Snow Sports Experts Rank the Best Mountain Resorts
Magic Mountain is the top mountain resort you've never heard of.

The ski season has just begun and we already have a few surveys from industry experts to help families customize the choice of best ski resort.

According to the Liftopia 2017-18 Best in Snow Awards issued Dec. 18, 2017, which used proprietary algorithms to crunch survey responses and the largest dataset in the industry, ski and snowboard aficionados love small, local mountain resorts. 

“Skiers are by nature adventurous and today’s travelers are looking for the new, the interesting, the unknown areas to vacation,” said Evan Reece, co-founder and CEO of Liftopia.

Skier and Rider Favorites in Each Region

To determine winners, more than 12,000 respondents were asked to consider criteria such as snow quality and conditions, grooming, accessibility, terrain variety and difficulty, vertical drop, learn to ski and snowboard programs, staff and instructors, resort size, crowds and lift lines, accessibility of lifts and beginner terrain, off-slope activities, the surrounding community, and cost of lift tickets, rentals and programs, among others.

Awards categories were based on resort aspects that respondents said were most important to them when choosing where to go: Best in Snow (the overall winners), Beginner-FriendlyMost ChallengingFamily-FriendlyBest Snow Consistency & QualityLeast Crowded and Best Value. Top scorers in each category were divided geographically into five regions: Northeast, West Coast, High West, Southeast and Midwest, to come up with 10 mountain resorts in each category.

And the Winners Are

The folks at Liftopia sorted the data and compiled user comments to give us a Zagat for ski resorts. In noting the surprising winners of Overall Best in Snow –Vermont’s Magic Mountain and Utah’s Alta, they said, and we quote…

Magic Mountain in Vermont is the Overall Best in Snow in North America winner for the second year in a row and also kept its #1 position in the Most Challenging in the Northeast and North America categories, with customers saying that it is a “hidden treasure” that boasts an “old school vibe” with “people who genuinely care,” offering a “massive variety of trails” for “true, untouched skiing” and “terrain you can grow with.”

Coming in at #2 for Overall Best in Snow, Alta in Utah is called a “big playground” because of its “laid-back feel” limited to “skiers only” with Utah’s famous “light and feather-like snow” there is “always fresh powder somewhere,” along with “incredible terrain” that “makes everyone happy.” Survey feedback noted that “it just never seems crowded” because even “on the busiest days it’s only a five-minute wait” — with “fun around every corner” and “charming people who are down to earth about skiing.” Alta also ranked #1 in North America for Snow Consistency and Quality.

Additional winners in the Overall Best in Snow category across North America are Mad River Glen, Vermont (#3); Snowbird, Utah (#4); Arapahoe Basin, Colorado (#5); Powder Mountain, Utah (#6); Jay Peak, Vermont (#7); Mount Bohemia, Michigan (#8); Jackson Hole, Wyoming (#9); and Bald Mountain, Idaho (#10). 

The Best of the Best Surprises

Liftopia shared a sampling of the winners; the complete list can be seen at 2017-18 Best in Snow Awards, Powered By Liftopia.

Best in Snow by Region awards went to Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Canada (which also won for Most Challenging for West Coast); Alta in Utah for High West; Canaan Valley in West Virginia for Southeast; and Mount Bohemia in Michigan for the Midwest. 

How about the Most Challenging mountain resorts? Liftopia’s avid survey respondents chose their top 10 most challenging mountains (many won in other categories as well) this way: Magic Mountain, Vermont; Mad River Glen, Vermont; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Snowbird, Utah; Arapahoe Basin, Colorado; Alta, Utah; Mount Bohemia, Michigan; Silverton Mountain, Colorado; Jay Peak, Vermont;  and Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire. Silverton (#8) is savoring that reputation by offering a Big Mountain Betty Fest this February to encourage women skiers and riders to try heli-skiing. On the flip side of challenging, Arapahoe Basin (#5), also in Colorado, gives adult beginners a season-long discounted package that includes a half-day lesson, ski or snowboard rental, and a full-day lift ticket for only $126.

Other select category winners include Bretton Woods (New Hampshire) for Best Snow Consistency and Quality in the Northeast, as well as the top Beginner-Friendly Ski Area in all of North America.

Two other lesser-known mountain resorts won in this Best Snow category, which is very important to those who don’t have the chance to practice snowsports very often, and that’s Canaan Valley in West Virginia and Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin.

