The exercise of picking a ski resort, of where to spend a ski trip, offers travelers a unique problem to solve. All manners of things enter a skier's decision: snow, terrain, lodging, airports, prices and, of course, the novelty of experience. So picking a ski resort for spring break 0r the New Year's holiday is similar to picking any vacation destination in that some locations may be valued for their newness, their untapped potential, or for widely-spread reputations.
But ski resorts are different from cities and other destinations in that so much can hinge on weather and the state of the mountain upon arrival, something that's built out of weeks and months of earlier climate activity. So in this way, people booking ski trips make bigger leaps of faith than those merely visiting a city or a region. For that reason, travelers putting ski trip itineraries together should consult more diverse sets of inputs and better data sources when planning their winter adventure.
It is with this in mind that we again produce this examination of the best ski resorts in North America. We consult diverse data points, updated statistics, and our own constantly renewed expert reviews of individual resorts to make the job of skiers, at least when it comes to narrowing where to take their ski trip, easier. This is the most comprehensive and in-depth ski resort list of its kind.
To go past the top 10, head to ZRankings.com for a complete ranking of the 220 best ski resorts in North America.
Where you ski isn't as important as where you go to college or where you decide to live. In many ways, it's not important at all. But, like skiing in general, deciding where to go ski is quite fun. The anticipatory exercise is as enjoyable as many parts of the trip itself.
So milk it for everything you can and read on.
We use something called the Pure Awesomeness Factor—PAF—to grade out ski resorts. Think of the PAF like you think of a kilogram, a liter or a degree Celsius. It's a scientifically significant measurement. Just as we keep a master kilogram locked up in a vault, against which we calibrate the world, PAF is our guide for judging all things ski.
The metric system, while an excellent set of units, was always supposed to be something more. Its creators aspired for the greatness that has been realized with PAF, which doesn't measure arbitrary things like mass, distance and temperature, but instead measures that most inscrutable, yet definitely existent property of awesomeness.
The difference, rather conveniently for all of us, is that PAF is a dynamic measurement that changes year to year. It doesn't change radically, of course, but its makeup changes enough that an annual reprise is a necessary exercise.
And it all runs on an algorithm.
If you don't have to plan way ahead, of course, don't. This is the best way to ski. It's why we've added an amazing new feature at ZRankings that we call Powderfares. When a big storm is predicted for a major resort within the next five days, we search out airfares to that resort from 15 major metro areas and post those round-trip airfares to the ski resort's page. The fares are designed to get skiers in right before the storm and out after skiing a couple days of powder. Skiing last-minute might not be possible for everybody, obviously, as it takes flexibility in work and life. But if you're flexible, keep your eyes on the Powderfares.
And as always, we've also applied our stringent metrics and eyes to spotting the Top 5 new gear items for winter 2017 - amazing ski and non-ski boots, plus insulation, luggage, shell pants and a new way to make yarn from wool.
But first, we review the season that just passed.
An exemplary season for ski trips
Skiers who ventured out west last winter were rewarded with good conditions for much of the season. Tahoe came back to life, following a two-year drought, and Utah, Colorado and Wyoming all fared very well, with big snow events sprinkled well throughout the winter. Even Taos had an excellent early season, and Aspen locals will be talking about last winter for years.
Overall, it was a heartening swing after the previous winter, which was one of the worst for skiers, unequivocally, in decades.
None of this should be viewed as affecting how the upcoming winter will go or how the future of skiing weather will unfold in general. Such trends, as they exist, have to be viewed in decades or longer stretches to be taken as significant. As the earth's ambient temperature rises, and it is rising, we can't predict with any certainty how it will affect certain regions and their snowfalls.
Last month, I caught up with Joel Gratz, the founder of OpenSnow, which provides the best snow forecasting in the business, over pancakes in Chicago (the heart of skiing, didn't you know). He addressed some of the hype that other people are giving the upcoming winter.
"If you push me to say something about 2016-2017, I’ll say that I agree with most forecasters that there will be some form of a ridge over the west coast and a trough over the east coast. This generally means periods of warmer and drier weather over the west and some periods of very cold and snowy weather over the northeast. But, the exact position of the ridge and trough is what controls where and when snow falls, and we can’t predict this."
Gratz sums it up like this: "Seasonal forecasts are not accurate. No weather forecaster, from academic researcher to highly-paid meteorologists working for commodity companies, can consistently make accurate 1-6 month forecasts."
So stop fretting or getting over-amped about the winter.
As always, skiers are best off banking on the ski resorts that attract higher average snowfalls and lower standard deviations as the best places for powder-seeking trips. See ZRankings' comprehensive snow data for true average ski resort snowfalls—not made up marketing numbers—and the full snow data for 220 ski resorts.
Biggest news in ski industry in 20-plus years
Vail Resorts, the public company that owns many of the alpha ski resorts in the west—and three 'urban' ski hills outside of Minneapolis, Detroit and now Chicago—purchased Whistler-Blackcomb this past summer for $1.3 billion.
It's remarkable in that Whistler was undoubtedly the most popular ski resort in North America that *wasn't already* in the Vail fold. And now it is. The Epic pass for 2018 will be a hot item; so many flagship resorts, so much vertical, so many regions. To fully take advantage of it, however, one needs to be unemployed, underemployed or living the dream as some kind of ski writer/code shipper. Those jobs, as so described, are few.