Sure, California has winter sports destinations. But snow is no guarantee, and the ski trails can have as much traffic as your 5 p.m. commute. But they may be snow-deficient. Though this year's forthcoming winter is supposed to change everything, and early indicators have been promising, why chance your winter getaway on fickle weather? A ski trip is meant to be a relaxing experience, not fighting long lift lines on crowded slopes that are more brown than white.
Instead, choose Crested Butte, Colo. While California snow totals have been up and down for the past few years, Crested Butte is famous for being one of the snowiest resorts in the U.S., with an average of 200 inches of white stuff annually. And with frequent flights from LAX, you could be hitting the slopes in less time than it takes to drive out of the snarled traffic of the city on the way to the mountains.
You'll quickly discover this powdery paradise has it all. The huge variety of trails range from wide-open family-friendly slopes to some of North America's most extreme terrain -- steep, narrow and rocky -- with names like Sock It To Me Ridge and the Staircase. Adrenaline junkies will be happy to know Crested Butte is often regarded as the birthplace of extreme skiing.
The double black diamond routes on the mountain live up to their classification. Narrow, tight chutes, long, sustained pitches and T-bars serving the entire mountain allow extreme skiers to get everywhere and experience everything.
Skiers short on edge control or just getting used to the terrain, fear not: Less-experienced powder hounds have it better here, too. This slice of the Rockies is credited with some of Colorado's best grooming, best views and a great ski school. A plus you won't find at most other ski resorts -- the beginner and intermediate slopes are separate from much of the other terrain, so you won't have expert skiers and boarders tearing down the trails where you and your kids are trying to learn.
All in all, the numbers don't lie. Crested Butte boasts 1,547 acres of skier- and snowboarder-friendly in-bound terrain accessed by 16 chair lifts; 26% is beginner terrain, 57% is intermediate, and the rest is 542 acres of black diamond and extreme terrain. The main mountain stands at 12,162 feet, with the highest chairlift reaching within 1,000 feet of the peak.
If you're a backcountry skier, or would like to be, you'll find some of Colorado's best. Even close to town, you can easily access backcountry so vast and pristine you'll find untouched powder even days after a storm. If you're a novice, hone your skills with the Crested Butte Mountain Resort beginners' uphill-downhill program.
Freestyle skiers and boarders can have it all with three freestyle terrain parks featuring varying degrees of difficulty. Get started at the Keystone and Painter Boy terrain parks; the latter features beginner-sized jumps. Once you've mastered them, move over to the Cascade terrain park. Here, boxes and rails co-mingle with natural terrain with jumps in the 25-to-35-foot range -- perfect to expand your bag of tricks.
And if none of this slope-carving calls to you, Nordic skiing is nearly endless in Crested Butte. With some 62 miles of groomed trails, you'll find endless places to explore. And it's not just the thrill of the cold. Nordic skiing tours feature gourmet dining and a photo adventure to capture beautiful winter scenery and rustic backcountry cabins.
The best part is getting there. Flights from LAX will have you slope-side long before you'd make it to Mammoth Mountain by car. Alaska Airlines offers service to Gunnison, Colo., directly outside of the mountain, Wednesdays and Saturdays, just enough time for a quick getaway or a weeklong adventure.
With a gate-to-gate time of just over three hours, you can experience some of the country's best, most consistent snow far faster than driving north to find a mostly closed, dry mountain.