Snowplowing to Shredding: Choose Your Ski Adventure
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie ripper and freerider who likes challenging the big runs, or prefer epic views, majestic panoramas and more intermediate terrain, Benchmark Resorts & Hotels offers a great selection of properties grandly situated at the foot of North America’s best ski mountains. Find the one that fuels your fire.
Heavenly has plenty of expert terrain (35 percent) and is well known for its high-flying terrain park scene, too, but what makes this the perfect spot for beginners and intermediates is how easy, inviting, and beautiful that intermediate terrain is. In fact, majority of the on-piste runs are, in fact, geared to intermediates with super-wide cruisers that offer stunning views of immaculate Lake Tahoe. Take the gondola (located just 100 yards behind Forest Suites Resort) from Heavenly Village up into eastern section of the mountain, where you’ll have the choice to load either the Comet Express, Dipper Express, or Tamarack Express. All three lifts access a paradise of pristine, groomed cruisers with the California Trail, Comet, and Dipper being three of the most popular.
Town Vibe: Heavenly straddles the state line between California and Nevada, which means a casino-studded main drag on the Nevada side and endless dining and shopping options on the California side.
Must-Ski Run: The Skyline Trail is a several-mile-long meandering blue that runs from the summit to base area and crosses the Nevada/California border in the process.
Best Après: Located just off the gondola, Basecamp Pizza offers outdoor seating year-round thanks to huge fire pits and propane heaters, so kids don’t have to be confined to their seats.
Insider Tip: Book the Family Rental Package at Forest Suites to get a four-night stay for two adults and two kids with rentals included. The rental shop will even come and do the fitting in your room.
Vail, Colorado, and Stowe, Vermont, are considered the West and East Coast equivalents of each other. Yet, both have their own distinct charms, villages, and mountain experiences. Here, we see how the two towns – plus their Gemstone properties – stack up to determine which one might best suit you.
LAY OF THE LAND
Located between Burlington and Montpelier, Stowe feels like walking into a Vermont postcard: The town is a classic New England ski village of steepled churches, clapboard houses, and a folksy Main Street punctuated with boutiques and restaurants. The skiing is comprised of two neighboring mountain areas: Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak, which together, offer a combined 116 trails and six terrain parks. Spruce Peak tends to be better suited to beginners with gentle blue and green runs, while the famed “front four” double-black-diamond runs make their home on Mount Mansfield.
Two hours away from Denver, Vail has long been legendary for blending both amazing skiing and plenty of fine spoils to make it the ski vacation of our collective dreams. The two base areas, Vail Village and Lionshead Village, are truly pedestrian-friendly with cobblestone heated streets lined by restaurants, bars, cafés, and shops contained in buildings reminiscent of a centuries-old European village. As for the skiing, it’s vast: 5,000 acres with the full assortment of black-diamond steeps, glades, and bumps; for intermediates and beginners, the mountain is also home to the most groomed terrain on the planet. But the defining characteristic of the ski experience here are the immense Back Bowls: 3,000 acres of powder skiing that funnel into some of the most scenic drainages in ski country.
Part of the “Front Four,” this New England classic, narrow, winding trail is arguably one of the most difficult on the mountain with a double fall-line full of moguls, ledges, boulders, and streams – enough to trip up even the most sure-footed goat (hence, the name).
VAIL: SUN DOWN BOWL
The east-facing areas of this bowl sit below a ridge that gets loaded with snow as the wind blows from the west. The terrain varies, offering wide open, fairly steep runs, tight aspens, open glades, and even small cliff bands.
STOWE: THE ROOST
Named a top après spot in Stowe by Freeskier’s 2016 “Elevated Après,” this modern bar within Topnotch Resort offers shuffleboard, oversized couches by the fireplace, and views of Mount Mansfield through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
VAIL: LOS AMIGOS
With so many bars in Vail, it’s hard to pick one. But, if you like pitchers of margaritas and people watching, then there’s just one deck worth cutting your day short for, and that’s at Los Amigos in Vail Village by Gondola 1. Situated before the iconic and steep Pepi’s Face, it’s the place to watch skiers take the plunge.
WHERE TO STAY
STOWE: TOPNOTCH RESORT
Stowe’s only luxury boutique hotel is just a five-minute drive from the slopes (they offer a free shuttle). Originally built as a ski club in 1953, the 68-room property recently underwent a renovation in 2013 that blends quaint Vermont with modern ski luxury with touches like water and fire features and a giant moose head (named “Mikey”) in the lobby. Ski storage is available on premises, as well as equipment rentals through MountainOps, one of Stowe’s top ski shops that is located right on property.
VAIL: TIVOLI LODGE
Located a two-minute walk to Gondola 1 in Vail Village, this 66-room boutique property has a European-style touch to it – accented with stone, dark leather chairs, and rich wood furnishings. The owners, Bob and Diane Lazier, actually live on the fifth floor of the hotel, so you not only see them rubbing elbows with their guests at breakfast every morning and during après in the lobby, but their chocolate lab, Speedy, as well. The resort offers a complimentary ski valet for gear storage and transport.
It’s pretty hard to not find something to love about Jackson Hole. Within 15 miles, you have Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR), one of the top-rated ski mountains in North America known for its extreme steep terrain preferred by the world’s best freeskiers; the wonderful western town of Jackson with its wooden sidewalks and cowboy bars; and Snow King, more of a “town hill,” at 400 acres, but home to the steepest north-facing terrain in the Lower 48 and a world-class race training facility. So whether you came for the fast conditions at Snow King, stashed tree lines at JHMR, line-dancing in town, or all of it, Snow King Hotel offers the best access.
Town Vibe: Anchored by a town square lined with iconic antler arches, Jackson is a small town that unapologetically embraces its Wild West heritage with log cabins, galleries that boast historic mountain scenes, and restaurants that sling slabs of meat.
Must-Ski Run: On a powder day, it doesn’t get better than the 2,500 vertical of JHMR’s Hobacks, entirely devoted to ungroomed terrain.
Best Après: Snow King Resort’s Haydens Post features a roaring fire, giant glass windows that look out to the slopes, cowboy flair, and a drink special call The Velvet Antler (Patron Café XO, Buttershots, and Cream de cacao).
Local Tip: Call ahead to reserve your ski rentals at Snow King Mountain Sports (located in Snow King Hotel) prior to your vacation, and receive 20 percent off.