Powder Play: 8 Great Ski Mountains Just Outside the City
BY JEFFREY TANENHAUS
Chilly climes bringing you down? Skiing and snowboarding can help cure the winter blues. But the biggest mountain isn’t always the best bet if you want to take a casual trek downhill (or stay within the 180 miles/day included in your Zipcar reservation). Shred the pow(der) at these peak picks for easy day trips from the city. Bonus: you can book a Zipcar equipped with Yakima ski racks for an even easier outing.
1) Boston: Wachusett Mountain
Wachusett Mountain has over 100 skiable acres—and has a great weekday promotion with Zipcar, too! Image courtesy of Wachusett Mountain.
Princeton, MA (55 miles from Boston City Hall)
Named after the Algonquin word for “The Great Hill,” Wachusett is the highest peak in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River. At just over 2,000 feet, the summit’s panorama includes the Boston skyline. Groomed trails offer gentle intermediate skiing that’s family- and beginner-friendly. With 26 runs, 100% snowmaking coverage, and 110 skiable acres, Wachusett is a quick fix for some time on the slopes. Bonus: Zipcar’s weekday ski promotion gets you and a friend discounts on driving and skiing. (More hot cocoa for you!)
2) New York City: Mountain Creek
Vernon, NJ (55-60 miles from Times Square)
The outer boroughs have golf courses and beaches, but for alpine adrenaline, New Yorkers need to expand their circumference. Fortunately, a great snow resort near the city isn’t far. Mountain Creek boasts 46 trails with 100% snowmaking coverage across four peaks, including the region's highest skiable vertical at 1,040 feet. A mix of trails caters to every level, in addition to a variety of jumps and rails in terrain parks and 30 lanes of snow tubing. Lift infrastructure is tops to handle the inevitable crowds. Unwind at the upscale base lodge for some après ski before heading back to the city.
3) Toronto: Blue Mountain
Unwind at scenic Blue Mountain, on-slope and off.
The Blue Mountains, Ontario (99 miles from Toronto City Hall)
Ontario’s largest mountain resort has 365 skiable acres, 43 trails, and postcard views over Georgian Bay and the Niagara Escarpment. It’s safe to say that Blue Mountain is a winter activity wonderland. Freestyle boarders test skills at Badlands Terrain Park, while beginners can learn on a gentler, separate course. Also new in 2018: an ice skating loop at the top of the mountain. Other ski/board alternatives include snow tubing, snowshoeing, and even a mountain coaster that descends 3,300 feet of track. Finally, retreat from the cold with a soak in hot tubs and indoor pools in the aquatic center.
4) D.C. & Baltimore: Whitetail Resort
Mercersburg, PA (89 miles from Washington Monument and 92 miles from Inner Harbor Baltimore)
Known for long runs and fast lifts, Whitetail offers varied terrain and the steepest vertical drop near D.C. and Baltimore. Intermediate trails run the full 935-foot vertical, while experts can rock black and double blacks, including the Mid-Atlantic’s finest mogul run. Natural snowfall is limited, but snowmaking on all 23 trails makes up the difference. The mountain’s eastern face helps keep snow from turning to ice, a concern at this latitude. Two terrain parks and 16 snow tubing lanes are popular with boarders and families respectively. Convenience draws crowds, so expect plenty of waiting in lift lines. Opt for the eight-hour ticket, which is just $5 dollars more than the four-hour.
5) Chicago: Wilmot Mountain Ski Resort
Wilmot, WI (66 miles from Grant Park)
On its 80th anniversary, Wilmot—now owned by Vail Resorts—greeted skiers with $13 million of improvements, from state-of-the-art snowmaking on slopes to Wi-Fi at the modernized base lodge. The resort also upgraded its lift capacity by 45 percent, which means more time on 23 trails and 120 skiable acres, including an expanded terrain park. Wilmot gets even better for newbies with a dedicated children’s ski and snowboard center, and re-graded learning terrain with two lifts for easy access. Best of all, first-timers earn free equipment upon completion of a multi-week ski and snowboard school.
6) Denver: Breckenridge
Breckenridge offers activities on and off the slopes. The former mining town is also noted for its historic Victorian architecture and colorful buildings.
Breckenridge, CO (81 miles from State Capitol Building)
With a summit elevation of nearly 13,000 feet and the highest chairlift on the continent (truly uplifting!), the altitude and powder here are about as close to heaven as you can get in North America. Breckenridge delights winter enthusiasts with five peaks and 187 trails, the longest of which stretches 3.5 miles. Almost 60 percent of trails are tilted towards advanced skiers. Less than a third of terrain is groomed, so all that pow is yours to shred. For something different, join a free, ranger-led ski tour highlighting the ecology of trees, wildlife, and topography. There’s no shortage of activities on and off the mountain, and Zipcars are parked in three locations in town which is notable for its historic Main Street with Victorian architecture. So you can take in a range of fun, on-slopes and off.
7) Seattle: Crystal Mountain Resort
Enumclaw, WA (82 miles from the Space Needle)
Washington’s largest ski resort is nestled within Mt. Rainier National Park, and invested $5 million in snowmaking equipment for this season. Intermediate skiers have plenty of terrain to cruise—more than half of Crystal Mountain’s 57 runs are squared blue. Survey the action on the Mt. Rainier Gondola with stunning views of the Cascade Range while ascending 2,500 vertical feet to the Summit House restaurant, open to non-skiers, too. For those staying overnight, a new Snowshoe & Sip series combines the best of snow play and après with samples from breweries or wineries.
8) Vancouver: Whistler Blackcomb
When it comes to premiere ski destinations in North America, Whistler Blackcomb takes the gold medal.
Whistler, British Columbia (75 miles from downtown)
Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada’s most famous ski area earns an avalanche of accolades. SKI Magazine ranked Whistler Blackcomb the #1 North American resort for a third year in a row, and it also snagged top honors for terrain variety and off-hill activities. Blessed with an average annual snowfall of 400 inches, the two mountains combine for a stunning 8,171 skiable acres—the most in North America—and 200 trails, good for bronze. On sunny days, Whistler shines with better views and open bowl skiing. Blackcomb trails run steeper and through woodlands, so in wintry weather the trees offer some protection.
What are your favorite ski mountains to visit near your city? Let us know in the comments.