America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts

Twenty-five feet of featherlight powder, 300 annual days of sunshine, and world-class skiing facilities: is it any wonder that skiers flock there in winter? As ski season gets under way at about 500 areas across the country, Colorado resorts are prepping for an avalanche—of people, that is. America’s two most-visited ski resorts, No. 1 Vail Mountain and No. 2 Breckenridge Ski Resort, are found in the Colorado Rockies. Each averages more than 1.6 million annual visits, defined as one person visiting a resort for all or part of a given day. Nearby Keystone Resort also tops the 1 million mark. “If you look at Colorado resorts, typically they’re the largest, they’ve been around the longest, and Colorado consistently has good-to-great snow,” says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “It’s got huge brand recognition as a state.” And that kind of competition inspires ski resorts to innovate. Tahoe’s Northstar California Resort (No. 11), for instance, has spent more than $1 billion on upgrades, including the 2011–12 season’s addition of a high-speed chairlift, a LEED-certified lodge, a 700-seat restaurant, and a Shaun White–designed 22-foot half-pipe. Related: U.S. + Canada Travel Guide Park City Mountain Resort, UT, caters to families with its low student-to-instructor ski school ratios and to thrill-seekers with a nearly 4,000-foot alpine coaster, a two-person zipline, and a terrain park illuminated by night. Many resorts also spend millions on snowmaking to extend the length and quality of their seasons. Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort, which attracts 614,000 visitors annually, has nearly 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its trails. “It guarantees a product,” Berry says. Read on for the rankings of America’s 20 most-visited ski resorts and the reasons they keep us coming back for more each winter. The Methodology: The National Ski Areas Association provided a list of the top 20 most-visited ski resorts, based on the 2010–11 season, but the organization would not disclose the specific visitor numbers. So we followed up with the specific resorts, and most shared their numbers. Unless otherwise noted, numbers represent a four-year average of skier visits from the 2007–08 through the 2010–11 seasons. (Data from the 2011–12 season, in which abnormally low snowfall resulted in the fewest skier visits nationwide since 1991–92, were omitted because most resorts didn’t make it available.)

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America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Vail
Courtesy of Vail Resorts

When it’s time to hit the slopes, millions choose to schuss these mountains’ steeps, bowls, glades, and groomers.

Twenty-five feet of featherlight powder, 300 annual days of sunshine, and world-class skiing facilities: is it any wonder that skiers flock there in winter?

As ski season gets under way at about 500 areas across the country, Colorado resorts are prepping for an avalanche—of people, that is. America’s two most-visited ski resorts, No. 1 Vail Mountain and No. 2 Breckenridge Ski Resort, are found in the Colorado Rockies. Each averages more than 1.6 million annual visits, defined as one person visiting a resort for all or part of a given day. Nearby Keystone Resort also tops the 1 million mark.

“If you look at Colorado resorts, typically they’re the largest, they’ve been around the longest, and Colorado consistently has good-to-great snow,” says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “It’s got huge brand recognition as a state.”

And that kind of competition inspires ski resorts to innovate. Tahoe’s Northstar California Resort (No. 11), for instance, has spent more than $1 billion on upgrades, including the 2011–12 season’s addition of a high-speed chairlift, a LEED-certified lodge, a 700-seat restaurant, and a Shaun White–designed 22-foot half-pipe.

Park City Mountain Resort, UT, caters to families with its low student-to-instructor ski school ratios and to thrill-seekers with a nearly 4,000-foot alpine coaster, a two-person zipline, and a terrain park illuminated by night.

Many resorts also spend millions on snowmaking to extend the length and quality of their seasons. Vermont’s Okemo Mountain Resort, which attracts 614,000 visitors annually, has nearly 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its trails. “It guarantees a product,” Berry says.

Read on for the rankings of America’s 20 most-visited ski resorts and the reasons they keep us coming back for more each winter.

The Methodology: The National Ski Areas Association provided a list of the top 20 most-visited ski resorts, based on the 2010–11 season, but the organization would not disclose the specific visitor numbers. So we followed up with the specific resorts, and most shared their numbers. Unless otherwise noted, numbers represent a four-year average of skier visits from the 2007–08 through the 2010–11 seasons. (Data from the 2011–12 season, in which abnormally low snowfall resulted in the fewest skier visits nationwide since 1991–92, were omitted because most resorts didn’t make it available.)

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No. 1 Vail Mountain, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Vail
Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Annual Skier Visits: 1,634,250

Vail is not only the nation’s most-visited ski resort, but also the largest, sprawling 5,289 acres. Nearly half of Vail’s 193 trails suit beginners and intermediates, yet the mountain is more famous for its Back Bowls: seven open expanses of mostly black diamond-rated slopes. The brainchild of a World War II veteran who trained for alpine combat at nearby Camp Hale in the 1940s, Vail celebrates its 50th anniversary during the 2012–13 season.

