But first, the big news on the slopes: the continuing consolidation within the ski industry. Following the 2016 acquisition by Vail Resorts of Whistler—North America’s largest resort—a capital group headed up by Aspen Ski Co. fought back by acquiring an astounding eight major resorts, including Colorado’s Steamboat, California’s Mammoth, and Vermont’s Stratton. But while Whistler is now part of Vail’s 14-resort Epic Pass ($859) this season, the Aspen portfolio will still run on separate ski passes. As in past years, however, the Mountain Collective pass ($469) affords purchasers a pair of days apiece at 16 of the world’s best resorts—including a few of the Aspen resorts.
So what’s the bottom line with all these partnerships and acquisitions? You’re buying fewer passes, while getting more access and, ultimately, cheaper skiing.
Park City , Utah
Get in with: Epic Pass
A site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City remains the home training ground for dozens of current Olympic athletes. Whether visiting the ski jump or bobsled facilities (where you can pay to ride with a professional driver), or taking a chairlift near the expert-level Three Kings terrain park, you may well rub elbows with a few of them. On the other hand, Park City Mountain Resort’s expansive 7,300 acres of terrain means you can spread out and avoid the winter jocks and almost everyone else, too. Check out the new Miner’s Camp restaurant at the base of the Silverlode lift for grass-fed beef chili. If you happen to get tired of Park City’s 41 lifts and numerous slopes, Deer Valley
is a 1.5-mile bus ride away. The resort caps skier numbers at 7,500 per day and snowboarders still aren’t allowed, which means it’s easy to find fresh lines all day after a storm.
Jackson Hole , Wyoming
Get in with: Mountain Collective pass
After a record 593 inches of snowfall last year, and near records for most of the past decade, Jackson Hole is the place to be in these climatically uncertain times. In recent years, the remote Wyoming resort has added more direct flights from cities like San Francisco and Atlanta, bringing its total to 12 daily. Haven’t skied Jackson? This is your year. Its steep runs are legendary—expert Chutes and Corbett’s Couloir are international test pieces—and the out-of-bounds is so formidable that hiring a guide might be the difference between the best ski day of all time and a serious accident. The resort has worked hard to improve its intermediate terrain recently, and this season it will open Solitude Station, a 12,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art ski school facility atop the beginner terrain.
Big Sky, Montana
Get in with: Max Pass
Just 45 miles south of Bozeman’s airport, Big Sky is now in the middle of a development boom, growing bigger and better than ever. When it merged with adjacent Moonlight Basin in 2013, Big Sky became a 5,800-acre, 4,350-foot-high colossus. That means less competition for the annual average 400 inches of snow and even less chance for on-slope collisions; in 2014 the resort sold an average of 3,000 tickets a day, giving each skier about two acres to roam. Two new lifts, the most recent additions to the resort, were unveiled last season. Although many families will have to fly to Montana, once there, things get cheaper: Kids five and under always ski free, and if you are lodging at one of the resort’s three hotels or dozens of condos, kids under 10 ski free. Evenings, head downslope to Big Sky Meadow for local breweries and great eats, like pizza purveyor Ousel and Spur.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Get in with: Mountain Collective pass
Why Salt Lake City? East Coasters can catch a 6 a.m. flight and still make the Alta ticket window for a half-day ticket. This season, buy a Mountain Collective pass and you’ll have six days of skiing at three different world-class resorts in the area for $78 a pop (compared to an average ticket price of about $129 at Snowbird).