Ski North America's best backcountry slopes without sacrificing creature comforts.
Mr. Luxury Ski
Your vacation is too valuable to spend even a second in lift lines with the no-skill snow bunnies and that guy wearing jeans. This winter, get your powder turns far from the madding crowd by booking a backcountry adventure.
While hiking up a rocky ridge or jumping out of a chopper that just landed on a snowy mountaintop may sound intimidating, the terrain can be anything but. Backcountry trips don’t just hit the steep-and-deep you see in those ski movies (although you can drop into those runs if you’re up for it); these top operators get you to the terrain that matches your ability, whether you’re into wide-open bowls or perfectly spaced glades. In fact, the pitch of the slopes you carve may be close to those found on a resort run rated blue or blue-black—the difference is you’ll be the only skier for miles in all directions.
With all that fresh powder yours for the taking, you’re going to need a pair of fat skis for plenty of float, plus an avalanche beacon, a rescue probe, a shovel, and a ski backpack to carry it all. (Most outfitters rent the requisite gear and provide basic avalanche-safety training.) Best of all, backcountry days with these guides all start and end at luxe mountain lodges with every amenity you can think of. Steamy alfresco hot tubs? Check. Decadent spa with top-notch therapists? Sure thing. Private chefs cooking up breakfast, lunch, and dinner to order? Can do. Some of these spots even pump oxygen into your bedroom to help you recover from a day spent in the thin air of high altitude.
Where cat- or heli-skiing is available at or near a ski resort, you can tack a day on for around $1,500 per person, though the larger your party and the further in advance you book, the better the pricing. In more remote spots, all-inclusive ski-and-stay packages range from about $4,500 per person for three days to $11,500 per person for seven days.
So what are you waiting for? We’ve paired the best backcountry adventures with the most decadent digs on the mountain—go forth and shred.
CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
Ski: The West Elk Range cradling the town of Crested Butte provides the perfect mix of terrain, from rocky chutes to gorgeous glades and wide-open bowls, all blanketed with Colorado’s legendary dry powder. It’s all at your ski tips on Eleven Experience’s Irwin, where more than 1,000 skiable acres are accessed only by modified snowcats, tracked vehicles used to groom snow. The mountain’s wonders are unlocked through the expertise of your guides, so smear buttery powder turns in mellow bowls or bomb the steep stuff to your heart’s content with nary a soul in sight. When you get to the bottom, the snowcat—heated and equipped with leather seats and state-of-the-art sound system—takes you back to the top. If you need a breather, the cat can steer to the mountaintop Movie Cabin, a cozy lodge equipped with a bar, custom leather furnishings, and a toasty wood-burning fireplace.
Stay: From the outside, Eleven Experience’s Scarp Ridge Lodge looks almost exactly as it did in 1885, when it was a saloon for miners seeking their fortunes in the Rockies. Behind the Victorian facade, however, is your private seven-bedroom pad, complete with indoor saltwater pool, sauna, movie theater, bar with fireside lounge, and library. There’s a gourmet kitchen, too, but no need to lift a finger there, because a chef preps breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll sleep tight, since the bedrooms are pumped full of pure oxygen all night to help flatlanders acclimate to altitude. (elevenexperience.com)
VERNON, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Ski: Deep in British Columbia’s interior, the magnificent Monashee Range collects copious amounts of supremely light, dry snow. Kingfisher Heliskiing flies in the Monashees under an exclusive permit, providing discerning shredders with a private 120,000-acre (190-square-mile) powder playground. So vast is this white wilderness that you may very well stake your claim on a first descent or an unconquered chute. The high alpine terrain is divine, and the massive old-growth cedar forests below are otherworldly. Weaving through these behemoths is as surreal as skiing gets. (kingfisherheliskiing.com)
