But don’t fret too much: Today’s ski resorts offer plenty more than groomers and off-piste trails. Truth is, ski areas across the continent are loading up with visitors who bask in skier-lodge ambience – like après-ski cocktails and unbridled village nightlife – without ever clicking into a binding or grabbing a pole. Here are a half-dozen ski resorts where lift lines have been replaced by spa times, zip lines and other non-downhill alternatives.
Banff – Lake Louise, Alberta
Few distractions can trump Banff’s ski runs, but hiking through the Johnston Canyon Icewalk beneath frozen waterfalls, while ice climbers pick their way overhead, is one of them. Ditto for a few hours of pick-up hockey on Lake Louise, where the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise staff kindly clears off a hockey rink and figure-skating oval – a more stunning ice surface you’ll never find. The Post Hotel offers the coziest of dining spaces and, back in Banff, the Rose & Crown features live music all winter long.
Deer Valley, Utah
You may want to take up skiing just to work off dinner at Fireside Dining in the Empire Canyon Lodge, where diners rotate through Swiss raclette cheese, fricassé, fire-roasted rack of lamb and chocolate fondues – each at a hearth. Or you can just settle into a modern or traditional tour of the woods (snowmobile or horse-drawn sleigh), follow a snowshoe guide deep into the Wasatch mountains, or jump on your cross-country skis to explore miles of groomed trails. Taking a hot-air balloon tour isn’t a bad way to see this beautiful valley, either.
Smugglers Notch, Vermont
Smugglers Notch may be the best-named ski resort around: What the hill lacks in grandeur, when compared to neighbors Killington and Stowe, it more than makes up for with wintry fun. Two-hour walking tours of the surrounding wilderness depart every morning at 10:15 during the week; families skim the snow at the tubing park; and a team of huskies will pull kids and adults alike on a sleigh from point A to point B, and back again. There’s a zip line, snow-mobile tours, and an enclosed fun zone.
Yes, skis and snowboards are a sure sign of winter, but long before people strapped planks upon feet up on mountains, there was maple sugaring. Sunday River celebrates this tradition with an active Sugaring House that hosts tours and gives demos. Once you’re all sugared up, the Black Diamond Entertainment Series will make you even giddier with comics, magic and music, climaxing with a mountain fireworks display on most Saturday nights during the winter season.
Colorado boasts a few movie-set towns, but none really compares to Telluride, set deep in a valley below a ski area that most folks in the snow-know call the loveliest in North America. Romance hangs from the Colorado blue spruce here, locale of Butch Cassidy’s first bank heist. Foodies find a home in more than 30 restaurants, including the New Sheridan Hotel, now 117 years young. The adventurous can camp, snowshoe and cross-country tour hut to hut with the San Juan Outdoor School, very handy getaway practice should you decide to rob the local bank.
Whistler – Blackcomb
It’s not as if Whistler needed its reputation as winter’s best non-skier haven strengthened by thousands of revelers during the 2010 Winter Olympics. North America’s perennial favorite ski village fills up with Vancouver commuters every weekend, drawn by the live bands and top DJs at local haunts like Tommy Africa’s, The GLC and Buffalo Bills. The alpine-averse easily fill a day exploring the treatments and outdoor pools within the 20,000-square-foot Scandanave Spa, while the alpine-inclined soar above Ziptrek Ecotour’s 33 acres of zip line habitat all winter long.