There’s nothing like the feeling of making arching turns down a wide-open run, with only spruce trees and fresh powder to navigate through. And there’s nothing more frustrating than the other side of that coin — when you’re competing in a high-stakes slalom amongst snowplowing newbies and unfathomably large crews of snowboarders that’ve found a way to clog every trail. As the ski resort industry continues to consolidate, funneling skiers into a smaller and smaller selection of ski areas, long lift lines and packed slopes are often the norm, particularly at the highest-profile spots like Park City, Vail, or Stowe (heaven forbid you go during a holiday). Luckily, there are still resorts all over the United States that have managed to stay under the radar. Below, we’ve compiled a list of nine ski resorts where you can still access fantastic terrain and tons of fresh powder without sacrificing half of your day to buy lift tickets and wait in gondola queues — you won’t even have to wait an hour and a half to get an après drink.
Uncrowded Western Ski Resorts with Empty Lift Lines
Crested Butte, Colorado
When you’re looking for smaller crowds, we recommend you start by choosing a destination that’s not so easy to find. Crested Butte fits that bill perfectly. Positioned far from Denver and the resorts up and down I-70, Crested Butte provides not only solitude but also incredible skiing, unrivaled scenery, and quite possibly the most fun atmosphere on this list — which is why it’s often referred to as the “last great ski town.” As for the mountain, more than 1,500 acres of terrain is serviced by 15 lifts that help diffuse any potential congestion across the mountain’s 121 trails. Widely revered by hardcore skiers, Crested Butte is steep and incredibly challenging; so make sure you’re ready before hopping on the Silver Queen Express.
Wolf Creek, Colorado
You’re not going to find designer stores, oyster bars, or decadent mountain lodges lining the streets of Wolf Creek. And that’s because there really aren’t any streets — just a lodge and eight lifts that take you to 1,600 acres of terrain, where over 420” (or 460”, depending on who you talk to) a year of the good stuff is waiting for you. In fact, Wolf Creek’s claim to fame is that it receives “The Most Snow in Colorado.” Yet those who review it online consistently talk about the lack of lift lines and empty slopes. Plus, there’s a solid mix of beginner, intermediate, and expert runs that makes it, we think, one of the best all-around resorts on this list.
Beaver Mountain, Utah
This northern Utah resort is one of the most beloved ski areas on our list. Located in the Wasatch Range of the Rockies, Beaver Mountain is billed as the oldest continuously owned family ski resort in the United States. It may be compact, but the Beav, as it’s affectionately known, packs a lot into a small area, including 48 runs spread out over 828 skiable acres and 1,700 feet of vertical — and more than 400 inches of snow a year. Plus, on select evenings visitors can take advantage of public night skiing. And at $50 for a day pass (as of the 2020-2021 season), it’s one of the most affordable options on this list.
Stevens Pass, Washington
Over 450” of snow a year, 1,125 skiable acres, and night skiing? Sign us up. Stevens Pass is off the beaten path, but the small resort offers up some technical, powdery skiing to serious skiers and riders (the mountain is 89% intermediate and expert terrain). For first tracks, try hucking the glades and bowls on the backside of Cowboy Mountain first thing in the morning. Or test out some of the amazing backcountry skiing available in that part of the Cascades. Get there quick, though — since Vail bought the resort in 2018, you can bet it’s in the process of becoming a lot more popular.
Situated on the less-bustling west shore of Lake Tahoe, Homewood has a more low-key vibe than the bigger resorts on and near south shore. But it accumulates every bit as much powder, with a staggering 450 inches of annual snow falling within its 1,260 acres. In addition to a low profile, Homewood maintains a great combination of beginner (15%), intermediate (40%), advanced (30%), and expert (15%) runs. And its 300 days of sun per year ensure you’ll be able to take in stunning views of Lake Tahoe below. Want to really steal away from the hordes? Book a snowcat tour and enjoy being whisked up to pow stashes that your group (or just you) will have free rein over.
If you’re willing to go just a bit further (a lot further) north than you’re used to, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best hidden gem ski resorts in America. Alyeska’s seclusion makes it an appealing choice for those looking to really get away; and its legendary terrain, including endless bowls and the longest double-black run in the world, put it at the top of this list when it comes to challenging skiing and riding. To further get away from it all, you can take a glacier boat tour, try snowmobiling, or even see the northern lights.
Uncrowded Ski Resorts in the Eastern Mountains
Loon Mountain, New Hampshire
Stretched out along the banks of the Pemigewasset River is one of the east’s best kept secrets. Loon Mountain is a small but mighty resort comprised of 80% intermediate and expert trails, six terrain parks, and the only superpipe in New Hampshire. It also boasts some of the best snowmaking anywhere, with 99% coverage of its 61 runs. This one also happens to provide one of the best après experiences anywhere at the Paul Bunyan Room, where you can sip on a local microbrew while you rest your legs. And there’s great news for those looking for access to first tracks: there’s a heated, 8-seat lift on its way for the 2021-2022 season that’s sure to efficiently disperse any potential crowds.
Unimpeded by throngs of skiers, you’ll be able to take in gorgeous vistas of the Western Mountains at the top of Maine’s second highest peak, before tucking into some of the east’s best skiing. Sugarloaf is arguably the largest resort on this list, with over 160 named runs. Tree skiers will love that around 30 of those runs are glades, and skiers of all kinds will be able to take advantage of 2,820 feet of vertical (the longest run is 3.5 miles!). While this isn’t exactly a low-profile resort, its sheer size allows skiers to find plenty of space to themselves. And there’s great news for those who want to keep their options open: Sugarloaf is part of the Ikon Pass, along with several of our other less-crowded favorites like Loon Mountain, Pico, and Brighton.
Twenty lifts, including four high-speed quads, take you to over 120 trails on this seriously underrated Vermont resort. Okemo often gets overshadowed by other resorts in Vermont like Killington or Stowe, but it has an extremely impressive trail map with enough uncrowded terrain to keep you busy for an extended trip. Cruise groomers like Sidewinder, go off piste on Tree Dancer, and/or get sendy on Hot Dog Hill before indulging in a waffle and coffee at Waffle Cabin. With plenty of beginner runs and an excellent ski school, Okemo is one of the best family resorts on this list.
Additional Tips to Find the Least Crowded Ski Resorts
To further avoid the throngs and have more bluebird powder days all to yourself, take a look at these tips:
- Avoid holidays and weekends. Keeping away from the holiday rush and weekend warriors goes a long way toward an uncrowded ski experience. If you’re able, plan your days on the mountain around peak times (Christmas to New Year’s, Presidents Day, etc.).
- Hit up sister mountains. Many of the most popular resorts in the US have smaller resorts nearby that are less well trodden. Consider Brighton or Solitude instead of Alta/Snowbird, Pico in lieu of Killington — even Blackcomb is, inexplicably, less crowded than Whistler.
- Go the extra mile. Like we mentioned above, if you’re willing to travel a little bit longer, you’re going to have a better shot at empty slopes. Resorts that are harder to get to (Taos, New Mexico; Whitefish, Montana; etc.) are going to give you the best shot at having powdery glades all to yourself.
- Get your legs under you. One surefire way of dodging the masses is to seek out more difficult or hard-to-reach terrain. Many resorts even have hikeable inbounds sections that are going to be 2,000% less crowded than the bunny hill at the bottom of the mountain.
Getting to a ski area only to find that it’s been tracked out is super frustrating. It may be harder than ever to find the ever-elusive empty lift line, but there are still plenty of resorts with terrain that’s varied, snow filled, and not littered with yard sales from first-timers trying to pizza and french fry their way down the mountain. You just have to know where to look.