Shut Up and Ski

America's top 10 old-school ski resorts are all about the snow -- and lift tickets are a deal.

By Laurie Kuntz, Bret Roedemeier, and Brad Tuttle, Thursday, Dec 6, 2007, 3:48 PM

At Powder Mountain, Utah, snowcats tow skiers and boarders into the backcountry for $10 a run

(Craig Wetherby)

UTAH
POWDER MOUNTAIN

Elevation: 8,900 feet
Vertical drop: 2,005 feet
Skiable terrain: 5,500 acres
Annual snowfall: 500 inches
Lift ticket: $53 or less
Info: 801/745-3772, powdermountain.com

With monster snowfalls, a remarkable lack of trees, and slopes that are consistently steep but not harrowing, Powder was created for wide skis. Less than half of the trails are groomed, and it's not unusual to be making turns in untouched powder a week after a dump. For the poor man's version of heli-skiing, a snowcat that tows skiers up to the top of remote bowls can't be beat ($10 per run, in addition to a lift ticket). Even with all the terrain and outstanding snow, Powder remains under the radar compared to hotter resorts, such as Park City, Snowbird, or nearby Snowbasin (which figured prominently in the Salt Lake City Olympics). Down below Powder is gorgeous Ogden Valley. It's only a matter of time before strip malls and subdivisions fill it up, but for now the valley is mostly open land.

How to get there

Powder Mountain is a straightforward, 55-mile drive north of the Salt Lake airport. You'll pass through Eden, so save a few bucks on your lift ticket by buying it at the Valley Market (801/745-4000).

Where to stay

The Red Moose Lodge is a modern take on a vintage ski lodge, with vaulted ceilings, deep leather sofas, and a pool table in a loft. Rooms are big, and it's less than 15 minutes from the mountain (2547 N. Valley Junction Dr., Eden, 877/745-0333, theredmooselodge.com, from $89). Moreover, it's just down the street from Eats of Eden, a fantastic little restaurant with buffalo burgers and sandwiches on homemade bread (2595 N. Hwy. 162, 801/745-8618). Another good spot for a bite: The Oaks, which opened in 1907 and has a menu that always features Ogden's own Farr's ice cream (750 Ogden Canyon, 801/394-2421).

Apres-ski

Built in 1879, the Shooting Star Saloon survived Prohibition by running a whiskey distillery in the basement. Today, it's the oldest bar in Utah and serves only beer. Drink specials are illegal in Utah, but who needs happy hour when a cold one costs only $1.25? After a long day at the mountain, see if you can survive the $6 Star Burger, a grilled Polish sausage sandwiched between two beef patties (7350 E. 200 South, Huntsville, 801/745-2002).

Local's tip

"The place is huge and can be hard to figure out," says Amy Wicks, who was born and raised in the area and skis at least twice a week. "I definitely recommend a free guided tour with a host to take you out and show you the layout. There's a lot you might miss if all you did was look up at the mountain from the lodge." (To hook up with a host, contact Powder Mountain.)

COLORADO
WOLF CREEK

Elevation: 11,904 feet
Vertical drop: 1,604 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,600 acres
Annual snowfall: 465 inches
Lift ticket: $48
Info: 970/264-5639, wolfcreekski.com

Snow, snow, and more snow. Wolf Creek gets the most in Colorado, and the views on the traverse to Alberta Peak rival those at any resort in the Rockies. Most runs are short--the mountain's a lot wider than it is high--and because Wolf Creek is so far removed from anything resembling a city, there's plenty of snow for everyone. People are as laid-back and unpretentious as they come; it's not uncommon to see someone lugging in a Crock-Pot for a picnic in the lodge. The cafeteria sells PB&J sandwiches for $1.50 and daily specials, like a cheesesteak with fries and a dessert for $7. The atmosphere may change if Clear Channel Communications magnate Red McCombs's plans for a 287-acre development at the base of the Alberta lift are realized. Locals are fighting the proposed development, which could destroy a six-mile loop for cross-country skiers and their dogs.

How to get there

The nearest airports to Wolf Creek are in Durango and Alamosa, each about an hour from the mountain. It's usually much cheaper to fly into Albuquerque (four-and-a-half hours by car) or Denver (six hours), if you can handle the drive.

Where to stay

The High Country Lodge, just outside Pagosa Springs on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, rents modern log cabins with full kitchens and heated floors, and each unit comes with a fireplace or potbellied stove. Hot breakfast in the lodge is included (3821 E. Hwy. 160, 800/862-3707, highcountrylodge.com, lodge room from $90, cabin from $120).

