Snow Is Dumping in the West—Here’s How to Enjoy it (Even If You Don’t Ski)
You don’t have to be an Olympic-level skier to enjoy these winter wonderlands.
After years of dwindling snowpack throughout the Western United States, we’re thrilled that the season in the West seems to be opening strong, with huge amounts of fresh powder having fallen even before the Thanksgiving holiday. And that means it’s officially time to start planning your snowy sojourns. While this is undoubtedly prime time for skiers and snowboarders, there are also plenty of ways to relish the seasonal change if you aren’t into winter sports. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite spots for snow activities in the West to get you in the spirit.
South Lake Tahoe
There are few better places to dive into winter with style than South Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border. In the past, it was branded as a bit of a party zone, but the outdoor playground has matured a lot lately. These days, you certainly don’t have to ski (much less gamble) to enjoy one of the Golden and Silver States’ iconic getaways. Basic lodging is giving way to graceful yet cozy hotels, craft breweries are adding low-key gathering spots, and the food—even at the casinos on the Nevada side—is seriously good. The best part? There’s no need to battle heavy traffic and icy mountain roads, thanks to rack-equipped Uber. Ski vehicles now whisk visitors back and forth between the lifts and hotels. The lake itself may be the one thing that hasn’t changed. Its deep blue waters never freeze over completely and reflect the stunning mountain scenery all season long. Check out our guide here.
We’re huge fans of road tripping up the 395 to Mammoth Lakes year round, where there’s amazing hiking and mountain biking when the weather’s warm. But one of the perks of the winter weather is truly being able to luxuriate in Mammoth’s semi-secret hot springs on the valley floor, where you can soak in a big steamy tub with mountain panoramas as your backdrop. The Hilltop Hot Tub is a man-made pool fed by natural hot springs. Look for the trail crossing the snowy meadow to the tub in the distance. There are plenty of other things to do, too, from snowshoeing to snuggling up in their authentic alpine hotels, like the Tamarack Lodge. Later this winter, the Voltaggio brothers will be opening a restaurant in the Village, and there’s a new luxury hotel property called Sierra Nevada Resort on offer, too. Mammoth has already gotten 60 inches of snow this year, making it a true winter wonderland. Check out our guide to the region here.
There’s a reason why Breck is one of the most popular ski resorts in the country, with more than 3 million visitors annually. Spread across five peaks with three bases, the resort covers everything needed for an epic family trip. Sure, the skiing is superb: There are separate family and kid zones where little ones can learn and practice, and the other almost 90 percent of the mountain is dedicated to advanced skiers. But where Breckenridge really excels is on the memory-making activities. Off the slopes your crew will enjoy the alpine coaster, ice skating, dog sledding, and more than 200 picturesque stores and restaurants in Colorado’s largest historic district. If you get a wild hair to learn, the Adult 1-Day, First Time Ski Lesson costs less than $200.
Cross-country skiing is to Bend what strolling the mall is to suburbia: the thing to do―during lunch hour, on weekends, after school. But there are also plenty of opportunities to snowshoe, ice skate, and fat bike your way around town. If craft beer is more your speed, trek the Bend Ale Trail. There are also some great boutique hotels to check out in the area, too, like the Campfire Hotel, LOGE, Oxford Hotel, or Pine Ridge Inn, situated right on the Deschutes River. You can check out our guide to the area here.
Aspen Mountain Resort has long been a basecamp for ritzy, high energy skiers. But neighboring Snowmass is catching up, since starting a $600 million base project that’s added an ice skating rink, top-quality restaurants and bars, and eco-friendly lodging. Fortunately, you don’t have to pick between the two: they operate as one giant resort and have a free shuttle that transports guests between Snowmass and Ajax (as the mountain is called locally), as well as the two other ski areas that make up this winter playground with a collective 5,500 acres to rip—all accessible with one lift ticket. Here, you can après any which way you wish: Ski right into a Champagne-fueled party at Cloud 9, go for a five-star spa treatment at the Viceroy Snowmass, dance late-night at The Belly Up, take shotskis at The Red Onion, do it up at the new W’s rooftop WET Deck, or glide to a dinner under the full moon at the top of Buttermilk Mountain.
Why Idaho? Well, that misguided question springs forth from anyone who has yet to visit the region blanketed by dense forests, jagged mountain ranges, and sparkling alpine lakes, a distorted belief that the scenery of the entire state mirrors only the desolate prairies. And yet, of all of the Gem State’s attractions, few are more impressive than its night skies. Though the winter sports are indeed stunning in Sun Valley, the stargazing is top tier. With longer, darker nights now in season, there’s no better time to visit Idaho. Central Idaho destinations like Sun Valley, Ketchum, and Stanley boast, hands down, some of the best stargazing in the United States. There’s also a blossoming arts and culture scene; it’s long inspired artistic greats from Ernest Hemingway to Clint Eastwood. And there’s great food and drink to boot. Check out our guide to Sun Valley here.