Snow skiing is one of the most popular winter activities for families. In the United States alone, over 14 million people go skiing each year.
If you’re looking to take your first ski resort vacation, locations are plentiful. Over 400 ski resorts operate in the U.S. varying in price, amenities, and accessibility.
To be sure you take a vacation where you’re not overrun by crowds and horrible weather patterns, look at this guide to finding the best ski resorts in the country. Narrow down your selections to resorts that help you create an unforgettable experience.
How to Compare Ski Resorts
If you’ve never been skiing, it may be tempting to choose your resort based on its amenities similar to when comparing hotels. While pictures of the resort property might be gorgeous with the best restaurants and suites, you need to consider a variety of other factors before settling on where to stay.
Here’s a list of the factors to consider when choosing your resort:
- Ease of travel
- Ski School
- Non-ski activities
- Types of terrain
With these elements in mind, it’s easy to narrow down your selection of ski resorts. Imagine your ideal experience in each of these areas to choose the best result for you.
It’s not likely you’ll find all your favorite elements in one trip, but focusing on the major elements will help you decide. For example, imagine where you expect to spend most of your time during the day.
For a person who isn’t athletic, non-skiing activities might be the hot item on the list and where he or she wants to focus.
Here’s a summary of how each area affects your ski trip.
Getting to a temperature that both snow and people love can be tricky. You want weather warm enough to avoid freezing on the way up the ski lift, but not so warm that the snow melts.
Melting snow becomes slush, which is more of a challenge if you’re a beginner. Choose a resort where the climate guarantees plenty of powdery snow.
Cold temperatures where snowfall is constant yields lighter, fluffier snow. Fresh snow is one of the most popular choices for beginner skiers because it is an agreeable terrain.
Avoid ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest, where the climate is more likely to be rainy and wet. Rainy weather results in slushy, difficult skiing conditions.
Ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, and on the east coast are known for powdery snow. These are your best bet for a smooth ride while skiing and make for a safer crash landing.
Check out local snow cams to see how much snow is on the ground. Websites like On the Snow allow you to view live feeds for mountains all across the country.
These sites can also provide updates on closed ski slopes so you can avoid unexpected trip cancellations or travel delays. This is especially helpful in areas known for heavy snowfall.
Ease of Travel
Remote, secluded ski resorts can sound romantic and adventurous to a beginner. Images of mountain vistas and pristine lakes on the resort site will draw you in.
Still, there’s a price to pay for untouched getaways atop mountain peaks. You may need special transportation to get up the mountain or drive hours from the airport up icy terrain to get to your destination.
These accommodations might not be a hassle when traveling alone or with one other person, but if you’re traveling with family know before you go. Contact the hotel before you book your stay to ask about travel arrangements to and from the airport.
Find out if travel is often restricted because of impassible weather or road conditions. Ask what arrangements are made for emergencies.
Weather is unpredictable. The best ski resorts for beginners are those with minimal barriers for controlling your ability to get to and leave from the resort.
The second factor to consider if you’re driving to the resort is the parking. With ski gear in tow, a nearby parking lot is a must.
When traveling with a family, struggling from the far end of the parking lot to the front door can make or break the first day of your trip. Request parking maps from the front desk to plan ahead.
The first hours or days of your trip should be designated for learning to ski if it’s your first time. How quickly you catch on will vary, but lessons are paramount.
The best ski resorts offer on-site skiing lessons to a range of beginners. The quality of the ski school is as good as the instructors on-site. Check reviews to learn the names of top ski instructors at your resort and book with them.
You want instructors experienced in a variety of skiing levels. Lessons are usually posted on ski resort websites to help you learn what’s available.
The best ski resorts give lots of detail about their ski schools and allow you to reserve online. There are usually private and group lessons available depending upon your preference.
There are also lessons based on demographics like women-only or groups for kids of different ages. Reading reviews is the best way to get specific feedback for your level of skiing.
Consider what you want in an instructor and read the reviews to be sure the ski school on site offers instructors who meet your needs. The quality of your experience in the ski school will determine how safe and confident you are when you hit the slopes on your own.
Ski lessons aren’t free. Be sure to do your research to help maximize your fun while getting the most value for your money.
As a beginner, you won’t know how much you love or hate skiing until you try it. If it turns out to be the latter, you’ll want your ski resort to provide more fun than watching your friends hit the slopes all day.
The best ski resorts offer non-ski activities that appeal to a variety of interests. On longer ski trips, this can be helpful.
