The Skiing Experience
The ski industry changes every year. New technology. New designs. New gear. You name it. And the ski resorts are changing, too. You see improvements to guest services, amenities, and online conveniences being made all across the country. But what rarely seems to change is the skiing experience itself.
- Related: The 9 Best Independently Owned U.S. ‘Mom-and-Pop’ Ski Resorts, According to SnowBrains Readers
As tough as it is to define a list of ‘up-and-coming’ ski areas, we chose to identify those that are showing signs of advancement and ambitious development of the true skiing experience. While no list is perfect, and this one undoubtedly misses a few, we are excited to share a very nice collection of candidates. We hope you enjoy reading.
RED Mountain Resort, British Columbia
A three-hour drive north from Spokane, Washhington, just across the U.S.-Canadian border lies a mountain on which the first turns were recorded in 1896. It’s also known as the “home of the most significant terrain expansions in the last decade,” or at least it was at the time. According to its website,
“RED Mountain Resort is beyond proud to announce that its recent expansion to contiguous Grey Mountain — with 360-degree skiing off the top!
This development of Grey Mountain marks one of the single largest expansions of an existing resort in North America in four decades. It places RED Mountain Resort firmly in the scale of resorts such as Breckenridge, Colorado or Jackson Hole, Wyoming in terms of skiable acreage. Grey Mountain adds 997 acres to RED bringing the total skiable acres to 2,787. This puts the “local legend” hill in the Top 20 of all North American resorts in terms of terrain scale.”
Combine this skiing experience with a low-key, unpretentious vibe of nearby Rossland, British Columbia, and RED Mountain clearly emerges as one of the next ‘up-and-coming’ ski resorts.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 300
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 6,807
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,919
- Skiable Acres: 3,850
- # Trails / Lifts: 119/ 8
New to the area? Sign up for a free mountain tour with a RED Mountain Snow Host who can give you a locals’ view of the mountain.
Revelstoke, British Columbia
Opening in 2007 and relatively new by ski resort standards, Revelstoke Mountain Resort (RMR) charged onto the ski scene. Situated along the famous Powder Highway in British Columbia with the Monashee Mountain range to the west and the Selkirks to the east, RMR boasts the largest vertical gain in North America at 5,260 feet. Averaging over 400 inches of snow annually, skiers quickly become accustomed to the phrase, “You may leave Revelstoke, but you’ll never forget it.”
RMR is not a particularly easy destination to reach with Kelowna three hours to the south and Calgary almost five hours to the east. However, with a growing and vibrant mountain town of 7,500 residents and RMR’s master plans to finish a championship golf course (late 2023) and 8,000-bed units (hotel, condo, and family residences) by late 2024, it looks like RMR is here and ready to play.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 420
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 7,300
- **Vertical Gain (ft.): 5,620 (largest in North America)
- Skiable Acres: 3,121
- # Trails / Lifts: 75 / 6
The only place that offers lift, cat, Heli (Selkirk Tangiers and Eagle Pass Heli), backcountry skiing, and snowboarding operations are all from the same village. The longest run extends 9.5 miles.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana
Opening for business in 1947 hardly places Whitefish Mountain Resort as a recent player on the stage. However, with recent changes to Chair 8 and additional plans for a base expansion and a new Chair 4, we think Whitefish should be given due consideration. A description of the new Chair 4-High-Speed Express Lift from Base Lodge:
“When Chair 4 was installed in 1978, the Base Lodge did not exist, a small ski hut was built at the bottom of the chairlift, and there were no runs or facilities built below that point. Today the vast majority of guests use the Base Lodge as their primary portal to the mountain.”
Future Benefits of Chair 4:
- Additional lift service out of the resort’s base area
- Early morning access to upper-mountain front side terrain prior to Chair 1 opening
- Alleviate crowding on Chair 6 allowing it to serve more beginners and lessons
- Offer guests an alternative to Chair 1 for access to upper mountain terrain
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 320
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 6,817
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,353
- Skiable Acres: 3,000
- # Trails / Lifts: 111 / 11
The original resort name was Big Mountain named after its official geographical name. Located in the Whitefish Mountain range, and not to be confused with Big Sky, in 2007 it adopted its current name.
Bluebird Backcountry, Colorado
When Bluebird Backcountry (BB) co-founders Jeff Woodward and Erik Lambert went looking to “…fill in gaps in the education and help revive the soul of skiing,” they imagined incredible possibilities beyond the ropes of the resort.
So, when they finally came up with the Bluebird Backcountry concept, where the motto is “All of the soul, none of the chairlifts,” no one was surprised. Add in slopeside camping, live music, a friendly vibe, and tons of avalanche education and resources, and you now have the makings for one of skiing’s most spectacular new areas.
