Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2021 with Insider Tips & COVID Updates
The Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2021 is for those who love winter and lots of snow, a ski vacation is the best imaginable. The U.S. News and Z Rankings, rankings of the Best Ski Destinations in the USA weigh the most important considerations: accessibility, accommodations, acreage, and annual snowfall, along with expert recommendations and readers’ top picks.
Our article compared several lists. They varied some, but almost all the lists have at least eight of the resorts listed. The common element that each list agreed on was the number one ski area in North America. While we can’t go into exceptional detail, we can give you enough information for you to decide where your next ski adventure will be.
Of note, is that many of the major ski areas have purchased sister resorts. In the past, skiers could buy a season pass or an individual pass to one resort, possibly two or three if they had other resort properties. With the competitive nature of the ski industry, now all the resorts listed in this article give access to either the Icon or Epic season pass. What that means to avid skiers, is that they can enjoy skiing at several resorts during the season without paying the increasingly high Single day past rate.
We will include the important Pure Awesomeness Factor (PAF) with each area as the criteria for the resort rankings.
A Note From Fox Travel’s Co-Owner James Bailey
In this digital world, where most people have taken to booking their own ski vacations online, you might wonder why Fox Travel is providing this information. The reason it is simple. Many of our clients and increasingly digitally savvy people are turning to travel planning experts that provide many benefits as well as saving time AND money. Our clients report they enjoy the planning process more as they can do the parts they love such as research, and then turn over the details to a professional travel adviser.
Your bonus: Our staff and owners have been to most of these ski resorts and stayed in the area.
Depending on how long your vacation is, how many people are going, how many places you’re visiting, planning a vacation can have a lot of moving parts. It’s not just the savings of time and stress, travel companies have access to perks, discounts, and specials not available to the public. We help you compare different destinations, avoid extra costs, explore how are your budget can be put to the best use, and give you insider information you might not otherwise find on the Internet. Best of all, this service has no cost to you.
What to Know About Planning Ahead With Regard to COVID
- Due to COVID, most resorts will ask you to book reservations in advance, which will make going for last-minute weekend trips harder but not impossible.
- Priority for reservations has been given to season or EPIC pass holders.
- You are really going to have to do your research for the resorts you will want to go to and find out what the rules and regulations are for booking your trip. You will also need to look into how you are going to get there. If you are going into a different state for your ski vacation you will also need to look into what that state’s rules are for coming and going.
- Many ski resorts will not be running parking shuttles and/or mountain shuttles. If they are running, it will be at a lower capacity and the wait times might be longer.
- A lot of Ski lodge eateries are going to require reservations so you will need to plan out your runs more so that you don’t miss your reservation. Some places will also have a time limit that you will even be able to spend at your table. If so, relaxing with a drink while you wait for your family to be done with a lesson or run may or may not be possible.
- It will be easiest to stay in a ski-in/ski-out condo where you can make your own meals.
- If you or your child are going to need lessons, you will need to make reservations in advance. There likely will not be any full-day ski programs for kids.
- Social distancing is a challenge in ski rental shops. It may be easier to arrange for ski rentals from a local ski shop and bring them with you. Alternatively, you can rent from someone that will deliver to your accommodations.
- You should look at your local state park websites and see if they offer any other winter activities like snowshoeing, sledding, or even just playing in the snow.
Without further ado, here are the Top 10 Ski Destinations.
#1 Jackson Hole, WY – Best Ski Destinations in the USA, PAF of 99.0
Jackson Hole Wyoming has taken its rightful place on the Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2021 built its reputation on steep slopes, incredible snow, Beautiful backcountry vistas, and lately, by broadening its appeal from primarily adult skiers to families.
The resort has carved a ski pass down a very steep mountain that is epic. By focusing on ski runs that were not well served with lifts, the resort has expanded both the number of runs and the variety so that not all runs are super steep.
During the 2018 offseason, the Solitude Station is now complete. For the first time, this lodge which is 12,000 square feet and situated at a mid-station, will serve the family market. Parents who love to ski and are introducing their children to the joy of the sport, find the Solitude Station an excellent addition to a favorite ski resort.
This new lodge, located at Grants Pass, solves two issues that were a barrier to young children: Learning to ski at Jackson Hole. One is that they’re learning where there are slopes gentle enough for them to learn to ski safely. The second issue was that even if parents took the gondola up to this area, little bodies and fingers get cold much faster. The Solitude Station lets parents and kids get warmed up by the fire, have a hot chocolate, and get back out of the slopes.
INSIDER TIP: With all the improvements to new additions with all the upgrades and new additions, Jackson Hole moved up the ladder of awesomeness and can now brand itself as a beginners resort as well as into the black diamond slopes for skiers.
