Don’t let the fear of holiday crowds keep you at home this Presidents’ Day weekend. It’s time to use those advanced trip-planning skills to capitalize on what most people don’t: a three-day window at some of the country’s smaller resorts. So take advantage of the mid-winter snow, load up the roof rack, and hit the road. A long weekend is coming and here’s where to go.
1. WEST COAST: Mt. Baker, Washington
The thing about skiing in Washington is that — unlike the ski hubs of Utah, Colorado, and Tahoe — you never have to avoid the best mountains during holiday peak times for fear of spending your whole day waiting just to wait some more. Mt. Baker often boasts the deepest base in the US and has big-mountain terrain that rivals Squaw Valley’s KT-22 lift and the back bowls of Vail. Best of all, you never need to worry about what day it is or what month, or even check the weather. It’s probably snowing, and there are never massive crowds. Because of its far-north location, Mt. Baker tends to attract only die-hards to its steep terrain and deep powder, and a lift ticket runs you less than $70.
2. CENTRAL ROCKIES: Purgatory Resort, Durango, Colorado
At Purgatory, not only are you reducing the time queued in lift lines, but you’re also freeing yourself entirely from I-70’s nightmare-inducing ski traffic gridlock. Tucked in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, Purgatory Resort is actually more than three hours from the nearest interstate and equally as far from anything resembling a traffic jam. Plus, you can check out the badass town of Durango for après fun and, in a telltale sign of a good ski town, even have a desirable meal downtown.
3. NORTHERN ROCKIES: Lost Trail Ski Area, Sula, Montana
The Lost Trail Ski Area is the stuff of legend for powder skiers looking to get away from it all. The powder is deep — 325 inches of the stuff falls on the resort’s 60 runs per year — and the terrain offers up over 1,800 vertical feet of intense, knee-testing pleasure, plus some of the best views of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness from high atop Lost Trail Pass. Located on the border of Idaho and Montana, the resort is essentially in the middle of nowhere. Aside from a dedicated crop of hardy Missoulians, not many from outside the immediate area make the trek. Indeed, most keep on driving to Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole. And, in what is either a nod to the days of yore or solid proof that the staff is too busy shredding the gnar to care, Lost Trail’s website looks like it’s straight out of the late ’90s. If you can find the place, you’re in for a true Presidents’ Day treat.
4. MIDWEST: Shanty Creek, Bellaire, Michigan
Before you point out the lack of towering peaks in the area, it’s worth noting that Kid Rock misses out on half the fun of northern Michigan by only sticking around for the summer. Sure, it’s cold, but contrary to popular belief, there’s decent skiing in northern Michigan. And while the midwest’s holiday masses head to Vermont, you can ski right up to the lift at Shanty Creek. There are 53 runs accessed by 11 lifts and 450 feet of vertical. (Come on, it’s Michigan, give them a break — at least the mountain isn’t built on top of a landfill.) Plus, three separate village areas — Schuss Mountain Village, Cedar Village, and Summit Village — make up the resort. In a nod to Euro-style piste productivity, you can ski between two of the three. If you have a pair of cross-country skis, you can even host your own three-hill ski bonanza and pub crawl across the entirety of the resort.
5. NORTHEAST: Black Mountain, Jackson, New Hampshire
Black Mountain is everything charming about New England skiing. Here in central New Hampshire, you’ll find crisp morning groomers with a dash of powder in the trees, fast steeps, and a few double-black gladed runs off the peak. There’s plenty of live music in the Lostbo Pub, as well. What you won’t find on the resort’s 50-plus runs and six lifts are the half-hour lift lines prevalent at many of the region’s larger resorts. You’ll park close in, and a lift ticket only runs $59. And should your long weekend command further adventure, there are three additional resorts just up the road.