Road Trip Report: The Best Spring Skiing In The West
Start planning for next season with this roundabout itinerary
For The Aspen Times Weekly
Snowmass » Snowbird:
6 hours, 22 minutes
Snowbird » Jackson Hole:
4 hours, 49 minutes
Jackson Hole » Big Sky:
3 hours, 22 minutes
Big Sky » Saratoga:
8 hours, 36 minutes
Saratoga » Snowmass:
4 hours 22 minutes
After a sojourn south to Taos, New Mexico, for the Aspen Times Weekly’s “Road Trip Issue” last year, my guy and I decided to make checking out a new resort every spring an annual tradition — one that forgoes airfare in favor of the freedom that comes with traveling on the open road.
With two big birthday trips — my mother’s in Saratoga, Wyoming, and best friend’s in Big Sky, Montana — on the books in March and April, we fortuitously found ourselves mapping a (near) perfect circle of spring skiing in the Rocky Mountains.
Starting and ending at our Snowmass Village home, we split up the route between two separate trips, but it’s definitely doable within one week. Plus, each destination — with the exception of The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch, which has its own private cat-served ski area — is included on the Mountain Collective pass (from $539 for 2022-23).
How lucky are we to have such easy, drivable access to the best slopes in the West that the rest of the world seeks out?
This spring’s solid series of snowstorms brought more late-breaking powder days than usual. Matched with fewer crowds, sunshine-soaked patio parties and a schedule of live music along the way, our road trip(s) resulted in the ultimate wind down of the 2021-22 ski season.
And now that the lifts have stopped spinning until next winter, there’s no better time to plan ahead for the next one, which will surely help battle the offseason blues.
Unlike one fellow columnist who lives here, but loves to write about how much he loathes skiing Snowmass, it’s my favorite mountain in the world (although I might be biased since choosing it as my forever backyard). Snowmass goes as big as its terrain (3,342 skiable acres) for spring with a jam-packed calendar of annual festivities ranging from a rowdy St. Patrick’s Day Celebration and the NASTAR National Championships to the Bud Light Mountain Challenge and an epic end-of-season “Surf & Snow Beach Party” (pond skim included) at Elk Camp. gosnowmass.com
Stay: Viceroy Snowmass
Whether you’re a resident or visitor, the LEED Gold-Certified Viceroy Snowmass remains the perfect pick for a staycation or vacation since opening its doors in 2009. Since then, the haute hideaway has the best ski-in/ski- out access in town with its own lift on Assay Hill, a Richard Sandoval restaurant, year-round pool and hot tub patio with service from its second dining outpost Nest Bar & Grill, a coffee-shop and most- importantly, a 7,000-square-foot Jean-Michel Gathy-designed spa. This season, Viceroy Snowmass debuted the “Friends On A Powder Day” package including a private group powder tour with a poolside cabana après experience and also introduced “Vi,” a 5-month- old Bernese Mountain Dog as its official hotel dog, who will welcomes guests during a pet- friendly “Yappy Hour” every afternoon and is always happy to head out with guests for walks and hikes. viceroyhotelsandresorts.com
It’s still somewhat of a secret that you have to ski to eat the best Italian cuisine in town (Aspen included) atop Sam’s Knob. Save the sit-down lunch (reservations required) for the end of your day, so you can over-indulge on authentic Sicilian-inspired fare from fresh antipasti and daily-baked bread to housemade pastas and “The Grandma Style” pizza prepared in the live-action kitchen, which all pairs best with a classic Negroni Spritz. aspensnowmass.com
Known for having Utah’s longest winter season (November through May), Snowbird is a spring skiing dream with a “price meltdown on the mountain” through its special “Stay & Ski” package (two nights lodging and discounted lift tickets; 2023 TBA) every April. This year, “the Bird” celebrated its 50th anniversary season, but its old soul — and its tram — has remained unchanged. But come summer, two new cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows, glass floor panels and a rooftop balcony(!) will arrive to whisk guests to and from Hidden Peak (10,992 feet) and into the future. Snowbird also hosts a lively lineup of spring concerts at the Plaza Deck through the end of the season, which is where all the après action happens. snowbird.com
Stay: The Cliff Lodge
Powder magazine (RIP) once called Snowbird’s only luxury lodge “that big concrete hotel,” but after a $35 million renovation completed in 2019, The Cliff Lodge has come a long way. As the anchor of the resort base, staying at The Cliff Lodge is as close to the tram as you can get while also within walking distance to Snowbird’s pedestrian village. After shredding all day, head straight for the legendary outdoor pool and hot tubs. For breakfast, lunch and dinner there are two on-site options: The Aerie Restaurant and Lounge and The Atrium. snowbird.com
Recharge: The Cliff Spa
Treat yourself (and your sore ski legs) at The Cliff Spa, conveniently located on the rooftop of The Cliff Hotel, which also offers a yoga studio, fitness center and additional pool and hot tub complex. For après ski bliss, book one of the Cliff Spa Journeys like The Refresher (140 minutes) that includes a 60-minute Signature Massage, Great Salt Lake Body Polish and Signature Pedicure) — just one of more than 30 treatments on the menu. snowbird.com
Ski: Jackson Hole
Another iconic ski resort, another iconic tram. Boarding the Aerial Tram (aka “Big Red”) almost instantly puts a knot in your stomach as it swiftly ascends up more than 4,000 feet in 12 minutes to the summit (10,927 feet) where you can take in 360-degree views of the staggering Tetons and surrounding ranges. Stopping inside Corbet’s Cabin (named in honor of mountaineer Barry Corbet who spotted his namesake run “Corbet’s Couloir” just below it in 1960) for a famous waffle is a must before choosing your line down Rendezvous Mountain. Beyond skiing some of the steepest terrain in the world, catch a concert — or a few — during the annual Jackson Hole Rendezvous Spring Festival every April. This season’s headliners included ski town favorites The Wailers, Brett Dennen and Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals along with the Cold War Kids and Fitz & The Tantrums. jacksonhole.com