#2 Telluride, CO – PAF 95.57
Coming in a close second, the all-ski town of Telluride Colorado. In our top 10 tier, if there’s a big dog in the pack, it’s this ski resort. First-time visitors often expressed regret that they didn’t discover this awesome ski area sooner.
The scenery is breathtakingly stunning, and it’s hard for other resorts’ beauty to compete for sheer beauty. The resort is packed with exciting shops, fun bars, tons of restaurants, and a cycle of new businesses that returning visitors can enjoy and ensure established businesses up their game.
The old mountain architecture blends with the striking new architecture that creates elegance and simplicity that please visitors and makes each trip to town an adventure.
Telluride has an exciting mix of the very high-end like luxury $5 million homes, right next door to rummage stores, ski stores, old books, and CDs. So you’ll find ski bums and rich folks side-by-side.
One thing you need to know: Telluride is it’s not just a ski town. Many ski runs cut through town. So you are maybe shopping or walking around and see people skiing right through the town. The town, the resort, the ski runs are invisibly linked and create a unique experience for visitors.
The upper area, called Mountain Village has loads of other types of housing like condos and homes that are available to rent. It also gives skiers easy access to the lifts which run from early morning to past midnight. So even if you’re partying in town, you can get a lift home without needing a vehicle.
Telluride’s skiing serves skiers of varying abilities very well. From beginners who might enjoy the easy angles underneath Mountain Village, and who can appreciate an almost 5-mile run that traverses nearly 12,000 feet.
For intermediate skiers, there is no shortage of well-groomed challenges. There is a daily snow party at the Gorrono Ranch. It’s been said that Telluride’s intermediate slopes have some of the best views in all of Colorado.
For the advanced skier, you’ll find the steepest slopes, amazing views of the town, and the runs that formed the original backbone of the resort. And the ultimate is Palmyra Peak. It is located 1500 feet above the highest chairlift and requires you to hike the last part. It requires a tremendous effort and skiers in excellent shape report it could take an hour or more to reach the ski off zone. And your efforts do not end there. It takes tremendous concentration and skill as the slope is very steep and very tight in places.
INSIDER TIP: This resort’s credentials should put it on a “must-do” for serious skiers.
#3 Snowbird, UT – PAF 94.25
Snowbird is part of the Little Cottonwood Area duo that includes our next ski area, Alta. One of these areas claim to fame is the consistency of conditions which includes snowfall and upkeep. The ski area is consistently pursuing improvements and has over time come into its own. It may never have the glamour of other resorts, but it has a character that brings skiers back time and time again.
If you visit Snowbird in 2021, you may not see significant changes, but some of the resorts have been renovating their rooms and their common areas. The renovations are restoring Snowbird’s status as a world-class resort.
Snowbird has a devout following of people that come from all over the world. The attraction is the reliable snowfall, the slope pitches of 40 to 45 degrees that are considered a sweet spot by skiers. The area is also unique for the way the vertical runs split out in all directions from the tram at the top of the slopes and the runs continuously split off into new runs making it feel like they’re never going to end. This provides a great variety for every level of skier.
People come to Snowbird to ski. There’s a purity to this area as it doesn’t ever get mistaken for a shopping trip or a glamor vacation. Everyone that returns knows you come to ski.
INSIDER TIP: Another attraction for the ski area it’s easy to get there. With many direct flights from several major cities, you can be on the slopes in just hours from most metro areas. And unlike other Snow destinations, when you fly into Salt Lake airport, you’re only 35 minutes from Little Cottonwood Canyon and Snowbird.
#4 Alta, UT – PAF 93.5
This ski area has elite rankings for two things. Number one is it has one of the most dependable snowfalls year after year. Two, it has some of the best-pitched terrains of any ski resort. It’s also one of the oldest ski areas, so it’s had many years to earn its reputation.
Alta is located at the end of the Little Cottonwood Canyon. That’s important because this location usually has fresh snowfall in the course of the season even compared to Snowbird which is in a different part of the canyon. Its location forms a natural snow trap.
Alta is known to have better powder snow than anywhere in Europe. That factor, as well as the terrain, was significant in the cultivation of the area as a ski mountain. It’s also noted for its family-friendly ski school that makes kids and adults into powder enthusiasts.
One thing that makes this ski area unique is that people return year after year to enjoy the best powder they have ever skied. Alta is becoming better known and more popular since they started offering the Icon Pass that people can also use at neighboring resorts. Of note, this ski area is exclusively for skiing and not for snowboarding.
#5 Vail, CO 90.76
Vail is a ski area that most well-traveled skiers haven’t been to. The area is continuously reinventing itself making upgrades and making improvements to continue to attract new skiers.
