Comparison Of USA Ski Resorts

Comparison Of USA Ski Resorts

Compare Ski Resorts USA

Can’t decide which USA ski resorts to visit? Perhaps you’re looking for plenty of vertical, a high proportion of expert runs, or cheap lift tickets? To aid in your decision making:
  • Download the USA resort statistics comparison. This ski resort comparison includes mountain statistics such as terrain size, and the proportion of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs. 
  • See the Powderhounds' USA ski resorts ratings which are broken into many aspects such as: terrain for different abilities; the powder; lift infrastructure; family-friendliness; cost; nightlife; and the likelihood of finding “freshies”. 
  • See our “best ski resorts in US” awards for ideas on which USA ski resorts may suit your needs. 
  • See the information below which compares USA snow quantity and quality, crowds, cost and resort size.

Ski Resort Comparison - Snow

US ski resorts are renowned for having plenty of snowfall. Various Utah ski resorts receive an average of 500 inches of snowfall annually. Mt Baker Washington set a record in 1998-99 for the most snowfall in a season, with an amazing  1,140 inches, although the annual average is “only” 701 inches! Kirkwood and Alpine Meadows ski area in California have annual stats of 600 inches and 492 inches respectively. And Alyeska in Alaska receives an average of 720 inches of snow per year. Wow!

Most powder hounds will cite that quantity of powder is important, but that high quality powder is also essential. Resorts near the coast are more inclined to have wettish snow, which sometimes isn’t much fun unless you have super fat skis or a mega board. “Cascade concrete” and “Sierra cement” are unaffectionate terms for the type of snow that can be found in these mountain ranges, where the snow typically contains 10-15% water. On the plus side, one benefit of the maritime snowpack is that it’s more stable.

The Eastern states don’t have a good reputation for snow quality. Some of it is artificial snow which has really high moisture content, and the words “ice” and “icy” come to mind.

So in general, as to be expected, the central states have the best snow quality. The state of Utah is dry in many respects. Whilst the reputation of there being no alcohol is not true (OK it’s got a little truth to it!), the air is so dry that you’ll constantly be applying lip balm, and the snow is so dry (only 5-7% in Little Cottonwood Canyon) that it deserves the rep of “The Greatest Snow on Earth”. Utah has both quality and quantity.

Also in the interior is Colorado. Many of the resorts have annual snowfall statistics of about 7-9 metres, and the resorts boast that the quality is superior, thanks in part due to the high elevation. In Wyoming the snow is “from heaven, not from hoses”, and Montana has great snow too.


Unfortunately the abundance of fresh powder doesn’t last for long at many of the USA ski resorts. The lift infrastructure is generally very modern and copes with the crowds, but the snow doesn’t cope as well. It can be difficult to find an “off-the-beaten-track” resort where you can have the powder to yourself, but they do exist (if you're lucky with your timing!). Examples might include Powder Mountain (Utah) and some of the “gems” of Colorado such as Powderhorn.

Mega USA Ski Resorts

Many of the resorts in the USA are very large. Powder Mountain is the largest at 8,464 acres, although it’s debatable as to which elements of the ski terrain should be counted in the statistic. Park City has 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, Big Sky is aptly named with 5,850 acres, Vail ski resort is huge at 5,289 acres, and other mega-resorts include Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Mammoth Mountain. The size of the combined ski terrain of the inter-connected Alta and Snowbird ski resort is also large.

Some of the resorts have significant vertical, but when compared to parts of Europe, US ski resorts don’t quite measure up. USA ski resorts don't even get a mention in the top 30 resorts in the world for ski vertical.

Off-Piste Skiing and Expert Ski Terrain

What the United States has over Europe are “trails” and better opportunities for advanced and expert skiers without the same degree of risk. In Europe guides may be required to explore “off-piste”, and the areas between the marked trails are generally unpatrolled and a case of “ski at your own risk”. With USA ski resorts, the inbounds terrain is largely accessible, avalanche controlled, patrolled and on the trail map. The exception is Silverton Mountain (Colorado) where a guide is often required, but Silverton remarkably has 100% black run terrain. At least 20 other western US ski resorts have more than 50 percent of the terrain rated as black and double black; heaven for advanced and expert riders.

When is the Ski Season in the US?

The US ski season is generally long. Most USA ski resorts open from sometime in November with Thanksgiving (the 4th Thursday of November) being a common opening time. Many stay open until April. Arapahoe Basin, Squaw Valley and Snowbird enjoy long seasons well into the spring, and the spring festivities can get into full swing. See our US stats resort comparison document regarding the start and end of the season for each of the western USA ski resorts.

Many international visitors choose to ski in the USA during January and February. However there are opportunities for a much cheaper ski trip if you go during the shoulder season. During spring, the ambient temperatures are more pleasant, and there is still plenty of snow. The snow conditions may be more variable, but many prefer the softer forgiving snow. December is also a great time to visit because it’s quiet (with the exception of Xmas to New Year) and the cold temperatures provide good snow quality.

Cost of Skiing USA

Is it expensive to snowboard and ski in the United States? The answer to this question is largely dependent upon the strength of the US dollar in comparison to your home land currency. However as a general rule, it is more expensive to ski in the US compared with Canada, New Zealand, India, South America, Eastern Europe and skiing in Japan.

Lift ticket prices vary significantly across the US. Some high profile Colorado resorts charge as much as $200 per day for an adult lift pass. Generally other states are less expensive, with the exception being resorts near Park City, Utah. The US also has lesser known resorts where it’s possible to have a ski holiday without burning a hole in your pocket.

Lodging can be quite expensive in the US. The standard of the accommodation and service is quite high, and lodging commonly comes in the form of hotels, condos (apartments) and luxurious bed and breakfasts. It can be hard to find a backpackers hostel or a little pension. These aren’t as prolific in the US compared with New Zealand and Canada. Budget motels or chain hotels are a possibility, but these are typically not located on-mountain or close to the slopes.