7 places around the country where the slopes are less skied

By Cindy Hirschfeld, The New York Times

Devoted skiers and snowboarders recognize the plum benefits of below-the-radar ski resorts: fewer fellow powder seekers, shorter lift lines, relatively reasonably priced tickets and lodging, and, often, limited distractions from time spent on the slopes. Now, especially, these qualities hold even broader appeal, as skiers look to limit contact with others while spending more time outdoors.

At these seven resorts across the country, you’re less apt to jostle other parka-clad elbows while still enjoying a variety of terrain; plus, you can buy individual tickets — some areas require online advance purchase at least 24 hours ahead — at relatively good value.

Off-slope, you won’t find the wealth of other amenities or activities that may attract skiers in a regular winter, but if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s how to avoid crowds and hang with the family. This is the winter to heat up a pot of fondue in the rental condo and play a board game by the fireplace.

Ragged Mountain Resort
New Hampshire

Want to pick up skiing this winter? Low-key Ragged is a perfect place to learn; the resort offers a free three-day program for first-time skiers or snowboarders, which culminates in a discounted season pass option ($69) and reduced-price ($29) additional lessons. This season, class size will be limited to five students per instructor.

In addition to gentle beginner terrain, the compact resort’s 250 acres feature the type of old-school trails — narrow, serpentine routes down the fall line — that once defined New England skiing. One of six lifts at the ski area, New Hampshire’s only six-pack whisks riders up one of the two peaks, so lines move quickly, and snow-making on 87 percent of the mountain ensures solid coverage.

Lodge slopeside in the Cardigan Cabins (rates start at $498 for two nights) or five minutes away at the historic New Hampshire Mountain Inn (doubles from $170).

Good to know this winter: Check New Hampshire’s updated travel information, which currently requires a 14-day quarantine for visitors from beyond other New England states. Lift tickets ($78 to $89) must be purchased online in advance. The learn-to-ski program will be offered Monday to Thursday only. Base lodges will operate at 50 percent capacity, with 30-minute time limits for guests.

Whitefish Mountain Resort

This large, but laid-back, ski area in far northwest Montana offers 3,000 acres of powder-filled glades, silky groomers and superlative steeps that spill off all sides of the mountain’s cone-shaped summit — plus, the distinctive rime-coated trees dubbed “snow ghosts” that add an otherworldly touch to the mountain’s upper reaches. This season, two new intermediate trails and more glading bolster the appeal of the resort’s traditionally expert Hellroaring Basin area. Fifteen minutes away, the railroad and ranching town of Whitefish offers additional lodging and restaurants amid a hip, outdoorsy vibe. For even more distancing, Glacier National Park, 25 miles from Whitefish, offers cross-country ski and snowshoe trails for D.I.Y. or guided adventures.

Good to know this winter: No restrictions on lift ticket sales, including daily passes ($85, with up to 25 percent off for multiday tickets bought at least 48 hours in advance online). On-mountain restaurants and bars will operate at 75 percent capacity, with 45-minute time limits for guests.

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Bolton Valley

Encompassing three peaks and 300 acres, this family-run classic features the highest base elevation of any Vermont ski area, some of the state’s heaviest snowfall, and ample tree skiing — from spaced-out glades perfect for intermediates to tighter stands for experts — among its 71 trails. Night skiing five times a week affords views of the vivid sunsets over Lake Champlain to the west. Bolton has also earned a reputation for thousands of acres of stellar backcountry skiing adjacent to the ski area; a popular instructional program offers clinics and guided tours with lift-assisted access and specialized gear rentals. What’s more, the resort’s Nordic center has 100 kilometers of groomed and ungroomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails.

Good to know this winter: Check Vermont’s updated cross-state travel information. Currently, out-of-state visitors must quarantine for 14 days, or for seven days if followed by a negative coronavirus test. Daily lift ticket sales ($30 to $100) will be restricted and may sell out on peak days. Kids’ ski school lessons will start at age 7.

