To make it as one of the ten best, a resort has to rank high in both the park and pipe categories, as well as in other crucial areas such as nightlife, snowfall, vibe, lodging, food, et cetera—all the other stuff that matters when you’re getting after the best shred experience possible.
1. Aspen/Snowmass, Colorado
Sitting a stone’s throw from three other mountains in the area (Ajax, Buttermilk, and Highlands), this resort could easily get lost in the shuffle-but it doesn’t. Back in the number-one spot again this year, Snowmass reigns supreme by showcasing the complete package. It’s a huge mountain (3,000 shredable acres!) with multiple parks and pipes set ten minutes from a world-famous party town. What’s not to love?
Blessed with the Colorado Rockies’ super-light, fluffy snow and tons of sunny days, Snowmass kinda has the best-of-both-worlds thing going on. Snow days are best enjoyed by hiking the Cirque and then letting ‘er rip through open powder fields that dump into glades. Sunny days should be spent rouping off rollers or fine-tuning tricks in one of three parks.
Lowdown Park is chock-full of beginner-level jumps and jibs, plus a new thirteen-foot halfpipe. Makaha Park is the intermediate stage, and Snowmass Park is the main, expert-level park-where you’ll find the Superpipe and a nice balance of challenging, photo-worthy elements and fun, jibby features. Also, Snowmass added a boardercross course this past season to huge acclaim.
Although this area has a ritzy (expensive) rep, there’re deals to be had (Snowmass’s swanky Viceroy Hotel is always running discounts) and plenty of misty locals’ spots to unearth (hit Johnny McGuire’s or Big Wrap in Aspen for classic post-shred food). Plus, there’s a free shuttle running into the town of Aspen, and you can use your lift ticket to shred the three other resorts in the valley, too.
For the rest of the 2011 Top Ten Overall Resorts, click the page numbers below.
2. Mammoth Mountain, California
It’s all in the numbers. Even if Mammoth didn’t have three pipes, 80-plus jibs, and more than 50 jumps to hit, it would still be one of the most epic mountains to ride in all of North America. Last year, the Eastern Sierra range got hammered with almost 600 inches of snow-Mammoth was all-time. Topping out at an elevation over 11,000 feet, with open powder bowls funneling into trees and down into a vast matrix of trails, all fed with high-speed lifts, the freeriding at Mammoth is ridiculous. From the village, where restaurants, nightlife, and morning coffee can be found, you can take a gondola ride right up to Canyon Lodge. No parking stress, just ride the gondola up to the goods and start shredding.
3. Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia
Record snowfall, raucous nightlife, the largest snowboard competition on the planet, and yet another season of arguably the best lift-accessed backcountry in the game all amounted to a truly memorable winter up in British Columbia. Whistler-Blackcomb saw almost 50 feet (yes, feet) of fresh fall upon its slopes this past season, including a record-breaking 220 inches in November alone (!).
Hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games brought massive international attention to the resort. Vancouver and downtown Whistler were set ablaze during February, the official site of the wildest multi-cultural rager on the planet. The best part, though? While the media and sport circus was rolling through the streets, locals and tourists alike were enjoying quiet lifts and untouched powder all over the mountain, spanning from Peak2Peak.
The parks are vast, the pipes are prime, the freeride terrain is second-to-none, and oh, those Whistler nights … Let’s just say that Whistler-Blackcomb lift tickets should probably come with bail money. If you’ve spent a day/winter/lifetime in B.C., you’ll probably stay. If you haven’t been, it’s about damned time—you’re just missing out, hombre.
4. Buttermilk, Colorado
Back in the top five this year, Buttermilk rules because it’s amazingly convenient. It’s the closest Aspen resort to the airport, there’s free parking right at the base of the mountain, and the pipe’s front and center near the lodge. During non-X Games times, you’ll find quiet, gently rolling slopes sprinkled with world-class park features. The Winter X slopestyle essentially becomes the main park, while Buttermilk’s crew works closely with Snow Park Technologies (SPT) to create elements around the rest of the mountain. Simply put, it’s all about mellow vibes, rad parks, and pristine Colorado snow.
5. Breckenridge, Colorado
When five parks, two pipes, and over 3,000 acres of terrain combine, it’s bound to be good. Breck’s parks and pipes are a staple in the poll, but don’t sleep on their long laps and sidecountry terrain of Peaks 7, 8, and 9. With new amenities at the base of Peak 8, staples like Breck’s eternally awesome main street and the Dew Tour hitting December 16-19, 2010, the place is going to be popping.
6. Northstar-at-Tahoe, California
Terrain parks are the bread and butter of Northstar, but that’s not all this 3,000-acre resort offers. There’re hidden stashes (and exposed ones like The Stash) of terrain and steeps to be plodded including the Sawtooth Ridge, White Rabbit, and Lookout Mountain sidecountry terrain. The 2010 season marked the completion of the massive village complete with an outdoor ice-skating rink, so the whole place is dialed for this winter.
7. Sierra-At-Tahoe, California
With over 480 inches of snow, more than 2,000 acres of rideable terrain, a chilled-out vibe, and the South Shore’s only Superpipe, Sierra has once again earned a top ten ranking. Drop the lines of Huckleberry Canyon, hot-lap the pillows in Castle Creek, suck up the lift-accessed cliffs off Avalanche Bowl, or enjoy running the five parks under that bluebird California sun-just be sure to save some energy for those long Sierra nights.
8. Park City, Utah
All the ingredients are here-four different parks from beginner to the pro-caliber King’s Crown super-sized park, an award-winning Superpipe, awesome freeriding off Jupiter Peak, a bustling downtown, Harry O’s nightclub, Sundance celebrity sightings, lots of local pro riders, and all of this only 30 minutes from the SLC international airport. Done.
9. Keystone, Colorado
Back to claim the number nine spot again, Keystone’s still killing it with its celebrated A51 terrain park-which has its own lift and five different zones of ability levels-a 400-foot-long Zaugg-cut Superpipe, nice hikeables out in North and South Bowl (or get a five-dollar cat ride instead!), and premium high-altitude snow. Plus, the resort’s only a few miles away from the towns of Silverthorne and Dillon, so it’s definitely got cheap sleeping and eating nearby.
10. Winter Park, Colorado
Once a resort known primarily for moguls and racing, Winter Park now boasts a stout, mile-long park system, including the classic Rail Yard and daunting Dark Territory. Two lifts service the beginner and intermediate-themed parks, with high-speed groomers and wood shots lining the way. Consistent snowfall, never a liftline, and the far-off Mary Jane side holding some of the headiest lift-accessed tree-riding in CO? Ditch the glitz, enjoy the vibe, and let Mary J and company set things right.