The Best Ski Resorts in North America for Beginners
For many beginner skiers, arriving at a ski resort and looking up at a mountain of, say, moguls — those crazy bumps that advanced skiers actually like to zip around at high speed — can be a deeply intimidating experience. Luckily, there are plenty of ski resorts tailor-made for novices, or which have a sizable section of their terrain dedicated to beginner skiers. They’ll have plenty of “green” runs, as beginner slopes are rated, and intermediate “blues” for when you’ve improved. The best resorts for new skiers also have a friendly vibe that makes you feel as welcome as the expert skiers and shredders, or snowboarders, and access to other amenities that round out the entire ski trip experience. These are our favorite resorts for newbies in North America.
1. Crystal Mountain, Washington
The friendly resort about two hours outside of Seattle has long been a local’s ski destination, a place for Seattlites to spend a Saturday — rather than a place to fly to for a week. But the facilities at Crystal Mountain have always been the most updated and modern in Washington state, and as of 2018, the mountain is part of the Alterra resorts, meaning you can ski there with an IKON pass. While Crystal does have plenty of hair-raising bowls above the tree line, well below those the pistes off the Chinook Express and Forest Queen Express chairlifts are wide open, leisurely greens. Even better, those greens take you right to the base area, which has four lunch options as well as a sundeck to kick back in the afternoon, beer in hand, and congratulate yourself on how much you’ve improved.
2. Northstar, California
The Lake Tahoe region is chock-full of ski resorts, some better suited to novices than others. While a mountain like Squaw Valley intimidates with its expert-only KT-22 lift rising right from the base, so that ultra-fast skiers scream down to the lowest slopes, you’ll find just the opposite at Northstar, where easy greens are found off the main gondola and even higher up off chairs like Comstock Express. Even the huge selection of blues at Northstar have been indulgently called that; many are really more “turquoise” — although that’s not an official mountain designation. And unlike much smaller nearby areas, such as Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort, Northstar is a sizable resort with high-speed chairs and modern amenities. It’s the perfect place to make you feel like you are having a proper ski outing, but not one where you need to worry about inadvertently finding yourself at the top of a steep slope you aren’t prepared to handle.
3. Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia
The site of the 2010 Winter Olympics might not, at first glance, seem like a place you’d take beginners skiing. But beyond the double-black diamond runs on the upper reaches of the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains are plenty of green and blue runs. In fact, the Magic Chair at the base of Blackcomb Mountain opens to one of the gentlest ski runs you’ll find anywhere.
Moreover, the resort has one of the best snow schools for skiing and snowboarding that you will find anywhere. It’s not just that the group and private lessons are so good; it’s that they’re taught with that inimitable Canadian niceness — even when the instructors hail from Argentina or the Netherlands. These are instructors who will really make sure you are enjoying the experience and actually learning. Add in incredible dining options all over the mountain and one of the best ski village scenes on the continent — which also make Whistler one of the best mountain towns for those who don’t ski at all — and this is one place where your ability level will in no way compromise your great time.
4. Park City, Utah
When Park City Mountain Resort merged with The Canyons five years ago, what resulted was the largest ski resort in the US, as measured by miles of runs (as opposed to skiable acres). Either way, with 348 trails and 41 lifts, the place is big. But it’s spread horizontally across a long area, and if you stick to the Park City side, it won’t feel too huge or unwieldy — and you’ll find plenty of greens served off the Payday, Crescent, and Bonanza Express chairs.
When you’re ready to take it up a notch, you can find a huge selection of blue runs off the King Con. The resort is part of Vail Resorts, so if you come with more advanced skiers, they can use their Epic Pass and ski on the Canyons side, or even the experts runs off Jupiter Peak above where you are skiing, so you can have lunch together. The best part is that, at the end of the day, you are in such a fun mountain town — packed with shops, bars, restaurants, and even spas — that it competes with the slopes for fun to be had. In fact, we’ve called Park City the best ski vacation for non-skiers to be found anywhere.
5. Dollar Mountain, Sun Valley, Idaho
Sun Valley is the oldest ski resort in North America, and in 1936 Dollar Mountain was the sight of some of the first chairlifts in the world. Today, Dollar Mountain, which is still part of the Sun Valley resort, is the favored mountain for beginner skiers. While Bald Mountain is where more experienced skiers carve their turns, Dollar’s magic carpet and four chairlifts access more gently sloped terrain and shorter runs. The great news is that at the end of the day, whether you’ve ripped it up on Bald Mountain or learned to snowplow at Dollar Mountain, you can sit down to a great meal and maybe even some live music in Ketchum, which we’ve in the past named one of the coolest towns in the US.
6. Powderhorn Mountain Resort, Colorado
No doubt, Colorado is the US state with the most enviable ski options. It offers up everything from insanely long mogul runs at Beaver Creek to sweeping open bowls at Vail — and all with the fluffy Colorado snow that’s aptly called champagne powder. And if neither moguls nor massive above-the-treeline bowls are what you are looking for, then just two hours due west on the I-70 from Vail lies a resort that was tailor-made for the newly minted skier.
Powderhorn Mountain Resort’s runs are a generous mix of beginner greens and intermediate blues, with just a tiny handful of black diamond runs for the more experienced skiers. Ranging in price from $19 to $79, with reduced pricing for anyone under 30, daily lift tickets are a bargain as well. (They are even cheaper if you buy a four-pack.) Add in $99 group lessons or private lessons for $149, and Powderhorn is less expensive than most of its Colorado state peers. Moreover, you’re right next to the town of Fruita, one of Colorado’s low-key but increasingly cool mountain towns.
7. Stratton, Vermont
If you’re planning to ski or snowboard in the Northeast, Vermont has the best selection of mountain areas. But a resort like Stowe can scare off newcomers with its infamous “Front Four” slopes, which more than 50 years after they were established are still considered some of the scariest runs in the Northeast. What beginner wants that? Head over to Stratton — where over 40 percent of the runs are considered “easy” and an additional 30 percent are moderate — and relax. There, you can have lunch at the Midmountain Lodge, or even go all the way to the peak, and still have a green run on the way down. Once you’re warmed up, there are blues to tackle as well. Plus there are dining and shopping options in Stratton Village.