This travel article about skiing in North America was published in the Sunday Post this month.
The joys of a EPIC pass
We skied pristine groomers in Whistler, silky powder in Revelstoke, challenging steeps in Kicking Horse and “legendary” bowls in Fernie.
And that was just the resorts in Canada.
In the US state of Utah, we skied many more miles, day after day, at America’s largest resort, Park City & Canyons, and the smaller mountain areas of Snowbird, Alta and Snowbasin.
Yet still we wanted more.
So we drove to the neighbouring state of Colorado and discovered two other skiing gems, Telluride and Crested Butte.
While a month off work to ski at 10 resorts in three North American states had felt like an extravagant luxury at the start of the holiday, by the end it had become a way of life.
Making plans for an EPIC ski trip
It was last autumn that the germ of an idea for an extended fly-drive skiing vacation came about. My husband Gordon and I spotted a deal for a heavily discounted season pass for a collection of ski resorts around the world.
The EPIC pass was still pricey at £765 each but we worked out that a week of skiing at one of many resorts in Canada and America would cost the same or more – so the longer we skied for, the greater the savings.
The EPIC pass – and others like it, such as the IKON pass – have been seen as a game changer for skiers since it was introduced by Vail Resorts more than decade ago.
In 2020, the EPIC offers unlimited skiing at 37 US resorts and shorter periods of skiing at 22 ski areas in the US, Canada and Japan.
You can even use the EPIC for access to 26 European resorts, such as the Three Valleys in France.
Gordon and I planned our extended holiday around the EPIC pass, cherry picking resorts in British Columbia in Canada, as well as Utah and Colorado.
We also stopped at three resorts of Revelstoke, Snowbird and Alta, which are not included on the EPIC pass, simply because we already knew and loved them.
The travel arrangements included one way flights from Scotland to Canada, then Canada to Utah and home again from Colorado to Scotland.
We drove a rental car between the resorts and while the journeys were long by UK standards they offered wonderfully scenic views, especially of the Rocky Mountain range. You could also arrange for Avon Transportation in Colorado to the ski resorts instead of driving yourself.
Each ski mountain had unique attractions and fantastic challenges.
EPIC skiing: British Columbia
Whistler Blackcomb, a hotspot the rich and famous, delivers 200 runs – many beautifully groomed – across more than 8000 acres of diverse terrain.
The two-mountain resort is linked by the vertigo-inducing Peak to Peak gondola and at every turn the vistas are breath-taking.
Whether you are a newbie or an expert, the resort is endlessly entertaining.
Smaller but with greater elevation, Revelstoke Mountain Resort is a target for powder hounds.
We enjoyed “flirting with the boundaries”, skiing both pisted runs and in-bounds off-piste runs.
The tree runs in Revelstoke are great fun and picture-postcard perfect when laden with thick snow.
Back on the EPIC trail, Kicking Horse, close to the former mining town of Golden, came next. The small resort is acclaimed for some of the toughest skiing in North America.
Several highlights for me included boot-packing to high ridges to ski gnarly off-piste runs such as Terminator One, Terminator Two and Ozone.
Fernie, the final BC resort, brought back special memories because it was where we eloped to get married in a short slope-side ceremony two years before.
We continued the romance, spending days exploring 2500 acres of skiable terrain spread across five high bowls.
EPIC skiing: Utah
We could have easily spent the entire month in Utah, skiing resorts large and small. The state is known for its delightfully dry snow and the EPIC pass allows for unlimited skiing at the largest of them all, Park City.
The destination boasts almost 350 ski runs and 41 uplifts across 7300 acres of skiing terrain.
Much smaller yet with a greater community feel, Snowbasin, near the town of Ogden, is also on the EPIC pass, and offers a paradise for intermediate to advanced skiers.
The landscape provides a mix of wide-open bowls, glades and groomers and the tram ride to Allen Peak is a must if you are a confident skier.
Two further smaller mountains of Alta and Snowbird have a local feel, too, and attract residents of Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, just a 40-minute drive away.
We found the snow havens, which lie in the Cottonwood Canyon, are best skied on week days to avoid the crowds and to make the most of bountiful snowfall.
EPIC skiing: Colorado
We had imagined that by the time we reached the third state, we would be all skied out. Yet, the final resorts of our trip turned out to be two of the best.
Telluride has long been acclaimed as a secret gem, mainly because the mountain is a long way from pretty much anywhere.
We drove almost seven hours from SLC to the high-altitude mountain where an impressive lift system and vertical drop of 3845ft brought hours of thigh-burning pleasure.
At Crested Butte, we enjoyed more of the same, including a chance to attempt America’s steepest sustained run, Rambo, as well as several supremely flowing groomed runs. Both the resort and nearby town oozed charm, heritage and friendliness.
We left Crested Butte, en route to Denver International Airport, with heavy hearts and tired legs – but the germ of a plan to go EPIC in another part of the world next ski season.
A note about this season 2020/21
In the coming season, the Covid-19 pandemic will require all ski resorts to adjust some of their operations. Although, because skiing is enjoyed outdoors, many resorts are confident that visitor numbers will be high.
Matt Mosteller is a spokesperson at Fernie Alpine Resort, one of a number owned by RCR in Canada. He said: “While many aspects will look and feel the same there will also be many things that look different this season as we strive to deliver the best the resorts have to offer while maintaining a steadfast focus on the safety of our staff, guests and community.”
In line with government Covid guidelines, skiers will be required to wear face coverings in and around resorts, such as in parking areas, base areas, lifts and indoors, and maintain social distancing. In turn, the resorts will offer increased cleaning and sanitisation
Matt added: “We are confident in our expertise of managing outdoor recreation spaces. Skiing and snowboarding offer low risk, high value recreation in a time when most people need it.
“I am optimistic that we are going to have an incredible, albeit different, winter.”
EPIC skiing: Travel notes
Icelandair: Glasgow to Reykjavik, Iceland and
Reykjavik to Vancouver in Canada.
Icelandair: Denver, Colorado to Reykjavik
Reykjavik to Glasgow.
Internal flight: Calgary, Canada, to Salt lake City, Utah.
We also used Airbnb: www.airbnb.co.uk and Booking.com.
Ski lift passes
We also made use of the Ski City Super Pass in Utah.
Learn the terms
Groomed slopes are those made smooth by piste basher machines overnight.
“Flirting with the boundaries” means to ski off-piste routes within the “in-bounds” limits of a ski resort
In-bounds means within the boundaries of the ski resort, where ski parol teams assess the snow, slopes and terrain for danger, such as avalanches.
Boot-packing means to walk to areas away from the lift while still your ski boots but carrying your skis.
Powder snow is a light and dry snowfall that makes skiing feel like surfing through silky cream.