Skiing the Rockies

by  ShermansTravel Editorial Staff | Dec 13, 2007
Pinnacle Peak in the Rocky Mountains
Pinnacle Peak in the Rocky Mountains / Rockin-G_Enterprises/iStock

By: Porter Fox

It would take a lifetime to experience the best snow, mountains, and ski resorts in the world—from the Alps to the Andes to the far reaches of Russia and Japan. But for skiers in the American West, there’s one range that has it all. The Rocky mountains stretch 3,000 miles, from New mexico to Canada, with granite peaks reaching up to 14,259 feet. The range epitomizes the rough-hewn, outsize, free spirit of the American West and also happens to host some of the most amazing skiing in the world, with luxury accommodations and gourmet cuisine to match. Five resorts represent a virtual trip around the world—all in America’s greatest mountains.


Powder Lover's Paradise
With global warming heating up ski resorts around the world, consistent snow is a thing of the past. Snowbird, Utah owner and ski-industry icon Dick Bass set his dream resort in little Cottonwood Canyon, perfectly situated to receive storms from both the southern and northern jet streams. The result is the second-highest snowfall in the lower 48, which yields light, fluffy powder aplenty. Every year 500 inches fall on Snowbird, coating its wide bowls, corduroy trails, and tight chutes with the white stuff (for comparison, Aspen Highlands gets 300 inches.)

Powder is the name of the game at Snowbird (Highway 210; 800/232-9542, adult day passes from $59;, where locals line up to catch the Peruvian express lift at 7a.m. to nab first tracks in the Peruvian gulch or new mineral Basin. Since 2001, the resort has been connected with neighboring Alta, so guests can ski both areas with one pass (note: Alta doesn’t allow snowboarders). Backcountry enthusiasts can also ski out of either resorts’ boundaries on the Ski Utah interconnect adventure tour led by a guide through Brighton, Park City, Solitude, Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird ($195 includes a guide, lunch, lift access, and transportation;

Towering over the base area is Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge (Highway 210, entry 4; 800/232-9542; rooms from $229;, one of the most-celebrated ski hotels in the world. The Cliff spent $5.6 million last year outfitting all of its rooms with new furnishings and technological amenities. The harsh concrete of the structure is softened by an impressive collection of oriental carpets and massive windowed views of the mountainside. One of the best spots to relax after a day on the slopes is in the Aerie Lounge & Sushi Bar (Highway 210, entry 4; 801/933-2160; entrées from $13; For families willing to pack into a room, the nearby Lodge at Snowbird (Highway 210, entry 3; 800/232-9542; rooms from $169; is a good choice; Bass’ original lodge includes reasonably priced studios with lofts, fireplaces, and full kitchens. You can also take advantage of the snow with a studio at The Inn at Snowbird (Highway 210, entry 3; room and a lift ticket from $119 in early ski season; 800/232-9542;

Downtown Salt Lake City is only a half hour away and worth the trip. Tour Temple Square (W. South Temple; 800/363-6027; and the tabernacle, where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings, or check out the Salt Lake Art Center (20 S. West Temple; 801/328-4201; free admission; for a terrific collection of international modern art. Back on the hill, Kurtis Krause hand-rolls his own pasta and smokes poultry and fish on-site at the Shallow Shaft restaurant (10199 E. Hwy. 210, Alta; 801/742-2177; entrées from $20; Slow-food dishes like pappardelle pasta with shrimp and Alaskan king crab have created a strong following at the 34-year-old eatery.

Getting to Snowbird
Factor in 5.5 hours flight time to Salt Lake City, Utah from New York City and 2 hours from Los Angeles. The Cliff Lodge offers airport shuttle service for $30 from Salt Lake City International Airport.

Jackson Hole

Backcountry for Everyone
You don’t have to be an expert mountaineer to ski the backcountry anymore. Since Jackson Hole, Wyoming (West Village Dr., Teton Village; 888/DEEP-SNO; adult day passes from $77; initiated an open backcountry policy in 1999, skiers at nearly all skill levels can test their mettle on ungroomed, unmarked terrain beyond the ropes—with a 2,800-foot boost from the gondola ski lift. The difficulty ranges from highly demanding wilderness skiing in neighboring grand teton National Park to jog trot, pseudo-backcountry within the resort’s boundaries.

