The Top 5 Ski Resorts in the United States
Christopher Steiner, Forbes Staff
When I became serious about skiing, I wanted to know where, exactly, I should be spending my time and my money. I approached the problem as an engineer might. I used quantitative methods: which resort gets the most snow, which has the largest vertical drop, where are the fastest lifts, the most runs, etc. But stats don’t tell the entire story when it comes to grading a ski resort. I’ve found that pairing raw data with the input of raw experience gives the most reliable results. To know a mountain’s virtues, faults and secrets, you must ski it. Not once, not twice, but days upon days, preferably with a local who will minimize the time you schlep and maximize the time your’re skiing something interesting.
So, in the name of interesting skiing, I’ve constructed a Top 5 resorts list according to proprietary, exacting and regularly calibrated metrics. I’ve boiled all of these data points down, consulted superheros, accounted for human error and put the data into a master algorithm that produces an output of a resort’s Pure Awesomeness Factor. In the biz, that’s called a PAF score. A perfect PAF score, which has yet to be produced by man, is 100 . In the name of getting you to the best ski destination possible, here are the top 5 PAF scores in the United States.
1. Jackson Hole, Wyoming (PAF = 99): There’s long been a Four Seasons hotel installed at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Such an institution implies all that one would expect: fancy snacks, celebrity sightings, rich cowboys and s’mores bars — all the normal trappings of your first-tier destination resort. But the thing that separates Jackson Hole from the rest of North America’s grade-A mountains is that it has, rather impossibly, managed to retain all of its soul. This is still a place where the best skiers in the world, before skiing off of 50-foot cliffs, gulp down waffles and Budweisers inside a mountaintop shanty called Corbet’s Cabin. Jackson is still the place with the best backcountry skiing in the world. It still gets more snow than anywhere not called Alta. It still has The Tram, the greatest ski lift on earth. For those building their game to rock star level, Jackson’s Steep and Deep camp, which begat imitations across the resort world, provides four days where all skiers can count on improvement. The program, run several times a year, attracts all different kinds of people with different appetites for risk–the one common theme: everybody is good and trying to get better. Nobody’s too good for Steep and Deep; cheeky campers can have their ego shaved by a trip down the tram fall line with olympic downhill gold medalist Tommy Moe. The big skill gainers at camp shimmy their ski tips up to the edge of Corbet’s Couloir. But actually pushing in is another matter.
Its hardcore credentials intact, Jackson has become a place that works well for families. Its Kids Ranch keeps tots well-fed and weaving through cones on their skis. It’s the perfect weaning ground for the next Eric Schlopy. The Bridger Gondola moves people quickly from the base to a point two-thirds up Jackson’s ridiculous 4,139 vertical drop, where the black diamond folk can find thrills and the groomer folk can find long, wide highways all the way down. About that way down: this is Jackson’s greatest asset. There’s no hopscotching from fall line to fall line on this mountain. The entire resort is one contiguous, unrelenting and glorious slope that points where it’s supposed to point: down. Those searching for wandering, time-wasting cat tracks might want to consider Colorado. For inquiries on something scenic like a movie (the Tetons), prolific like the Himalayas (450″ of snow) and a fun that’s a little bit different from anywhere else, try Wyoming.