We know that not all ski resorts are created alike. What may be less clear is that some ski resorts are much better for snowboarders than others. It’s not just about the terrain parks since not all shredders — that is, snowboarders — even want to do tricks. Rather, the mountain topography, the quality of snow, and of course the vibe all factor into what makes a good mountain a great one for shredding. We asked some pioneering snowboarders for their take on the best North American ski resorts for snowboarders.
What to consider when choosing a resort to snowboard
The most obvious question is if a mountain will even welcome snowboarders. Luckily, only three resorts are still holding out: Vermont’s Mad River Glen, Deer Valley, and Alta. Although Deer Valley and Alta are both in Utah, the state still has great options for boarders, which we’ll get to below. Beyond those three, snowboarders are welcome at resorts throughout the country.
A more subtle consideration is whether a mountain has many flat areas that are easy for skiers to traverse, by skate-skiing or using their poles, but that are a hassle for snowboarders. For example, British Columbia’s Blackcomb Mountain, which opened over 20 years after its neighbor Whistler Mountain, designed its pistes with fewer flat run-outs and cat-tracks. While both mountains are today part of one resort called Whistler Blackcomb, it’s no surprise that the majority of the terrain parks are on Blackcomb.
Terrain parks are an important draw for snowboarders who are out to get air or ride rails. Most ski areas have at least one, and many larger resorts feature multiple parks catering to different ability levels. Other riders care more about snow quality since many snowboarders would prefer even heavy snow over a groomed slope — that is, over a slope that’s been smoothed out by a snowcat. And the vibe matters. Deer Valley prohibits snowboarders because it caters to older skiers who don’t want to be taken out by a crazy young shredder screaming down a run. Then again, most younger snowboarders probably aren’t looking to have lunch in an elegant lodge playing Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” either.
All that being said, a lot of it comes down to what you make it.
“What makes a mountain great for snowboarding is simply having snow!” says snowboarder Austin Hironaka, a well-known shredder in his native Washington state who’s big in Japan too. “I’ve been able to enjoy snowboarding from hiking up a little hill to catch some air or hit a rail, riding chair lifts on resorts, to ripping huge lines right out of a helicopter.”
1. Park City, Utah
While Utah’s Deer Valley and Alta may not welcome snowboarders, Park City resort most certainly does. In fact, it’s one of the training grounds for US Ski and Snowboard team members, some of whom will travel to China for its 2022 Winter Olympic Games. One person hoping to get to the Olympics is Brolin Mawejje, star of the snowboard film “Far From Home.” Mawejje currently resides in Park City where he’s earning a master’s in public health while also training hard to represent his native Uganda at the 2022 Winter Games.
Mawejje told me that Park City is his choice for its terrain parks. In fact, of the resort’s eight terrain parks, the 22-foot Eagle Superpipe has already seen its fair share of the highest international competitions: from the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics to several Olympic qualifying events. The resort’s 3 Kings area, which along with Pick n Shovel and the Eagle Superpipe is part of the Triple Park Zone, offers everything from jumps to rails and half-pipes for different abilities.
2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Snowboarder Emilè Zynobia is an ambassador for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, in addition to being a writer and master’s student at the Yale School of Environmental Sciences. For Zynobia, Jackson Hole is one of the top two US resorts for snowboarders, a sentiment that Mawejje also agrees with. Jackson Hole’s “amazing terrain and consistent epic snowfall” set it apart, according to Zynobia.
The “amazing terrain” includes 2,500 acres of inbound area and a vertical drop of over 4,100 feet. Moreover, 90 percent of Jackson’s runs are for intermediate and expert skiers. And we do mean expert. Jackson’s Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow, steep, rock-flanked chute you might have to jump 20 feet just to get into, is one of the most notorious runs in North America.
“Many of the world’s best snowboarders like Travis Rice, Bryan Iguchi, and Blake Paul call this place home,” Zynobia tells me via email. “And many other pros like Ben Ferguson, Hailey Langland, and Red Gerard come here to film. [It offers] the best terrain for the aggressive and advanced rider, and if you are neither this mountain will make you one.”
3. Mount Baker, Washington
Zynobia’s other big pick for the best snowboarding mountain in the US is Mt. Baker in northern Washington state. She calls the resort the “origin of snowboarding culture. One of the few resorts where snowboarders outnumber the skiers on any given day.”
That’s no big secret. For Park City’s Mawejje, Mt. Baker is third in his three top picks, alongside Park City and Jackson. I’ll even confess that as a former college ski racer, I spent a long weekend in Mt. Baker several years ago specifically to learn to snowboard. With its tendency to have gobs of fresh snow all winter — which in addition to being fun to shred on is also forgiven for a first-time snowboarder falling a lot — it was definitely the best place to take up the sport.
In fact, Mt. Baker gets over 640 inches of snowfall a year. No other North American mountain comes even close. (Alyeska in Alaska gets a lot of snow, but only at the peak). Mt. Baker leaves much of that snow blissfully ungroomed, which is just what snowboarders love.
That ungroomed, less polished approach fits in well with the Mt. Baker vibe, which Zynobia says is, “one of the few resorts holding onto and honoring its mom and pop grunge roots.”
4. Alpental, Washington
Although he lives in Washington State, Hironaka’s preferred in-state ski resort is Alpental, just 40 minutes outside of Seattle. Hironaka started skiing there at age three and snowboarding there at age eight. His reasons for appreciating Alpental are similar to why others love Mt. Baker.
“What ruins a mountain for snowboarders is when skiers have this elitist mentality like the owners did at Crystal Mountain and Deer Valley. We’re all up there tryin’ to do the same thing, play in the snow and enjoy the mountains,” he says.
Alpental is anything but elitist. It’s truly a locals’ mountain, somehow “very simple, yet insanely complex” with its four lifts accessing “some of the best steep and deep terrain in Washington.” Having experienced the many options of chutes and runs there myself, which can be mixed and matched like a jigsaw, I can attest to the variety of runs Alpental’s 300 inbound skiable acres, along with 500 backcountry acres, can offer.
5. Revelstoke, British Columbia
Hironaka’s other favorite North American resort is Revelstoke in British Columbia, the most intense of the resorts along Eastern BC’s Powder Highway. In fact, Revelstoke boasts the longest vertical descent in North America and unbelievable amounts of snow year over year.
The place, says Hironaka, is simply “bonkers!” As Hironaka says, “It too only has four lifts but the places those lifts can take you will blow your mind! Endless options, pow for days, huge cliffs and lines, epic trees, it’s got it all!”
And out in Eastern BC, Revelstoke holds onto that slightly gritty mountain vibe, one that keeps a place real — and keeps the snowboarders coming back.