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Magic Mountains: The Best Places to Ski This Season

From the American West to Europe, the world’s ski destinations are expecting a sensational season

January 10, 2024

Aspen Snowmass, Colorado / Photo: Courtesy of Snowmass

Our national appetite for winter sports is growing, and the ski industry is more than ready to satiate it. There has never been more interest in hitting the slopes. According to the National Ski Areas Association, whose membership includes three-fourths of the ski destinations in the United States, the 2022-2023 winter season was the busiest on record, surging almost eight percent from the prior year to a staggering 65.4 million individual visits—and that doesn’t even include the increasingly popular sport of backcountry skiing, which extends beyond the confines of resorts.

Where there is demand, supply will meet it. Look around and you’ll find the great resort towns of the world in an expansion mindset, opening more hotels and restaurants and attracting increasing attention and buzz. Places once known as beginners-only spots are fleshing out their offerings with more challenging terrain. Resorts with a reputation for expert-only trails are making sure that lodge bunnies have lower-impact activities to enjoy while their skiing companions chase their thrills. And the most iconic ski towns are reasserting their alpha status as all-around destinations for everyone—making this ski season a prime time for all of us to revisit the classics. Happy trails.

Deer Valley, Park City, Utah / Photo: Courtesy of Eric Schramm

Utah

Insiders know Utah as the global capital of smooth, dry snow—but it has also been this year’s epicenter for mega-sized capital investments. A local favorite for more than 80 years, family-owned Snowbasin just completed the most infrastructure investments since it hosted the Olympics in 2002. Those include a new lift, a 5,000-square-foot heated cobblestone patio and, best of all, a parking lot solidifying Snowbasin’s status as the resort with the most parking in Utah (a seemingly unsexy accolade but one that any skier would immediately value).

The big spends continue over at Powder Mountain, where Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings just became a new majority owner for a cool $100 million. As part of that influx of cash, the resort this season will debut 500 acres of steep backcountry terrain for advanced skiers, as well as a new ski school facility and major upgrades to the beginner area.

And in a year when Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski-accident trial really put the spotlight on Alterra Mountain Company’s Deer Valley, somehow this tony skiers-only resort managed to make even bigger headlines by announcing its Expanded Excellence plan. In addition to a new base village and revitalization of existing facilities, this transformational multiyear expansion project will more than double the existing size of Deer Valley’s skiable acreage, making it one of the largest ski resorts in North America. The first chunk of new runs isn’t expected to open until the 2025-2026 ski season—but if you’re serious about earning your street cred with the Deer Valley set and one day being able to reminisce about the way things were, now is your chance to visit.

Whistler, Canada / Photo: Courtesy of Whistler Tourism/Ben Girardi

Whistler

If you haven’t explored our neighbor to the north, what are you waiting for? The exchange rates are prime, Whistler offers one of the richest and most seamless ski resort experiences on the continent, and Air Canada continues to add more and more direct flights from Vancouver to the U.S. (this year adding options to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California).

The Venn diagram demographic where luxury and adventure fans overlap will love it here. Whistler-based guiding company AlpX now offers swanky helicopter-assisted multiday ski touring trips in the Pemberton area just north of Whistler. Guests can now frolic at elevation through untracked Coast Range powder and overnight in posh yurt accommodations, for an overnight backcountry experience more typically found in the interior of the province. The new Wedge Mountain Lodge & Spa—a 12,000-square-foot exclusive-use luxury lodge for up to 20 guests including driver, executive chef and concierge services—can be rented for a cool $26,000 a night (again, remember those prime CAD exchange rates).

For smaller groups, consider booking one of the luxurious rooms at the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, which unveils a renovated spa area this season, solidifying its reputation as the best place to get an après-ski massage. And Nita Lake Lodge—a favorite with celebrities thanks to its secluded (yet still convenient) location in the Creekside area—just revealed a full renovation of its suites. Despite all of this luxury and newness, Whistler still manages to feel distinctly like itself, with a warm sense of Canadian hospitality that keeps guests coming back year after year.

Six Senses Crans-Montana, Switzerland / Photo: Courtesy of Six Senses Crans-Montana

Switzerland

In a country that is largely credited with inventing winter tourism, it will come as no surprise that there are infinite resorts, hotels and experiences to explore. This year, Switzerland continues to prove why it is the alpha and omega of winter sport destinations—not only for skiers, but for their nonskiing counterparts, too.

Six Senses Crans-Montana might be the country’s most anticipated hotel opening of the year, bringing the brand’s holistic, wellness-centric resort concept to this ski town popular with the European jet set. A 22,000-square-foot ski-in, the ski-out spa provides more than enough space to treat tired legs after a day shredding some Swiss powder.

