Marolt: You know about Snowmass, now I’ll rank the rest
December 30, 2014
It was therapeutic, and a little fun, to get my true feelings about Snowmass ski area out in a column I wrote last week in The Aspen Times. Never again will I make up lies on the fly for why I ski in Aspen even though I reside in Snowmass Village. It made me think that I might as well share my thoughts on some other ski areas. Unlike popular polls and highly regarded magazine rankings, my evaluations have nothing to do with accommodations, shopping, nightlife or the reputed charms of the towns the ski mountains cast shadows over. Mine are based purely on the skiing.
1. Aspen Mountain – A relatively small mountain but very little wasted terrain. What little crap there is leads to really good stuff.
2. Aspen Highlands — Would be worthy of the No. 1 spot except for the vast expanse of nothingness below Merry-Go-Round restaurant and above Lower Stein run. The numerous traverses don't help the cause, either.
3. Alta, Utah — Frequent big dumps of deep, dry powder blanketing long, steep runs make this one for the ages.
4. Taos, New Mexico — This would also be a contender for No. 1, if only they had consistently good snow years. Incredible adrenaline-inducing steeps everywhere. Thank goodness for the ancient lift system that allows time for burning-thigh recovery.
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5. Mammoth Mountain, Calif. — Huge and plenty of challenges available up high. There is no better place to be in late spring on a big snow year.
Squaw Valley, Calif.
The Surprisingly Good:
1. Eldora — Duck into the tress to get out of the howling winds, and you will find some surprisingly awesome terrain. Feeling like you are at a small 1960s ski area adds to the experience.
2. Mt. Baldy, Calif. — After a 6-foot-plus dump of southern Sierra cement, they opened up stuff not even on their own trail map. I scared myself silly … in a very good way!
3. Wolf Creek — Deep, deep snow on a high, high mountain basically in the middle of nowhere. There is absolutely no reason to travel all the way out here except for great skiing.
4. Monarch — I can't explain it, but it always seems better than expected.
5. Arapahoe Basin — If only it was a little bigger!
Crystal Mountain, Wash.
The most forgettable:
1. I can't remember.
2. Copper Mountain — Proof that perfectly planned ski runs done all at the same time result in a sterile experience completely lacking character.
3. Keystone — You can make your Keystone experience slightly memorable by taking advantage of their night skiing. The effect of severe frostbite can linger longer than you can here.
4. Breckenridge — Some old-timers call this one "Breckenfield." There are places on the mountain where a compass would come in handy so you can determine which direction is downhill.
5. Telluride — Haughty local hippies were resolute to remove the once-popular resort from the map at around the beginning of the new millennium and were greatly aided in their success in doing so by their ski area's greatly exaggerated expert terrain.
Somnambular Mention: Snow Valley and Snow Summit, Calif. Who can tell the difference between them?
The least bang for your buck:
1. Steamboat — The King of Bores. They promote their skiing by hyping their ranching heritage. If that's not enough of a clue, the ski mountain actually faces the wrong direction.
2. Vail — I don't get Vail. It's mediocre skiing at champagne-powder prices, and people wait in 45-minute lift lines to get tiny sips. The "legendary" Back Bowls on a powder day might possibly be the most over-hyped skiing experience in the world.
3. Beaver Creek — It's slightly better skiing than Vail negated by slightly higher prices. Hosting a men's World Cup downhill race every year does wonders for an image that would otherwise be as genteel as a winter polo match held in a city park on artificial snow.
4. Deer Valley, Utah — The excitement here is having a ski valet help you unload your ski rack when you arrive. I hear you can enjoy a nice, long lunch on the hill wearing slippers while your boots are warmed up, too. May as well; there's nothing else to do.
5. Park City, Utah – It's Deer Valley Light.
Buttermilk — Great beginners' slopes, but for over a hundred bucks a day? They don't even have ski valets!
Roger Marolt can be reached on Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.