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posted on January 24, 2020

Mountain fun without the crowds

The North American winter has had a dramatic start, with a number of big storms pounding all regions of the continent over the past couple months. But instead of following the herds of skiers and snowboarders to the same popular resorts, take a chance and try visiting a new mountain for your next winter vacation. With shorter lift lines and less afternoon traffic than better-known favorites, these under-the-radar ski resorts will make the trip worthwhile.

Taos Ski Valley, NM

Secluded in the Northern New Mexico desert, Taos is quickly gaining buzz as a top-shelf ski destination. The Native American and Spanish traditions of the Southwest give Taos a different feel from the conventional ski towns of the Rockies and Sierra. And as the world’s only certified B Corp ski resort, Taos is focused on using their business as a force for good, as well as fun.

Taos boasts 110 trails, with tons of advanced and expert terrain and a summit that tops out at nearly 12,500 feet. The high altitude plus dry desert atmosphere make for super light and powdery snow, if you’re into that. Taos is on the resort list for Ikon passholders, and is about two and a half hours’ drive from Albuquerque or five hours south from Denver.

Kirkwood, CA

The Lake Tahoe area boasts at least a dozen ski resorts, with each offering something different for different skiers and riders. Though popular, Kirkwood is not as big or well-known as some of the more celebrated Tahoe resorts like Northstar and Squaw Valley. Kirkwood is slightly removed from the glamor of Tahoe’s mightiest mountains, nearly an hour’s drive south of the lake. Locals prize its friendly small-mountain vibe, but the mountain still offers world-class terrain with plenty of imposing double-black cliffs and chutes.

Kirkwood is about a four-hour drive from San Francisco, or two hours from Reno. It’s accessible only via CA Route 88 in either direction, which can close during big storms. If you have the Epic Pass, loop in a day at Kirkwood during a Tahoe trip to Heavenly or Northstar.

Sun Valley, ID

Sun Valley, Idaho has a very long tradition of hosting wealthy Europeans, Hollywood stars, and Olympic athletes on its sun-dappled slopes. But today, it still flies a bit under the radar for much of the general skiing public. The relative remoteness allows it to stay mostly free of huge crowds and traffic jams, which is fantastic for enjoying the comfortable weather and countless luxurious groomers — Sun Valley has more lift capacity per skier than almost any major resort on the continent.

The resort has a laid-back atmosphere but is known for delivering the highest level of service for anyone who visits, well-heeled or otherwise. For the 2019-20 season, the Epic Local Pass includes two days at Sun Valley. You can fly into Sun Valley itself, otherwise it’s about three hours driving from Boise or five from Salt Lake City.

Jay Peak Resort, VT

Jay Peak boasts the highest annual snowfall in eastern North America. By no means is this an unknown mountain, but Northeasterners have a handful of great options to choose from, and Stowe and Killington steal much of the recognition for Vermont destinations. Jay Peak has 81 trails that are remarkably connected with glades and chutes — the resort’s liberal in-bounds policy lets you play around to your heart’s content.

Jay Peak is about four hours from Boston or two hours from Montreal on the Canadian side.

SilverStar Mountain Resort, BC

One of Canada’s oldest ski resorts, SilverStar is certainly no secret among British Columbians. But Americans and east coast Canadians may overlook this gem in favor of the more famous Whistler Blackcomb. SilverStar is a monster of a resort, with 132 runs and a lot of terrain for Nordic ski enthusiasts — it’s possible to ski for five miles straight at SilverStar. And with BC’s famed light and dry snow, SilverStar is a great alternative option in Canada. There are daily international flights to nearby Kelowna, or, it’s a breathtaking 5-6 hour drive from Vancouver.

Steven is an avid car guy and content maker at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.