12/03/2014 05:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America


If you're optimizing your 2015 ski or snowboarding vacation for powder days, these are the top 10 North American ski resorts to maximize those chances.

The list of top 10 ski resorts has been compiled many times before, but I've always found the criteria too general. When you consider too many factors or put it to a popular vote, the output is generic. In trying to appeal to everyone, it satisfies no one.

The following list is based on two things: powder days and steep terrain. Having been an editor for POWDER Magazine and written a book on the history of snowboarding, I have some experience with steepness and deepness. This is what I live for. So when a helicopter is not an option, these are the ski resorts I frequent for powder days.

#1 Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada: Whistler is the total package. A massive expanse of skiable terrain extends above the treeline and provides copious steep runs with top-to-bottom laps in excess of 5,000 vertical feet. Meanwhile, an idyllic ski village offers world-class accommodations, dining, and après skiing. And it's all just a two-hour drive from Vancouver.

Average Annual Snowfall: 462 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 356 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 24
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 53 inches
Live Webcam Link

#2 Snowbird, Utah: A nipple-deep powder day at Snowbird is something every hardcore skier or snowboarder must experience at least once. This is what gives Utah's claim to "the greatest snow on earth" complete credibility.

Average Annual Snowfall: 500 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 432 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 35
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 67 inches
Live Webcam Link

#3 Jackson Hole, Wyoming: While the on-mountain terrain is phenomenal, what sets Jackson apart is its exceptional out-of-bounds access. It also has the best start to the 2014/2015 season in terms of snowfall.

Average Annual Snowfall: 459 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 500 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: Not Available
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 108 inches
Live Webcam Link

#4 Mammoth Mountain, California: Big storms rolling off the Pacific routinely drop four or five feet of snow on Mammoth at a time, and its high elevation makes the snow lighter than what you find in Tahoe. The California drought made for a tough season, but if the law of averages holds true, then this year could be big.

Average Annual Snowfall: 400 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 238 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: Not Available
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 26 inches
Live Webcam Link

#5 Big Sky Resort, Montana: Big Sky benefits from its relative remoteness. Unlike many others on this list, there are no major cities in driving distance, which keeps the crowds at bay and leaves more powder for those willing to fly to Bozeman. Nevertheless, there are plenty of direct flights from Los Angeles and other cities to make access relatively easy.

Average Annual Snowfall: 400+ inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 460 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 27
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 27 inches
Live Webcam Link

#6 Crested Butte, Colorado: In general, Colorado is an order of magnitude below Utah and California in terms of total snowfall. That said, Crested Butte is by far the coolest and most authentic ski town in the lower 48, while the mountain lays claim to the best terrain in all of Colorado.

Average Annual Snowfall: 300 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 300 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 24
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 67 inches
Live Webcam Link

#7 Squaw Valley, California: The Tahoe area has a lot to choose from, but if you're optimizing for terrain, Squaw is the clear choice.

Average Annual Snowfall: 450 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 298 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 23
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 31 inches
Live Webcam Link

#8 Aspen Highlands, Colorado: If you find yourself in Aspen, then the Highlands is where you go for great terrain and even some out-of-bounds access. Just be sure to hire a guide.

Average Annual Snowfall: 300 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 318 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: 26
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 28 inches
Live Webcam Link

#9 Vail Mountain Resort, Colorado: The terrain isn't as steep as one might prefer, but a powder day in Vail's back bowls should be on every skier's and snowboarder's bucket list.

Average Annual Snowfall: 354 inches
2013/2014 Snowfall: 317 inches
2013/2014 Powder days: Not Available
2014/2015 Snowfall to Date: 78 Inches
Live Webcam Link

#10 The Yellowstone Club, Montana: A private ski resort for the ultra-wealthy, the Yellowstone Club is adjacent to Big Sky Resort and enjoys similar conditions. A powder day at Yellowstone means fresh tracks on every run, not unlike a day of cat- or heli-skiing. It's just that the lift ticket is effectively north of seven figures.

Average Annual Snowfall: 300 inches

Editor's Note: For the purpose of this story, a powder day means four inches or more of fresh snow overnight. The above numbers for "snowfall to date" are as of December 2nd, 2014.