Bald Mountain (Idaho) in the High West region, won three titles that most families would rank highly, including Beginner FriendlyFamily Friendly and Best Value.

The Top Family Friendly Mountain Resorts

According to a spokesperson, participants in the selection of the Family-Friendly ski areas judged the quality of instructors, learning programs, terrain and snow; crowds; size of resort; accessibility; terrain variety; dining options; on- and off-slope activities, amenities and attractions; surrounding area; and cost of lift tickets, rentals and programs. Winners were then determined by total number of votes for best family-friendly ski area normalized by skier and snowboarder visits annually.

Liftopia’s audience surprised us with its pick for the Most Family-Friendly Ski Area in North America — Titus Mountain, New York. The other nine in the overall family category were Bald Mountain; Magic Mountain; Bretton Woods; Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass in California); Bolton Valley, Vermont; Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire; Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont (Ski magazine’s top family pick for several years running); Cascade Mountain; and Black Mountain Ski Area in New Hampshire.

The team of reservation specialists, who’ve been helping trip planners select the right resort for more than 20 years, shared their own early season pick of the top family resorts. Here are their three top picks, all large resorts – Park City, Utah; and Snowmass and Vail, Colorado; with comments on each.

At Park City, now the largest ski area in North America after Vail Resorts merged two popular resorts in 2016, 60% of the varied terrain is dedicated to beginner or intermediate skiers and riders. “Park City is great for families because there is more to do than just ski, says Mountain Vacation Expert Jamie Bangerter. “Park City actually has a charming Main Street with lots of history and things to see.” In addition, the resort has a mountain coaster, nighttime sleigh rides and world-class terrain parks where the pros are busy training for the Olympics. “Proximity to Salt Lake City airport makes vacations at Park City ultra-convenient, you can get to the resort in just around a half an hour,” adds’s CMO Dan Sherman.

“Snowmass is one of the ultimate destinations for family trips,” says Sherman about the most family-focused mountain among Aspen’s four resorts. Its 25,000-square-foot Treehouse Kids’ Adventure facility was built by the team behind Universal Studios, kids’ lift tickets are free if they rent gear on mountain and, in addition to a great teaching program, the beginners’ area is scenically located at the top of the gondola by the new mountain coaster. Most of the accommodations are ski-in ski-out, making it easy for families to meet up at lunch or take a break together, and the most popular slopes are groomed twice daily. Family-friendly activities in the area include tubing, dog sledding and an Ice Age Discovery Center.

Last but not least, Sherman picked Vail, flagship of the snowsports empire. “Pedestrian-friendly villages and the big, yet easy-to-navigate mountain make a great family destination, with terrain and activities for everyone.” There is a lot to explore at Vail, by riding the free in-town bus system between three base villages, or trying the huge back bowls and front-side terrain. Off-hill activities for all ages include the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, shopping, ice skating, tubing, and ski biking at Adventure Ridge, located on top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. 

Best Value Mountain Resorts

The team shared their top budget picks, too — helpful since many families don’t want to invest much in a first snow vacation without knowing if the sport will stick.

Lake Tahoe is a top pick, because budget travelers can fly to Reno on Southwest, then choose a cheap hotel – perhaps a casino in Nevada – for a bargain ski vacation.  Keystone, Colorado, another option, is an easy drive from Denver with moderately priced condos. Their kids ski free offer with a qualifying 2-night stay makes it a bargain for families, and Keystone lift tickets, says, will also work at Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and, in a more limited way, at Vail and Beaver Creek.

Their third pick, Winter Park, is located within driving distance of Denver, which is serviced by the low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines. Lodging in Winter Park is among the lowest of major resorts.

Just to prove that there’s a perfect mountain resort for every budget, Liftopia’s survey selected 10 other resorts as North America’s best values: Magic Mountain, Mad River Glen, Mount Bohemia, Bald Mountain, Powder Mountain in Utah, Alta, Jay Peak, Arapahoe Basin, Anthony Lakes, and Snowbird Utah.

Plan Your Snowsports Adventure Now

Have the experts whet your appetite for skiing and snowboarding?

If you can take advantage of the bargains available during January’s Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, do it.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of time to plan ahead for school breaks, holiday weekends and, if you can get away, the best value of all – midweek skiing. And for more ideas on what the top mountain resorts offer, see our roundup of This Year’s Best Ski and Snow Resorts.

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