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The Inside Track

Curating a hit list of source-to-summit bliss at Exclusive Resorts ski destinations, writer Jen Murphy unlocks the key to elevated winter escapes. Powder-tackling, stargazing, spa-going, and family-friendly fun are all on the agenda.

When the temperature drops and the snow starts to fly, escape to one of North America’s top ski resorts. Downhill skiing may be the adventure du jour, yet the finest destination resorts offer winter fun for all ages and interests. Extremists take to the sky on a heli-ski adventure or have Olympian Heidi Voekler accompany them on the bumps at Deer Valley. Nature lovers tackle the trails on snowshoes or cross-country skis, or spy winter wildlife by fat bike or horse-drawn sleigh. And when the sun sets, families gather around bonfires roasting s’mores or attend winter carnivals with races, games and fireworks. Herewith, cliff notes to heightened winter wanderlust.

Snowmass Village, CO

Old-Fashioned Winter Fun at Ullr Nights

Winter fun doesn’t have to end when the alpenglow says goodnight. Every Friday night, during the peak of winter season, there’s a party atop Snowmass Mountain honoring Ullr, the Norse God of Snow. A bonfire roars, live music fills the air, and locals and visitors come together to celebrate the winter season. Take in the stars as you ride the Elk Camp gondola to the family-friendly festivities. The restaurant at Elk Camp serves hand-tossed pizzas and bowls of grass-fed beef chili and al fresco desserts including fire-roasted and hot cocoa. Little ones can climb on the Viking Ghost Ship, sculpted from snow, and zip down its slides. Older daredevils who crave a bit more speed can sled, snow tube, or snow bike. Members of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies lead educational snowshoe tours, and there’s an ice rink for skating with complimentary skate rentals. While the kids play, mom and dad can sip wine at the bar, and then the whole family can regroup for a fire-dancing performance. Friday nights December-April from 5:30–9:30 p.m.

Aspen’s Top Yoga Spots

Warm up for the slopes with a series of sun salutations or wind down with a mellow flow. This is where locals go to get their stretch on.

The Sundeck: Ride the Silver Queen Gondola to the 11,212-foot summit of Aspen Mountain for classes geared toward skiers and snowboarders at the Sundeck. Tree pose is extra challenging when you’re distracted by mountain views. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m.; Ajax Mountain Sundeck.

Shakti Shala: A stylish, single room yoga shala in the heart of Aspen. Don’t miss studio owner Jayne Gottlieb’s Radiant Flow class, choreographed to the tunes of a live DJ.

King Yoga Aspen: Owner Aaron King has earned a cult following amongst athletes and yogis. His signature flow classes combine challenging sequencing with mindfulness and music.

Deer Valley, UT

Ski with Heidi Voelkler

Three-time Olympic skier, Heidi Voelker, has been Deer Valley’s Ambassador of Skiing since 1997. It’s easy to spot her smooth-as-butter style on the slopes, whether she’s flying solo or accompanying guests around the resort. “Deer Valley has the stigma of being small,” she says. “But you can’t get to all of the good stuff in a day.” Each of the six mountains has its own personality. Heidi says family-designated Flagstaff Mountain can even challenge high-level skiers. “Right off the Northside Express lift you have seven wide-open, groomed runs that offer what I call ‘ego snow’,” she says. “It makes anyone feel good.” Ambitious skiers can test their skills on Know You Don’t, site of the 2002 Olympic slalom event. “There’s a myth that Deer Valley doesn’t have any steeps and this run is one of the steepest women’s slalom courses,” she says. Heidi says the length and terrain of Big Stick, a run off the top of Carpenter Express on Bald Eagle Mountain, brings back memories of her giant slalom World Cup races.

On a sold out day, take Carpenter Express over to Little Baldy Peak. “This newer part of the mountain is kind of hidden,” says Heidi, who likes to lap Jordanelle, a mile-and-a-half long run down the mountain’s ridge. On the far east side, Bald Mountain offers longer, steeper groomed runs. “Triangle Trees is my secret stash over there and Mayflower Bowl takes forever to reach but is where I head first on a pow day.” To the west, Empire Mountain, has 10 chutes just under 10,000 feet. “Chute 4 is called Challenger, and with all of my experience, I still need to collect myself and make sure I’m on my game to ski it.”

