Ski resorts represent a lot of different things to the American populace: A place to get away and spend family time in the mountains. A place to mountain bike and watch concerts in the summer. A place to, ahem, buy real estate. But to skiing and snowboarding’s core, the resort represents a home base and a place to train for bigger projects on the horizon. And much like a college or hometown, one’s home resort is something that’s spoken of with great pride. Many of snow sport’s best athletes choose their resort for the terrain. Terrain that challenges, and at times, scares the living shit out of them. So in that mode, here’s our picks for America’s five burliest resorts.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This season marks 50 years of burly for one of the ski industry’s finest resorts. There’s a reason prolific production companies like Teton Gravity Research choose Jackson as a home base. As have some all-timers with epicly-diverse backgrounds like Travis Rice, Doug Coombs and Bill Briggs. With gnarly in-bounds terrain like Corbet’s Couloir staring you down as you ride up the gondy, there’s little doubt that this is it. And that’s just the beginning. The gnar is everywhere, especially if you make a certain boot hike over a certain ridge and make a particular traverse out of this one canyon after you charge. For the local’s sake, we won’t get too specific but needless to say, Jackson Hole is the shit.
Kirkwood Mountain, California
Kirkwood Mountain—sometimes referred to as “Kirkweed”—is some 30 miles south of South Lake Tahoe and features some of California’s most ridiculous in-bounds terrain. Some might be put off that we don’t have Squaw Valley on this list—and they’d have a point with the incredible talent that has called the resort home, like JT Holmes and Shane McConkey. But Kirkwood features two miles of ridgeline that accesses the steeps including a series of intense chutes. The other reason Kirkwood made the cut is staff experience with this 2,300-acre piece of burl: a friend tore his ACL in the middle of one of said chutes and had to crawl out to safety on his own. Kirkwood is serious business.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Matchstick Productions was founded in 1992 by Steve Winter and Murray Wais, and they knew what they were doing by basing MSP in Crested Butte. The resort is full-on burl: when all else fails, stack clips at home. Plus, talk about a primo location to host an edit conference? In 1992, Crested Butte hosted the first US Extreme Skiing Championships. And rightly so. There aren’t many mountains that can claim access to some of the most difficult terrain via a T-Bar. That’s right, the High Lift T-Bar is used by expert skiers and riders to get to the double black goods. Yeah, you gotta earn it here.
Snowbird, on its own would be an incredible mountain with literally thousands of acres of steep, difficult riding accessed by some of the fastest chairs and trams in the country. But it’s the aura of the place that makes it a centerpiece. Snowbird is the crown jewel of Little Cottonwood Canyon, a must-do for any serious skier or rider. Just across the highway is Mount Superior, a majestic looking mountain that regularly sees helicopters accessing its peak (not a favorite sight for many locals). Grizzly Gulch, Wolverine Cirque—backcountry gems accessible right up the road. And despite its ridiculous refusal to allow snowboards on its terrain, the iconic Alta Ski Resort shares a boundary with Snowbird. Aside from its difficult terrain, above all, Snowbird is about logging beautiful, top-to-bottom vertical feet at one of America’s finest winter playgrounds.
Bridger Bowl, Montana
God, locals are gonna hate us for this but Bridger Bowl is one of the finest steep skiing Meccas in the lower 48. In one of the coolest college towns on Earth, Bozeman, Montana. If you can take the cold, you’re in for a face full of “cold smoke” on snow days, the locals’ calling card for the incredibly dry powder. And that’s before you get to the steep stuff. Bring your avalanche transceiver, and your know-how, because you’ll need both to access the “Ridge” above the main resort. A stiff hike accesses some of the most intense resort terrain in the state. We’re not gonna go into the names cause we want to show up there again but we’ll leave you with this, and we speak from experience: miss a turn and you’re sure to go charging over a 20-foot cliff on your back. Not a good look.