Access to shopping, hot tubs, day spas and exploring. For luxury ski resorts, having a variety of non-skiing activities allows you to maximize the cost of the room per night.
Non-skiing activities create a well-rounded vacation, especially when traveling in groups. Instead of forcing everyone to love skiing, you have options on getting together with friends and family that don’t involve being athletic.
Consider hotels with indoor water parks, snow tubing, and ice skating rinks. These are all amenities that provide as much thrill as hitting the slopes with no skiing lessons.
Historic ski resorts are also a good option. Tours of quaint towns like Steamboat Springs, Colorado offer peeks into 19th century western towns. In destinations like this, the town offers an authentic small town experience instead of a tourist trap.
Types of Terrain
Secluded 60-degree cliffs provide solace for thrill-seekers. Beginners steer clear.
The terrain available at your ski resort are a major factor when learning to ski. Look for ski resorts when lots of options for beginner slopes.
A small kids’ area won’t suffice. You’re looking for options to start small and gradually work your way up as you grow more comfortable.
Resorts with slopes ranging from 30 to 40 degrees are a sure bet. These slopes offer you the option to test out your techniques before taking on more daredevil courses.
If you’re with a group of experts, find a location with a healthy blend of ski slopes understanding that it may be necessary for you to add in other non-skiing activities.
Ski resorts don’t completely cater to beginners. Your expert friends will have an easier time finding a resort that caters to experts that also activities for everyone than you will when searching by beginner slopes alone.
Time of Year
Want time to ski during your vacation? Time of year makes all the difference.
Avoid school breaks when traveling to a ski resort for the first time. While schools around the country take breaks at different times, the one time of year you can count on students all being out is Christmas and New Year.
You’re guaranteed to experience crowds on the ski slopes during this time, which means less time to ski. Like amusement parks in the summer, ski resorts become a popular family destination during the winter breaks.
Parking, dinner reservations, spa appointments, and ski school availability all become more limited. Late winter/early spring skiing is a much better alternative.
You get the benefit of warmer weather but conditions are still cold enough for consistent snowfall. These elements mean you can enjoy the weather with fluffy, lighter snow for skiing.
Luxury ski resort accommodations are a must for some travelers. If you require five-star hotels when on vacations, choose exclusive destinations like Aspen, Telluride, and Vail.
Aspen is a well-known skiing destination for celebrities, adding to its exclusivity. Other luxury ski resort destinations are known for their sense of tradition and history.
Stand out services like heated escalators and private ski lifts make luxury resorts a must-have for travelers. Costs per night vary, but according to Travel and Leisure Magazine, top resorts command upwards of $2645 per night.
If luxury isn’t your deciding factor, there are far more affordable resorts available to meet your needs with quality ski slopes. Ski resorts that fall into the mid-range in cost and amenities are popular, however, and are best to book during the off season.
Ski resorts are a popular destination for special occasions. Whether Valentine’s Day getaway or wedding, ski resorts can be a memorable experience given the prestige and fun.
Plan for your celebration during the offseason to avoid crowds. This is also the best time to secure competitive pricing on private dining space at the ski resort.
When celebrating with a group, choose a resort that offers shuttle services for over four people to help your guests arrive at their destination on time. Shuttles take guests to various areas around the resort-like a mountaintop where you plan to exchange vows.
Ski resorts allow wedding ceremonies on mountain tops but prepare your guests first. According to Martha Stewart weddings, proper shoes can make or break your guest experience.
Expect icy winds and nearly impossible auditory conditions. None of your guests will hear your vows but they get to share in the moment’s beauty with a backdrop of mountain vistas.
The Bottom Line
Ski resorts are available all over the country no matter the climate. The southeastern region provides resorts with fake snow where visitors can ski for the day.
No matter your budget or level of athleticism you can find an activity that works for you at a ski resort. The best way to choose is to start with ease of travel and back your way in.
Missed travel connections or impassible terrain means no vacation in some weather patterns. Opt to be on the safe side by choosing ease of access first.
Next, be sure you don’t have to wait in a long line to ski. Beyond not being able to get to the resort, not getting a turn on the slopes while standing in freezing weather will dampen your experience.
Resorts accessible with beginner slopes and few crowds are sure to give you an unforgettable experience where you can explore your skills with enjoyment. Avoid big-name resorts with nearby tourist attractions.
Lower levels of luxury might be the sacrifice but will yield a greater overall experience. For more information on how to prepare for your ski trip, look at our products.