill, ride the High Alpine lift and head across to the Edge. Skiing down Edge, break into the Hanging Valley Glades on the right for some of the steepest and snowiest terrain on the mountain. Or hike along the ridge line to Roberto’s Chute, go straight into Frog Pond Glades, and look for the last pitch, called Willy’s, for some steep drops and untouched powder. Yes, it’s hard to get to, but that’s what makes it so pristine. For powder without trees, try Baby Ruth or Possible. The least-crowded lift at Snowmass is Campground.

Another worthwhile hike is to Burnt Mountain Glades. Take the Elk Camp Gondola to Elk Camp lift to get to the top of Gunner’s View. Multiple entrances along this unmarked trail lead into the trees. For a bit more spacing, hike to the Dikes, or keep going and hit Cirque for some steeps, cliffs, and cornices. For an easier double black, head down Gowdy’s, follow Green Cabin, and turn left to ski the pillows in Dikes Trees. Stay centered and follow the terrain as it funnels down, or break right for a bail-out back to Green Cabin. gosnowmass.com

Murdock Bowl offers wide-open terrain.

Park City Mountain Resort, Utah

For leg-burning powder, head to the Ninety-Nine 90 Express lift to Red Pine Chutes. Ski far, far left on Red Pines Bowl to find the chutes. At the gully, watch for a double black and a single black—both lead to the Red Pine Lodge for a much-needed break.

Off McConkey’s express, skip McConkey’s Bowl and head for Molly’s to ski the glades and watch the classically trained skiers do jump turns on the really steep parts. Off the Tombstone lift, look for the Deschutes gate and head to Grande for powdery glades skiing. Late in the day, find stashes of pow between the trees.

On powder days, take Thaynes Lift to Jupiter Access and ride the Jupiter lift (an old-school double chair) up to the Jupiter Bowl for pure double black runs. The best snow is found on Indicator: It drops in above the tree line as it turns into a steep and beautiful glades run. Super Condor Express is another lift serving expert-only terrain. It requires a hike to the ridge line to drop into Murdock Bowl for wide-open terrain with a few glades thrown in for fun. Pull some hard-g turns dropping into Lower Boa.

Shred the bumps under the Peak 5 lift and then (literally) drop into The Abyss. Backcountry safety gear gains access to even more vertical feet of off-piste powder and glade skiing.

Don’t be fooled by all the blues surrounding the Dreamcatcher lift: On powder days, head to Specter and ski between the trees. Or, head to Thaynes Lift and hit The Hoist. Powder stays hidden there for days. parkcitymountain.com

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