Stay: Chiseled into the granite outcropping atop Mount Royce in the foothills above Lake Okanagan, Sparkling Hill Resort radiates with 3.5 million Swarovski crystals ($10 million worth) integrated into everything from the shimmering chandeliers to the bathroom doors. All 152 guest rooms and suites drip with bling, too, from the in-wall crystal “fireplace,” a flame-mimicking sculpture that glows a fiery red, to the freestanding tub beside a window wall overlooking the mountains. The centerpiece of the resort is its 40,000-square-foot KurSpa, Canada’s largest spa. It’s staffed by a phalanx of therapists, plus a psychiatrist and a naturopathic doctor, and offers more than 100 treatments. Or you can simply relax in seven unique aromatherapy steam and sauna rooms or soak in indoor and outdoor salt pools. Come morning, power up with a gourmet breakfast and then get out to the resort’s helipad, where Kingfisher’s whirlybirds wait to whisk you back into the Monashees. (sparklinghill.com)
Ski: America’s last frontier is a powder paradise, the dimensions of which are difficult to comprehend. Consider that Tordrillo Mountain Lodge’s heli-ski guides fly 1.2 million acres in the Tordrillo Range, which sees more than 600 inches of snow each winter. A network of pilots, remote weather stations, and years of experience help your guides find the best runs, with fresh snow all but guaranteed. Most runs drop 3,000 to 5,000 vertical feet, with many landing and pickup zones providing stunning panoramic views all the way to the High One—20,320-foot Denali. If it sounds a little, well, intimidating, don’t sweat it: Tordrillo Mountain Lodge’s guides are with you every step of the way and are some of the biggest names in the business. For almost two decades, Olympic gold medalist and guide Tommy Moe and heli-ski pioneers Greg Harms and Mike Overcast have guided these peaks, and they know how to get intermediate and advanced skiers the thrills they crave. (tordrillomountainlodge.com)
Stay: Tordrillo Mountain Lodge’s brand-new 4,600-square-foot log cabin is an oasis of sophistication and comfort amid one of North America’s last untamed mountain ranges. Panoramic views of the Tordrillos are the highlight of the great room. Five bedrooms—all with private baths—sleep eight comfortably, while a stocked bar, deep wine cellar, and wood-fired hot tub make for an intimate après-ski scene. If a soak won’t work out the kinks, an in-room massage might do the trick. Dinner is cooked to order by a private chef; just be sure to order local specialties, like grilled king salmon. Best of all, it’s steps from the helipad, where the whirlybird sits primed for tomorrow’s powder-filled adventures.
JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING
Ski: With its stunning Grand Teton National Park panoramics and 4,000-foot vertical drop, as well as the legendary Red Tram, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is a worthy notch on any schusser’s belt. But it’s hard not to wonder what lurks beyond the resort boundaries. Heed the call of the wild with the resort’s guided backcountry tour and go where no lift, snowcat, or chopper can. You’ll hike and climb to the top of rocky chutes that spill out into rolling glades. If you’re really looking to get away from civilization, guided trips to Teton Pass pair epic views of the famed peaks with surprisingly varied slopes, from steeps to big bowls. (jacksonhole.com)
Stay: Jackson Hole’s combination of rugged alpine terrain and posh pads is unrivaled in the West, and Four Seasons Jackson Hole is the best ski-in, ski-out in Teton Village. Dedicated ski concierges have your gear ready to slide first thing in the morning and are at the bottom of the hill in the evening to collect it, dry it, and make any adjustments you need for the next day. Standard guest rooms are anything but; if you really want to experience the ultimate in mountain luxe, though, book a two-, three- or four-bedroom residence for that log-cabin feel, with wood and stone finishes, gas fireplaces, and private Teton-view balconies. Après-ski, enjoy a soak in one of three hot springs–style whirlpools, or hightail it to the hotel’s 11,685-square-foot spa for a deep-tissue massage with arnica to soothe sore joints and muscles. (fourseasons.com/jacksonhole)
This article originally appeared in The Cask by Glenlivet.