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Attention, Epic and Ikon season pass holders: You have access to dozens of mountains around the world. With your lift ticket already covered, why not splurge on a bucket-list destination outside of the United States? Here’s the lowdown on some of the best skiing, riding, and après-ing across five continents.
O’er the Ramparts
Slip through Whistler Blackcomb’s gates for a multiday backcountry roller coaster on the Spearhead Traverse.
I stand on the edge of the world with a lump in my throat as big as Decker Mountain, the squared-off summit that sits between me and Whistler Blackcomb, about four miles away. Peaks smeared with chewing-gum-blue glaciers pock the horizon. Beneath the tips of my skis: about 10 feet of gravity and then a majestic flute of snow that unfurls the length of a football field to a flat spot, our camp for the night.
“Dropping!” I announce, before pushing into the couloir, where I land with a light thump. The snow is soft—the result of Mother Nature slow-cooking it all day—and I link a few easy turns before coasting to a stop. I’ve been backcountry skiing and winter camping for a decade in the Rocky Mountains, but this is the only time I’ve ever skied into camp. In Colorado, you have to climb up, up, and away to get anywhere good, which means you’re usually pulling into your hut or tent site on skins with leaden legs.
The Spearhead Traverse is different. The roughly 21-mile, horseshoe-shaped circuit, which links the Whistler side of the British Columbia–based resort to the Blackcomb boundary, starts on a chairlift. With the Epic or Epic Local passes, you cut out 2,500 vertical feet of climbing before you’ve even started the tour. Then you undulate through the glaciated Coast Mountains, hanging between 7,000 and 8,000 feet of elevation for most of the journey.
Plenty of backcountry guides lead clients along the route, whose climbs come in short but intense bursts, but you don’t need their services if, like my crew, you’re handy with a compass and topographical map and can comfortably negotiate—and gear up for—glaciated terrain and maritime snow conditions. So after ticking off a bucket list’s worth of descents inside one of North America’s largest resorts (32 lifts!), my six friends and I had loaded our overnight packs and left the frontcountry behind at the top of the Symphony Express.
We’d spent night one at the Kees and Claire Memorial Hut ($50 per person; reserve online 60 days in advance), just southeast of the ski resort, above Russet Lake. The shelter—which opened in 2019 as the first of a planned three-hut system—has propane cooktops, USB ports, toilets, space for 38 guests, and see-forever views. On night two, we tiptoed across a bolted cable in ski boots to reach camp on the icy shoulder of 8,222-foot Mt. Iago.
Now on our last night, standing in the flat area below Mts. Trorey and Pattison, I watch as my partners cross my tracks and whoop when they drop into the couloir one by one. It’s a group effort to make camp before we pick off the unnamed lines that surround us until the sun dips behind 7,943-foot Decker: We melt snow for drinking water, stamp out squares for tents, and dig a pit for the group tipi. There, we’ll kick up tired feet and sip well-deserved wine straight from the bag to celebrate triumphing over the slopes just beyond one of the world’s most famous skiing destinations. —Maren Horjus
Epic: Whistler Blackcomb
Getting There: Air Canada and United offer direct flights to Vancouver. To reach the resort, rent a car or book a shuttle for the two-hour ride.
Stay: The rooms at Nita Lake Lodge, a lakeside hotel, were refreshed this spring. Even better: The boutique spot is within walking distance of the newly upgraded, 10-person Creekside Gondola.
Eat: Bred, a vegan bakery in the Creekside Village base area, serves espressos and fresh-baked sourdough loaves and gooey cinnamon rolls.
Between turns, skiers at British Columbia resorts should look for the province’s iconic whitebark pine trees. The five-needle evergreens sit along the edge of treeline, where their seeds sustain local populations of grizzly bears and their deep root systems help retain snowpack. Widespread disease caused by a non-native fungus led to the pines being listed as endangered in 2012. But conservationists and ski resorts quickly partnered to protect the greenery: The Whistler Naturalists Society has been replenishing the trees at Whistler Blackcomb for more than a decade. In May, Panorama Mountain Resort was certified by the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation of Canada as the country’s first Whitebark Pine Friendly Ski Area in recognition of its replanting efforts—5,000 trees and counting—and its partnership with scientists to identify and rear saplings that are naturally resistant to the disease.—Jayme Moye
Getting There: United and WestJet offer direct service to Calgary; the closest resort to the city, Mt. Norquay, is a 1.5-hour drive (shuttles are available).