Apres-ski

The first restaurant on the way from the mountain to Pagosa Springs is JJ's Riverwalk Restaurant & Pub, a favorite for its happy hour (4 p.m.--6 p.m.), when beers on tap are half-price, well drinks are $1 off, and appetizers are discounted 25 percent (356 E. Hwy. 160, Pagosa Springs, 970/264-9100).

Local's tip

Avoid spring break if at all possible," says David Pryce, a sales staffer at Doc's Outdoor Sports in South Fork, who skis at Wolf Creek around twice a week. "That's the middle to the end of March, when all the high schools and universities are out, and one of the few times the mountain is crowded."

CALIFORNIA
HOMEWOOD

Elevation: 7,880 feet
Vertical drop: 1,650 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,260 acres
Annual snowfall: 450 inches
Lift ticket: $58 or less
Info: 530/525-2992, skihomewood.com

Stellar views of Lake Tahoe, 300 days of sun per year, and a totally hassle-free experience: It's no wonder the resort motto is "Smile, You're at Homewood." Skiers pull off Route 89 directly into Homewood's parking lot, and within 15 minutes find themselves halfway up the Madden Triple Chair. About 65 percent of the terrain is beginner and intermediate, making it one of Tahoe's best places to learn to ski or ride. Experts get theirs, too, with tree skiing in the Hobbit Land area, rails and jumps in Shredwood Forest Terrain Park, and the steep chutes of Quail Face. Local hotshots head to Homewood after a big snowfall because they know they'll find stashes of powder long after Tahoe's more famous (and more crowded) resorts are tracked out. But it's the lake views that keep people coming back. For the best (and longest) look, take Rainbow Ridge from the summit to Cradle, then head down the Face. It makes for a great last run of the day.

How to get there

Homewood is six miles south of Tahoe City. By car, it's about an hour from Reno, two hours from Sacramento, and a little more than three hours from San Francisco.

Where to stay

Dick and Ulli White rent 16 cheerful red cabins, some with gas fireplaces and claw-foot bathtubs, at Tahoma Meadows B&B Cottages, just south of the mountain. Two-person cottages include breakfast in the B&B's common room, while larger "kitchen" cabins are perfect for families (6821 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoma, 866/525-1553, tahomameadows.com, from $109).

Apres-ski

Sunnyside, about four miles north of Homewood, is a beautiful arts and crafts-style building with a wide deck overlooking the lake. The bar fills up on Wednesdays throughout the ski season for the half-price ($3) fish tacos--beer-battered snapper, shredded cabbage, and ranch dressing in a soft flour tortilla (1850 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, 800/822-2754).

Local's tip

"Homewood hasn't shut down its chairlifts because of high wind in more than two decades," says Christopher Taylor, a 20-year-old carpenter originally from Manchester, Vt., who moved to the Tahoe area two years ago. "There aren't any detachable quads that shut down when it's storming, and because of the tree coverage, you can get fresh powder for weeks after."

MONTANA
LOST TRAIL

Elevation: 8,200 feet
Vertical drop: 1,800 feet
Skiable terrain: 900 acres
Annual snowfall: 300 inches
Lift ticket: $31 or less
Info: 406/821-3211, losttrail.com

"Hey, it's Lost Trail not Vail," the locals like to joke. As if there might be confusion. At Lost Trail, deep in the Bitterroot Forest, on the continental divide near the Montana-Idaho border, the slow, two-seater chairlifts are powered by generators. Few runs are supersteep, and the people are unfailingly friendly, making Lost Trail a wonderful family mountain. It feels like an old-fashioned ski club, where no one bothers with lockers, and moms send kids off on their own without thinking twice. And $31 lift tickets? You know you're not in Vail.

How to get there

From Missoula, Lost Trail is a two-hour drive, or about four hours from the Idaho Falls Airport by car. The two nearest towns--Salmon, Idaho, and Conner, Mont.--are each about 20 minutes from the lifts.

Where to stay

How's this for a ski report? First thing in the morning, look out the window from the 100 Acre Wood B&B, a timber lodge outside Salmon that, despite the name, sits on a 27-acre property. If there's a herd of 200 elk grazing, a whole lot of snow fell in the high country the previous night. The elk move down to the valley when the snow is too deep (2356 Hwy. 93, Salmon, 208/865-2165, 100acrewoodresort.com, from $90 with breakfast).

Apres-ski

The Rocky Knob Lodge was built by loggers in the 1940s in exchange for "favors" from the property's owner, a member of the oldest profession. On the Montana side 20 minutes from Lost Trail, the former brothel now serves $2.25 cocktails and excellent food--the smoked ribs ($18.95) in particular (6065 Hwy. 93, Conner, 406/821-3520).