The terrain and untouched powder around 10,450-foot Rendezvous peak is reminiscent of legendary backcountry resorts like La Grave, France, and Verbier, Switzerland. Most runs, like the couloirs in granite Canyon or treed bowls in Rock Springs, require less than a 30-minute hike. With a private guide, first-timers can quickly learn how to fend for themselves.

Majestic Teton Valley has long attracted adventurous souls like President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped establish nearby Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. The ski-in Teton Mountain Lodge (3385 W. Village Dr., Teton Village; 800/801-6615; rooms from $290; at the base of Jackson Hole would’ve pleased Roosevelt with its handhewn log construction, stone fireplaces, and western decor, but indulges today’s luxury standards, too. Walking into the lobby, with dual hearths and an enormous vaulted ceiling, you feel the size and beauty of the surrounding landscape, while images from local ski photographers paper the halls outside the new Solitude Spa (307/734-7111; treatments from $135) and cozy Cascade Grill House and Spirits on the ground floor. Next door, the more modest Inn at Jackson Hole (3345 W. Village Dr., Teton Village; 800/842-7666; rooms from $119; offers rock-bottom specials and has an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. For foodies, Masa Sushi in the hotel serves up some of the freshest fish in the valley.

Yet for all its renegade attitude, Jackson was long ago discovered by the Aspen set, so you might find yourself seated across from Harrison Ford or Dick Cheney at the upscale Rendezvous Bistro (380 S. Broadway, Jackson Hole; 307/739-1100; entrées from $15;, a local institution since 2001. The chipotle-grilled quail and meat loaf are crowd favorites, as is the irresistible mac and cheese. For something a little closer to the mountain, try the steaks at the Mangy Moose Restaurant & Saloon (3295 Village Dr., Teton Village; 307/733-4913; entrées from $14;, then stick around for live music in the bar.

There’s plenty to do in Jackson in the winter: When the weather cooperates, snowmobile tours of nearby Yellowstone National Park bring guests face to face with wild moose and elk. The National Museum of Wildlife Art (2820 Rungius Rd., Jackson Hole; 307/733-5771; $10 admission;, two-and-a-half miles north of town, provides a tranquil encounter with more than 4,000 works of art.

Getting to Jackson Hole
Factor in 7 hours flight time to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, from New York City (connecting through Salt Lake) and 4.5 hours from Los Angeles. Shuttle service is available (one-way rides from $15;, and taxis run from $26. Consider renting a 4x4, handy for the 15-minute drive from the resort into town.

Sun Valley

Where Ski Bum Meets Ski Chic
Since it opened in 1936, Sun Valley, Idaho (1 Sun Valley Rd.; 800/786-8259, 208/622-2001; adult passes from $54;, has been host to that scruffy breed known as the ski bum, happy to dine cheaply and sleep on floors provided they can wake up to first tracks. The valley was the first major ski resort in the Rockies, hosted the range’s first ski school, and was the first to install a chairlift (adapted from banana conveyor lifts used in Central America). These days the scruff remains, but things have gotten a bit more upscale, evident in the mix of ceos and hippies who happily share the wooden sidewalks and old saloons of Ketchum, the town at the resort’s base.