Stay: Mount Royal Hotel in downtown Banff updated the 115-year-old property in 2018 with rooftop hot tubs, a cocktail lounge, and a museum that reflects on the hotel and town’s past.
Side Trip: Local outfitters like Discover Banff Tours offer trips to see the Upper and Lower waterfalls of Johnston Canyon.
Alberta’s trio of ski resorts, collectively called SkiBig3, reside within 50 miles of one another. We highlight one can’t-miss trail at each.
Lake Louise Ski Resort
Lake Louise’s snowy back bowls are primarily expert-only territory, but Saddleback is a 1.5-mile groomed cruiser that will lead you from peak to base. Plus, it kicks off with 360-degree vistas from the six-person Top of the World Express lift.
Pit Stop: Temple Lodge awaits near the end of the trail. The resort as we know it today grew out of this single 1930s timber-frame chalet. Now, the chalet is a popular spot to kick back on the expansive deck with tacos and a beer.
Run: South Divide
Look out for Tower 16 on your ride up the Great Divide Express Quad to the start of this wide, 1.8-mile-long groomer. That’s the spot where the chairlift crosses briefly into British Columbia—the only lift in the country that spans two provinces.
Pit Stop: Glance to the south as you schuss down the short Lookout Mountain run. In the distance, you’ll spot Mt. Assiniboine, an 11,870-foot peak known as the Matterhorn of the Rockies, thanks to its pyramidal shape.
Run: Lone Pine
This leg-burner, dotted with moguls, was one of the first runs in North America to be designated as a double black diamond. Before you drop down its 1,300 feet, scope views of Banff, the town that sits just four miles from the resort.
Pit Stop: Get some liquid courage from a cup of hand-blended, local Jolene’s tea (perhaps with a shot of whiskey?) at the venerable Cliffhouse Bistro. The eatery, perched at the summit of the North American chairlift, first opened in the 1950s and counts Marilyn Monroe among its famous patrons.
Getting There: United offers a direct flight to Tokyo. From there, it’s a sub-two-hour bullet train ride and then a jaunt on a free ski shuttle to Lotte Arai. To reach Niseko United, hop a domestic flight from Tokyo to Sapporo and then take the local shuttle bus.
Stay: Lotte Arai Resort is that mountain’s only base area lodging and has plenty of dining options. Setsu Niseko opened last year and is a true retreat at the base of Grand Hirafu, one of Niseko’s four resorts, with indoor and outdoor onsens, a spa, and luxury rooms outfitted with small kitchens.
Is Japow Really Better?
Coloradans are proud of their snow: Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation trademarked “Champagne Powder,” after all. But when it comes to the white stuff, the island nation’s bountiful snowfall may have us beat. We crunched the numbers and spoke to SnowLocals, a Telluride-based company that plans ski and snowboard trips to Japan, to resolve the debate.
Months in a typical ski season
Colorado: 5 (Mid-November to mid-April)
Japan: 5.5 (December to early May)
Inches of annual snowfall
Colorado: 430 (At Wolf Creek, the state’s snowiest resort)
Japan: 600 (At Niseko Hanazono Resort, one of Japan’s snowiest spots)
Average temperature range
Colorado: 6-29 Degrees (Vail in January)
Japan: 19-31 Degrees (Hokkaido in January)
Average moisture content in snow
During your layover In… Tokyo, Japan
1. Take in the capital city from the 360-degree observation deck at Shibuya Sky skyscraper. If the weather cooperates, Mt. Fuji may be visible. (Tip: Tickets are cheaper if you book online in advance.)
2. Grab a snack—egg rolls, sushi, you name it—and explore the shops that line Tsukiji Outer Market, known as Japan’s “food town.”
