Editor’s note: This is part one of a three part skiers by Eric Wagnon – A Skier’s Bucket List. North America will be split into two parts. Part three will be focused on the Europe and the rest of the world. Stay tuned!
Warren Miller said, “if you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.” The filmmaker encouraged skiers to go out and realize their dreams with his annual movies released just before each ski season.
Although Miller was not personally involved with the films in more recent years, his name will always be associated with the anticipation of a new ski season. Miller died in January at the age of 93, so this upcoming ski season will be the first to start since his passing. In tribute to the iconic figure in the sport, perhaps this season is the time to check off one or more of the ideas below.
Drop into or just see Corbet’s Couloir
Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole may be the most famous bucket-list challenge in North American skiing and boarding. Even more insane lines do exist in-bounds, but Corbet’s is unparalleled in its bragging-rights cachet simply due to its notoriety well beyond Wyoming. In other words, most skiers and boarders have heard of it and are suitably impressed by those who conquer it.
Bucket-list items are not meant to hasten “kicking the bucket,” so a disclaimer that Corbet’s is not for everyone is warranted. Mandatory air or at least a high-speed straight-line followed a hard right turn to avoid a rock wall takes skill and guts. If your ability-level makes Corbet’s an unsafe proposition, it’s still worth a visit to watch others take the plunge. Rendezvous Bowl off the Tram to reach Corbet’s entrance is rated as a much more manageable single black diamond.
Hike Highland Bowl
For years, Aspen Highlands skiers and boarders looked longingly at Highland Bowl just outside the ski-area boundaries. In 2002, the bowl was completely opened as hike-to-terrain and immediately became a bucket-list destination in Colorado.
The ridge line hike with a vertical rise of 782 feet from the top of the Loge Peak chairlift can take about 25 minutes to an hour depending on the hiker’s fitness level. The resort does offer free snowcat rides to shave off part of the hike. While not quite as intimidating as Corbet’s, all the Highland Bowl terrain is rated double-black with the steepest pitch at 48 degrees.
Ski Mary Jane’s bumps
The Mary Jane side of Winter Park Resort in Colorado is the country’s mogul mecca. The local bumper stickers read “No Pain, No Jane,” but skiers find pleasure in romping down runs such as Drunken Frenchman, Outhouse and Derailer.
Ski Superstar at Killington in May
Extensive snowmaking keeps the iconic Superstar trail at Killington in Vermont open late into the spring. The resort lets the moguls build in the spring when the “Superstar glacier” appears as a white ribbon of soft hero bumps. In recent years, the trail has attracted early-season attention as well by hosting women’s World Cup giant slalom and slalom races in November.
Take an Olympic tour at Whiteface
When Lake Placid, New York, hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, Whiteface was the site of the downhill skiing events. To ski the 1980 men’s downhill course off the Summit Quad chairlift, follow Cloudspin, to Niagara, then Victoria to Broadway and Lower Valley. The women’s course is found off the same chairlift, but follows Upper Skyward, Lower Skyward, Easy Way, Easy Street, Boreen, Ladies Bridge and Lower Valley. To complete a North American Olympic downhill courses bucket list, you must also visit Squaw Valley, Nakiska, Snowbasin and Whistler.
While in Lake Placid though, a non-skiing side trip to the sport of hockey is a must. The famous “Miracle on Ice” game was played at the Lake Placid Olympic Center. Now named in memory of the U.S. coach, the 7,700-seat Herb Brooks Arena is still in use and open for tours.
Stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs
If North American skiing could claim its own castle, it would be the Fairmont Banff Springs. The iconic Canadian hotel is situated within an hour of Banff Sunshine, Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise and Nakiska ski resorts.
Dating back to 1888, the historic hotel stands tall in the postcard scenery environment of Banff National Park. Living up to the Banff Springs name, natural hot springs less than 10 minutes from the hotel are an apres-ski option.
Ride the bus at Powder Mountain
The Utah Transit Authority does offer winter bus service to this off-the-beaten path ski area, but that is not the bus for this bucket-list item. Powder Mountain has its own bus that sums up the cool vibe of the place. With a “base area” that is actually near the top of the layout, skiers and boarders can explore the “Powder Country” terrain that empties out onto the access road going up to the ski area’s main facilities. Rather than taking a chairlift back up, skiers and boarders hitch a ride on an old school bus shuttling up-and-down the access road. In an era of fancy high-speed lifts, it’s a fun throwback experience.
Ride “The Mothership”
Perhaps no other chairlift in North America is more recognized than KT-22 at Squaw Valley on the California side of Lake Tahoe. The late freeskier Shane McConkey called it “the best chairlift in North America.” Nicknamed “The Mothership” by locals, the lift serves 1,800 vertical feet of advanced and expert terrain.
The name, KT-22, goes back to a famous story from the 1940s involving Wayne Poulsen, one of the area’s founders, and his wife Gladys “Sandy” Poulsen. With her expert skier husband watching from the bottom, Sandy reportedly needed 22 kick turns to ski down the peak. Wayne had been traveling in the Himalayas near the world’s second-highest peak, K2, and meant to tease his wife with the moniker for her shaky kick-turn descent.
In an ironic twist, the peak and later chairlift’s name will always be associated with expert skiing. Although Sandy Poulsen grew up as a New York debutante, she adjusted to the rugged lifestyle of Squaw Valley in the early days of ski area. By the time of her death in 2007, at the age of 89, she was a revered figure in the community. Little did Wayne Poulsen know that his joke would become one of the most recognized names in the ski world.
Check back in the coming weeks for parts two and three of a Skier’s Bucket List!