The pastiche of big money and powder junkie is best seen at the Sun Valley Lodge (Sun Valley Rd.; 800/786-8259, 208/622-2151; deals from $70/person for double occupancy; rack rates from $209;, opened in 1936. The oak-paneled Duchin lounge is named for pianist Eddy Duchin, who crooned there in the 1930s and ’40s, when it was a favorite haunt of Clark Gable, Ingrid Bergman, and Ernest Hemingway (who penned portions of For Whom the Bell Tolls in room 206). Kentwood Lodge (180 S. Main St., Ketchum; 800/805-1001, 208/726-4114; rooms from $109; offers less expensive rooms and is a perfect staging ground for forays into the old west town. In Ketchum, peruse more than a dozen art galleries selling everything from western to modern art, or drop into the 1937 Sun Valley Opera House (Sun Valley Village; 208/622-2244; tickets from $8; for a movie. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing from the Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center (Sun Valley Resort; 800/786-8259; adult day passes from $16; or Galena Lodge are other favorite pastimes. Galena Lodge (Ketchum; 208/726-4010; yurts from $125, each sleeps 4-8 people; offers free snowshoe tours Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11am in the surrounding Sawtooth National Recreation area. The lodge also hosts special-event dinners all season, and you can even rent a nearby yurt to spend the night.

The resort itself isn’t known for huge snowfall—hence, Sun Valley—but meticulous grooming and lowangle bowls make Mount Baldy one of the best intermediate hills in the West. When big storms do roll across the Sawtooth mountains (a spur of the Rockies about 200 miles east of Boise), locals head to Cold Springs Basin above the River Run Plaza. There they schuss 1,500-foot powder runs through the cottonwoods like the old-timers did. The widely spaced glade off the summit is another favorite, as are midmountain
groomers like Picabo’s Street—named for the olympic medalist who grew up in nearby triumph.

Sun Valley boasts the greatest uphill lift capacity of any ski resort in the U.S. and 2,054 acres of skiing, so guests rarely wait in line and are typically bushed when the closing bell rings. The Pioneer Saloon (308 Main St. North, Ketchum; 208/726-3139; entrées from $15; on Main Street, boasting the thickest prime rib in town, is the best place to fill up and recharge for another day on the hill, and its oversized cocktails will help loosen up those quads. For posh eats, lunch at Sun Valley’s original day lodge, the 1939 Roundhouse (Mount Baldy; 208/622-2371; entrées from $13; restaurant; make sure you have a lift ticket as the restaurant is halfway up Mount Baldy. It has a welcoming four-sided fireplace, and the sautéed elk loin with port wine demi-glace and German knodel is highly recommended. In town, the Ketchum Grill (520 East Ave., Ketchum; 208/726-4660; entrées from $9; offers inventive comfort food in a historic house.

Getting to Sun Valley
Factor in 7 hours flight time from New York City (via Salt Lake City or Boise) and 2 hours from Los Angeles to Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho, just outside Ketchum. The Sun Valley Lodge offers a complimentary airport shuttle; taxis are also available for the 20-minute trip from town to mountain.

Aspen Highlands

The Locals' Secret
There are little resorts all over the world that only locals
know. You hear the names whispered in bars, on chairlifts, in cafés. Aspen Highlands, Colorado (White River National Forest, 3 miles from downtown Aspen; 800/308-6935,
970/925-1220; day passes from $78;, remains a relative secret in perhaps the most recognized ski valley in the world, a small spot with some of the best slopes and ski-centric culture in the Rockies.

The affable vibe extends to the ridge off the backside of the mountain leading to Highlands Bowl. There, skiers hike 30 to 45 minutes to views of the 14,000-foot maroon Bells and Pyramid Peak. Then it’s deep-powder skiing down the bowl or through the trees. Highlands is an advanced ski area with a whopping 3,635 vertical feet and 1,010 acres of steep, mogul-lined runs. The serious skiing keeps crowds down and made it a great setting for 1993 cult ski movie Aspen Extreme.

For lunch, folks convene up at 10,740 feet at the Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro (Highlands; 970/923-8715, 970/544-3063; prix-fixe menu from $24;, which might be the most authentic old-world, on-slope dining this side of St. Moritz. Specialties of the house include venison ragout, pheasant breast, and raclette. Boisterous chef Andreas Fischbacher often plies his patrons with a gratis shot of schnapps.

