The winter of COVID-19 is coming. And while skiing and snowboarding will certainly look a bit different this season, with a little creativity this year could actually be the best one ever. Or at least the most unique. Embrace a new experience apart from resort crowds. One way to look at the opportunities ahead is by narrowing your options in three ways.
No. 1: Go big. Take advantage of the uncertainty and cancellations, splash down some cash, and go on that once-in-a-lifetime heli-ski trip. These trips don’t come cheap, but you get what you pay for. They are some of the most exclusive, remote and luxurious heli- and cat-skiing experiences available in North America.
No. 2: Go deep. Get away from lift lines and earn your turns. Hire a guide to show you the goods and take you safely into the backcountry. Staying in mountain yurts, secluded cabins, or winter camping in snow caves, these are the outfitters who can maximize access to open terrain and minimize risk, so that all you have to do is show up fit and ready to work for those untracked lines.
No. 3: Go home. Return to your roots and go back to those small, mom-and-pop and community-owned ski areas where so many of us leaned how to ski and fell in love with sliding around on the snow. If you’ve never heard of some of these places, all the better reason to go see them for the first time, and support them this trying winter. They need visitors now more than ever—plus they offer a far more relaxed, family-friendly, and affordable ski experience.
Heli-Ski by Boat in Southeast Alaska with SEABA
Based aboard the 124-foot M/V Zenith, retrofitted with a private helicopter on deck, you and seven of your friends can explore the remote fjords of Southeast Alaska, where every run is a first descent. (seaba-heli.com) Pricing starts at $112,750/week for up to eight guests
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Book Out the Entire Lodge at Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience
Just you and your friends, staying in a luxurious lodge at the base of the Ruby Mountains outside of Elko, NV. With 200,000 acres of untracked powder and a private helicopter at your disposal. (helicopterskiing.com) Full Lodge buyout costs $75,000/three days and up to 16 guests. Custom packages are also available.
Go Cat Skiing in Crested Butte with Eleven Experience
Stay at the elegant Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte and indulge in Eleven Experience’s unmatched personalized service and all the light, dry Colorado powder your legs can handle. (elevenexperience.com) Full Lodge Buyout includes cat skiing and all other activities $17,900/night; $125,300/week
Ski Alaskan Dream Lines with Chugach Powder Guides
Located less than an hour from the Anchorage airport, CPG has been putting skiers and snowboarders on top of Alaskan dream lines for decades. Book CPG’s private heli package to make sure you and your crew get the best of it. (chugachpowderguides.com) Private Heli $10,000-$14,000/day
Let Sun Valley Guides show you what the legendary Sawtooth, Smokey and Pioneer mountain ranges surrounding historic Sun Valley, ID, are all about. Explore and ride the outrageous variety of world-class terrain while staying at comfortable and cozy backcountry yurts with amenities like wood-fired hot tubs and saunas deep in the wilderness. (svguides.com) $540/day
If climbing and skiing technical terrain is what you’re after, look no further than Exum Guides based in Jackson, WY. From skiing the Grand Teton to finding the goods around Teton Pass, Exum has you covered. (exumguides.com) $425/day
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The Eastern Sierra should be on every backcountry skier’s bucket list. There’s no better way to explore the High Country than with one of the experts at Sierra Mountain Guides, based in Bishop, CA near Mammoth Lakes. (sierramtnguides.com) $500/day
It’s no secret that Colorado has some of the best backcountry skiing in the world and Paragon Guides will make sure it lives up to the hype. They’ve been guiding multi-day hut trips in the Colorado backcountry for almost 40 years. (paragonguides.com) three-day hut trips run about $1200/person with a group of 3 or more.
There’s also some new technology to help you find and hire local guides all over the world. The app-based service 57Hours does just that, connecting you to local guides and outfitters with just a few thumb sweeps and finger taps.
If you’re in the Northeast, be sure to ride the legendary single chair at Vermont’s Mad River Glen and “ski it if you can.” Locals rave about the twilight skiing at North Creek Ski Bowl in the Adirondacks, plus the nearby community-owned Big Tupper Ski Area is always worth a visit with over 1,000 vertical feet and $25 lift tickets. Mount Abram in Maine combines surprisingly good skiing with a classic laid-back vibe, and at New Hampshire’s Whaleback Mountain, children under 5 ride free.
In the Midwest, it’s all about Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where ski areas like Big Powderhorn Mountain and Black Jack hold down the western part of the peninsula and take advantage of the lake effect dumping an average of 200 inches of snow on them every season. On the eastern side of the peninsula, the quirky and unforgettable Mount Bohemia delivers on its promise of extreme skiing in the UP.
In Colorado, it’s hard to beat Wolf Creek for uncrowded slopes and unbelievably light snow. Nevada has the wonderfully blue-collar Elko Snobowl, where the rope-tow is free. Montana has Lost Trail, where you and your friends can rent the entire mountain for a day. Wyoming gets to claim the low-key powder hound’s delight, Grand Targhee, as its own. Idaho will surprise visiting skiers with under-the-radar ski areas like Soldier Mountain, which offers the most affordable cat-skiing in the West, night skiing at the community-owned Rotarun, and don’t forget about Pomerelle, which gets a sneaky amount of powder days out there in the middle of nowhere on the Snake River Plain of southern Idaho.