Editors Note: This piece has been updated for 2019
A few years ago, I put together a list of the biggest ski areas in North America. Re-reading it recently, I was surprised just how quickly the list had got out-of-date—it seems the biggest ski areas in America keep getting bigger pretty quickly. In fact, things have changed so much in just a few years it seems a whole new list is required rather than an update of the original piece.
The first thing to say, before we start on the list, is that there are different ways to measure size. We usually measure ski area by acreage in Canada and the USA, but over in Europe, resorts more often measure the combined length of all the groomed ski runs added together.
There are many other ways you can also measure ski areas, for example: most uplift capacity of their ski lifts or the biggest by popularity (skier days). For an extra layer of complexity, some of the biggest ski areas are adjacent to other ski areas that are separately owned or private—Do you add the two together because you can physically ski both under one lift ticket, or treat them as separate as their owners do? It’s a judgement call you can make either way.
Anyways, here are our contenders for biggest ski areas in North America.
1. Whistler Blackcomb, BC, Canada – 8,171 acres
Whistler Blackcomb has long claimed the honors for boasting the biggest ski area in North America. The area stats haven’t changed but owners Vail Resorts did just spend mega-bucks upgrading three lifts to fast, queue-gobbling 10 seater gondola and 4 and 6-seat high-speed chairs. So the hourly uplift capacity has gone through the 780,000 people per hour mark which essentially means you can get to ski all of it more quickly and comfortably than ever before.
2. Park City Mountain, Utah – 7,300 acres
Vail Resorts also own the biggest ski area in Utah, which they created by linking the ski slopes of the former Park City Mountain resort and Canyons ski areas after they gained control of the two separate resorts. A German cartographer who precisely measured all the large ski areas in North America actually believes Park City has more runs, measured by length end-to-end, than Whistler Blackcomb does, but by official area stats, Whistler Blackcomb remains a little bigger.
See Utah lift tickets.
3. Big Sky, Montana – 5,800 acres
Officially promoted as offering the “Biggest Skiing in America” skiers lucky enough to be on the slopes at Big sky really feel the space at this vast, away-from-it-all ski area. Adding 50 acres since our last round-up two years ago, Big Sky also unveiled the first 8-seat chairlift in North America this winter.
See Big Sky lift tickets.
4. Vail, Colorado – 5,289 acres
Four of the five biggest ski areas in North America are operated by Vail Resorts (Big Sky is the one that wasn’t, at time of writing at least) and Vail is of course where that multi-resort mega-corporation got started. The ski area is also the largest ‘single mountain’ ski area in North America – which means the bigger areas are all made up of two or more merged areas.
5. Heavenly, California, Nevada – 4,800 acres
Tahoe’s largest ski area is the fifth biggest in North America, straddling the state line between California and Nevada. With almost 100 slopes, 28 chairlifts, 3,500 lift-served vertical feet (unmatched on the West Coast) and a 10,067 feet of elevation (the highest in Lake Tahoe) it’s good on some other stats too.
See Tahoe lift tickets.
6. Mt Bachelor, Oregon – 4,318 acres
Mt Bachelor has got a little more precise with its 4,300+ acreage measurement and now has its total at exactly 4,318 acres. Mt Bachelor boasts the highest skiable elevation in all of Oregon and Washington in the Pacific Northwest and you can head off in any direction through 360 degrees from the summit.
See Oregon lift tickets.
7. Sun Peaks, BC, Canada – 4,270 acres
The second, BC, Canada entry in our top 10 is the ever-expanding Sun Peaks resorts which added another new quad chairlift this winter. Further expansion taking it further up the table in coming years seems inevitable.
8. (tie) Lake Louise, Canada – 4,200 acres
Canada’s third biggest ski area, Lake Louise, has more than 140 ski runs plus its famous back bowls to enjoy. It has a long range plan to add Hidden Bowl and West Bowl to the Lake Louise Ski Area for limited winter use, but it’s a really long term plan (10-15 years) as things move slowly and carefully when developments are proposed in National Park Land. The resort says it will remove approximately 1,000 hectares of environmentally sensitive area from its lease, to be returned to Parks Canada’s control as designated wilderness lands, in exchange for the chance to develop the bowls for snowsports.
8. (tie) Red Mountain, BC, Canada – 4,200 acres
A relatively new entry and the third in BC, Canada, Red jumped in to the North American top 10 by adding an “entirely new peak” and nearly 1,000 acres of new terrain with it, Grey Mountain.
“Well, OK, Grey’s been there for millions of years, but without runs or lifts on it,” a Red Resort spokesperson confessed.
10. Squaw Valley, California – 3,600 acres
The second entry from Lake Tahoe, making California the only US state with two entries in the top 10. Squaw Valley was previously widely reported as having 4,000 acres of terrain but is currently saying the total is 3,600 acres.
BONUS: Bubbling Under
Just outside the top 10 we have three ski areas at around 3,500 acres:
3,592 acres, Castle Mountain, Alberta, Canada; “over 3,500 acres,” for Mammoth, California, and new entry, “3,500+ acres” for Kicking Horse, BC, Canada.
Kicking Horse, already fifth biggest on the continent for lift-served vertical (4,460 feet/1360m), have had the biggest terrain expansion in North America this winter 2018/19 adding the Middle Ridge, Fuez Bowl and parts of Rudi’s Bowl to their total.
Other Big Ski Areas of Note:
8,550 acres, Yellowstone Club + Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky isn’t quite North America’s biggest ski area (although its expansion possibilities mean it may be one day) but for the multi-millionaires who own property at the Yellowstone Club, a private ski resort that seamlessly connects its own slopes with those of Big Sky, it is! Both resorts have expanded their ski areas a little over the past few years and that takes the combined total (Big Sky’s 5,850 + 2,700 acres at the Yellowstone Club past whistler Blackcomb and Powder Mountain’s totals. The only hitch to skiing it all is that you need to be a property owner at the Yellowstone Club, where property starts from several million dollars, to be able to ski there. Or you could work on befriending a billionaire and getting access to the slopes as an official guest.
8,464 acres, Powder Mountain, Utah
Powder Mountain actually has the biggest ski area in North America if you count everything within its boundaries, exclude the Yellowstone Club + Big Sky combination. However, as the area only has six chairlifts compared to Whistler Blackcomb’s 19 chairs and three gondolas, it is not generally included in the North American top 10. But that is a judgement call and some, including powder mountain itself, would put it at number one.
6,000 acres, Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows, California, USA
Now jointly owned and managed and promoted as one resort with one ticket, a long term plan to link these two ski areas by gondola seems to be coming closer. Do we then count them as one ski area, the second biggest in the US and third in North America, or doesn’t that count if you can’t ski from one side to the other?
5,303 acres, Aspen, Colorado
The four ski areas of Aspen Snowmass: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk combined offer 5,303 total acres of skiable terrain, eight terrain parks and 336 trails served by 46 lifts all o one lift pass, but you need to drive or take a shuttle between each sector.
60,000 acres, Whisper Ridge, Utah
Cat-skiing at its finest with eight ski cats accessing a vast back country wilderness wonderland. No lifts and no groomed runs so not in our top 10.
2.6 million acres, Heliski BC or Alaska
When it comes to heliskiing there aren’t many limits – you just go ski where the helicopter takes you. But the operators do have licensed usage areas and some of them quote bigger numbers than others (although all the numbers quoted are pretty astronomical).
The two biggest, both with permits that cover around 2.6 million acres (that’s around the size of Connecticut) are Bella Coola, who have a permit for the Coast Range mountains in BC, Canada; then a little further West, Valdez AK Heli-Skiing have the same size of domain in Alaska.