Highlands regulars live in the area, so there are no hotels at the base. The Hotel Jerome (330 E. Main St., Aspen; 800/331-7213, 970/920-1000; rooms from $225; offers a good excuse to dip into Aspen’s glitz 20 minutes away. It emanates the Highlands’ authentic vibe and its mahogany J-bar was one of gary Cooper’s favorite watering holes. The gems of Aspen—including the Annabelle Inn (232 W. Main St., Aspen; 877/266-2466, 970/925-3822; rooms from $119;, Hotel Lenado (200 S. Aspen St., Aspen; 800/321-3457, 970/925-6246; rooms from $200;, and Hotel Durant (122 E. Durant Ave., Aspen; 877/438-7268, 970/925-8500; rooms from $135;—are all less expensive choices with excellent service.

The town of Aspen offers a myriad of side trips, like classes with celebrity chefs at The Cooking School of Aspen (414 E. Hyman Ave., Aspen; 970/920-1879; cooking classes from $75; or a customized facial at St. Regis’ Remede Spa (315 E. Dean St., Aspen; 970/429-9038; treatments from $85; Gourmands looking for a can’t-miss dinner should head to Montagna (3675 East Durant Ave., Aspen; 970/920-4600; entrées from $34;, the restaurant at the Little Nell, to indulge in local artisanal cuisine and the 15,000-bottle private wine cellar.

Getting to Aspen Highlands
Factor in 6 hours flight time from New York City to Aspen , Colorado, and 2 hours from Los Angeles. The Hotel Jerome offers a free airport shuttle for the 15-minute
drive into town.

Big Sky

The Mega-Resort
Towering over sage-strewn Montana ranch country, about an hour south of Bozeman, Big Sky Resort, Montana (1 Lone Mountain Trail; 800/548-4486, 406/995-5000; adult day passes from $75; lives up to its name: it’s colossal—on the scale of resorts like British Columbia’s whistler Blackcomb or Russia’s krasnaya Polyana. When Big Sky merged with neighboring Moonlight Basin in 2005, the combined resort became the largest ski area in the country—with a total of nearly 5,300 acres of terrain (beating Vail by about 11 acres). For years the two resorts were embroiled in a hatfield-mcCoy-esque land feud, and while things are peaceful now, they couldn’t radiate more divergent vibes. Big Sky is an off-the-grid resort for serious skiers, while moonlight Basin is a ritzy retreat in the Aspen mold.

On the Big Sky side, monolithic 11,166-foot lone Peak sits 2,000 feet above the tree line with headwalls off the summit like “Lenin” and “Marx,” and an east side providing technical terrain with the 1,450-foot “Big Couloir.” From midmountain down, meandering cruisers wend through stands of lodgepole pines, open snowfields, and steep,
whitewashed bowls. gates along the resorts’ boundaries allow free access between them, and another at the summit admits access to 600 backcountry acres on lone Peak’s north face. alongside its classy character, moonlight brings some serious terrain to the table as well. A 10- to 15-minute hike from the top of the headwater chairlift will bring you to nine galvanizing headwater chutes—trail names “Firehole” and “Hellroaring” give an idea of the pitch. If steep isn’t your game, Moonlight also offers a bevy of intermediate runs, like the 2.8-mile thigh-busters “Horseshoe” and “Trembler.” (Half of the two resorts’
runs are intermediate or beginner.)

The difference in the two areas extends to the base as well. Where roughneck locals and pubs bedecked with vintage skis characterize Big Sky, Moonlight Basin is more about sipping Veuve Clicquot in Bogner one-pieces while boarding-school kids race around the baroque Moonlight Lodge. The Cowboy Heaven Cabins (1 Mountain Loop Rd.; 800/845-4428, 406/995-7600; rooms from
$335; are a perfect getaway from the scene. Each log cabin has spacious living quarters and a private deck with hot tub for stargazing. The good life rolls on at The Timbers Restaurant (1 Mountain Loop Rd.; 406/995-7777; entrées from $24;, where Chef Scott mechura cooks local Montana beef, elk, and buffalo with a French-Asian twist. dishes like the berbere-crusted Montana Legend Hanger steak with garlic frites or buffalo tenderloin with truffle gnocchi have made The Timbers the area’s favorite fine-dining restaurant in just a few short years. Families love the indoor, 90-foot water slide, spa, and complimentary continental breakfast at the White Water Inn (47214 Gallatin Rd., 800/548-4486, 406/995-2333; rooms from $125, deals from $99;, one mile down U.S. 191.