Monarch Mountain

For more than 80 years, this central Colorado ski area along the Continental Divide has drawn powderhounds. Its fairly modest size — 800 acres and a 1,100-foot vertical drop — is counterbalanced by 350 inches of average annual snowfall that can stay untracked for several days past a storm, plus guided snowcat skiing on 1,600 additional acres of advanced terrain. Experts also love the hike-to, backcountry-style runs in Mirkwood Basin. Recent required thinning of pine-beetle-stricken trees has opened up more gladed skiing across the mountain. (Denver-based Meier Skis sells custom Monarch models using some of that harvested wood.) Many guests opt to stay in the artsy, riverside town of Salida, 20 miles east.

Good to know this winter: Daily lift tickets ($99, with up to 40 percent off multiday tickets bought in advance) must be purchased online before arrival for weekends and holiday periods. Only one party at a time can book a snowcat trip ($3,600), with a maximum of six skiers (two cats will run on many weekends).

Brian Head Resort

For scenery alone, this ski area on the edge of the Mojave Desert, far south of Utah’s better-known resorts, is worth a trip. Surrounding red-rock cliffs, including Cedar Breaks National Monument two miles to the south, provide a stunning backdrop to pristine powder that accumulates from both northern and southern storm tracks. With a base elevation of 9,600 feet, that snow stays light and dry on the resort’s 71 runs across two peaks, one draped with gentle cruisers, the other with advanced to expert runs. Bonus: Bryce Canyon National Park is within an hour’s drive, and Zion National Park an hour and a half — winter is a great time to visit these normally crowded destinations.

Good to know this winter: No restrictions on lift ticket sales, including daily passes ($89, with discounts of more than 40 percent for advanced purchase online), or group lessons ($100 to $175 with five-day or more advance booking). The two base-lodge restaurants will operate at 50 percent capacity.

Sugar Bowl

As Ikon and Epic passholders beeline past to other Tahoe-area resorts, a loyal Bay Area clientele veers off at Sugar Bowl atop Donner Summit, which relishes its independent ownership and attendant lack of crowding, as well as some of California’s deepest snowfall — 500 inches annually on average. Founded in 1939 (with the state’s first chairlift), the resort now offers modern amenities like five high-speed quads amid a backdrop of retro charm, including a small mid-mountain hotel reachable by gondola. The high-alpine terrain — 1,600 acres strung across four peaks — includes steeps on par with Tahoe’s best. Plus, the resort-owned Royal Gorge Nordic Center, North America’s largest cross-country area, has 140 kilometers of trails that start at the base of Sugar Bowl.

Good to know this winter: Season pass sales were curtailed early to limit traffic on the slopes while still allowing space for day skiers; a limited quantity of daily lift tickets (from $125), plus rentals ($49) and lessons (private only this season; $95 per hour, per person) must be purchased in advance online, at least three days before arrival for the latter two. The mid-mountain hotel (doubles from $169) will be open Thursday to Sunday nights only. All dining will be outdoors only, but on-mountain restaurants will be open for guests to warm up (in 15-minute increments when busy).

Schweitzer Mountain Resort

The state’s largest ski area, on 2,900 acres in northwest Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains, offers a buffet of terrain across two massive bowls — quad-burning groomers, well-pitched glades, plummeting chutes and more — plus summit-top views into three states and Canada. Better yet, powder stashes can last for days. Last winter two new lifts and seven new trails improved access and added intermediate runs in Outback Bowl.

Lodge slopeside in condos or stay in the vibrant, creative town of Sandpoint on Lake Pend Oreille, 11 miles away; next winter a 30-room boutique hotel will open on the mountain. The resort also operates 32 kilometers of Nordic trails, while outfitter Selkirk Powder offers guided snowcat skiing in a huge drainage on Schweitzer’s backside.

Good to know this winter: Daily lift tickets will be available through lodging packages at the mountain; otherwise, reserve them online ($89 to $95).

Read more at the Denver Post