Spring officially started eight days ago, and there’s no better time to hit the slopes at your favorite ski resort. Why? Shoulder season! Lift tickets and ski rentals are heavily discounted, restaurants offer great pre fixe deals, and accommodation rental prices drop to an all-year low.
I wrote about my favorite family ski vacation experiences yesterday. My family usually would travel out west to ski during shoulder season for Mardi Gras break (yes, this is an actual holiday in Louisiana- and kids have a week off of school!) Read more here about Breckenridge, Snow Mass, Purgatory, Heavenly, Park City, and even Red River.
It’s been a few years since I’ve hit the slopes, so I decided to ask other travel bloggers about their favorite ski resorts. Here’s what they came back with.
The Alps…Aprés-ski…chalets….un-groomed slopes with tons of powder…wide-open runs….
These are all the things that come to mind when I think of European skiing.
La Molina, Pyrenees, Spain
Andy from Grown Up Travel Guide says Spain is the place to go for the best ski resort value in Europe. Ski equipment rentals can be about €60 less, lift passes about €90 less, and accommodations at least €100 less than its French, Swiss or Austrian counterparts.
I’ve never thought of Spain as a ski destination, but after reading Andy’s post, I am completely sold and can’t wait to try out some Spanish skiing.
As he so enticingly puts it, “The town and its neighbour Masella make up the Alp 2500 ski area. As the name suggests, these twin resorts are some 2500m above sea level (hence the snow) but are also quite close to it (hence the sun). You can enjoy a Mediterranean climate while blasting down that tricky black run.” I have visions of skiing in a T-shirt. Those are the best ski days, aren’t they?!
Oh, and La Molina is less than a two hour’s drive from Barcelona. So easy!
My favorite European ski trip ever was to the Verbier in the Swiss Alps. OK, so it was the only time I’ve ever skied in Europe, but it was a good choice! Growing up skiing mostly in Colorado (with some Utah and New Mexico sprinkled in), I noticed the difference on the mountain straight away. The runs were groomed less often (which usually means more powder). The runs were also not as clearly delineated or marked, which could (and did) get a girl a little lost… And there weren’t a lot of trees. Some of the runs reminded me of Heavenly at Lake Tahoe in that regard.
I liked the European feel of the village, with all the fun apres-ski hot spots and amazing ski chalets (yes, that is literally what people call their houses). What was noticeably absent? The pomp and circumstance of the more ritzy St. Moritz or other such Alpine high-end resorts. I like the Euro-laid back feel.
Adelina of Pack Me To shared her experience in Valmeinier. It was her first time skiing in the French Alps, which was always one of her traveling goals. While she didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about the village itself (“I had anticipated bars, restaurants and some sort of nightlife. But there was nothing.”), the mountain, she noted, was scenic an uncrowded. With hardly anyone around, she could ski right up to the lift. “A little eerie, but it also meant fresh powder”… and quietness. I found her observation of non-strategically placed ski lifts necessitating cross country, cross-mountain skiing was interesting, as I remember a bit of that in Verbier.
My friend Matt Gibson visited seven ski resorts in Wyoming, California and Colorado for his Best in the West tour. He and his girlfriend Emilie interviewed skiers and snowboarders, studied the statistics and documented their research. Here are a few of their top choices.
Squaw Valley, California
So I must admit my ignorance. Before about five years ago, I thought Lake Tahoe was one ski area. Growing up, we usually skied in Colorado, and occasionally in Utah or New Mexico. I had never been skiing in California before. Even when I went to Heavenly in 2009, I still told people that I went skiing at Lake Tahoe. Wah wah wah….
I’ve been hearing a lot about Squaw Valley over the past couple of years. It sounds right up my alley, with it’s freshly groomed, mostly intermediate runs. Apparently California also has good spring corn snow (I had never heard of this before reading Matt’s post), which is course, granular snow formed from melting during the day and refreezing at night. This could be a very good shoulder season contender.
Another thing that intrigues me about Squaw is the apparent ethnic diversity of the clientele. “Hearing Mandarin and Spanish on the chairlift — rather than dudes talking about their pickup trucks — was refreshing,” Matt reminisces.