Centered around Bear Mountain with a summit of 9,845 feet and over 1,000 acres of inbound terrain, with an additional 3,000 acres on and around Diamond Mountain, the options are plentiful at BB. According to its website,
“Bluebird Backcountry is an inbounds backcountry ski area designed for learning and adventure in Kremmling, Colorado. We’ve combined the best elements of ski areas, guide services, and the true backcountry. People love Bluebird for its great ski-patrolled terrain, backcountry rentals and lessons, lodge and warming hut — and most of all our super welcoming vibe.
Bluebird Backcountry has zero chairlifts. Instead, skiers and snowboarders make their way uphill under their own power following pre-set skin tracks. Instructors and guides are on hand for backcountry and avalanche education. And then there’s the fun part: ripping skins and skiing or riding back to the base.”
With their popularity skyrocketing and now three years under their belt now, it will be interesting to watch where Jeff and Erik take this ‘up and coming’ ski area.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 200+
- Highest Elevation (ft.): 9,845
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 1,245
- Avalanche-managed / Ski-patrolled area (acres): 1,200+
- Guided-only area (acres): 3,000
- # Marked Skins Tracks: 11
- # Lifts: 0
The area is dog friendly at the base and on the mountain!
Starting in 1951 skiing on only one trail, Sugarloaf Mountain has long been a treasure of Western Maine. Emerging out of financial difficulties in 2007 with new business owners (CNL Lifestyle Properties), Sugarloaf initiated creative plans for a massive turnaround. In 2010, it put those plans to work with a bold new expansion project opening 600 acres of skiable terrain in Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain including a cat skiing operation.
That 10-year project has since passed, and now Sugarloaf is again looking ahead with an even bigger expansion, Sugarloaf 2030. Centered on a crown jewel 450+ acre West Mountain Expansion, this project will undoubtedly change the skiing experience at Sugarloaf. Here are some highlights of what Sugarloaf has to say about their new expansion,
“In what will be the most transformative project at Sugarloaf since the installation of the SuperQuad, more than 450 acres on West Mountain will be developed with a new high speed lift, new trails with snowmaking, and the largest residential real estate development in a generation.
The new lift will transport skiers and riders from West Mountain Road up to Bullwinkle’s, and will be accompanied by significant new trail development and snowmaking infrastructure (5).
New parking areas (4) will provide quick and easy access to Sugarloaf’s newest lift and trails, and a new parking lot access trail will create ski-in/ski-out parking convenience for Sugarloaf skiers and riders.
This project will also see a transformation of real estate development, with 196 new housing units consisting of 40 duplex units (3), 52 single family house lots (1), and 4 condo buildings (2), each with 26 units.”
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 200
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 4,237
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,820
- Skiable Acres: 1,240
- # Trails / Lifts: 162 / 13
Only lift-served above tree-line skiing in the Northeast.
Tamarack Resort, Idaho
Opening in 2004 and bubbling with enthusiasm over a new mountain with 2,800 feet of vertical gain across 2,000 acres, Tamarack Resort quickly caught people’s attention. Financial difficulty quickly ensued, and progress in the village stopped. A new management group took over in 2018 and immediately began work to finish the planned construction.
More importantly, the management group also unveiled plans for a massive new expansion by submitting a special-use permit application to the U.S. Forest Service. According to their website, key components of the project would include:
- An upgraded terrain network covering an additional 2,100 acres.
- An expanded lift network of 5 new aerial lifts, base-to-summit gondola, 2 quads, and 2 fixed-grip triples.
- Enhanced guest services facilities, including a year-round facility atop Lone Tree Peak that would serve as a destination for the base-to-summit gondola for both scenic lift rides and dining.
- Expanded all-season operations, including nearly 20 miles of new hiking and mountain biking trails covering approximately 980 acres.
- New recreation offerings include a via Ferrata area — a climbing route that employs steel cables, rungs, and ladders affixed to rock — and a mountain coaster.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 300
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 7,700
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,800
- Skiable Acres: 1,100
- # Trails / Lifts: 50 / 6
The resort is named after the Tamarack tree; a hardy, adaptable variety of the pine family capable of withstanding extremely cold temperatures.
Powder Mountain, Utah
In 2016, Powder Mountain completed work on what they reported to Forbes Magazine at the time as “the largest lift-serviced resort expansion in North American history,” edging out Whistler (8171 ft.) by several hundred feet. The massive expansion included two new lifts, added 1,000 acres of new terrain, and planned for a Euro-style town modeled after Wengen, Switzerland.
Pow Mow, as locals affectionately call it, prides itself on a unique skiing experience by limiting daily ticket sales to keep the terrain uncrowded. The only question remaining is can you still get a ticket? And that looks tough as 22/23 season passes are already sold out.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 500+
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 8,900
- Lift-serviced Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,205
- Lift-accessible Vertical Gain (ft.): 2,519
- Total Vertical Gain (ft.): 3,346
- **Skiable Acres: 8,464 (most in U.S.)
- # Trails / Lifts: 154 / 9
Pow Mow offers unconventional fun with an inbound cat skiing experience for around $25/ride. Pow Mow also offers a unique side-country experience where guests can access ungroomed areas within the resort ropes, then ski to the road below where a circulating shuttle returns then to the base.
Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota
A family-owned and operated resort 220 miles northeast of Minneapolis is in the final stages of a seven-year application to expand operations. When completed, The Ski Area Expansion project will add 324 acres of terrain and make Lutsen Mountains the largest ski resort in the Midwest, and also the only one with a gondola. In an interview with Outside Business Journal, director of operations and marketing at Lutsen Mountains Jim Vick had this to share:
“Lutsen has always been a popular destination for Midwest families to enjoy a winter ski experience. This expansion will allow us to better meet our guests’ expectations by offering more beginner and advanced terrain, and on-mountain experiences we previously have not been able to provide.”
Details of the expansion include:
- New beginner terrain and an enhanced family experience
- Two new chairlifts
- Enhanced snowmaking operations
- Base area redevelopment with new food and bar facilities, as well as new resort administrative and operational space
- New access road with additional parking
- Six additional chairlifts ranging from four to six-person chairs
- 143 acres of new trails including advanced and expert terrain
- 149 acres of gladed terrain for off-piste skiing
- Enhanced snowmaking operations
- Expansion of ski patrol operations.
- Base area development for food and bar services
- New chalet on top of Moose Mountain
- New parking and arrival experience at Moose Mountain
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 231 (with snowmaking)
- Summit Elevation (ft.): 1,688
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 825
- Skiable Acres: 393
- # Trails / Lifts: 95 / 8
Lutsen Mountain claims to receive over 120 inches of snow from the lake effect of Lake Superior. Lutsen Mountain is part of the Indy Pass collection.
Valemount Glacier, British Columbia
Perhaps one of the biggest ‘up and coming’ possibilities lie on Valemount Glacier in British Columbia. Valemount Glacier Destinations Ltd. (VGD) working alongside consultants (the Pheidias Group and Oberti Resort Design) created a master plan to build what could be North America’s largest and premier alpine skiing resort. Deep in the heart of British Columbia, and just outside the town of Valemount, lies endless possibilities that could truly change the landscape of the ski industry. VGD characterizes its grand vision by saying:
“Valemount Glacier Destination is a planned new ski and sightseeing resort located near Jasper National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The resort will provide public access to high alpine glaciers for the first time in North America for sightseeing and year-round skiing. Reaching elevations of approximately 3,000 meters Valemount will also feature the largest vertical drop in North America, and one of the largest in the world, as well as some of the longest ski runs in the world. It is a unique and magical location, with large, majestic mountains and glaciers and a huge skiable terrain. The resort village is designed to be compact and environmentally sustainable and is designed in an authentic Canadian Rocky Mountain style. Generously sized and beautiful single family chalet lots will surround the alpine village. An exhilarating lift system has been designed providing spectacular views to sightseers and skiers alike.”
The three-phase buildout proposal includes:
“The first phase will reach Twilight Glacier, at elevation of 2,530 meters (8,301 feet), allowing for year-round skiing and for a vertical drop of 1,370 meters (4,495 feet) to the resort village base. Sightseeing will be impressive, more impressive than any mountain viewpoint in the National Parks, with an incredible view of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
The second phase will reach the view of the glaciers of Mount Arthur Meighen, from a location overlooking “Push-along “glacier, expanding both the access to summer skiable glaciers and the winter skiable territory. The sightseeing experience of the glaciers will be world-class and the vertical drop will increase to 1,595 meters (5,233 feet).
The third phase will reach a saddle below Mount Arthur Meighen, at 3,205 meters (10,515 feet), further expanding summer skiing and creating the most dramatic sightseeing experience of the project, a major international draw showing mountains with glaciers from a spectacular and unique view point. The vertical drop to the resort base near the airport will reach 2,090 meters (6,857 feet), amongst the largest in the world, and could reach 2,260 meters (7,415 feet) with the installation of an optional lift, the second largest in-bounds vertical drop in the world in absolute terms and without requiring snowmaking – a particularly noteworthy attribute that is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.”
Looking closer at the status in 2022, reports suggest Valemount is currently working on trail cutting and establishing its first T-bar. So, after 6 years and some financial difficulties, it looks like construction at Valemount has finally started.
- Annual Snowfall (inches): 600 (per CMH Heli-skiing at Valemount)
- Resort Elevation (ft.): 4,265
- Vertical Gain (ft.): 6,857
- Lifts proposed: 20-22
Year-round skiing with summer options available on Twilight and McLennan Glaciers.
3 thoughts on “The 9 Best ‘Up and Coming’ Resorts in North America”
Red definitely does not get 300 inches in a season. It gets maybe around 150. This is a resort that celebrates 1cm and calls that freshies (I have screenshots lol). I’ve spent two seasons there and it’s an amazing mountain(s) with an amazing town but it severely lacks in snow.
Chilliedog, thank you for the update on the Valemount data! I made the correction. I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Cheers
Rossland is a special place. What a true real down to earth ski town.
Also, avg annual snowfall for Valemount resort is 550″ (long term data from treeline by CMH Cariboos Lodge)