USATop Nature Vacations

5 Off-The-Radar Ski Resorts

By , November 25th, 2014

Big fancy resorts and five-star restaurants make for nice advertisements in glossy magazines, but my experience reviewing has taught me that that the beauty of a ski resort is in the eye of the beholder. Every resort has its own character, and the best experience comes from visiting a hill where you feel at home. Personally, I prefer the personality of small ski resorts. The locals and employees are often friendlier, the lift lines shorter, tickets cheaper, and there are fewer snow jocks competing for the fresh powder lines.These five US ski resorts are some of best off-the-radar winter playgrounds for skiers and snowboarders looking for an awesome experience away from the crowds this winter.

1. Grand Targhee: Alta, Wyoming


Why It’s One of the Best

Grand Targhee’s 2,602 acres of skiable terrain, 2,270-foot vertical drop and uncrowded setting in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest draws faithful snow riders back year after year. The resort’s lifts give skiers access to two separate mountains (Fred’s Mountain and Peaked Mountain), while Mary’s Nipple offers backcountry skiers and riders hikeable in-bounds terrain.

The après-ski scene is one of the most energetic that I’ve experienced and, although Jackson Hole — located just on the other side of the Tetons — reports a slightly larger annual snowfall, differences in measuring methods means that Grand Targhee may actually get more snow, making it one of the best resorts for powder in the nation. On a snowy day you can do the same run over and over without worrying about crossing your own tracks. The locals refer to those days as “free refills”.

If you want to see how much the locals love Targhee, just check out this video.

One Thing You Must Do at Grand Targhee

After the lifts close, head over to The Trap Bar and Grill for some awesome live music and uber-friendly flannel-wearing locals.

Getting to Grand Targhee

Grand Targhee Resort’s is in Alta, Wyoming, just across the border from Idaho, and only 48 miles from Jackson Hole. The closest airports are the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC), a 1.5-hour drive from the resort, and the Idaho Falls Airport (IDA), a two-hour drive away.

Find a hotel nearby!

2. Sierra-at-Tahoe: Lake Tahoe, California

Lunch with a view in Tahoe

Why It’s One of the Best

Sierra-at-Tahoe is unique among the resorts around Lake Tahoe. Sierra-at-Tahoe is known for its friendly staff, amazing tree skiing (I’m not kidding, in some glades its as though the trees were spaced specifically to be ridden through), well-manicured terrain, and extremely affordable lift packages. Although many skiers and riders show up for the resort’s five terrain parks (which win awards pretty much every year), there is also side country access through five gates to Huckleberry Canyon.

What few people know is that Sierra-at-Tahoe is extremely supportive of the local up-and-coming skiers and snowboarders, and is the training ground for many Lake Tahoe pros. On any given day you are likely to treated to spectacular aerials by skiers and snowboarders training in the big terrain parks.

One Thing You Have To Do At Sierra-At-Tahoe

Put your boots and gloves on the custom-warmers in the 360º Smokehouse BBQ at the top of the mountain and enjoy some ribs on the rooftop deck with a view of Lake Tahoe.

Getting to Sierra-at-Tahoe

Sierra-at-Tahoe is easy to drive to from California, located just 200 miles from San Francisco. For those flying in, it is located 75 miles from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). The Reno-Tahoe International Airport offers daily flights from 15 non-stop destinations, so you can be from Las Vegas, San Diego, Chicago or a wide variety of other major U.S. cities and at your destination in beautiful Lake Tahoe, California the very same day.

Find a hotel nearby!

3. Canyons: Park City, Utah

Canyons make taking selfies easy

Why It’s One of the Best

Canyons Resort is one of several Utah resorts that lays claim to the “Greatest Snow on Earth”. Canyons was once seen as one of Utah’s second-tier ski areas with limited dining and lodging options, but that has changed — especially since Vail Resorts purchased it.

Canyons is in a unique situation. Located between the very well-known Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort on the east side of the Wasatch, and the numerous resorts accessed from the west side of the mountain range, it is only slightly farther away from both Park City and Salt Lake City than other resorts (by slightly, I mean about 10 minutes driving), but that small difference means Canyons sprawling 4000 acres of terrain is often overlooked by visitors.

That means that lift lines are short, runs are uncrowded, and you can almost always find fresh tracks if you’re willing to go looking for them.

One Thing You Have To Do At Canyons

Check out the après-ski live music often performed in the amphitheater at the base of the mountain.

Getting to Canyons

Canyons is just 35 minutes from Salt Lake International Airport, which means you board a flight in the morning and be in knee-deep powder by the afternoon. Canyons is also located just a few minutes from Park City — which has over a hundred bars and restaurants and plenty of lodging options — and can be reached by shuttle.

Find a hotel nearby!

4. Sugar Bowl: Donner Pass, California

Powdered sugar at Sugar Bowl, pun intended.

Why It’s One of the Best

Sugar Bowl is one of the oldest ski areas in the country and was partially founded by Walt Disney — which is kind of cool — but that’s also what makes this resort so special. Sugar Bowl Resort combines an old-school ski and snowboard atmosphere (including a historic gondola) with modern conveniences like slope-side parking, challenging terrain and reasonable prices.

It’s just about a forty-minute drive from Squaw Valley, but is very similar. I like to think of it as a mini Squaw Valley without the attitude. Sugar Bowl has terrain just as extreme as that at Squaw Valley (although less of it because it’s smaller) but it doesn’t attract the snow-jock show offs that a big-name extreme resort like Squaw Valley does.

One Thing You Have To Do At Sugar Bowl

Drop a few extra dollars for dinner in the Belt Room Bar, which is housed in a beautiful lodge with a huge fireplace and walls adorned with pictures highlighting the area’s history.

Getting to Sugar Bowl

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is located 42 miles southwest of Reno, Nevada, and 93 miles northeast of Sacramento, California, in the Truckee/Lake Tahoe area of California. The resort’s unique location on Tahoe’s Donner Summit makes it easy to reach from the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento.

Find a hotel nearby!

5. Wolf Creek: Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Beat the crowds at Wolf Creek

Why It’s One of the Best

Wolf Creek’s low lift prices certainly attract skiers to their slope, but the 430-inch average annual snowfall (which is the largest in the Colorado), steeps, glades, bowls and ridges are what keep them so loyal. Roughly 45-percent of the resort’s terrain is advanced and expert range, so visitors to southern Colorado can get in lots of steep pow turns without dealing with crowds.

The atmosphere of this family-owned resort also has unique charm. The tight-knit community feeling is strong, and rightly so. The resort owners often ask locals their opinions about changes to the mountain — which is one of the reasons why there are still no hotels at the resort (you need to stay nearby in town) and why they have plans for some epic expansion, but will be doing so with minimal environmental impact.

One Thing You Have To Do At Wolf Creek

Two words: Pagosa Springs – trust me.

Getting to Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek is located in the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forest between Pagosa Springs and South Fork, Colo. The resort’s convenient location just 65 miles west of Alamosa and 80 miles east of Durango makes it a convenient, low-pressure ski area for Colorado skiers and snowboarders.

Find a hotel nearby!


Do you have any favorite resorts to add to this list?


Looking for more Winter Inspiration? Look no further.

The Coolest Hotels In Salt Lake City Keeping Things Hot 

From Baggage Claim to The Ski Slopes in One Hour or Less

Eat and Ski Your Way Through Park City, Utah 


* Photos by Matt Gibson