Source: Vail Resorts

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No. 2 Breckenridge Ski Resort, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Breckenridge
Aaron Dodds

Annual Skier Visits: 1,600,750

Less than 20 miles as the snowflake flies from its sister resort of Vail, Breckenridge vies closely for the No. 1 most-visited spot; it even temporarily claimed the lead in the 2007–08 and 2009–10 seasons. Breck’s selling points include a lively, historic downtown, North America’s highest-elevation chairlift (the 12,840-foot Imperial Express SuperChair), and 2,358 acres spanning four mountains—for now. The Forest Service recently approved a controversial expansion, adding 543 acres and a fifth peak for the 2013–14 season.

Source: Vail Resorts

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No. 3 Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, CA

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Mammoth Mountain
Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain

Annual Skier Visits: 1,128,500

Mammoth lives up to its name, with the highest peak elevation of any California ski area (11,053 feet) and an average of more than 400 inches of snowfall each year. The resort also consistently earns top honors for its terrain park, where daredevils can tackle an Olympic-size, 22-foot-tall half-pipe, one of only a handful in the country.

Source: Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

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No. 4 Keystone Resort, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Keystone
Chad Schmidt

Annual Skier Visits: 1,036,000

Three of the top 10 most-visited resorts are located in lofty Summit County, Colorado, and at 3,148 acres, Keystone is the largest (the others: No. 2 Breckenridge and No. 9 Copper Mountain). It’s also the only one—and one of the few in the state—where the lifts keep turning after the sun goes down, with nine night-skiing trails open beneath the lights on selected evenings throughout the season.

Source: Vail Resorts

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No. 5 Steamboat Ski & Resort, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Steamboat
Larry Pierce

Annual Skier Visits: 923,576

Steamboat has come a long way since its opening day in January 1963, when the mountain’s sole chairlift brought in just $13.75 in cash receipts. Today, Steamboat’s 18 lifts tote an average of nearly 7,000 skiers per day—around $100 for a one-day adult lift ticket—and its long, gladed runs make it a favorite among tree skiers. steamboat.com

Source: Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. 2011 Master Development Plan Amendment

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No. 6 Winter Park Resort, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Winter Park
Courtesy of Winter Park

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

Candidate for world’s coolest city park: Winter Park, a 3,081-acre ski area owned by the City and County of Denver (though developer Intrawest Corp. has managed it under a 50-year lease since 2002). Denverites appreciate the proximity—it’s the closest major ski resort to the state capital, 66 miles from downtown—and the storied terrain, like the challenging bump runs on 12,060-foot Mary Jane Mountain.

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No. 8 Heavenly Mountain Resort, CA/NV

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Heavenly Mountain
Courtesy of Heavenly Resort

Annual Skier Visits: 890,750

Though Heavenly took the No. 7 spot in 2010–11 (with 925,000 skier visits compared to Beaver Creek’s 900,000), a lackluster 2008–09 season pushed it to No. 8 in our rankings. Looming more than 3,800 feet above the glittering surface of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly is the largest, tallest, and most visited of the seven Tahoe ski resorts, with twin base areas in California and Nevada that give visitors access to staggering chutes by day and glitzy casinos by night. skiheavenly.com

Source: Vail Resorts

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No. 9 Copper Mountain Resort, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Copper Mountain
Courtesy of Copper Mountain, CO

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

Copper’s 2,465 acres of naturally divided terrain offer something for everyone, from beginner-friendly slopes on the mountain’s west side to experts-only on the east. Olympic-caliber skiers use the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper for early-season training, while pro snowboarders learn to nail tricks at Woodward at Copper, a practice facility where foam pits soften harsh landings.

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No. 10 Park City Mountain Resort, UT

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Park City Mountain
Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

Named the top family resort by SKI Magazine last year, Park City caters to kids with low student-to-instructor ski school ratios, a nearly 4,000-foot alpine coaster, and a two-person zipline. Adults can channel their own inner child on the resort’s handful of terrain parks, including one that’s illuminated at night.