The newest part of the mountain, Lady Morgan is crisscrossed with blacks and double blacks. “What’s nice about Deer Valley is that there is always a green or blue run off the top,” she says. “And there’s always an easy way to get to lunch without much traversing.” Her go-to spot is the mid-mountain Royal Street Café at Silver Lake Loge. “They don’t even ask my order,” she says. “I always get the crab tower, soft shell tuna tacos, an ice cream sandwich, and, depending on the day, a glass of white wine."

Pamper Yourself At The Spa At Montage

Deer Valley’s premiere wellness retreat, the Spa at Montage Deer Valley can cure everything from sore quads to dry winter skin. Here are essential winter wellness treatments.

Altitude Therapy: If you’re coming from sea level, a warm, oxygen-infused, mineralizing bath, followed by a body scrub and massage that stimulate respiration, will help the body adjust to higher altitudes.

Hydra Oxy Glow Facial: Oxygen technology penetrates antioxidants, peptides, and humectants directly into the skin to leave you with a youthful glow.

Mountain Body Therapy: An herbal clay wrap, deep pressure hydrotherapy, and massage revitalize stressed muscles and remove lactic acid that accumulates on the slopes. 

Vail, CO

Mountain Adventures Beyond Skiing

Most families split up on the slopes—kids go to ski school, mom goes off with an instructor, and dad heads straight for the double blacks. But even the most die-hard skier needs to give their legs a break after a few back-to-back days in Vail’s legendary Back Bowls. Plan a day where the family can enjoy the slopes together, but leave the skis in the locker room. Adventure Ridge at Eagle’s Nest is a snow park the size of a football field on top of the mountain. Accessible by the Eagle Bahn Gondola, it’s easy to spend an entire day and night snowshoeing, ski biking, and tubing. Little ones can play speed racer, driving mini snowmobiles around the Blizzard Speedway racetrack. Or they can channel their inner gymnast on a bungee trampoline. Satisfy your post-Adventure Ridge appetite at Bistro Fourteen, which has kale Caesar salads and Colorado lamb ruebens for mom and dad, and chicken tenders and pizza for the kids.

Three Top Après Hot Spots

Root & Flower: Opened last season, this tiny wine bar serves an extensive list of hard-to-find bottles like Sandlands Sauvignon Blanc, and nibbles including artisanal cheeses and lobster rolls.

Vail Brewing Co.: Located in the Solaris Complex, the tasting room of Vail Brewing Co. opened in June and has 32 taps pouring its cult craft beers, like Stumblin’ Monk Belgian Pale Ale and Mountain Buzz Coffee IPA. Live music is an après staple. 

10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Company: This craft distillery that honors the 10th Mountain Army Division has an intimate tasting room in Mid Vail. A sampling of their bourbon, whiskey or moonshine is a quick way to warm up from the cold. 

Sun Valley, ID

Nordic Ski Like An Olympian

Nicknamed Nordic Town USA, Sun Valley is home to some of the country’s best-groomed Nordic ski terrain. It’s so good, in fact, that members of the Norwegian Olympic Nordic Team train here each season. Ever since the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Nordic skiing has been on the rise, particularly skate skiing, a cardio-intense, cross-country technique that involves a lateral movement similar to ice skating and requires the arms to pole in unison with the legs. Sun Valley offers an extensive, 125-mile network of trails, with mellow loops suited for beginners and long, roller-coaster trails for experienced Nordic skiers. Spend a day exploring the popular Harriman Trail. Galena Lodge, located at the northern end of the trail, is the perfect spot to warm up with tomato soup or hot cocoa or arrange an evening adventure to one of the lodge’s full moon dinners. The annual Nordic Festival (February 2-5, 2017), a weeklong event filled with Nordic skiing demonstrations, clinics, and races, is the perfect introduction to the fast-growing sport. 

Ask A Local

Sun Valley is home to former professional snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington. She even had an area on Bald Mountain renamed Kaitlyn's Bowl in her honor. Here's her local black book.

Breakfast: I love the Mexican hot chocolate at Java.

Lunch: I remember being at the bottom of Warm Springs when I was a kid and I would try and get a Super Kids wrap every day from Wrap City.

Aprés Ski: Roundhouse for Jamie’s margaritas and fondue.

Dinner: South Valley Pizza is my go-to after a big day.

Live Music: Ketchum Alive takes place in the park during the summer and is a ton of fun.

