What do women want from a ski resort? For the most part, we want what men do: deep snow, short lift lines, long runs, good food and a hot tub in a warm condo to come home to. But we also want ski schools that understand our abilities and our anxieties. We want instructors who don’t talk down to us, who know that men and women often learn and ski differently. We want ski-shop personnel who understand how to fit women’s ski boots and select the right skis. We want child-care centers that are sparkling and warm. And we want other opportunities to enjoy the winter air–like dogsledding, maybe, or snowshoeing, skating or cross-country skiing.
The good news is that more and more ski resorts are providing all these things. So many are, in fact, that we had trouble deciding which 10 have the most to offer. The following are the ones that we think are doing the best job of making women feel at home on the slopes.
Aspen has everything you always suspected it did–chic restaurants, pricey boutiques, beautiful people–but it also has incredible skiing on four mountains and a commitment to helping skiers improve. This year the Aspen Skiing Company is offering a weekly four-day Women’s Ski Seminar, which focuses primarily on dealing with fear and anxiety through techniques like visualization and proper breathing. Each seminar includes five hours of instruction a day, plus video analysis and equipment advice. Intermediate through expert skiers tackle Aspen Mountain; those with less expertise gather on either Snowmass or Tiehack. If you want to skip a day of skiing, you’ll find plenty of options: dogsledding, hot-air ballooning, telemark skiing and ice skating, not to mention world-class shopping, dining and people-watching. Call 800-525-6200.
Beaver Creek, Vail’s 10-year-old sister resort, has a refined, cloistered aura–sort of like an upscale monastery with great room service. Located at the top of a road that winds past massive million-dollar homes, the militantly tasteful base village sits right at the foot of one of the most underrated and underskied mountains in the Rockies. To take full advantage of the setting, consider enrolling in one of four Technique Weeks, a four-day women’s seminar coached by a team of the resort’s best female instructors–including Dee Byrne, the ski-school trainer and a member of the superelite Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) demonstration team. Don’t hesitate to bring the kids. Beaver Creek’s top-notch day-care program accepts infants from 2 months, and the children’s ski school is recognized as one of the most innovative in the country. Call 800-323-4386.
Deer Valley is almost embarrassingly cushy. From the ski valets who whisk your equipment out of your hands to the corded-velvet grooming of the runs to the brass fixtures in the immaculate base-lodge powder rooms, this place obviously has one aim: to make its guests feel like royalty. The food in the mountain cafeterias is outrageously good, and toque-wearing chefs present it with all the flourish of a four-star restaurant. Children aged 2 months and up are elegantly ensconced at the licensed day-care center. Oh, and did we mention that ticket sales are limited, which means that there are rarely any lift lines? The instructors here are trained to focus on the positive, boost the ego and soothe the psyche. Women (advanced intermediates and above) can get a daily dose of that at the Ladies-Only clinic, held from 1 to 4 p.m. It’s a little embarrassing, but it’s fun. Call 800-424-3337.
For too many skiers, Jackson Hole’s supertough reputation rules it out as a vacation destination. That’s a shame, because there’s much more to this resort than those elevatorshaft couloirs you see in all the ski movies. Nearly half the trails here, in fact, are rated intermediate or below. To help you negotiate the vast and varied terrain, the resort offers both ski and snowboard camps for women; there’s also a coed steep-skiing clinic co-coached by Emily Gladstone, the 1991 world extreme-skiing champion. Fine as the skiing is, though, much of Jackson Hole’s appeal lies off the slopes. With the majestic, snaggletoothed Grand Tetons as a backdrop, you can take a sleigh ride through herds of elk, soak in a steaming hot spring, cross-country ski through national parkland and even drop in for a free swing-dance lesson at the Cowboy Bar, one of Jackson’s rowdiest Western saloons. Call 800-443-6931.
Killington, in the Green Mountains of central Vermont, is the East’s biggest ski resort. Sprawled over six mountains, it’s the kind of place where you need never repeat a trail–or a bar or restaurant, for that matter. You’ll find everything here, including plenty of segregated beginner terrain, unlimited intermediate cruising and some of the steepest, nastiest bump skiing in the East. To get the most out of Killington, try the Women’s Ski Escape, a three-or five-day session that focuses on your fears, abilities and goals. The program includes five-and-a-half hours of daily instruction by the resort’s best female teachers, daily video sessions, guest speakers and a comprehensive fitness evaluation. If you’re an intermediate or above skier who’s interested in becoming an instructor (or just skiing like one), you might want to enroll in Killington’s coed Instructor School, now in its 23rd season. Call 800-372-2007.