The Marriott in Vail has done a full renovation, additional snow machines have been added to the lower slopes, and lines are reported moving better than in the past.
Vail is most famous for its back bowls a favorite with skiers who sometimes missed some of the great skiing on the front side. The ski area is also well known for its steep bump runs which delight skiers with a face full of powder when the snow is deep.
Vail has over five thousand plus acres of terrain. It takes a long time to get some of those runs open and often the ones that are open; the snow can get pretty packed. Early morning and early afternoon skiing is recommended.
Vail Village was established before the area became a ski mountain so it lacks some of the glitz of purpose-built ski villages, but it teams with activity, places to eat, places to enjoy a cocktail, and of course inevitable shops. What the Village lacks in glitziness it makes up for in charm.
INSIDER TIP: Choices for lodging are not as glamorous as Aspen or Jackson Hole, but there is no shortage of high-end and family-style lodging. There’re hotels in catered families and of course a large number of condominiums available and homes.
#6 Aspen Snowmass, CO – PAF 88.86
Aspen is a popular destination with more and more people going to the ski area every day. But the good news is that there is plenty of room to spread it out. There are four ski resorts, and they share one fabulous town in Aspen on one lift ticket: Aspen Highlands, Aspen Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, and Buttermilk.
So except for holidays and some of the peak weeks at the beginning of snow season, you’ll rarely find a crowd. One of the areas, Aspen Highlands, is known to be one of the five best at any of the ski resorts in North America.
There are direct flights from 12 U.S. locations making getting to Aspen a snap. Also, Denver is the hub for several airlines adding to the ease of travel. Aspen is a 2-hour drive from the Denver airport but some travelers choose to take the short flight from Denver to the Aspen airport. Leave Chicago or Dallas morning and be on the slopes by noon.
INSIDER TIP: At the end of your trip, those convenient connections can mean a full day of skiing before heading home that evening. Known as the ski resort with the most flights from the most places, Aspen it is convenient even for a ski weekend.
#7 Whistler-Blackcomb, BC, Canada – PAF 88.51
As a personal favorite, I would dispute this ski area’s seventh place on the Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2021. Famous for its twin white peaks, the Whistler ski area is a unique mixture of pristine nature, international flair, and an almost adventure park feel.
So devoted are fans of this ski area, they often fly past the top six resorts from around the world to ski here and only here. Perhaps part of Whistler’s attraction is that the storms that bring snow off the Pacific produce huge amounts of snowfall often.
Another part of the attraction is the sheer size of Whistler’s terrain. With over 5,000 feet of vertical runs and over 8000 acres of terrain, it has the largest skiing area anywhere in North America. Skiers report an almost bliss like experience, feeling like the stretches go on and on will never end.
If you ski the upper bounds of the Whistler-Blackcomb area you’ll find smaller amounts of ski traffic which translate into well-preserved snow. However, these areas have more frequent closures due to storms and fog. So if you ski Whistler and these areas are open, get out there.
There are ideal conditions and opportunities for all levels of skiers, likely another reason for serious popularity. There is so much to look forward to with the abundance of areas fr beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers you can see why people keep coming back. It’s rare for a ski area to offer all things to all people.
INSIDER TIP: These are just some of the reasons that the Whistler ski area has such tremendous appeal to families who have different levels of skill. But make no mistake this ski area goes way beyond families only. Expert skiers from the US, Europe, and Canada come to gather in this ski Village year after year. FYI…This is the author’s favorite ski area.
#8 Steamboat, CO – PAF: 88.32
This amazing ski area is off the beaten path. Steamboat sits like an island in the northern part of Colorado. It has no direct interstate connections or sister resorts nearby. Skiers that go to this ski heaven go out of their passion for skiing and for the sheer love of feeling alone in the wilderness.
But it’s all about the snow. That is the reason Steamboat Springs made the list. Of the many ski resorts in Colorado, this destination has the most reliable snowfall in the state. That’s not to say that the western town with its classic feel, are is not on par with more glamorous resorts like Aspen.
As far as skiing is concerned Steamboat, has a variety of terrain suitable to all levels of skiers. Perhaps the only thing missing is the lack of super steep runs that go for long periods. This destination has a unique advantage, in that the top of the mountain keeps the snow fresh toward the end of the season when the bottom runs no longer have adequate snow.
The steepest parts of the mountain are at the top. If that’s your favorite part of skiing, pay attention to chutes one, two, and three. They have an area called the Christmas Tree Bowl which has good powder when the other areas are skied out.
There are hordes of skiers that fly to Denver and make the hundred and 57-mile drive so they can hit the slopes in Steamboat Springs. Alternatively, you can catch a flight to Yampa Valley Regional Airport which is 22 miles from town. And the upside is there are many direct flights into Denver, making up for some of the distance.