Local's tip

"Go on a Thursday or Friday for good powder," says Chase Cooper, a wood-flooring contractor in Victor, Mont., who started skiing at Lost Trail when he was 10 and manages to hit the slopes about 20 times a year. "The mountain is closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; so when Thursday comes, the snow's fantastic. And since it's not the weekend yet, there's also hardly anyone there, and you can get on lifts right away without having to wait."

MONTANA
BRIDGER BOWL

Elevation: 8,100 feet
Vertical drop: 2,000 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,500 acres
Annual snowfall: 350 inches
Lift ticket: $43 or less
Info: 800/223-9609, bridgerbowl.com

Twenty minutes from downtown Bozeman and long a favorite excuse for Montana State students to ditch class, Bridger Bowl stretches along a wide ridge, with easy terrain at the bottom and in the Apron area, and hairy steeps and great powder-filled bowls up at the top. The nonprofit resort marked its 50th anniversary with the 2004/2005 season.

How to get there

Drive 16 miles north from Bozeman, which has an airport served by Delta, Horizon, Northwest, and United.

Where to stay

Right on Main Street in Bozeman, the Lewis & Clark Motel is a quirky gem, with a roadside neon sign depicting the eponymous explorers and casino poker in the lobby. Down in the basement, there's a swimming pool, as well as a tiny pond stocked with rainbow trout (824 W. Main St., 800/332-7666, lewisandclarkmotel.net, from $58).

Local's tip

"On a powder day, get there early," says Keven Wiesner, owner of the Ph.D. Skis shop in Bozeman, who puts in about 80 days per year at Bridger Bowl. "Leave at 7 o'clock from town. If it's deep powder, there'll be a ton of people waiting. Good skiers should get over to the Ridge area. It's a great experience, and the snow is twice as deep."

VERMONT
MAGIC MOUNTAIN

Elevation: 3,200 feet
Vertical drop: 1,700 feet
Skiable terrain: 135 acres
Annual snowfall: 180 inches
Lift ticket: $56 or less
Info: 802/824-5645, magicmtn.com

After Magic shut down in 1991, heartbroken locals sold "Save the Magic" T-shirts to raise money for its rebirth. The mountain reopened in 1997, and while it doesn't have the fancy lifts, restaurants, and snowmaking equipment of nearby resorts, it does feature some of the steepest trails in southern Vermont--and a whole lot of heart. One thing it almost never has is crowds, even on the weekends. This season, lift tickets for all ages cost only $39 Monday through Friday (non-holiday).

How to get there

Magic is about three hours by car from Boston, or four hours from New York City.

Where to stay

The Swiss Inn rents standard motel rooms with a full breakfast included, and patrons can always find fondue on the restaurant's menu (249 Rte. 11, Londonderry, 800/847-9477, swissinn.com, from $79).

Local's tip

"The west side has a lot of difficult terrain," says Marlene Williams, an administrative assistant for Green Mountain Beverage. She and her husband Jim have lived within walking distance of the lifts since 1978 and ski four or five days a week. "If we have good snow, Talisman is a great run. It's really challenging. My husband's favorite trail is Sorcerer, which is steeper and has a lot of bumps."

IDAHO
BOGUS BASIN

Elevation: 7,600 feet
Vertical drop: 1,800 feet
Skiable terrain: 2,600 acres
Annual snowfall: 250 inches
Lift ticket: $46 or less
Info: 800/367-4397, bogusbasin.com

A twisting, 16-mile drive north of Boise, the nonprofit Basin is the pride and joy of locals. Sun Valley gets all the attention as Idaho's premier resort; the fact is, the blue-collar Bogus Basin has more acreage and receives more snow. Its name comes from a legendary gold swindle in the 1880s, but the slopes are anything but bogus. For a challenging mix of tree skiing, bowls, and steep faces, head right to the expansive backside of the mountain.

How to get there

Downtown Boise's Harrison Boulevard turns into Bogus Basin Road, which ascends about 3,000 vertical feet in a series of switchbacks, then dead-ends at the resort. Caldwell Transportation runs a bus service to the mountain every day, with pickups all over town (208/459-6612 or 800/727-9925, ctcbus.com, $12 round trip).

Where to stay

At the mountaintop Pioneer Condominiums, guests ski down to the lifts (800/367-4397, pioneercondos.com, from $129).

Local's tip

"Experts have got to make a lap through the Waterfall and the Triangle," says Charles Butrick, leader of the Bogus Basin Ski Patrol. "They're not really on the map, but are known areas nonetheless. Have a local show you the way. Also, don't miss beers in the Bogus Creek Lodge, where ski bums congregate to lie about all the crazy runs they supposedly took."

