If you don't have the time or money for a big ski vacation this winter you can still hit the slopes. Many great ski resorts are an easy drive away from major cities. We've rounded up the best resorts for a day-ski trip or a weekend escape from eight cities around the country. Most of them Gear up, hit the road and enjoy a snow adventure.
New England's Appalachians host many of America's original ski areas, and as the unquestioned capital of New England, Boston has always claimed a thriving ski culture. Day-trippers, weekend warriors and second-home owners clear out of Boston every weekend and many weekdays as well. The only question is whether they head to the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, Vermont's Green Mountains or the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.
West of the Hub in the wooded Berkshire Mountains, Ski Butternut touts its reliable snow coverage, courtesy of an overpowered snowmaking system that surfaces 100 percent of the mountain's 22 trails. Much of that manmade is rolled into easy-skiing corduroy, which begs to be skied like a racer. So wax your boards, don your helmet and get your Lindsey Vonn on.
As you head north, taking progressively smaller roads along the way, keep an eye out for Vermont Route 100, which links many of the state's resorts. It isn't always easy, as VT-100 signs are routinely stolen by visitors who want a piece of one of skiing's most beloved highways. Sugarbush is the all-star of Route 100 -- a huge resort with 111 trails and 16 lifts spread over two mountains. With an almost Rockies-like 2,600 vertical feet, Sugarbush never gets boring.
On the whole, New Yorkers are surprisingly good skiers. And not just because, as the networks always show during the city's blizzards, people cross-country ski in Central Park. Remember that New York is also the global capital of high finance, whose practitioners have long embraced skiing, perhaps the most upper-crust sport not played at a country club. As long as Goldman Sachs perseveres, so will Aspen, Deer Valley and St. Moritz. And so will the small hills in the Catskill Mountains and the larger ones in New York's Adirondacks.
Who knew that a short trip up the beautiful Hudson Valley from the country's biggest city would lead to a hugely popular ski area? New Yorkers, that's who. Customers flock to Hunter for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its big vertical drop: 1,600 vertical feet, which is huge for a day ski area. Plus, the Catskill Mountains still give off an apple-cidered, Colonial vibe that inspired Washington Irving to write of Rip Van Winkle and the Headless Horseman.
The biggest, best-known ski resort in northern New York's Adirondack Mountains, Whiteface has hosted ski races in two Olympic Games (in 1932 and 1980). With an uppermost lift terminus of 4,386 feet, Whiteface boasts the highest chair in the East. The ski area spreads across three distinct peaks. It's not only big, but steep, with a wide selection of Intermediate and Advanced terrain that the city's experts devour like a New York slice.
Winter sports culture would be even more world-renowned in the Mile High City had Denver actually hosted the 1976 Winter Olympics it was awarded. But Colorado voters opted to back out of financing the games with public funds, apparently wanting to keep various Rocky Mountain Highs to themselves. Today, Colorado enjoys far more skier visits than any other state. Colorado is literally the highest state, with a greater average elevation than any other chunk of man-made boundary in the United States. Olympics or no, things have worked out just fine for sliders of the Centennial State.
Less than an hour away -- straight up a precipitous, gas-tank-draining Interstate 70 -- is Loveland. You boot up in the highest ski area parking lot in the United States: 10,800 feet above sea level. It's a huge mountain, with 2,214 skiable acres, and it must be the most alpine resort in the Lower 48, a very bald, very white apex, the hunchback of the Great Divide. The hike to that 13,010-foot top is so dramatic, it bears an iconic, if somewhat pretentious, name: "The Ridge at Loveland."
You've no doubt seen Crested Butte in Westerns or Coors commercials. It's a hyper-scenic, Victorian-era Colorado mining town that deserves its status as a National Historic District. Crested Butte Mountain Resort rises to 12,162 feet and sprawls across 1,547 skiable acres. It's famous for its challenging backside bowls, with trail names like "Body Bag." Relax: there are plenty of beginner-friendly green-circle slopes, too.
As the home to Eddie Bauer, REI and dozens of other outdoor gear companies, Seattle is closely intertwined with the history of American Alpinism. In fact, the first American expedition to Mt. Everest was overloaded with Washingtonians. Seattle seems surrounded by peaks -- with the Cascade Mountains here and the Olympic Mountains there, not to mention the Coast Range up above. If you had Mt. Rainier hovering majestically over your city every day, you'd be inspired to get outside and accomplish alpine feats, too.
A cluster of four skiable peaks at Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90, the Summit at Snoqualmie has beckoned Seattle sliders for more than 40 years. Just a few dozen miles east of Puget Sound, Snoqualmie understandably receives a "maritime" snowpack, which means lots of grins in 20-inch-plus blankets of wet snow. Treating your ski gear with ScotchGuard beforehand is never a bad idea.
No mountain is more entrenched in snowboarding than Mt. Baker. Its Banked Slalom is renowned as snowboarding's most core competition. Legendary snowboarders have sprung from its gloppy Cascade concrete, and the best snowboarding magazine, Frequency, is published just down the road in Bellingham. Most important, the ski area is home to the world's greatest recorded snowfall in one season: 1,140 inches. That's 95 feet of snow! Baker's the only mountain in the country where a local will tell you the season's below average while standing on a 10-foot base.