Telluride, CO

Winter’s Newest Craze: Fat Biking

Telluride is best known for its steep-and-deep terrain and its historic downtown full of great restaurants like Butcher & Baker and Oak. It’s also an adventure Mecca, and the latest winter craze is fat biking. When the snow starts to fall, locals hit the trails on bikes with five-inch wide tires offering tons of floatation and traction even in the deepest of snow. BootDoctors Adventures rents fat bikes and also leads beginner fat bike and brew tours. After a quick fat bike tutorial in town, the group pedals along the scenic Valley Floor, crossing snow, streams, and single track. The ride ends at Telluride Brewing Company, where you can sample award-winning beers made from Rocky Mountain snowmelt, like Face Down Brown Ale and the Local’s Lager. Some find that liquid courage makes the ride home easier; others opt to take the shuttle back to town.   

Winter Thrills In Telluride  

Skiing isn’t the only way to get an adrenaline rush in Telluride. Whether you crave speed, vert, or just want to be out in nature, these winter activities will satisfy any adventure fix.

Sledding: Firecracker Hill, located on the southern side of Telluride Town Park, is the area’s designated sledding hill. Bring your own toboggan or rent a sled at the Nordic Center.

Ice Climbing: Experienced climbers can tackle Bridal Veil Falls, a 300-foot frozen waterfall. Newbies can learn to use an ice axe and harness during a half-day introductory climb with guides from Telluride Adventures. $125, half-day intro climb.

Horseback Riding: Local cowboy, Roudy Roudebus, leads all levels of riders on one- to two-hour trail rides that explore the Nelson Warren Homestead in neighboring Norwood.

Jackson Hole, WY

National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides


Jackson Hole has two main winter attractions: the majestic Tetons, and the famous Jackson Elk Herd. As the cold weather settles in, the elk migrate down from the high country to the valley floor to make their winter home on the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge. When the refuge was first established in 1912, homesteaders would feed the elk via horse drawn sleighs. People would ask to tag along to get a better look at the herd; by 1965 the refuge contracted out its first sleigh rides for wildlife viewing. Today, the herd numbers nearly 7,000 elk and the sleigh rides are the area’s most popular winter activity. It’s best to reserve tickets in advance and bundle up, as the hour-long rides can get chilly. The sleighs get up close to the herd so bring your camera to capture a scene straight out of the pages of National Geographic.

Winter Adventures From Teton Backcountry Guides 

Teton Grand Traverse: A five-day winter camping expedition from Teton Pass to Grand Teton National Park geared toward intermediate and advanced skiers. 

"Do it like a local": Climb and ski the biggest peaks on the western slope of the Tetons, such as Table Mountain and Treasure Bowl, on this three-day camp and ski expedition. 

Grand Teton National Park: Explore the snowy forests and meadows of Grand Teton National Park by cross-country ski or snowshoe. Naturalist guides point out animal tracks and explain the science of snow along the way. 

Whistler, British Columbia

The Ultimate Adrenaline Rush: Heli-skiing 

British Columbia has long reigned as king of heli-skiing. This bucket-list experience grants ski obsessives the chance to claim first tracks in untouched powder in the middle of the wilderness. Operating since 1981, Whistler HeliSkiing accesses 432,000 acres of terrain, including 173 glaciers and 475 runs. A classic package is geared toward intermediate snowboarders and skiers looking for a taste of backcountry action, even if they don’t have powder experience. More skilled skiers and riders can opt for the Elite package, which captures between 6,000 to 10,000 in vertical. Both include a heli-picnic by Bearfoot Bistro, and a photographer and videographer let you feel like a Warren Miller film star.  

Not-to-miss Fondue Fun 

Whistler may be a long way from the Alps, but a traditional fondue meal, whether savory or sweet, rivals anything you’ll find in Switzerland.

Crystal Hut: Drive a snowmobile across the forested trails of Blackcomb Mountain and up to the 6,000-foot perch of Crystal Hut. Inside, a wood fired-oven keeps things cozy and the chef prepares traditional cheese and meat fondue. $199 per couple.

Table Nineteen: Guests can enjoy a sleigh ride around the lake before settling into the dining room or fireside lounge for a three- or four-course fondue dinner. Classic cheese fondue is made even more decadent with wild mushrooms and truffle oil.

Crêpe Montage: This homey, navy wood and white brick space offers four variations of Swiss cheese fondue, including a Provençalestyle with tomato sauce and Kalamata olives. Meat fondue and traditional raclette are also available.