Where do we head to ski and snowboard when we're after a genuine North American mountain experience with space to breathe, acres to roam and a real town to take it easy in when we've had our fill of the goods?
We consult our little black book of lesser-known favourites which are less about modern resort facilities and more about home-grown access to legendary skiing in plenty of powder which lasts long after the latest storm. Getting to these resorts may require a longer-than-normal transfer, but it's so worth it when you're on a virtually deserted mountain. There are so many to choose from, but here are my top five.
1. Mt Bachelor
Oregon might be better known for stunning coastlines, volcanoes and micro-breweries but, believe me, the skiing is truly incredible. Mt Bachelor has the most terrain in the state and is the sixth largest resort in the USA. The locals of nearby Bend flock to the hill for its legendary 360 degrees of skiing (on a volcano) and 85% intermediate, advanced and expert terrain.
Being a three hour drive from its nearest airport, Bachelor is quiet, even on a powder day. It’s a true local's hill as it's so far from any major city, which means powder for days.
Powder in Mt Bachelor
The access town of Bend does not disappoint - one of the coolest in the states, it boasts no less than 22 of those famed breweries including the Deschutes Brewery and public house with the liveliest scene and the tastiest craft beers. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants downtown and the vibe is very laid-back and friendly.
Journalist Leslie Woit visited with us in March this year for the Telegraph, and discovered "queue free ski routes on mountains the locals have kept quiet".
At two and a half hours from its nearest city (Kelowna) and five hours away from a major international airport, Revelstoke is not an easy access destination. And this is only one of the reasons why the rewards are so huge. Yes it's often practically empty, but here at Ski Safari we keep making the journey because it snows a LOT - with its own micro-climate it averages 10.5 metres of British Columbia powder each winter.
It's also home to North America's greatest vertical and with the longest run coming in at over 15km. The locals choose to live here because they get to ski powder more often than not, deeper than most, and in a place with so few visitors each winter during mid-week that it feels like their own private playground.
My advice when the visibility is good, head to North Bowl for mind-blowing alpine terrain, deep powder turns and when you've had your fill, treat yourself to an equally mind-blowing pulled-pork poutine at The Village Idiot.
Revelstoke town is funky and historic, an old gold-mining town, it now has a population of 8,300 friendly and happily obsessive skiers.
3. Red Mountain Resort
There is a reason why the local cat-ski operation is called Big Red Cats, such is the nature of the terrain here at Red Mountain. BIG. Its closest big city is Kelowna or Spokane, both over three hours away. So, with 110 runs spread over three mountains it's easy to understand why this resort sits in my top five in North America.
Powder for days is normal, queue is a word the locals never use, and hill is an understatement. Red provides 2,877 lift serviced acres and 4,200 if you don’t mind a hike. My tip is to head up Granite, take Powder Fields Traverse and dive straight into Jumbo and Hans for the best tree skiing in the world.
Red is serviced by award-winning Rossland (voted Best Ski Town in North America by Powder Magazine in 2013), an old gold-mining town with a long history, now with an outdoor-loving population of 3,546.
4. Stowe Mountain Resort
The prettiest resort on the east coast offers nearly 84% of intermediate to expert terrain to keep the locals happy and also has the most challenging slopes in Vermont. Stowe also boasts an impressive eight metres of snow per winter which makes for some truly awesome skiing in our favourite runs, Nosedive, Tres Amigos and Lookout Glades.
Being three and a half hours from Boston means the slopes are quiet and the idyllic town provides the picture-perfect place to relax off the mountain.
Our favourite haunt in Stowe town is the Whip Bar & Grill in the Green Mountain Inn - traditional New England with open fires, fine food and great cocktails. There are plenty more good bars and restaurants, plus the 420-seat Performing Arts Centre which hosts live music, comedians and feature films.
This one almost didn't make my top five as you don't actually stay in a mountain town. However, it's a locals magnet and too good not to include on the list! A long-time Ski Safari favourite, Solitude is one of the best and least-known resorts in the States with great access to three other resorts on the same lift pass. When it snows, which it does a lot in Utah, averaging over 12 metres every winter, Solitude's Honeycomb Canyon comes into its own as the in-bounds off-piste powder paradise.
Neighbouring Snowbird and Alta might offer steeper terrain but Solitude is where you'll find powder for days and some of the best turns of your life. Plus, if you're after a little genuine après, Salt Lake City is just a five-minute hop away from the Hyatt Place Cottonwood (where you will stay) by taxi. Utah's capital is chock-full of bars, restaurants, theatres, Jazz (Utah's basketball kind, not the music, although you will probably find that too) and Salt Lake's fascinating history. Thankfully the fact that it was a dry city is firmly part of that history!
Interested in any of these resorts? Call me on 01273 224060 or request a quotation online.