New Mexico: Taos
New Mexico is graced by the Sangre de Christo Mountains, a rugged territory that extends down into northern New Mexico from Colorado. Part of the Rocky Mountain chain, they have all of the jagged characteristics of those western mountains and bring that same excitement to skiing. For extreme skiers and very experienced expert level skiers Taos Ski Valley (www.skitaos.org) may be a top choice. With a base elevation of 9,200 feet, the mountain summits rise to 12,481 feet, providing more than 3,200 feet of vertical on some of the most challenging trails in the west.
Remind clients that the standard trail markings vary from ski area to ski area. Taos Ski Valley is clearly a place for skiers who rate expert and higher. Taos does have terrain for family members who are not expert skiers, rating beginner slopes at 24%, intermediate at 25% and expert and above at 51%. But a check of the trail map shows that black diamond and double-black diamond trails predominate. Kachina Peak has long been a favorite of those who like double blacks but until now it was an hour's climb to the top. This year Taos has added a new 1,100 foot chair to a spot just under the ridge of the peak, making all the chutes easier to get to. A string of ridges create an extended bowl line with numerous double-black options down through snow-filled chutes. Skiing these, however, does require ridge trekking.
Colorado: Crested Butte
If a skier's goal is a top ski experience for all their family's skill levels, they should look to Crested Butte, Colorado (www.skicb.com). With everything from extreme terrain to extensive novice and intermediate runs, the spread of skiable territory at this laid-back resort is huge. Crested Butte's peak is 12,162 feet, which gives the resort a vertical of up to 2,700 feet. For the super experts there are three extensive ridge and peak areas to explore. From the High Lift, a long ridge opens into great double-diamond chutes and bowls. Taking the Paradise Express, clients will find themselves at a junction that opens to blue-rated trails across the face of the entire mountain.
This is one of those places where fashion and ego are not key; great skiing in a warm and welcoming atmosphere create the perfect vacation. The town of Crested Butte is only a couple miles from the resort and has a downtown with six blocks of wooden commercial buildings, something like Park City but less crowded. Clients can stop for a drink or a meal and browse in small shops wrapped in the Victorian trim so popular when this was a booming mining town. Crested Butte is a self-contained resort with lodging and dining at the base area, close to lifts, which makes managing a family vacation easy and safe. Suggest fine dining at Jango's, which features a tapas menu, and Uleys or barbeque at Butte 66 in a setting famed for its view. On-the-mountain options include the café at the Paradise Warming Hut and the new Umbrella Bar at Ten Peaks, which has glass walls with a 360 degree view of the mountains.
Access to Crested Bute is through Dennison-Crested Butte airport in Gunnison, Colorado, which has direct daily flights from Denver and Dallas, twice weekly flights from Houston and Chicago and a flight from LAX. Transportation to the resort is via frequent Mountain Express buses (www.mtnexp.org).
Just outside Salt Lake City, the Wasatch Mountains contain seven of the finest ski areas in the country. Until now, relatively unsung Snowbird Ski Resort (www.snowbird.com) has not had the attention it deserves. A next-door neighbor of world famed Alta, Snowbird has blossomed this year with $35 million of upgrades to lodging, dining, other guest services and mountain facilities. A range of dining, lodging and entertainment options are easily available, right at the foot of the mountain at this self-contained resort.
Skiing at Snowbird gives skiers of all levels a chance to ski some of Utah's best terrain. Located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird offers a nice range of blacks and double-blacks for experts, nice blues from the summit and through the center of the main mountain and a good set of greens for less experienced skiers in the lower sections. Particularly exciting for skiers is the great skiing on the back side of the mountain. Access is via the Aerial Tram to the Summit or via the Peruvian Lift to a tunnel with a magic carpet through the mountain that comes out on the other side on Mineral Basin. There it joins in the Lupine Loop, a meandering green with some challenge and stunning views. Lupine Loop is the only green on that side but it runs from top to bottom. Mineral Basin also has three blue trails and a selection of blacks and double-blacks for more adventurous clients.
Point out another outstanding advantage of Snowbird: they can buy a ticket that lets them ski over the ridge and into Alta, another of the world's most exciting ski areas. Access is through Salt Lake International Airport and ground transportation is available right off the baggage handling area every 20-30 minutes. Book a morning flight for east coast clients, and they can be on the slopes the same afternoon.