The recently renovated, three-story Huntley Lodge (1 Lone Mountain Trail; 800/548-4486, 406/995-5000;
rooms from $160; in Big Sky’s base village is a good value alternative to moonlight’s properties. Crosscountry skiing at Lone Mountain Ranch (750 Lone Mountain Ranch Rd.; 800/514-4644; rooms from $320/night per person for 7-night/8-day crosscountry ski packages, partially inclusive; sleigh-ride dinner from $78/person for nonguests; is a fun side trip. Stick around for the sleigh-ride dinner, serving prime rib prepared over a century-old wood-burning stove—then listen to after-dinner stories and songs for the total western experience. At Spirit of the North (Moonlight Basin Ranch; 406/995-3424; adult dogsled rides from $115; dogsled tours, guests learn to drive a dogsled through the stunning Moonlight Basin Ranch, just about a mile from the resort. Solace Spa (406/995-5803; treatments from $55; offers a more relaxing respite from the slopes with its native stone and sheabutter treatment, among others.

Getting to Big Sky
Factor in 6 hours flight time to Bozeman, Montana from New York City and 3 hours from Los Angeles. From the airport, the Karst Stage shuttle service ( will take you 52 miles to Mountain Village. Adult rates start at $46. From the town of Bozeman, take the free Skyline Bus Service ( all the way to Big Sky.

Smart Splurges

Higher Learning Book a private, all-day (6-hour) lesson with an expert instructor at Sun Valley Ski School. 208/622-2289; all-day lessons from $520;

Take Care Amangani Spa has great treatments and Teton views from its outdoor Jacuzzi and pool. 1535 N. East Butte Rd., Jackson, WY; 877/734-7333; treatments from $150; 

Mountain Eats Sample Rainbow Ranch Lodge’s 10,000-bottle wine collection and freshly sourced fish dishes. 42950 Gallatin Rd., Gateway, MT; 800/937-4132; entrées from $23;

Sushi in the Snow Nobu Matsuhisa’s sushi outpost is a legendary indulgence. 303 E. Main St., Aspen, CO; 970/544-6628; entrées from $32;

Off the Grid Go backcountry for a heli-ski day with Wasatch Powderbird Guides. 800/974-4354; from $770/person per day;

Local Slant

Mark Newcomb’s life was easy to predict. Born during a massive blizzard, son of a Jackson Hole Ski Patroller, pioneer in avalanche forecasting, and snow scientist, Newcomb was skiing by age 3.

As a child, Mark Newcomb mowed lawns each summer to pay for his season ski pass. It was worth it. By 26, he had scored a place on the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol and started knocking off first ski descents in the Grand Tetons, on slopes once thought to be unskiable. More descents would follow, along with daring climbs and important work in avalanche prevention and mountain safety. Now in his 40s, Newcomb is one of America’s greatest mountaineers.

But you’d never guess any of that from a conversation with the soft-spoken man. He recalls past adventures—like biking across China or scaling a 5,000-foot rock-and-ice wall in Pakistan—like he’s reminiscing about a fun but not extraordinary softball game. “The way Jackson Hole shapes you is that you start out thinking on a scale that other people think is really big, but to you it’s just normal,” he says, “When you start looking around, the big-big stuff isn’t quite as big.” Some of his first descents—like the Unsch Couloir on Shishapangma (26,289 feet) and Sepu Kangri (22,821 feet), both in Tibet—have been pretty big indeed.

Plenty has changed in Jackson Hole since Newcomb mowed lawns, except for the mountains. “The Tetons have everything from terrain that is accessible to the most challenging stuff in the lower 48,” Newcomb claims, “It’s pretty mind-blowing.”

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