Only 3 hours from mountainous Lake Tahoe -- in a state that really, really likes to drive -- San Franciscans grow up making "burrito runs": grabbing a breakfast burrito at one's favorite Mexican joint, filling up an SUV with pals and the nation's priciest gas, bolting to California ski resorts, shredding all day and driving home. Some NorCal hills slide right down into Lake Tahoe itself; others arrive at wonderfully empty spaces we thought no longer existed in the Golden State.
The historic motherland of Bay Area ski trips, Sugar Bowl was founded in 1939 by an Austrian ski instructor who leaned on his most famous client for seed money, which is why its main peak is called Mt. Disney. Sugar Bowl is by no means the largest of the Tahoe resorts, but it feels big, due to the mighty Sierra all around and an amazing 500 inches of snow per year.
Squaw Valley has been rocking skiers' imaginations since 1960, when it hosted the Winter Olympics. The resort represents the Sierras at their steepest and most photogenic. Indeed, Squaw Valley has been nicknamed "Squawllywood" for all the ski and snowboard films made here, as well as for the number of superstars whose careers it has launched. Squaw has become vastly more fun to visit in the last decade, thanks to its new pedestrian-friendly village, which bustles with folks in heated pursuit of boutique shopping, caramel macchiato and darn good sushi.
Though the "Beltway" sounds somewhat like a chairlift, D.C. residents actually have to work to get their turns. Fortunately, the Appalachians aren't too far away from the swamplands and estuaries that characterize our nation's capital. Indeed, just past Virginia is something called the Mountaineer State: West Virginia. Once they attach skis or a snowboard to their feet, Beltway types can aspire to shred like famous predecessors Gerald Ford, Dan Quayle and Richard Holbrooke.
Located on the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland, Whitetail beckons with 23 trails, 9 lifts and a relatively healthy 935 feet of vertical. Bolstered by the large populations of the Eastern Seaboard, Whitetail has invested heavily in its amenities and infrastructure and boasts a sports shop, Internet café, two food courts/dining areas and even slopeside lodging.
Snowshoe is almost as big as a New England resort, with 14 lifts, 57 trails and a summit just shy of the magical 5,000-foot mark (4,848 feet, to be precise). West Virginia has been called the westernmost eastern state and the southernmost northern state. We're gonna go with the northernmost southern state, given the honey-dipped accents you hear and the resort's tutorials on how to dress for skiing and how to drive in snow.
As any close viewer of the Rose Bowl and Rose Parade has noticed, Southern California's San Gabriel Mountains are often snowcapped -- even if preceded on the horizon by Pasadena's palm trees. Los Angeles certainly hosts more dedicated skiers and snowboarders than any other megalopolis of its latitude. SoCal sliders hit the San Gabriels or San Bernadino Mountains when pressed for time and roadtrip to the Sierras whenever possible.
This venerable ski area in the San Gabriel Mountains calls itself "three resorts in one" because its three peaks each have their own base area and individual appeal (West: jibbers, East: experts, North: families). A single lift ticket gets you privileges at all three, which means a total of 290 acres of skiable terrain on peaks that rise as high as 8,200 feet and drop an impressive 1,600 vertical feet.
Mammoth is the soul center of Southern California skiing. The highest lift-served mountain on the West Coast, it gets more than 400 inches of snow per year as the Sierras trap countless storms moving in from the Pacific (the resort is just a few dozen miles north of the tallest peak in the Lower 48, Mt. Whitney). With a summit of 11,053 feet and a vertical drop of 3,100, Mammoth is substantially larger than even the Tahoe resorts.
This burg, where the prairie meets the Great Lakes, could scarcely be flatter. Nonetheless, Chicago isn't too shabby a place to be a skier or snowboarder. O'Hare has flights to all the major ski resorts out West, and there are many chairlifts in Chicago's vacation paradise: Wisconsin. Glaciers carved some fairly nice ski mountains on the other side of the lake, too, in Michigan.
No one would ever confuse tiny Wilmot with a ski resort in the Rockies or Appalachians, but it has promised Chicagoans reliable turns since 1952, when it pioneered the making of artificial snow. Wilmot offers lessons, racing, night skiing and snow tubing for those who want to slide with their posterior closer to the ground. The ultimate day-ski area, it promises "Family Fun is only a short drive away!"
The glacier-formed Baraboo Bluffs area of central Wisconsin, with its beautiful woods and countless lakes, might be better known for summer recreation. Yet Chicagoans have road-tripped here for skiing and snowboarding forever, exulting over 30 runs spilling down a 500-foot vertical rise. Devil's Head is famed for its fantastic cruising on carpet-smooth slopes. Indeed, the resort grooms its cruisers twice a day. Keep an eye out for snowcats, then let it rip.
Lift ticket prices were accurate at the time of this writing. For current prices visit the resort websites.