Squaw Valley, encompassing six Sierra peaks and overlooking Lake Tahoe, offers some of the most extensive, challenging and scenic skiing in the country. Some major improvements–deluxe new hotels and lodges, detachable quad chairlifts, and a state-of-the-art children’s center where on-snow instruction starts at age 2–have enhanced Squaw’s position as a top destination resort. The ski-school programs, covering everything from bumps to gates to freestyle to powder, also boost that reputation. Among the offerings: Just for Women, three- or five-day clinics with coaching, video feedback, and technical workshops on ski selection and care (participants stay at the Squaw Valley Lodge, which boasts a heated pool, spas, and a health-and-fitness center). Snowboarding is wildly popular here, and 40 percent of the snowboard instructors are women. If you want to give the slopes a rest, you can skate on a mountaintop ice rink, ski the cross-country trails or try your luck at bungee jumping. Call 800-545-4350.
In the remote piney reaches of winter-throttled western Maine lies a surprisingly sophisticated resort. Clusters of slopeside condominiums, several good restaurants, day-care facilities, two hotels and a fitness club welcome skiers at the base of Sugarloaf’s domed peak. Weekend and five-day Peak Performance clinics for women teach skiing and snowboarding throughout the season. They offer a low coach-to-student ratio and four hours of instruction a day, along with video analysis and an awards banquet at the end of the week. Experts will find plenty of challenging steeps through the trees and, when conditions are right, on the only lift-served, above-the-treeline summit snowfields in the East. Just a few miles away is a bonus: the Carrabassett Valley Nordic Center, with miles of superb trails and an Olympic-sized ice rink. Call 800-843-5623.
With its alpine facades, timber lodges and palpable nostalgia, Sun Valley is surely one of America’s most romantic resorts. Where else has European panache merged so seamlessly and splendidly with Western mettle and Hollywood glamour? Somehow, spending time here makes everybody feel like a star. If you really want to shine, though, sign up for the resort’s Advanced Ski Clinic for Women. Taught by women instructors, including PSIA demoteam member Nancy Oakes, each clinic caters to the group’s interests: bowls, bumps, speed–whatever you come up with. These two-, three- and five-day programs are aimed at intermediate-and-up skiers looking for a breakthrough. Although Sun Valley’s strongest suit is intermediate and advanced terrain, Dollar Mountain, across the valley from Baldy Mountain, is set aside for beginning skiers. Call 800-786-8259.
High-capacity lifts, superwide groomed trails, high-tech snowmaking machines, shiny new condos and hotels–not exactly your notion of classic New England skiing, is it? Sunday River has thrown quaintness out the door and opted for maximum efficiency and ease. And it’s done that with remarkable success; the resort is now one of the biggest and most popular in the East. Its masterminds have decided to be just as forward-thinking in their approach to ski instruction. Sunday River’s Perfect Turn clinics are unique 75-minute special-focus lessons that run continuously throughout the day and concentrate on one skill. Also on tap are Janet Spangler’s Women’s Ski Experience programs, one- to five-day clinics that approach skiing with a decidedly New Age bent by working as hard on the psychological obstacles to improvement as on the physical. The sessions include coaching, video feedback, equipment-selection advice, nutrition information, massage therapy, goal-setting and body-awareness enhancement. Call 800-543-2754.
In spite of being constantly heralded as the “next big thing,” Telluride has managed to maintain a balance between the scruffy and the chic, the gritty and the glitzy. Sure, the burgeoning resort has its share of boxy condos, trophy houses and Hollywood stars, but it also has the raw, immutable beauty of the San Juan Mountains and some of the country’s best terrain for both beginners and experts. To get help in mastering your surroundings, enroll in Women’s Week, a three- or five-day program designed to improve your technique with video feedback, coaching and seminars. Experts can try heli-skiing, and two of the sessions include telemark instruction if you’re interested. Afterward you can sample one of the resort’s more chichi elements: The Peaks at Telluride offers visitors three swimming pools, a weight room, climbing walls, fitness evaluations, and more than 40 massage and treatment rooms for everthing from alpine-wild-flower hydrotherapy to deep-forest exfoliation.