Throw on your long johns and dig out the car because once these secrets are out, you’re going to want to go on a road trip.
1. Bridger Bowl, Montana
Located near the college town of Bozeman, Bridger Bowl gets 350 inches of glorious powder each year, and it’s status as a nonprofit community ski area means above-average conditions for below-average prices.
The cat’s out, so on the best days the lifts can get busy. But that’s not what you’re here for. Bridger’s best is on the “Ridge,” 1,800 vertical feet of rock-wall chutes and hidden powder bowls where you (and your riding buddy, your avalanche beacons, your shovels and probes, and your Powerbars) can enjoy a little peace and quiet.
Or, if quiet isn’t your style, you can scream like a schoolgirl as you careen down near-vertical angles.
To hit the Ridge, you must first check in with ski patrol — they won’t let you through without proper avalanche gear and a good dose of common sense. Knowledge of the terrain and expert-level ability are recommended, as the Ridge has no hazard markings, plenty of steep, and epic snowfields that end equally epically in unmarked cliffs.
Keep in mind, the best terrain on the mountain is still accessed the old-fashioned way — on foot. Once you reach the Ridge, traverse either direction to Bridger Gully or The Nose and don’t even think about changing your mind. There’s no easy way down, and getting stuck on something you’re not prepared for isn’t fun.
2. Grand Targhee, Wyoming
Just a few miles from the Idaho border lies Grand Targhee, a small resort at the end of a winding road on the west side of the Tetons. Accessible only through the town of Driggs, Targhee is isolated enough to stay out of the headlines despite killer conditions.
While Jackson Hole gets all the Wyoming glory (not to mention the furry-booted tourists), Grand Targhee quietly gets all the snow: 500 annual inches!
There’s not much expert terrain on the mountain, but all that snow transforms the landscape into a challenging and seemingly endless leg-burning powder stash.
One of the easiest ways to reach untracked snow at Grand Targhee is to head to Peaked Mountain to take advantage of the 1,000 acres of snowcat accessible riding/skiing. If you can’t swing that financially, try Mary’s Nipple (now referred to simply as “Mary’s,” for the kids’ sake) — just hoof it from the top of Dreamcatcher.
Warning: backside drops range from doable to death defying.
3. Jay Peak, Vermont
Thank the “Jay Cloud” for the copious amounts of snow that drop on Jay Peak each winter. Its 355 inches are just about the most ass-numbingly cold, straight-out-of-Canada snow you can find in the East.
Jay is famous for its glade system, with trees that shield the slopes from gusty winds and make it possible to find surprise powder stashes long after a storm (good spots to look are Beaver Pond and other glades on the outskirts).
Advanced skiers and riders should check out Tuckerman’s Chute, a super steep and narrow, tree-lined, powder-filled funnel. Jay also has excellent backcountry, including the Dip, a wooded ride off the eastern edge of the ski area boundary. If you’ve never tried it, take along someone who has. The Dip leads back to the highway, but if you don’t know where to go, you’re in for a long hike out.
Jay was purchased by investors in 2008, who announced aggressive expansion plans. Can you say slopeside sushi, condo-mania, and giant overpriced sunglasses? Get here quick before the masses do. But remember to bring a jacket — they don’t call it the “Green Mountain Freezer” for nothing.
4. Powder Mountain, Utah
Often discussed as the next major resort in Utah, Powder Mountain is still overlooked and underestimated by road trippers hunting legendary Utah pow.
With over 7,000 skiable acres, “Pow Mow” is larger than Vail; its 500 annual inches ain’t too shabby either.
But thanks to the seven other high-profile resorts between it and Salt Lake City, the herds are effectively thinned out, leaving so much elbow room on the mountain that it’s not uncommon to go an entire day without crossing paths with another boarder.
There are only four chairlifts and three surface lifts, so get ready for alternative methods of uphill transport. In addition to the helicopter (yes!), Pow Mow has two snowcats that can take you up to areas like Lightning Ridge and its tree runs and bowls.
Or head up Hidden Lake Lift to the backside for a visit to Powder Country — 1,200 more acres of plunging fall lines, an obscene abundance of powder, and 1,800 vertical of tree-lined fun. When you’re finished, Powder Country ejects you onto an access road where Woody, your faithful bus driver since 1982, waits with a smile to take you back to the base lodge so you can do it all over again.
The buzz is definitely growing as skiers realize the mountain’s moniker is more than just a name. Loyalists fear the day Pow Mow becomes the next casualty of investor-ownership, but thankfully for you and me, that day is not today.
5. Mount Bohemia, Michigan
I know — great powder in Michigan?
In an area where crusty manmade snow and flat-as-roadkill terrain prevails, Mount Bohemia is a Midwest behemoth. Its 273 annual inches of dry lake-effect snow can remain untouched long after a storm rolls through, especially since it’s never groomed…ever!
The mountain stays uncrowded due to its remote location on the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — it’s convenient to nowhere. It’s got 71 runs, all but three rated black diamond or higher, and is absolutely no-frills.
Join the hardcore Midwesterners in the “Extreme Backcountry” area, which starts off slow but transforms into a raging mountain monster. Scout lines through cliffs (including an impressive 40-footer from the Horseshoe Chute), rock shelves, narrow chutes, and obstacles.
And the best part — the base lodge is a set of interconnected mushroom-like yurts!
6. June Mountain, California
June Mountain is the “Best Kept Secret” of California. Just 20 miles past Mammoth Mountain, it’s worlds away from the touristy vibe next door.
With an average 250 annual inches and no shortage of sunshine-y days, June may have a shorter season, but I’ve personally logged more powder days here than on any other mountain — and we’re talking long after a storm. The sheltered runs and abundance of trees (none of its slopes are above treeline) hold onto powder significantly longer than they should.
Watch out for the crowds, though. On busy weekends, you might have to wait in line with four or five other smiling faces before hopping on the slow, creaky lift.
In-bounds offerings are limited for experts, but some of the best lift-accessed backcountry terrain in the area is found here. Personally though, on powder days it doesn’t get much better than leisurely cruising down a wide-open slope, cutting first tracks in the fresh while watching empty chair after empty chair pass overhead. (Dreamy sigh.)
Then, at the end of the day, you’ve got an obstacle-dodging steep final run down The Face. Don’t worry, your pansy friends can follow the easier cat track or even ride the lift.
And now I have to stop spilling secrets before someone hunts me down.
Trips wants to hear your suggestions for ski mountains we’ve never heard of. Test the knowledge of your fellow readers in the comments.
Also, make sure not to miss Riding the Recession: Best Budget North American Ski Resorts and our list of the Top 10 North American Resorts for Your 2009-2010 Ski Trip.
Or, for something completely different, check out Matador’s report on Mongolia’s first ski resort.