Everyone’s got a bucket list, right? A bunch of things you want to do or see or experience or whatever before time runs out.
Same goes for skiing and snowboarding. There are a multitude of snowbound places on this planet that should be sampled at least once in a lifetime, but you won’t be overly regretful if you miss out on most of them.
There are, however, five areas that must be checked out before you check out.
Nestled in a gorgeous valley at the foot of the Alps’ highest point, Mont Blanc, this town, and its up-valley neighbor Argentiere, is ground zero for Europe’s extreme riding scene.
Grand Montets is the best resort for lung- and leg-busting experiences; the upper portion of the area’s cable car offers 4,263 vertical feet of riding back down to the mid-mountain loading station (it’s 6,563 vertical feet if you decide to ski back to the resort’s base in Argentiere).
Then there’s the 10.6 mile, 6,500-foot vertical descent down the Vallee Blanche, an unmarked, unmaintained, unpatrolled run that follows one of Mont Blanc’s glaciers. The cable car ride from the town of Chamonix that accesses the launch point atop Aiguille du Midi is perhaps just as exhilarating as the run down.
The Chamonix area has more mellow terrain at Brevent, La Flegere, Les Houches and Le Tour/Balme.
The prodigious dumps of blower powder have made an international name for the handful of resorts surrounding this town on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island.
Grand Hirafu is the most well-known, attracting an international crowd, and thus most crowded of the Niseko resorts. Sixteen lifts, including a gondola and 5 high-speed quads, access more than 800 acres and 3,084 vertical feet of in-bounds riding.
Two other resorts, Niseko Village (nee Higashiyama) and Niseko Annapuri, share the same mountain and essentially the same vert as Grand Hirafu, but are smaller and have different aspects. Niseko Village has six lifts including a gondola, while Niseko Annapuri has four lifts and gondola. The three resorts have an interchangeable lift ticket program.
Rusutsu averages more than 40 feet of snow and its 523 acres of superb tree skiing is sprawled over three mountains serviced by 19 lifts, four of which are gondolas. If busting pow all day isn’t enough, there are other diversions, such as an amusement park and hot springs baths.
Moiwa is a small resort (couple hundred acres, 1,542 feet of vertical, 3 lifts) but it skis big when the upper lift is open and a ton of back-country terrain is accessible.
Powder Highway, British Columbia
There’s a lovely system of roads in the southeastern part of the province that forms a rough loop and provides access to some of the best powder skiing in North America.
This circuit, which is comprised mostly of highways 1, 3 and 95, will bring you to the doorstep of B.C.’s legendary Canadian Rockies resorts: Revelstoke, Panorama, Kicking Horse, Whitewater, Big White, Red Mountain, Ferni and Kimberley.
Then there’s the fabled back-country terrain offered up by dozens of heli-ski (Purcell, Selkirk Tangiers, Eagle Pass et al) and cat-ski (Chatter Creek, White Grizzly, Valhalla Powdercats et al) operations.
The towns of Golden, Nelson, Revelstoke and Cranbrook are great bases to explore this region.
Silverton Mountain, Colorado
One of the quirkiest resorts in the world, Silverton Mountain, located deep in the San Juan range, has only one chairlift — a recycled double — and you must have avalanche gear (probes, shovels, beacons, etc.) to take a ride.
But what a ride!
From the top terminus at 12,300 feet, a skier or snowboarder has access to 1,900 feet of vertical and 1,819 acres (much, much more of both if you want to hike) of virgin Colorado light. The resort has no cut runs nor a fleet of groomers, so it’s all basically untracked steeps (the easiest run is pitched at 35 degrees ) and deep (more than 400 inches of snow annually).
Because of the untamed nature of the resort, Silverton generally has guests ride with a guide, so that limits the number of folks on the hill. On the half-dozen or so of guide-optional days, which usually occur in the spring, you won’t find more than a couple hundred shredders.
Added bonus: the town of Silverton, six miles from the lift, is a relatively unspoiled former mining town and great place to kick back after a full pow day.
Wanaka, New Zealand
Situated on the shores of 74 square-mile Lake Wanaka and with a marvelous view of pyramidal Mount Aspiring, the “Matterhorn of the South”, this ski town is a mini-Lake Tahoe, without the hordes of winter tourists (they’re mostly crowding Queenstown, which is an hour’s drive away).
Wanaka is the base camp for two of the finest lift-served ski fields in the Souther Alps: Treble Cone and Cardrona, which are both a half-hour drive from town but in opposite directions.
Treble Cone is a 1,359-acre playground, serviced by two chair lifts and two surface lifts. It has the biggest vertical drop in New Zealand (2,300 feet), and nearly half the runs rated advanced or expert. Cardrona, meanwhile, is bit more mellow, with 600-feet vertical relief and four chairs and two surface lifts transporting skiers and snowboarders over its 900 or so acres.
With hundreds of square miles of nearby back country made accessible by Wanaka Ski Guides and Harris Mountains Heli-ski, it’s no wonder that half of the 2014 New Zealand Olympic ski team called Wanaka home.