3. Travel back in time to old Tokyo with a train ride to Asakusa, a historical district best known for the Sensoji Temple, the artisan- and eatery-lined Nakamise street, and the Asakusa Hanayashiki theme park.
“Japan has the deepest and lightest snow in the world. Imagine California amounts of snow but with Colorado quality.”
—Charlie Cohn, co-founder, SnowLocals
Earn Your Breaks
You physically can’t spend every hour of your trip skiing. So shred, then give your quads a rest with equally epic downtime activities at two of Japan’s premier resorts.
At Niseko United
Rip: Nab first tracks at Niseko Hanazono Resort, one of this Hokkaido icon’s four connected ski areas, by booking a guided cat skiing tour with Hanazono Powder Guides or Niseko Weiss Powder Cats.
Reward: An effortless adrenaline rush. During the family-friendly snow rafting experience at Hanazono, you’ll sit in the equivalent of a white-water raft while you get tugged along trails by a snowmobile.
Rip: Surf through deep powder in the Annupuri Bowls, where riders can relish in some of the resort’s steepest and longest runs.
Reward: Top-shelf cuisine. The eats at venues such as Bar Gyu+ (the area’s oldest cocktail bar, with a Coca-Cola vending machine door as its entrance) and Kamimura, Michelin-starred chef Yuichi Kamimura’s French-inspired restaurant, go well beyond the typical post-ski burger-and-beer combo.
At Lotte Arai Resort
Rip: Enjoy freshies on Arai Snow Resort’s 14 trails, which saw 866 inches in 2022.
Reward: Sake with a side of history. Lap up the fermented rice beverage—and learn the traditional methods of making it—during a tour of Kiminoi Shuzo or Chiyonohikari Shuzo. The Niigata Prefecture’s plentiful snowfall results in an abundance of fresh water for brewing.
Rip: From the resort’s uppermost lift, hike to the summit of Mt. Okenashi for some extra pow turns.
Reward: Pure relaxation. Hoshizora Onsen has a collection of outdoor hot spring baths at Lotte Arai Resort. (There’s an indoor pool and day spa, too.)
Ikon: Valle Nevado
Getting There: There are no direct flights to Santiago (the closest city, 44 miles away). Delta, American, United, and other airlines offer connecting routes through cities like Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles; shuttles or taxis are available.
Stay: Hotel Valle Nevado is one of the few lodges that offer direct slope access.
Must-Have Experience: It’ll cost you (as in, $9,000 extra, for up to four people), but booking a heli-skiing tour is worth the splurge. The Andes Mountains are the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere, so you’ll enjoy extra-long runs—with tons of vertical—that’ll get those quads Northern-Hemisphere-season-ready.
Professional skiers don’t take a summer break. They keep training by booking it to where the snow is just starting to fall—i.e., the Southern Hemisphere. This summer, make like the people who do this for a living and keep the turns coming at Chile’s Valle Nevado, one of the largest resorts in South America (usually open from late June through late September). We chatted with Littleton-born U.S. ski team member Kyle Negomir (catch him in the super-G and downhill races) about a recent trip south.
5280: We’ve heard the drive up from Santiago is pretty gnarly.
Kyle Negomir: You fly into Santiago and then just drive straight up the mountain for an hour and a half. It’s kind of like driving up I-70 out of Denver, except way more rural on a steep, windy road up the side of this mountain, and you go thousands of feet in an hour. It’s crazy.
What’s the mountain like?
Everyone goes down and you expect, Oh, it’s South America, and you think of the beaches in Brazil. But there’s full-time winter skiing…. When I was in Valle Nevado, we had full-on powder for a week. We really couldn’t even train for racing because there was so much snow.
How does the snow compare to your hometown mountains?
You get that same sort of dry Champagne Powder kind of feel, which is pretty unique.
Describe the terrain in Valle Nevado.
You don’t really have mogul runs like you do in the United States. You’re above treeline for a lot of Valle Nevado, so there’s not a lot of tree skiing. You’re either on-piste, on the groomers, or off-piste powder skiing.
What did you think of the food down there? Good?