WASHINGTON
49 NORTH

Elevation: 5,774 feet
Vertical drop: 1,900 feet
Skiable terrain: 2,325 acres
Annual snowfall: 300 inches
Lift ticket: $43 or less
Info: 866/376-4949, ski49n.com

Unabashedly retro, with lifts that aren't remotely high-speed, 49 North offers 70 percent beginner and intermediate terrain. For those who refuse to take it easy, there's backcountry skiing in the East Basin, accessible by a fairly mild traverse from the peak. Taco Time, a local restaurant chain, hands out two-for-one lift ticket vouchers on Tuesdays, no purchase necessary. Also, skiing is totally free for everyone during the last week of the season (April 7-13). Just show up and ask for a lift ticket.

How to get there

From Spokane, drive for about an hour on Hwy. 395 north. With little else up there, the mountain is hard to miss.

Local's tip

"If you're looking for bumps, do Klondike," says Daniel Voltz, who owns the Norski Conoco gas station in Chewelah and finds a way to ski 50 to 60 days a year. "If you're looking for fast cruisers, ski Mahre's Gold, named after the gold-medal winner of the slalom in the 1984 Olympics."

OREGON
WILLAMETTE PASS

Elevation: 6,683 feet
Vertical drop: 1,563 feet
Skiable terrain: 555 acres
Annual snowfall: 400 inches
Lift ticket: $44 or less
Info: 541/345-7669, willamettepass.com

What Willamette Pass lacks in convenience--it's a 90-minute drive southeast of Eugene--is made up for with a fun mix of tree skiing and cruising runs, along with a peaceful setting amid lakes and hundreds of miles of national forest. It's closed Monday through Wednesday, which means untracked snow on Thursday!

How to get there

Willamette Pass is right off of Hwy. 58 deep in the thickly forested Cascade Mountains, and there's not much in the way of civilization on the drive from Eugene. Skiers don't have to drive, though: A bus service called the Willamette Pass Express departs from downtown Eugene Thursday through Sunday at 7:15 a.m. (541/345-7669, $14 round trip).

Where to stay

Seven miles from the lifts, the Willamette Pass Inn has standard rooms and cabins, all with kitchens and most with fireplaces (Mile 69, Highway 58, 541/433-2211, from $81).

Local's tip

"Get hot cocoa at the Crescent Lake Lodge & Resort (Hwy. 58, 541/433-2505, crescentlakeresort.com), which overlooks Crescent Lake," says Svein Berg, manager of Berg's Ski & Snowboard Shop, a third-generation family business in Eugene. "There's an old stone fireplace where you can sit back and check out the view. It's fabulous."

VERMONT
BURKE

Elevation: 3,267 feet
Vertical drop: 2,000 feet
Skiable terrain: 250 acres
Annual snowfall: 250 inches
Lift ticket: $56 or less
Info: 802/626-3322, skiburke.com

Burke sticks to the basics that drew serious skiers to Vermont two generations ago, with dozens of fast, narrow runs that call for sharp edges and big, swooping turns. The challenging slopes hold some of the responsibility for getting five alums of the Burke Mountain Academy--a ski-in, ski-out high school, if you can believe such a thing--to the Olympics in 2002. A mile from the lifts is the village of East Burke, little more than a gas station, a church, and a couple of restaurants and shops. The century-old Bailey's & Burke earns its billing as a general store, selling bottles of wine, sandwiches, cereal, fresh muffins and cookies, pots and pans, toys, books, locally made jerky, hot pizza, and dog food (466 Rte. 114, East Burke, 802/626-9250). Upstairs is the office for the Kingdom Trails system: 110 miles of interconnected paths that are perfect for mountain bikers in summer and cross-country skiers and snowshoers in winter (802/626-0737, kingdomtrails.org, day pass $10). The general store also sells Starbucks coffee, and the mountain did what seems like sacrilege to some old-timers, replacing its classic, superslow main lift with a high-speed quad in summer 2005. Coincidentally, lift-ticket prices were boosted $3. But for the most part Burke's low-key atmosphere and remote location--up in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, 40 minutes from the Canadian border--have kept the crowds and corporate interests away.

How to get there

Burke is seven miles off of I-91, three hours from Boston, six hours from New York City, and within two hours of the nearest airport, in Burlington, along with more skiing at Stowe, Smugglers' Notch, and Jay Peak.

Apres-ski

In a renovated barn behind Bailey's & Burke, the Pub Outback serves burgers, meat loaf, and nachos, as well as locally brewed Trout River for $3.50 a pint (482 Rte. 114, East Burke, 802/626-1188, thepuboutback.com).

Local's tip

"Throw an extra scarf in your jacket just for the chairlift ride up to the top," says Charlie Hepburn, a high school student and ski racer in nearby Littleton, N.H. "The trees provide good cover from the wind when you're cruising down the mountain, but on the lifts you're totally exposed to the cold."