The (literally) biggest North American news is the linking of Park City and Canyons in Utah to form the largest ski area in America, with over 2,050 hectares of skiable terrain.
Park City Mountain Resort knocks Big Sky, Montana (2,350 hectares) off the number-one spot it had only held since 2013, and dwarfs former title-holder Vail (3,823 hectare). In North American terms, it is second in size only to Whistler in British Columbia (6,864 hectares).
The link is made possible by a new eight-seater gondola, which can be ridden in either direction, between mid-mountain in the Park City area and mid-mountain at Canyons, via Pinecone Ridge.
There, a mid-station allows passengers to disembark to head down two new groomed trails on the Canyons side of Pinecone, or pass through gates to access ungroomed backcountry on the Park City side.
There are further improvements, too. On the Park City side a 500-seater restaurant, Snow Hut Lodge, has been built at the base of the Quicksilver gondola. The Motherlode chair, which goes up into the heart of Park City’s ski area, is now replaced by a fast quad.
And the King Con quad has been upgraded to a swish six-seater. Even with the increased numbers, these new lifts should be able to cope with rush-hour crowds heading over from Canyons.
Meanwhile, on the Canyons side, the mid-mountain Red Pine Lodge restaurant has been renovated and expanded.
The merger of the ski areas has been made possible because ski resort operator Vail Resorts, which has held the lease on Canyons since 2013, acquired Park City in late 2014, after a long and acrimonious legal battle with the previous owners.
However, Vail Resorts does not own Park City’s Summit County neighbour, Deer Valley resort, so visitors still need to buy separate day tickets for this ski area.
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Blazing Trails At Sun Peaks
Last season Sun Peaks in British Columbia expanded its terrain in two separate areas – adding almost 240 skiable hectares and increasing its ski area to 1,910 hectares in total.
This year it’s creating three new trails in one of these areas (West Morrisey) and more gladed terrain in the other (Gil’s). It’s also building an outdoor ice rink large enough to host national hockey league games, close to the existing rink, a little way from the village centre.
Dining Room With A View At Snowbird
A new complex is opening on hidden peak at the top of Snowbird ’s ski area. Its two-storey floor-to-ceiling windows afford spectacular views of the Wasatch mountains and Salt Lake valley below.
Situated right by the top station of the aerial tram, the building, known as the Summit, houses a self-service restaurant and a coffee shop, and has a large outdoor terrace.
At the Utah resort’s base, stage one of a much-needed revamp of the Cliff Lodge Hotel is under way, with the renovation of all 350 bedrooms and suites. Stage two will follow in 2016, with a re-imagined portico and lobby.
Smoking Stubbed Out At Whistler
The company operating the lifts and some of the bars and restaurants in the resort of Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia has declared itself smoke-free . Smoking isn’t allowed anywhere on the mountain, covering lifts, base areas close to lifts, car parks and terraces of places the company owns.
Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain is having a much-needed revamp, with increased seating capacity and more food options including sushi, mexican and wok stations in the food court.
The Future’s Bright For Squaw Valley
The Siberia Express quad chair, near the top of squaw peak, in Squaw Valley, California, is being replaced by a high-speed six-seater, significantly increasing capacity.
Squaw has also announced exciting plans for a gondola linking it to its lake Tahoe neighbour Alpine Meadows (currently connected by a 15-minute free shuttle-bus ride).
This project – still only at the planning stage, so without an estimated completion date – would create the second biggest linked ski area in the US, after Park City, with 1,140 hectares of terrain covered by one lift pass.
Jackson Hole Hits The Half Century
A new, fast quad chair in Jackson Hole, the Teton Lift, serves 80 hectares of terrain, half of it previously only accessible by hiking.
Towards the right-hand side of the ski area, going from mid-mountain up to Sheridan Ridge, this new lift opens up some steep, ungroomed runs, plus three new groomed trails.
It also makes doing laps of several runs lower down easier (on Moran Face and Moran Woods), as it cuts out tedious traverses to reach the Casper quad chair.
Rendezvous Lodge at the top of the Bridger Gondola, already home to the Couloir Restaurant, is opening a second facility, the Piste Mountain Bistro.
While Couloir continues to serve contemporary western cuisine, the Bistro is designed to be a more casual eatery despite being table service. Both are open for dinner on certain evenings, too.
This season will be the Wyoming resort’s 50th anniversary, and events are planned to celebrate throughout the season, including a grand opening party for the Teton Lift on December 19, and the return of the Jackson Hole Powder 8s competition and a retro reunion throwback weekend, February 5–7.
Best Of The Rest
In Snowmass, near Aspen, Colorado, the ancient high Alpine double chair has been replaced by a fast quad. This allows much quicker access to some great steep terrain such as the Hanging Valley – whereas the old lift took 11 minutes to reach the 3,590-metre summit, the upgraded version will make the trip in under six.
In Vail, Colorado, the Avanti quad, one of the main lifts on the front side, which serves some lovely blue cruising runs, is being upgraded to a six-seater. The new lift increases capacity by 30 per cent, going from 2,800 passengers per hour to 3,640.
At Sunshine Village, near Banff, Alberta, the Teepee Town double chair up Lookout Mountain is to be replaced by a fast quad with heated seats. This will speed up access to a selection of black diamond runs, allowing laps on all three.
Need To Know: North America
Each ski area has a clearly marked, patrolled and avalanche-controlled limit that includes the areas of ungroomed (off-piste) terrain between trails, so it’s safe to access without carrying an avalanche kit.
These allow access through the boundary to ski-at-your-own-risk backcountry terrain.
Passes are most expensive when bought at the window in resort. Save money by buying passes in advance. Most passes offer the choice of which days to ski – say, six of eight – allowing for time off.
Orderly lines encourage filtering forward into groups of three or four to meet lift capacity, and polite but firm marshals ensure that no seat goes up empty, so everyone gets more slope time.
Piste grading system
Classification is similar to Australia, with green circles being the easiest, then blue squares, followed by double or blue-black squares, which are slightly tougher.
Black diamond runs correspond to very tough blacks; double black diamonds are more difficult again – often ungroomed and bumpy – and “extreme” double black diamonds, also known as triple black diamonds, are best left to the experts.
Glading is a system whereby some trees are removed from an area, “gladed”, to leave lightly wooded runs that are less tricky to negotiate.
Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to North America.
This article was written by Dave Watts, Chris Gill, editors of Where to Ski and Snowboard 2016 from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.