Chileans in general eat a lot of meat…. A super common thing in Chile is they do asado—a Chilean barbecue. You get all sorts of different kinds of meat and sausages, just grilled.
There had to be some good drinks, too. If you’re allowed those when you’re training, that is.
Everywhere in Chile has these pisco sours, and that’s always the drink you get down there. And a lot of cheap beer.
Anything else potential ski travelers should know?
[Expect] the most spectacular sunsets you’ll ever see in your life. It’s almost as much of a draw as the skiing.
If you visit Valle Nevado next season, you can thank a Colorado company for the updated lifts you’ll be riding: In March, Durango-based Mountain Capital Partners (MCP) became the resort’s majority owner. MCP’s portfolio contains a dozen other ski areas, including Purgatory and Hesperus in Colorado, as well as bike parks and golf courses across the Southwest—but Valle Nevado marks the ski resort management company’s first foray outside the United States. “We love fun ski areas that show a ton of potential,” marketing director Stacey Glaser says. “What captured it for [managing partner James Coleman] was the beauty, the people, the food, and the incredible skiing.” Experience the resort yourself with the Ikon Pass or on MCP’s Power Pass and Power Pass Select, all of which include seven days at Valle.
Incorporate these three can’t-miss trails at Valle Nevado into your own skills clinic.
- To sharpen your turns: Lap the advanced-intermediate (outside of North America, these are marked as reds as opposed to, say, a blue-black) and expert runs off the Tres Puntas lift. Don’t forget to snap a photo of Cerro El Plomo, a 17,800-foot peak, along the way.
- To find powder: Head up the Ancla lift and point your tips down any of the unnamed—and ungroomed—runs that unfurl below it. (Keep an eye out for Andean condors flying overhead.)
- To test your mental toughness: Carefully choose your line down the steep El Dedo trail, one of the mountain’s only double-black slopes.
During your layover In… Santiago, Chile
1. Hop in a taxi to Cerro San Cristobal, the capital city’s largest green space, where you’ll find the Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción statue that overlooks the metro area.
2. Build a lunch from various stalls at La Vega Central Market. Must-haves include mote con huesillo (a drink made from husked wheat and dried peaches) and chirimoya (custard apples).
3. Learn how Chile moved from dictatorship to democracy at the free Memory and Human Rights Museum, which highlights those affected by the violent rule of General Augusto Pinochet.
Epic: Mt. Hotham & Falls Creek
Getting There: DIA doesn’t offer any direct flights to Australia; you’ll have to fly United, American, or another airline, most likely via San Francisco or Los Angeles, to Melbourne. Rental cars, buses, or a train will all get you to the hills.
Stay: Visiting Hotham with an SO? Heat things up with an overnight stay in a wood-fire-equipped Hypedome or an igloo at Alpine Nature Experience. Keep the family together in Frueauf Village’s one- to four-bedroom rentals in central Falls Creek.
Go Between: Heli-hops are available between the resorts (starting at $200 per person, one-way).
If you’re willing to drive the two hours between them, you can cross a pair of mountains off your checklist during a visit to Oz. But we won’t blame you if you want to stay put after all the time it took to get Down Under. Mt. Hotham and Falls Creek appeal to different kinds of skiers: The former is known for its steep, expert terrain, while the latter is all about family-friendly runs. Here’s what you need to know to make the right choice for your ski crew—and remember, the snow falls from June to October.
Mt. Hotham: 791
Falls Creek: 1,112
Mt. Hotham: 80% Intermediate/Advanced
Falls Creek: 80% Beginner/Intermediate
Number of trails
Mt. Hotham: 72
Falls Creek: 90
Mt. Hotham: Heavenly Valley is a series of primarily black diamond gully runs; beat the crowds from Wednesday to Sunday when the namesake lift opens at 7:30 a.m.
Falls Creek: Wombat’s Ramble is Australia’s longest green run, stretching nearly 1.5 miles. Give it a go on Wednesday and Saturday nights, when it’s lit up from 6 to 8:45 p.m.
