Skiing: Summits and the cities
Research by 'The Independent Traveller' shows these are the six most popular North American destinations in terms of capacity from the UK. Patrick Thorne assesses their snow potential
Saturday 20 November 2010
Dozens of ski hills lie north of New York City, getting progressively larger the further out you go. The closest ski areas – and some of the oldest areas in New York State – are located in Orange County, in the heart of the Hudson Valley. Mount Peter (00 1 845 986 4940; mtpeter.com), known as "The Friendly One", was founded in 1936 as a recreational base for staff from Macy's department store. Despite being small (11 runs, four lifts), there's plenty for all. Most resorts have at least one free lift for beginners but Mt Peter is relatively rare in offering free lessons too. There's also a great terrain park for all, plus floodlighting and night skiing until 9pm (except Sundays). Mount Peter is 64 miles north of JFK, an 80-minute drive or "2.5 hours in traffic".
Alternatively, aim for New Jersey. Sadly, North America's first indoor snow centre, the $2.3bn Meadowlands retail and entertainment complex ( visitmeadowlands.com) still stand empty. However, the outdoor resort of Mountain Creek (00 1 973 827 2000; mountaincreek.com) is set to open for the season on 11 December. It offers 45 runs served by 11 lifts, including four quads. Mountain Creek is 53 miles north-west of Newark airport, roughly 70 minutes' drive on a good day. The resort is also accessible via NJ Transit's bus 194 from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan ( njtransit.com).
The vast Los Angeles market is a key one for California's ski industry. With keen Austrian skier Arnold Schwarzenegger governing the state, little ski hills just won't cut it.
Step forward Mountain High (00 1 888 7547878; mthigh.com), marketing itself as "Southern California's closest winter resort" and only 90 minutes from LA. The ski area, which attracts half a million skiers and boarders each winter, consists of three separate mountains (Mountain High East, West, and North), which together offer 61 trails served by 16 lifts. Runs are up to a mile-and-a-half long, a third of them graded black including tough descents such as the Olympic Bowl.
Given the predominance of surf culture in the region, there are two world-class terrain parks, one with a huge half-pipe and the region's largest tubing area. Four out of five of the slopes have snowmaking cover, which has enabled Mountain High to be the first resort to open in Southern California for the past 14 years, including this winter – it opened a fortnight ago. It's easily found from Los Angeles International airport via Interstate 10 or the 60 Freeway to Interstate 15, past the town of Wrightwood.
Many skiers heading to the Rockies will have changed planes at O'Hare airport, but probably haven't considered a winter-sports holiday in the Windy City. Boarders should head 17 miles north-west from O'Hare on I-90 to Raging Buffalo (001 847 836 7243; ragingbuffalo.com), which in 1993 became what it claimed was the world's first boarders-only snow area.
Back then, resorts such as Aspen and even Park City in Utah (which went on to be the venue for the 2002 Olympic snowboarding events) were banning boarders from their slopes. In these more enlightened and cash-strapped times however, those Rockies resorts allow boarders. And, conversely, Raging Buffalo also now welcomes skiers. Slopes are modest, mostly one large terrain park complete with half-pipe, kickers and table tops served by two drag lifts. There are half a dozen other ski areas in Illinois including larger centres like Chestnut Mountain ( chestnutmtn.com) with nine lifts and 17 runs, but it's much further out: some 150 miles and three hours away in the same direction on the same road.
The largest city in the Sunshine State is one of America's most popular cities from which to begin a skiing trip, with the Florida Ski Council organising trips to Colorado, Montana and Italy's Aosta Valley this winter.
However, with the nearby artificial surface slope closed, the nearest proper ski areas is around a 12-hour drive away in the southern Appalachian mountains of Alabama. Cloudmont (00 1 256 634 4344; cloudmont.com) is around 770 miles north via the Ronald Reagan turnpike and I-75.
Florida is, alas, about the least-promising destination in North America for snow skiing (even tropical Hawaii has snow slopes on Mauna Kea). An impressive plan for a 550ft-high, green-powered indoor snow slope in the north of the city sadly appears to have fizzled out.
Away from the snow, there is ice-based fun is available at the Kendall Ice Arena (00 1 305 386 8288; kendallicearena.com). Offering ice dancing to live DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, the 200ft-long rink is located 16 miles south-west of Miami International, and there are bus services which stop outside the ice arena ( miamidade.gov/transit).
Ontario is somewhat overlooked as a North American ski destination. There are few sizeable ski areas, but what they lack in quality they make up for in quantity. Numerically the province scores highly with nearly 90 small areas (10 per cent of the continent's total) to choose from. You could ski a different ski hill (almost) every day of winter.
The biggest of the bunch is Blue Mountain (00 1 705 445 0231; bluemountain.ca) on the Niagara Escarpment, 105 miles north of Toronto's Pearson airport. The drive usually takes about two hours, 20 minutes to drive to, much of that on route 7. It's run by Intrawest, the owners of Whistler, but has only a 722ft vertical compared with Whistler's Blackcomb mountain's dizzy 5,280ft.
However, those precious feet are well served by four comfortable six-seater chairlifts (Whistler has more than a dozen quads but no chairlifts as big), and 10 other lifts. Fourteen of the 36 runs are graded black, including the intimidating Elevator Shaft run.
Boston is the main access point for Brits flying in to access the bigger resorts of New England to the north, most notably Killington (00 1 802 422 6200; killington.com) in Vermont.
This is one of North America's largest, with 200 runs served by more than 30 lifts. But it's a three-hour drive north from Logan airport.
If you don't want to go quite that far, there are two dozen smaller ski areas to be found in Massachusetts. One of the closest to the airport (45 miles) is Ski Bradford (00 1 978 373 0071; skibradford.com). It does suffer in comparison in terms of its ski area having about half the vertical of Killington, not to mention far fewer runs (11) and lifts (8), but the convenience of its location is a good trade-off, and it's certainly no slouch, managing a healthy 1,550 feet of lift-served vertical. The area tries hard to please with every bit of the terrain covered by snowmaking, evening opening – to 7pm on weekdays and 10pm at weekends – and a large base lodge in which to grab a snack and relax.
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