There’s no shortage of lodging varieties. You can stay in a lavish, six-bedroom home, a condo right on the slopes where you can ski to the bottom or hotels that run the gamut from practical to luxury.
INSIDER TIP: Lodging is typically less than the resorts near the top of our list and more family-friendly to your budget.
#9 Whitewater, BC Canada – PAF: 87.63
So why go to inner British Colombia when there are so many other options that are easier to get to? Here are several good reasons:
This snow of course, perfect for powder hounds
The scenery is breathtaking
The charming mountain towns that are not overrun with tourists
There are real lumberjacks
Did I mention the snow? It tends to stay powdery because thousands of people have not beaten you to the slopes
Most people fly into Spokane Washington and rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle or hop a Shuttle to enjoy the four-hour ride through some of the most stunning scenery along the way. On the drive you’ll find yourself on the Powder Highway, yes it is a real place, and it’s in British Columbia. Since Whitewater is further from the Pacific Ocean than Whistler, the snow tends to be lighter, and there are fewer rainstorms.
The advantage of inter-British Columbia is that unlike resorts to get shut down as snow fronts move-in, Whitewater’s snow arrives like a snow machine pumping out inches and inches of perfect snow.
The best ski resorts are heavily forested, and groups of trees protect the powder and keep the chutes filled with snow between storms.
We recommend that skiers take extra clothing. You definitely need warm under layers to keep the snow that cakes up from getting to your skin. We don’t recommend puffy jackets as they’re too easy to slash on branches. If that’s the type of jacket that you have, the slopes that are the most populated with trees and low branches.
There are other ski areas nearby if you like to mix it up like Red Mountain and Ferni. Double-check the snow quality before you go as these other resorts don’t always get as much as Whitewater.
This destination is called Nelson. The town has a fascinating history and was founded during a local silver rush. Many of its historic buildings have been restored, and his charm is distinctly turn-of-the-century. Nelson has no shortage of good restaurants and delightful shops.
INSIDER TIP: There are a plethora of lodging options in and around Nelson at very reasonable rates. Do note there is no on-mountain lodging, but there are resorts nearby.
#10 Big Sky, Montana – PAF: 86.91
Finishing up our list of Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2019 is Big Sky Montana Is known for its iconic mountain views and vast open spaces. But it’s also known as one of the premier ski destinations in North America. Talking about big, this ski resort is over 5800 acres, coming in a close second to Park City, Utah.
The charming village that is Big Sky has never experienced an explosion of growth like other resort areas, but rather slow but well-thought-out additions out over time. Each year ski travelers find more and more to love about Big Sky Montana.
If you’re not familiar with this property, it bears some similarity to Jackson Hole in that it’s off the beaten path without resorts nearby. So if you’re coming here to ski, you’re likely very dedicated to your sport.
That’s not to say that there are many great resorts and things to do. When the Montage resort opens, Big Sky will be able to compete in the luxury resort class. The new resort promises to have outstanding family programs; the perfect Mountain Lodge feel, an 18-hole golf course, and the biggest conference center in the greater Rocky Mountain region.
About 45 minutes away is the town of Bozeman and the Yellowstone airport. There are a growing number of flights available and suitable connections to be made from major airports.
It’s definitely worth the time to spend a day in Bozeman and explore its western charm and its position at the foot of the Rockies. It’s also near Yellowstone National Park so if you’re visiting in the summertime to golf and hike, take an extra day to see Yellowstone.
But of course, it’s really about skiing. Remember this is a vast ski area so of course there are places for beginners, excellent for intermediates, and plenty of excitement for advanced skiers. This ski destination is especially good for families looking to upgrade their children skills by challenging them in a safe environment
Experts don’t want to miss Lone Peak which looks like the edge of the knife that you see in the pictures of Big Sky. You’ll never find a crowd at the top of the mountain because the tram can only transport a few people anytime. So if you’re looking for a place to test your expertise, this is it.
INSIDER TIP: You’ll find all manner and levels of housing from beautiful mountain cabins with tons of square feet, small condominiums, and hotels dotting the base of the mountain. But don’t expect crowds. There’s a lot of acreages and a lot of room to spread it out.
Why Use a Travel Advisor
Aside from the time and money savings. There are several great reasons to plan your next ski vacation to one of the Top 10 Ski Destinations for 2021 or your personal favorite with a Fox Travel Advisor. Not only do you tap into a wealth of experience and onsite knowledge, but you also get more for your money at no additional cost. Here is our page on the Top Reasons to Use a Travel Advisor. Some of the reasons may surprise you…pleasantly so.
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