It doesn’t hurt that the town is an hour from Reno airport and 3.5 hours from San Francisco. How convenient! Oh, and it’s so cool that the green runs are at the top of the mountain instead of the bottom, as the usually are. Mixing it up a bit!
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole is one of the best-known ski resorts in America. On their Best of the West tour, Matt notes that Jackson’s 2500 acres are 50% expert terrain and 40% intermediate, which makes the hill better suited to experienced skiers and snowboarders than novice ones. After talking to a lot of people, another reoccurring theme was the great vibe or atmosphere and friendliness of the locals.
Some of the other outstanding qualities of the resort were the great vibe/friendliness of the locals and the amazing food scene (good steaks at The Cellar and the Mangy Moose for awesome aprés ski activities). “The restaurants in Jackson are world class… In fact, nearly every meal we ate there was surprising in one way or another.”
Negative aspects of Jackson Hole point to it’s isolation, which might contribute to it’s charm, but make it an inconvenient destination to reach. There are also very few budget-friendly options for food or accommodations: “Most of the restaurants and hotels cater to visitors with a lot of money to blow on their vacation. People visiting Jackson Hole with limited funds will find themselves… well…limited.”
Crested Butte, Colorado
Matt seemed to love Crested Butte’s extreme double-black diamond terrain, which makes up about a third of the total runs. One of the runs he went on, Rambo, is the steepest man-made trail in North America. Hmm, doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. I like lots of blues.
The downfall of Crested Butte, apparently, is that it only receives 300 inches of snowfall a year, compared to 500 inches at many other ski mountains.
I’m intrigued, I must say, especially since the place is known as “the last great Colorado ski town,” but I don’t think I’ll put it on my ski bucket list just yet. There are too many others to consider!
I’ve personally never been skiing in Canada, but I’ve always wanted to visit Whistler and now Marmot Basin in Jasper!!
Marmot Basin, Jasper, Alberta, Canada
“It is one of the least crowded ski areas of its kind in all of North America.”
She noted how well-balanced the experience level of the runs were, with 30% novice, 30% intermediate, 20% advanced and 20% expert.
I personally can’t wait to check out Marmot Basin. It sounds like my kind of resort: unpretentious, not crowded, and 50% medium to advanced runs! Not to mention, it’s embedded in Jasper National Park!
Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada
Mary from The Calculated Traveler likes Blue Mountain in Ontario. Speaking of shoulder season discounts, the entire resort of Blue Mountain seems to be on sale this weekend. The “Ski for $10 a day…” on their website sure did grab my attention!
Near Collingwood, Ontario, “Blue” offers 42 trails from beginner to double-black diamond, two terrain parks, and a superpipe. Another point of intrigue; there’s night skiing! I’ve always wanted to do that, and it’s apparently not an available activity in many of the big resorts out west.
A plethora of other activities are also available, including snow shoeing and ice skating. I’ve never heard of Blue Mountain, as it seems like a smaller, more low-key resort. Should I add it to my ski travel list?
Whistler, BC Canada
At the top, it was a snowy blizzard.
This goes to show that skiing in shoulder season, even in months that butt up to summer can be powder-full!
She explored some amazing offerings in and around Whistler, like the Scandinave Spa, an outdoor mountain spa with a forest backdrop and vodka tasting in Bearfoot Bistro’s ice room. Cool. Literally.
Some of these spots have been on my ever-growing travel list for a while. I struggle with some of these well-known ski areas, because I’m drawn to them for the sport, but I also want to experience the beauty of the landscape in warmer times.
When reading some of these bloggers’ encounters, it occurred to me that it could be possible to experience both, like in the case of Whistler (warm at the bottom, snow up top). I’ve always imagined a trip to Jasper, Canada in the summer… but wouldn’t it be nice to experience the low-key skiing there as well? If I timed it right, maybe I could do both!
By the way, it may seem strange to focus on ski vacations as spring slowly ushers it’s way in, but this is what it looked like here in Nashville three days ago: