Tuesday, May 22, 2018

 

You go skiing not just for the endorphin-boosting exercise and the promise of frothy microbrews near a fireplace, but for the moment of renewal achieved by standing on top of a hushed, steep-faced mountain dotted by snow-dusted birch trees that you will ultimately have to dodge in order to make it down alive. Which is why it’s such a letdown to emerge from the lodge on the kind of chilly bluebird day when your breath still hangs in the air, only to be faced with snaking lift lines and groomers jam-packed with beginners in jeans and Jets puffers. But there’s a way to reclaim that enviable solitude slopeside: Resorts across the country are figuring out how to keep crowds at bay and get solace seekers to more remote corners of the mountain.

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Resorts across the country are figuring out how to keep crowds at bay and get solace seekers to more remote corners of the mountain.

Take Powder Mountain, the secret handshake of Utah ski resorts at the moment. This Ogden Valley spot has more than 8,000 skiable acres and a relatively cheap day pass ($85), and it gets the sort of light, airy powder dumps that make you wonder if there’s indeed a snow god. There’s a tech-titans-with-good-intentions vibe about the place, which is only an hour or so away from the Salt Lake City airport. In 2013, the mom-and-pop resort was bought by the Summit group, which hosts TED-Talk-like gatherings with attendees such as Shonda Rhimes and Jeff Bezos. It’s in the process of building a mountain town that will include a Standard hotel, a youth hostel, and cabins—this sounds like a lot but will be a fraction of the size of many other developments in the state. This year, the resort is capping the number of day tickets at 1,500, which translates, theoretically, into almost four acres per skier. And if you want that bragging-rights adventure but would rather not blow a paycheck in the process, consider taking a $25 single-ride snowcat into acres of ungroomed wilderness, aka “sidecountry.”

Backcountry Lodges

 

Skiers who want to boldly conquer more isolated, extreme terrain without, you know, killing themselves should look into Crested Butte in Colorado, a sort of anti-Vail with quaint Victorian houses and bike-worshipping inhabitants. Its CB Steep Guides program allows mid-to-advanced rippers to take advantage of the mountain’s steep bowls, tight tree lines, and chutes, which mimic the backcountry but are still patrolled in case things get real. Included in the $145 price tag is a guide who will help you improve fluidity over terrain that requires some hand-holding. Those who prefer to stick to the blues but still crave first tracks can pay $50 every Tuesday and Friday from 8:00 to 9:00 a.m. and have the mountain to themselves before the resort officially opens.

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East Coasters who want to make wide turns on some gentle groomers in peace should head to Vermont’s Twin Farms. At your back door (literally), you’ll find six private trails that involve zero hiking. Just hop on one of the high-powered snowmobiles to reach the top.

If you’re already an expert and like the idea of riding with some of the best ski guides in the country at a resort that mainly mountaineers are familiar with, try Silverton, in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. There’s only one chairlift, but that’s all you need to access some of the country’s most preposterous descents blanketed in fresh snow. (They average more than 400 inches a year.) And if you’ve always wanted to try heli skiing without throwing down Richard Branson–type money to do it, you can opt for the single-ride heli drop for $179. (Also available: a $999-per-person heli day, which offers six runs over the kind of terrain Warren Miller location scouts dream of.) Happen to have $14,900 burning a hole in your pocket? Do as other moneyed adventure seekers have done here before and rent out the entire mountain for 40 of your closest friends who don’t check the beginner/intermediate box on their equipment-rental form.

Or if you really want to splurge on alone time, rent a backcountry lodge in British Columbia. Family-run establishments like Mallard Mountain Lodge, near Jasper National Park, bring up to eight guests by helicopter to, well, essentially the middle of nowhere, with minimalist, cozy cabins in proximity to untouched Canadian powder in a surreal setting that would rival a live-action version of Frozen. For around $2,000, you’ll get a cook, a guide, and absolutely no road access. Plus, you won’t have to fight for elbow space at the bar come après time.

This article appears in the Dec./Jan. ’18 issue of Esquire. SUBSCRIBE TODAY

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