Grab a bite
Mt. Hotham: Hit the General—Australia’s highest pub, located near the Big D ski area—for fresh-from-the-oven pizzas (named after Hotham runs) and live music.
Falls Creek: Ory’s Falls Creek opened in the base village last season with a menu of Australian cuisine, which translates to toasties and baked beans in the morning and fresh fish and beef dishes later in the day.
Mt. Hotham: Expertly crafted cocktails await at the recently expanded, on-mountain Miss Mary’s.
Falls Creek: Taste brews from across the continent at the Frying Pan Inn, situated in the Village Bowl base area.
During your layover In… Melbourne, Australia
1. Eat at Carlton Wine Room—a locals’ favorite for its seasonal menu (the stracciatella is a must-order) and globe-spanning wine list.
2. Fall and winter in the Southern Hemisphere means Australian Football League season at Melbourne Cricket Ground, so catch a match of the sport Aussies call “footy.”
3. Meander along Southbank, a riverside walk lined with boutiques and eateries as well as the gorgeous Royal Botanic Gardens.
Have Skis, Will Travel
Don’t leave the country without these four easy-to-pack, homegrown pieces of gear. —MH
Flylow Daily Driver Gloves, $50
Whether you’re lugging suitcases through inclement weather, helping Junior clip into ice-cold boots, or hitting the slopes, the new, do-it-all Daily Driver gloves from Denver’s Flylow are a ski necessity. A pliable goatskin leather outer helps maintain dexterity for precise tasks, while a plush fleece lining keeps digits warm when the temps plummet.
MountainFlow EcoTour Poles, $130
Carbondale-based MountainFlow’s adjustable poles are made of super-strong recycled aluminum and telescope from 105 to 140 centimeters, meaning they’ll work for the whole family. They’re also featherlight—coming in at just over a pound for the pair—so they won’t eat up your luggage weight allowance.
Thule RoundTrip Roller Bag, $300
Ease the stress of airport travel with a wheeled ski or snowboard bag such as the recently updated Thule RoundTrip. (The Swiss company has an office in Longmont.) Internal straps secure two pairs of skis and poles, and a clever S-shaped zipper on the outside helps creative packers add a trip’s worth of gear and accessories in the crevices without stressing the seams.
Obermeyer Quinn One-Piece, $180
Simplify your grom’s packing list with the technical Quinn one-piece from Aspen-based Obermeyer. Parents will appreciate thoughtful features such as synthetic insulation from head to tiny toe, grow-with-me hems in the sleeves and legs, an easy-to-manage zipper for potty breaks, and pockets aplenty (aka snack storage).
Getting There: There are no direct flights to Zurich from Denver in the winter (those only run May through August), but United, Lufthansa, and Swiss International Air Lines will all get you there via other stops. To cover the 76 miles to the resort, hop on a train, rent a car, or book a private transfer.
Stay: The five-star Chedi Andermatt is an ideal spot to unwind, primarily because of its 26,000-square-foot spa (hello, deep tissue massage) and heated outdoor pool. Plus, you can indulge climate-guilt-free because the eco-friendly property runs on hydroelectric and wind power.
Getting There: No airlines fly directly to Geneva Airport (about 60 miles from the resort; shuttles or the bus or train are your best bets for reaching the mountains), but Delta, Air France, and others offer connecting options.
Stay: Situated along Chamonix’s lively core, the 52-room Hotel Richemond is still run by the same family that built it in 1914.
Side Trip: Mer de Glace (which translates to “sea of ice”) is a four-mile-long glacier—with an accessible ice cave—reachable by train from Chamonix.
After a $1.9 billion upgrade in 2021, Andermatt—one of the three areas that comprise the Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis resort—transformed from a cozy Swiss ski village into a hot spot for global travelers, with a five-star hotel, new high-speed lifts, and Michelin-starred restaurants. Here, an itinerary for a perfect day. —Donna Sozio
After a Swiss breakfast of muesli, house-made jam, and croissants at your hotel, gear up for a morning of off-piste adventures while your legs are fresh. Disembark from the gondola on south-facing Gemsstock Mountain to drop into its steep and deep powder chutes and couloirs. The Felsental bowl delivers exciting, varied descents for experts and intermediates, including Gipfel Couloir.
