Last winter was a banner year for many Western ski resorts. California's Squaw Valley Mountain Resort, for example, couldn't miss with its whopping 810 inches of snowfall. (That's 67.5 feet!) And long-range forecasts predict more of the same this season, so Western resorts should expect big snow and fantastic terrain coverage.
Here's a look at what's new out West.
Colorado's popular Copper Mountain (coppercolorado.com) has replaced the old High Point lift with the new Union Creek High Speed Quad. This lift will speed transport to and from the West Village area. Copper Mountain also has implemented a new automated snow-making system in conjunction with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to develop an on-snow training center at the resort. This training center will greatly enhance the U.S. teams' speed training while providing the public with better snow conditions.
The one-of-a-kind Telluride Ski Resort (tellurideskiresort.com) has opened Bon Vivant, a new outdoor bar, sun deck and dining experience at the top of Polar Queen Express. This midmountain bar and deck will offer incredible views of Gold Hill and 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak. (Check out Bon Vivant's bathrooms, reportedly the nicest in the ski industry). Many nonstop flights from across the country serve Telluride via the 9,070-foot-high TEX, America's highest commercial airport.
Continuing its major terrain upgrades begun in the last couple of years, Purgatory (durangomountainresort.com) near Durango, Colo., is adding high-angle grooming for people who crave the steeps but still want some corduroy. Purgatory bought a new winch cat (Prinoth Bison X with Sherpa Winch) and for the first time will be consistently grooming some of its steepest expert runs, such as Lower Hades, Catharsis and the scary Styx, which has a vertical drop of about 1,800 feet. That is precipitous, and having it expertly groomed will help some less secure skiers. Of course, Purgatory is leaving many expert/black diamond runs in their natural ungroomed state.
There are some impressive airfare deals to Steamboat Springs (steamboat.com) if you book by Nov. 30 to snag a promotion (American, Delta and United) recognizing the $15 million upgrade of the Steamboat/Hayden airport. The expanded terminal should ease navigation and improve dining at the airport. If you have never been to Steamboat, you might want to jump on this promotion.
Sun Valley (sunvalley.com) is legendary for its long, gorgeous runs, but the Sun Valley Dollar Mountain Terrain Park is becoming a force with the younger set. This season an 18-foot half pipe will be positioned in the top half of Old Bowl, and the bottom will be enhanced by a variety of new rails and two new jumps. The signature Quad Wall returns, and a new Progression Park has been added at the bottom of Dollar Face, offering beginners and youngsters terrain park features that are easier to handle.
The big news out of Lake Tahoe is that Squaw Valley (squaw.com) and its closest resort neighbor, Alpine Meadows, have combined forces. (You could say that Squaw ate Alpine.) This merger means that skiers and riders can use the same lift ticket or pass to enjoy more than 44 lifts, 2,700-plus trails and more than 6,000 acres of California terrain. Shuttles will run between the resorts, providing convenient access to both. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are huge and offer different downhill experiences.
Also on the California side, Northstar-at-Tahoe (northstarattahoe.com) has emerged as the other big player on the Tahoe snow scene now that it is part of the Vail Resorts group. More than $30 million has been invested in the resort since last season. New enhancements to the Backside area lead the way, including installation of the Promised Land Express, a new quad express lift, two new intermediate trails and new snow-making in the area.
Another development is that Olympic gold medalist Shaun White has signed a multiyear partnership with Vail Resorts and selected Northstar as his home training mountain. A new custom Shaun White 22 half pipe soon will open to the public, at least when White isn't training on it. Northstar guests also can enjoy EpicMix (epicmix.com), the ski and snowboard app that allows for tracking of vertical feet skied, awards digital pins for accomplishments and performs various photo functions too.
Sierra-at-Tahoe (sierraattahoe.com), one of California's hidden gems, is offering snow cat tours to the recently opened backcountry terrain of Huckleberry Canyon. The expert-only snow cat tours ($79) present a huge time savings from the previous mile and half walk out to the edge of Huckleberry Canyon. Skiers and boarders can save their energy for exploring the area's deep bowls, cornice drops, chutes and glades. Besides carving the way, professional instructors will instruct participants on backcountry safety, teach avalanche protection and provide a tasty lunch.
The first phase of the major redesign for the Canyons Resort (canyonsresort.com) in Park City, Utah, is complete. One change, the big orange Bubble Chair lift with heated seats, already is a crowd favorite, and a new heli-skiing service will operate directly out of the resort, in conjunction with Wasatch Powerbird Guides. And, if you're in fun and chic Park City, what's not to like?
Located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, not far from Park City and only a 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City Airport, Solitude (skisolitude.com) is a very special place. It's more like a family-friendly, charming European mountain resort but with massive amounts of light, fluffy snow, a laid-back Western vibe and hardly any people. The seriously sheer Honeycomb Canyon has been expanded and now offers more than 400 acres of lift-served off-piste terrain. The resort also has unveiled free Wi-Fi (that actually works) throughout the mountain village. Utah's Solitude is, as the name suggests, intimate — but also a great ski resort.
Jackson Hole (jacksonhole.com) in Wyoming has a new program perfect for young skiers and boarders wanting to ski on the cutting edge. The Teton Gravity Research Fall Line Camp offers an ultimate free-ride experience for middle- and high-schoolers who aspire to join the next generation of big-mountain stars. Not only will participants spend three days learning how to drop cliffs, jib features and rip turns with TGR members, but then they'll go backstage for editing and production of video content in the studios of TGR, one of the best action-sports film-production companies in the country.
The largest ski resort in North America (8,171 acres), still rated No. 1 by many, Whistler/Blackcomb (whistlerblackcomb.com) is capitalizing on last season's Winter Olympics by offering the public a chance to try some of the thrilling sliding events. Visitors to the Whistler Sliding Center can fly down the track on a skeleton or climb aboard a bobsled (with a professional driver) and zip down the course at more than 80 mph. (Not for the feint of heart or those with neck problems.) Guests also can partake in other 2010 Winter Olympics Games legacies such as Nordic skiing and even biathlon. Of course, Whistler/Blackcomb is known for classic downhill skiing and fabulous dining.
For an atypical experience, check out British Columbia's Kicking Horse Mountain Resort kickinghorseresort.com. Located in eastern British Columbia between the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges near Golden, it's best known for its tremendous champagne powder. Kicking Horse offers some of the most dramatic in-bounds skiing in North America. It features 121 runs, four big bowls, 85 in-bounds chutes and more than 4,133 vertical feet. Displaying its own brand of Canadian cool, this resort is truly an adventure. The best way to visit is by flying through Calgary.
So wax 'em, tune 'em up and get ready to shred.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times