Stay: Hotel Jackson
Although staying in historic downtown Jackson entails a 20-minute commute to the slopes of Jackson Hole, experiencing its Old West charm is well worth sacrificing ski-in/ski-out status. Check into the sophisticated yet approachable Hotel Jackson — just steps from Town Square with arches on each corner made of shed antlers from the nearby National Elk Refuge. This family- operated “passion project” opened in 2015 and has already earned four-star status for its 58 mountain modern guest rooms and six (soon-to-be nine) suites. An expansion project is currently underway, which when complete, will also feature a full- service spa, new retail store and a rooftop restaurant with a lounge. And don’t miss dinner downstairs at FIGS — it’s a Limelight-esque community gathering space off the lobby featuring Lebanese-inspired cuisine as an ode to owner Jim Darwiche’s wife, Safaa. hoteljackson.com
Drink: Million Dollar Cowboy Bar
No trip to Jackson is complete without bellying — er, saddling up — to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Established in 1938 on Town Square the landmark, which has guests hop on real horse saddles instead of bar stools, still stands as the best watering hole and live country music venue in the West. milliondollarcowboybar.com
BIG SKY, MONTANA
Ski: Big Sky Resort
Self-proclaimed as “the biggest skiing in America,” Big Sky Resort lives up to its name with a massive mountain totaling 5,800 skiable acres, estimated to give each guest 2 whole acres to themselves. Thanks to its Northern exposure and wild wind patterns, the best snow often arrives later in the season with plenty of terrain open through closing day to explore. For experts only, the iconic Lone Peak gondola — built in 1995 — is readying for a replacement this summer as part of “Big Sky 2025” redevelopment plan. In addition to the already up-and-running state-of-the-art Swift Current 6 (the fastest chairlift in the U.S. with heated seats and a dome) will boast a base-to-summit lift network and new top-of-the- mountain experience at 11,167 feet. While Big Sky’s Mountain Village is also a work-in-progress, there’s still a plethora of dining options and après-ski hangouts. And stay tuned for a schedule announcement for the 15th annual Big Sky Big Grass music festival (2023 TBA), which this spring welcomed acts from the Drew Emmitt Band and Keller Williams to The Travelin’ McCourys and Sam Bush. bigskyresort.com
Stay: Montage Big Sky
After opening its doors in December, the Montage Big Sky has already earned reputation-changing accolades for the longtime sleepy ski town (Big Sky Resort originally opened in 1973). As the area’s first luxury resort experience, Montage Hotels & Resorts brings its signature five-star service slopeside, offering ski-in/ski-out access with valet and locker room, a 10,000-square-foot spa (also a first for Big Sky), recreation lounge with a bowling alley, indoor lap pool, family swimming pool and fitness center, plus six different dining venues inspired by Montana’s rich agricultural heritage. Conceptualized by Hart Howerton with interiors by BraytonHughes Design Studios, the aesthetic is a contemporary take on the classic North American lodge featuring 139 guest rooms, suites, and residences (from two to six bedrooms) — each curated with a palette of timeless, regionally- sourced raw materials and accented with artwork from local artists. montagehotels.com
See: Ousel Falls
Take a ski break to take a hike up to Ousel Falls — a short drive from Big Sky, this easy 1.6 mile roundtrip trek is open year-round (snow boots with traction are recommended during the winter). After meandering the South and West Forks of the Gallatin River, a gorgeous waterfall with an overlook, pool and picnic area awaits for a moment of zen. visitbigsky.com
Ski: Green Mountain
Save the last stop for a once-in-a- lifetime ski day (or few) on your very own powder playground. Opened in 2019 as part of the ultra-exclusive Brush Creek Ranch compound, Green Mountain is supremely secluded on a parcel of private property amid Medicine Bow National Forest and BLM land encompassing 620 skiable acres. Solely serviced by three sparkling, bright red PistenBully snowcats, a maximum of just 18 guests per day are shuttled up and down the slopes with personal guides paired to every group for fresh tracks through double-diamond glades and untouched corduroy on every turn. When a warm-up or boot break is needed, yurts decked out with fireplaces and cushy leather couches are scattered across the mountain with a gourmet lunch prepared inside “Pat’s Porch,” which also provides breathtaking views of the singular, stunning south-central Wyoming landscape. brushcreekranch.com
Stay: The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch
When I learned that the “No. 1 Resort Hotel in the West” (and “No. 6 in the U.S.”) according to Travel + Leisure magazine’s 2021 World’s Best Awards survey was less than a five-hour drive from Snowmass, I booked it ASAP to celebrate my mother’s birthday — a more-than-worthy splurge after multiple canceled trips over the pandemic. Set in total solitude on a 30,000-acre working cattle ranch, The Lodge & Spa at Brush Creek Ranch was the ultimate escape to live out an authentic Western choose- your-own adventure. You’ll also have a most memorable dinner at the grand Cheyenne Club restaurant — American Wagyu beef right off the ranch takes center stage here paired with wine from its 40,000-bottle Brush Creek Cellar or cocktails from the Spirit Vault. brushcreekranch.com
Learn: The Farm at Brush Creek
Beyond skiing at Green Mountain, there is an extensive menu of winter activities, but allocate an afternoon to experience the epic culinary program. At this seed-to-table epicurean destination on the property, you can try your hand at cheesemaking in the Creamery, baking with executive pastry chef Keisha Sanderson or take a tour with Greenhouse director Serge Boon, who’ll let you sample produce straight from the vine. brushcreekranch.com
Katie Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @bykatieshapiro.
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