Elsewhere in the country, grande-dame hotels and destinations continue to reign supreme. Gstaad, in particular, seems to be reinventing itself. The town has long been known more for its schmoozy society hangouts and not so much for its skiing, but this season, it opened one of the steepest groomed runs in the world: The Black Wall promises 46 degrees of absolute adrenaline for the most expert skiers. Gstaad is even getting in on the food truck trend. Offcut from Michelin-starred chef Martin Göschel offers a decidedly luxe, Swiss take on the slopeside snacking experience. But don’t be turned off by all these nouveau flourishes: a night at the Gstaad Palace’s GreenGo nightclub is still the best way to break a sweat after dark. Out east in St. Moritz, the Carlton Hotel is introducing fondue gondolas for plein-air indulging and forest-bathing programs to make the most of the region’s pine forests (which are said to have natural healing properties). The luxurious Kulm Hotel just added 34 rooms and suites and also debuted a High Points program of experiences and outings inspired by the Engadin Valley’s artistic and cultural heritage, so all around town nonskiers have plenty to enjoy.

Attitash Mountain Resort, Bartlett, New Hampshire / Photo: Courtesy of Attitash Mountain Resort

Aspen

There’s never been a tastier time to visit America’s quintessential mountain town, thanks to the arrival of Colorado’s first Michelin Guide this year. Tasting-menu restaurant Bosq received one star, while three others—Element 47, Mawa’s Kitchen and Prospect—received “recommended” status. New York City’s favorite spendy Italian café Sant Ambroeus arrived in Aspen last summer and is opening a second location in town soon.

Rice cake at Bosq, Aspen / Photo: Courtesy of Karl Wolfgang

Residents and visitors alike are welcoming the arrival of Mollie Aspen, a hip new 68-room property featuring a café, restaurant and rooftop terrace led by Gin & Luck, the group behind the critically acclaimed bar Death & Co. With contemporary touches such as Parachute sheets, Coyuchi bathrobes and organic bath amenities from Swedish brand L:a Bruket, the boutique lifestyle property is a happy addition in a town that skews heavily toward five-star, über-luxury (and über-expensive) hotels.

And for the actual slopes themselves, Aspen Snowmass has major news this season. The resort welcomes a new chairlift and terrain expansion, Hero’s, which increases the skiable acreage by a whopping 20 percent, the first expansion on this scale since 1985. So even if you think you know Aspen, this is shaping up to be an excellent season to visit.

The Northeast

What New England has in cold temperatures and icy conditions it more than makes up for with warm, authentic hospitality. There’s still a mom-and-pop, indie sensibility to the constellation of resorts here that can’t be replicated by the private-equity-drenched Western spots. A range of capital improvement across northern New England brings some welcome updates to this region.

In Vermont, cooperatively owned natural snow haven Mad River Glen celebrates its 75th anniversary; Sugarbush continues to improve its snowmaking systems; Middlebury Snowbowl now offers night skiing; and Magic Mountain doubles its capacity with lift updates. In New Hampshire, new lifts at Attitash and Loon will alleviate lines at two of the state’s most popular resorts, and a new outdoor deck at Waterville Valley makes a solid après spot for sunny days. And in Maine, Saddleback adds a new midmountain restaurant to its repertoire, while Sunday River just launched one of the fastest six-person lifts in the country. There’s also been a post-pandemic renaissance of stunning owner-operated inns across New England, making the case for swapping the grand slopeside hotels for something more intimate and special. Check out The Hermitage Inn in West Dover, Vermont, or Pickering House Inn in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. For a region that’s easily drivable from the Boston and New York City markets, New England continues to make a serious value proposition for weekend trips, last-minute getaways and skipping work on impromptu snow days.

Mammoth Mountain, California / Photo: Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth

Mammoth is a West Coast favorite for its steep and diverse terrain, enormous powder dumps and, thanks to its status as the state’s highest resort, having one of the longest ski seasons anywhere—most years extending well past Memorial Day. This year promises to be just as prolific.

Daily United service to Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop from San Francisco and Denver resumes for the season on December 14, and several major infrastructure improvements land just in time for the winter. Those include upgrading Chair 16 from a quad to a six-person high-speed lift, providing 25 percent more uphill capacity, as well as adding more than $5 million in snow-making improvements. In the village, a beautiful new Community Recreation Center in partnership with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team opens its doors, and the Outbound Mammoth hotel (formerly the Sierra Nevada Resort) just underwent a $34 million renovation.

There are many festivals and events to explore at Mammoth throughout the year, including the increasingly popular Elevation Gay Ski Week (March 13-17) and Mammoth Lakes Film Festival (May 22-26). Whenever you plan on visiting, it’s safe to assume you can add a few turns into your itinerary: This year, the lifts ran until August 6.