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Beautiful vistas add to ski resorts' charm

Getting there is half the fun if you are traveling Alberta’s Icefields Parkway.

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Getting there is half the fun if you are traveling Alberta’s Icefields Parkway.

It's a tough call naming North America's most gorgeous ski resort. Developers seldom build in ugly surroundings, but views that one visitor finds enthralling may not grab another. Selecting North America's most charming slopes is a serious challenge.

With necks firmly stuck out, here are what some proponents think qualify as North America's most scenic ski destinations.

Comeliest crags: Snowbird and Alta, Utah

With ski resorts lying in mountains, a prime view of peaks is to be expected. Some areas go beyond, offering slopes engulfed by summits. For those who like crags and cliffs up close, it's hard to beat neighboring Alta and Snowbird resorts.

The two areas, skiable separately or on a combined ticket, lie at the upper end of Little Cottonwood Canyon. The pavement first reaches Snowbird with Alta lying a short distance beyond. From either, rocky ridges and prickly peaks tower over the valley floor. Canyon walls appear intimately close.

The Alpine fantasy is enhanced by sight of Snowbird's Euro-inspired Aerial Tram, which delivers skiers and boarders to the top of 11,000-foot Hidden Peak. With both areas receiving around 500 inches of fluff annually, trees stand frocked in white and chutes appear plastered in powder. For downhillers, that makes any mountain slope look ravishing.

Information: Snowbird, toll-free 1-800-232-9542, www.snowbird.com; Alta, toll-free 1-801-359-1078.

Most voluptuous valley: Jackson Hole, Wyo.

While some skiers love being swaddled by summits, others find close-up crags too claustrophobic. For those who prefer Julie Andrews-style vistas, there's Wyoming's Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The ski area sits in the Teton Mountains, home of 13,770-foot Grand Teton. In one direction rise the peaks, close but not engulfing. In the other direction stretches the famed valley, which trappers named Jackson Hole. Beyond that are the Gros Ventre Mountains, and the Wind River Range rises in the distance.

Skiers descending a run here can feel the magnitude of the sky and the remote openness of the region. The aura becomes even more enhanced on days when temperature inversions trap fog below.

The problem here is stopping long enough to appreciate the views. Jackson Hole features a plethora of runs packed with fluff. On powder days, skiers and boarders will need to wipe spindrift from their goggles to see the view.

Information: toll-free 1-888-333-7766, www.jacksonhole.com.

Loveliest lake view: Heavenly, Calif.

Many mountains overlook lakes, but water that lies within view of ski areas tends to be capped by ice and blanketed with snow. One huge exception is Lake Tahoe, which straddles the state line between California and Nevada. The best views of this Sierra gem are the vistas seen from Heavenly Mountain Resort.

North America's largest alpine lake covers 193 square miles, and its water remains so pure, visibility extends down 60 to 100 feet. Typically glass smooth, the surface looks like a sapphire mounted in a peak-studded setting. From the trails of Heavenly, the sight can be mesmerizing.

Information: (775) 586-7000, www.skiheavenly.com.

Best river view: Le Massif, Charlevoix, Quebec

Many rivers disappear beneath the snows of winter. Such is not the case with the St. Lawrence east of Canada's Quebec City. Here, where the Great Lakes' stream meets the Atlantic, lies Le Massif.

The resort is located in the Charlevoix region, a 43-mile downstream drive from the 400-year-old French-Canadian city.

With Quebec winters being more than a tad nippy, sheets of white ice generally float on the steel-blue surface of the river from mid-January through mid-March. It lines the shoreline and collects in the main channel. The effect appears surrealistic and somewhat unworldly.

Le Massif's owner, Cirque du Soleil co-founder Daniel Gauthier, has decided to feature only healthy foods at the resort. No hot dogs, hamburgers or fried fare appear here. Instead, the menu features juices, cheeses and fresh local cuisine. They do, however, sell beer and wine.

Information: toll-free 1-877-536-2774, www.lemassif.com.

Handsomest highway: Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Sometimes the prettiest part of the skiing experience occurs on the way to the slopes. In Alberta, three of its most scenic ski areas (Sunshine, Lake Louise and Marmot Basin) lie in adjoining national parks, and Icefields Parkway, which connects them, ranks as one of the most photogenic winter drives on the continent.

The two-lane road covers 142 miles between Lake Louise and Jasper. Topping two picturesque mountain passes, the route parallels the Canadian Rockies along the Continental Divide.

Cliffs, crags, crests, peaks and summits, some reaching 11,000 feet, rise beyond the pavement. The more than 100 glaciers for which the route was named blend in with the surrounding snow, turning the scene into tree-framed landscape of rock and white. Lakes become fluffy flats, rivers stretch as snowy channels and waterfalls freeze into glassy ice-scapes.

Most drivers need extra time to traverse the Icefields Parkway. It's not that the road is slow or treacherous. It's because camera-wielding passengers will insist on making numerous photo stops along the way.

Information: toll-free 1-800-252-3782, www.icefieldsparkway.ca.

Most western ski town: Telluride, Colo.

In the historic West, many 19th century mining camps have morphed into 21st century ski towns. Few have made the silver-to-snow transition better than Colorado's Telluride.

The town sits in a classic box canyon. Cliff-banded slopes hem the valley's sides, and towering peaks plug its end.

In this exquisite setting, mining boomed in the late 1800s. The town became so prosperous, Butch Cassidy chose it for his first-ever bank robbery. By the 1950s, the wealth had played out and Telluride became a dusty ghost locked in time. Lifts arrived in 1972.

Today, most of the ski development lies far above town, based in a modern, pseudo-Euro enclave called Mountain Village. A gondola connects it to the eight-block-wide, 12-block-long, historic town below.

Telluride proffers genuine Victorian charm. Storefronts feature brick and wood. Awnings cover broad sidewalks. Restaurants occupy renovated homes. Here, corporate stores remain deliciously absent. Coffee comes from the Steaming Bean, not Starbucks, and burgers are flipped at the Cornerhouse Grille.

Information: (970) 728-6900, www.tellurideskiresort.com.

Dan Leeth is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

Beautiful vistas add to ski resorts' charm 11/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 9:34am]

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