By Randy Yagi
The winter ski season is in full swing with many of the country’s leading resorts enjoying plenty of fresh powder, plenty of blues skies and great weather. But some winter sports fans like to take it to a higher level, by engaging in some of most extreme activities ever invented, whether it’s alpine skiing down the highest vertical drop or soaring through some backside air at the toughest snowboard terrain parks. For a few suggestions with the thrill-seeker in mind, here are five of the best vacation spots in America for extreme winter sports.
Home to four world-class ski resorts, Aspen is without question one of the world’s most famous year-round destinations and blessed with an array of winter activities. While each of the four resorts are beginner and family friendly, these resorts collectively known as Aspen-Snowmass, also offer plenty of extreme things to do. In fact, X Games Aspen, featuring some of the greatest extreme sports athletes on the planet, is returning January 28 and all sport competitions are free to the public. But thrill seekers can also venture out to do their own extreme activities, such as taking on the second highest vertical drop in the country at Snowmass or one of the steepest and most challenging ski runs in Colorado at the legendary Highland Bowl at Aspen Highland or even go ice climbing with Aspen Expeditions or NASTAR skiing at Snowmass or Aspen Mountain. For snowboarders of all levels, there are a number of terrain parks to explore and the new Breathtaker Alpine Coaster adjacent to the Elk Camp Restaurant at Snowmass, can provide thrills for all ages. For lodging, the Aspen-Snowmass area offers an assortment of accommodations, including Hotel Jerome, The Little Nell, Hyatt Residence Club Grand Aspen, Westin Snowmass Resort and Viceroy Snowmass, as well an enormous assemblage of other lodges and vacation rentals like condominiums and private homes.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
For skiers looking for a destination with the most extreme adrenaline rush, the top choice is likely to be Jackson Hole, located in the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains. That’s because the namesake’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is the legendary setting for Corbet’s Couloir, one of the world’s most terrifying ski runs and widely described as “America’s scariest ski slope”, yet provided with plenty of frequent tram service via the familiar Jackson Hole Aerial Tram. But the resort offers plenty of other thrilling activities for extreme sports enthusiasts, such as four Burton Stash Parks, two terrain parks for skiers and snowboarders and an 18-foot high halfpipe, winter bike tours, paragliding above Teton Village, and even heli and cat skiing. Still other adventures can be enjoyed with snowmobiling, cross country skiing, ice climbing, night skiing and the family friendly Winter Cowboy Coaster at Snow King Mountain, the first ski area in Wyoming in the town of Jackson. An assortment of finest lodging can either found at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Teton Village, like two Noble House luxury boutiques – Hotel Terra and Teton Mountain Lodge, Snake River Lodge and Spa and the five-star Four Seasons Jackson Hole or in Jackson, such as the glamorous Hotel Jackson, the Wort Hotel, once named Best Historic Small Hotel in the U.S, and the ultra-luxurious Amangani.
Lake Placid, New York
Located with the Adirondack Mountains where it’s believed the word “vacation” originated, Lake Placid is sometimes referred to as “America’s First Winter Resort”. An historic destination since the early 19th century, where New Yorkers would go when they “vacated” their city, this small village in Upstate New York is also the only American destination to host two Winter Olympics and has been named Ski Magazine’s top resort in the East for off-hill activities for an astounding 27 consecutive years. With extreme sporting activities open to the public at Olympic sites, including the popular ski resort with the biggest vertical drops in the Northeast, it’s no surprise Lake Placid is a hotspot for extreme winter sports activities. At the Olympic Sports Complex at Whiteface Lake Placid, visitors can take a thrilling luge or bobsled ride while at the Olympic Skating Oval nearby, ice skaters can perhaps skate faster than ever before or take a more casual approach at the 1932 Jack Shea Arena. Although the Olympic (Ski) Jumping Complex can only be viewed on a group tour, Whiteface Mountain features three peaks, nearly 300 acres of skiable area, including off-piste skiing and 87 trails, and with a top elevation of 4,386 feet, in addition to a terrain park that’s open to skiers and snowboarders of all levels of ability. A variety of overnight accommodations can be found throughout the Lake Placid area, and includes top rated places like Lake Placid Lodge, Whiteface Lodge, High Peaks Resort and Mirror Lake Inn, recently named No. 2 among the Best Ski Hotels in North America by USA Today.
Lake Tahoe, California
Often regarded as the best lakeside destination in America, Lake Tahoe is also acclaimed as a hotspot for extreme winter sports. For instance, some of the world’s best backcountry skiing areas are all around North Lake Tahoe, particularly near leading resorts like Northstar and Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, but also at Mount Rose on the Nevada side of the Lake and at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. In all, there are more than 12 world-class ski resorts in Tahoe and the epic Chimney chute in Squaw Valley has been described as one of the scariest ski runs in North America while more recently, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows was named an Official Training Site for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team. Other extreme winter activities that may be available at regional ski resorts and local business include Nordic skiing, snowboarding, fat tire biking, dog sledding and ice climbing. Exceptional lodging is available all the around Lake Tahoe, with notable lodging at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe at Northstar, Squaw Valley Lodge and the new Edgewood Tahoe, a fabulous lakeside luxury resort, with a complimentary shuttle service to Heavenly Mountain. For visitors who think a vacation isn’t enough, Clear Creek Tahoe is a exclusive residential community just east of Lake Tahoe, with a championship-caliber golf course designed by Bill Coore and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and Twin Pines Lake House, a stunning lakeside property designed by the famed architect Julia Morgan.
Park City, Utah
Boasting two world-class ski resorts, Park City is an extraordinary winter vacation spot with a bevy of winter activities including some just thrill-seekers. Indeed, as the setting for many of the events held during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City is only one of two American cities with an active bobsled track at Utah Olympic Park, which also offers other thrilling attractions like Extreme Ziplining and tubing down a Nordic Ski Jump. As America’s largest ski resort with more than 7,300 skiable acres, 348 trails and eight terrain parks, Park City Mountain has some of the most extreme ski runs in the country, like 6 Bells and the East Face of Jupiter Peak, as well as off-piste skiing and some extreme attractions that are kid friendly, like the Alpine Coaster, snowmobiling and the Flying Eagle Zipline. Not to undone, Deer Valley Resort is noticeably smaller, but it’s among the best ski resorts on the continent and was a host venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics. In addition to more than 2,000 skiable acres, 101 ski runs and a handful of steep runs like Daly Chute #4 and 3 Kings, the skier-only Deer Valley has other fun activities like Nordic skiing, dog sledding and NASTAR ski racing on Bald Mountain. Plenty of lodging is available at either resort and includes such gems as the Waldorf Astoria Park City, Montage Deer Valley, St. Regis Deer Valley and the historic Stein Eriksen Lodge.
Related: 5 Best Ski Lodges In The U.S.