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No. 11 Northstar California Resort, CA

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Northstar California
Courtesy of Northstar

Annual Skier Visits: 737,000

Northstar has undergone more than a billion dollars’ worth of improvements since 2004, including the 2011–12 season addition of a new high-speed chairlift, LEED-certified lodge, 700-seat restaurant, and Shaun White–designed 22-foot half-pipe. But the resort is just getting started: a proposed expansion currently under review aims to add 300 acres of ski trails, seven new lifts, and two on-mountain dining facilities in the next 10 to 15 years. northstarattahoe.com

Source: Vail Resorts (numbers based on 2010–11 season, the only data available)

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No. 12 Snowmass, CO

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Snowmass
Courtesy of Aspen Snowmass

Annual Skier Visits: 732,251

It’s a long way down at Snowmass: the resort boasts the largest vertical rise (4,406 feet) of the 20 most-visited resorts, and its longest run measures a thigh-burning 5.3 miles. Although it lacks the instant name recognition of its nearby chichi sister, Aspen Mountain, Snowmass claims nearly five times Aspen’s terrain (3,332 acres versus 675) and far more annual visitors.

Source: Aspen Skiing Company

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No. 13 Squaw Valley, CA

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Squaw Valley
Courtesy of Ski House at Squaw

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

The third most-visited Lake Tahoe resort, Squaw Valley’s claims to fame range from hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics to opening the world’s first ski-in, ski-out Starbucks in February 2012. Rental property Ski House at Squaw (pictured) lets guests stay right on the slopes. And in the 2012–13 season, the 3,600-acre, six-peak resort debuts two new chairlifts, both geared toward improving access to beginner and intermediate terrain.

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No. 14 Killington Resort, VT

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Killington
Courtesy of Killington

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

“The Beast of the East” is the most-visited resort east of the Mississippi, and with 752 skiable acres and 3,050 feet of vertical rise, it’s also among the largest. Killington backs up its 250 inches of average annual snowfall and 600 acres of snowmaking with a good-snow guarantee: skiers unsatisfied with the conditions can exchange their lift tickets before 10 a.m. for a return voucher valid for one year.

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No. 15 Okemo Mountain Resort, VT

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Okemo Mountain
Skye Chalmers

Annual Skier Visits: 614,000

Okemo tallied just 95,000 skier visits in the 1982–83 season, its first under the ownership of Diane and Tim Mueller. Thirty years later, the Muellers still manage the resort, but visitation has leapt more than sixfold. With 651 acres and 119 trails, nearly all of which are covered by snowmaking, Okemo is one of only three Eastern resorts in the top 20. okemo.com

Source: Okemo Mountain Resort

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No. 16 Snow Summit, CA

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Snow Summit
Courtesy of Snow Summit Ski Resort

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

Together with its sister peak (Bear Mountain) two miles west, this SoCal resort averages about 800,000 skier visits each year. Though small—with just 240 acres and 31 trails—Snow Summit benefits from its two-hour proximity to Los Angeles and its ability to turn water from nearby Big Bear Lake into snow to supplement its 100 inches of natural accumulation each year. snowsummit.com

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No. 17 The Summit at Snoqualmie, WA

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Snoqualmie
Courtesy of The Summit at Snoqualmie

Annual Skier Visits: 550,000

While some resorts crow about how much snowmaking coverage they have, The Summit brags about how little it needs—less than 1 percent of its 1,981 skiable acres. Why? It could have something to do with the 435 inches of average snowfall The Summit catches each year. This meteorologically blessed resort 50 miles east of Seattle marked its 75th anniversary in 2012.

Source: The Summit at Snoqualmie (five-year average, 2007 to 2012)

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No. 18 Holiday Valley Resort, NY

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Holiday Valley
Courtesy of Holiday Valley

Annual Skier Visits: 545,058

What Holiday Valley lacks in size (at 300 skiable acres and 750 feet of vertical) it makes up for in convenience—within four hours’ driving distance of metropolitan areas in three states and southern Canada. In December 2012, the resort opened a $12 million base lodge, replacing its 50-year-old predecessor with a 66,000-square-foot stone-and-cedar structure. holidayvalley.com

Source: Holiday Valley Resort

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No. 19 Canyons Resort, UT

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Canyons Resort
Justin Olsen

Annual Skier Visits: 500,000

With 4,000 skiable acres across nine different mountains, Canyons is the second-largest resort on the most-visited list and among the largest in the nation. In 2010, it debuted North America’s first heated chairlift, part of a $50 million infrastructure upgrade that helped the resort earn its first-ever top 10 overall ranking in SKI Magazine this year. canyonsresort.com

Source: Canyons Resort (annual estimate, 2009 to 2012)

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No. 20 Deer Valley Resort, UT

America's Most-Visited Ski Resorts: Deer Valley
Courtesy of Deer Valley Resort

Annual Skier Visits: Undisclosed

Deer Valley is one of only a handful of resorts nationwide that doesn’t allow snowboarders—and the only one in our top 20. Despite its refusal to integrate, the 2,026-acre resort remains a perennial favorite for its five-star service, lodging, and dining, which includes Utah’s No. 1 Zagat-rated restaurant, The Mariposa.

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