Call it what you will — blower, cold smoke, pow pow, Champagne — that light, fluffy stuff that falls from the skies and is laid down in deep blankets on the mountainside is the raison d’etre for many skiers and snowboarders.
A lot of people spend big bucks — hello heli and cat operations — in search of this Holy Grail of Winter, a testament to powder’s huge allure.
But depending on circumstance, location and, sometimes, pure serendipity, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to feed your blower habit. Many lift-serviced resorts have stashes that can rival, sorta, what the Bugaboos and the Chugachs have to offer.
So, with all things — such as amount of powder, depth of pack underneath, humidity, temperature, weather conditions and ability — being relatively equal, here’s one person’s short list of some of the best in-bounds powder runs in North America.
Situated on the south side of Jackson Hole, the Hobacks are comprised of three ridges (South, Middle and North) that, in total area, are about the size of many mid-sized ski hills. Access from the top of the tram via the Rendezvous bowl and trail, skiers and riders have more than 4,000 vertical feet of face-shot options.
The many lines accessed by he Panorama gondola (Climax, Scotty’s, Philippe’s, et al) are the big draws at Mammoth Mountain on a powder day, so there is relatively little traffic on the three slots that comprise the Avi Chutes. Plus, being lower down on the hill — skiers’ right from the top of Chair 22 — they aren’t as subject to the winds that regularly pummel the top of the mountain.
Anything off the North Face poma at Crested Butte in Colorado should be mentioned in any best-of compendium, but the Third Bowl is particularly noteworthy. It isn’t open very often, but when they drop the ropes the long, somewhat tricky trek to get there will be long forgotten after the second turn.
My Blue Heaven
With 60 percent of the named trails at Kicking Horse rated black diamond or better and with the resort sitting alongside British Columbia’s famed Powder Highway, you’re sure to find something to your liking here. But most of the interesting powder runs have either a long hike or a long runout to the gondola (usually both). My Blue Heaven is a sweet open powder field that easily accessed by the Stairway to Heaven lift again and again.
If you’re at a resort that has powder in its name, you know you’ve hit the Mother Lode. And Utah’s Powder Mountain definitely lives up to its name. The three Powder Chamber runs are delightful slots through the woods from the top — skiers’ right — of the Palisades lift.
We’re talking powder day, right? Two feet of new and not a grooming machine in sight. Any of the runs — Flying Squirrel, Picabo, International and lower down Greyhawk and Hemingway — accessed by the Warm Springs express quad at Sun Valley will give you more than 3,000 vertical at fairly consistent pitch, but perhaps the most consistent and funnest route is Limelight.