The sunny terrace of Michelin-starred Gütsch by Markus Neff—with its Swiss wines and Ursern Valley specialties, such as local Gotthard pike perch—calls to famished skiers. Or cozy up inside Rüti Hütte, a generations-old stone cattle barn that sits just above the Andermatt-Nätschen-Gütsch gondola and serves traditional fondue, rösti (a crispy potato cake), and sausages.
Choose your own post-lunch adventure: Enjoy dramatic valley views while cruising the Sonnenpiste 70 intermediate groomer on St. Anna Glacier, or give your muscles a reprieve with a toboggan ride down Oberalp Pass from the Gütsch-Express gondola.
Bask in the alpenglow while raising a glass of cherry-based Bündner Röteli at Gadäbar, a rustic midmountain hut that serves Swiss liqueurs. Then change up your view by hopping the 45-minute train to Sedrun’s beloved BigT bar, where après-ski often turns into an all-night disco party.
Dramatic peaks set the backdrop for dinner, too: The Japanese, a Michelin-starred restaurant at the Chedi Andermatt, sits at 7,690 feet and is accessible only via Andermatt’s Gütsch-Express. Your go-to order should be the omakase menu paired with something from the extensive sake list. In the village, the traditional Gasthaus Ochsen restaurant is known for its inventive fondue options.
During your layover In… Zurich, Switzerland
1. Stroll Old Town’s cobblestone streets, which are lined with colorful buildings and shops. Grossmünster, a twin-towered church built in 1100, is one of the city’s central landmarks.
2. Learn to make your own bar at the Lindt Home of Chocolate museum. Our recommendation: Take a bus there, then relax on a 30-minute cruise on Lake Zurich back to Bürkliplatz dock; buy a ticket for the public ferry online.
3. For an authentic Swiss meal of veal sausage, rösti, and chocolate mousse, reserve a table at Kronenhalle. The restaurant has been in business since 1924, and its walls are covered in original artwork by legends such as Marc Chagall and Joan Miró.
Ski, Eat, Repeat
From snowy peaks to small villages, explore the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley’s five distinct ski areas. —Donna Sozio
1. Vallée Blanche
Ski Here: Hire a guide and strap on a beacon to descend 12 miles of unmarked and unmaintained—and utterly spectacular—powder. One of the world’s most famous off-piste runs, this near-mythical itinerary can take half a day to complete.
Then Eat Here: At the summit sits Restaurant Le 3842, which is accessible by cable car and offers unparalleled vistas to go with its traditional eats.
2. Les Grands Montets
Ski Here: Above the village of Argentière is the north-facing Les Grands Montets, a mecca for freeriders who are drawn to its glacier terrain and flowing bowls.
Then Eat Here: Après at Chambre Neuf, where you can mingle with the locals who come to warm up with a stiff shot of génépi liqueur, talk ski lines, and dance.
3. Domaine de Balme
Ski Here: Broad bowls, wide slopes, and forested runs define this ski area, which crosses the villages of Vallorcine and Le Tour in the Haute-Savoie region.
Then Eat Here: For Savoyard specialties in an authentic alpine hut, step into the Alpage de Balme Restaurant.
4. Les Houches
Ski Here: This FIS Alpine Ski World Cup stop’s tree-lined runs are the area’s best option for beginner and intermediate skiers who will benefit from smaller crowds while reveling in a side of majestic Aiguilles de Chamonix views.
Then Eat Here: Les Houches’ slopes are dotted with chalets and barns-turned-restaurants. Among our favorites is the 273-year-old Les Vieilles Luges. Dairy reigns here, so order the Gruyère fondue.
5. La Flégère and Le Brévent
Ski Here: The south-facing slopes of La Flégère and Le Brévent are just right for intermediate skiers thanks to the not-too-steep runs. The snow park will also thrill those who want to catch air.
Then Eat Here: Relax over lunch at La Bergerie de Plan-Praz. The mountain hut serves local Savoie Pinot Noir and a famed blueberry tartlet.