Powder Play

Originally published in January 2017 Issue of Sunset magazine

Not a fan of hard snow, long lift lines, and drafty lodges? Well, get ready: The new and improved ski day is about to knock your socks off.

IT’S THAT TIME of year when a line is drawn in the snow. On one side are the powderhounds who stockpile gear and bank PTO days waiting for the next dump. On the other side, the rest of us. We’ve sat in the traffic jams, slept in the cheesy chalets, and shivered our butts off, all in the name of fun. No more. We’re here to tell you there’s a better way. While you’ve stayed away, ski resorts have been upping their game, from adopting new snowmaking technologies to expanding their après scene beyond buffalo wings. Today the snow is better, the terrain is endless, and the base camps are bad ass. Make this the year you cross the line and call yourself a skier.

The Best in Snow

There was a time, if you can imagine it, when we waited for nature to buffer. During the 1920s, the first ski resorts in the country relied on natural falling snow to blanket their mountains. Which worked out great when the flakes were flying but, in between storms, the slopes were often an icy-patchy-melty mess. We now live in a world where high-powered guns launch pristine powder 100 feet into the air—in July. And state-of-the-art grooming machines prowl the mountain, turning today’s ice into tomorrow’s corduroy while we sleep. Today’s snow is better, more abundant, and like everything else in our lives, on-demand. Are we spoiled? Probably. Does it feel good? Judge for yourself at these top flake-making mountains.

Hang Out at Basecamp

In the old days, resorts lacked comforts. You might expect to eat bland chili, sleep in a drafty lodge, and find the town asleep by 8. Now, the hills are alive—with top chefs, craft cocktails, even mountaintop yoga. Welcome to your perfect après-ski.

Learning Curves

Ski school is so much better when taught by a pro. Here’s Olympic racer Wendy Fisher on the art of not looking stupid.

Tips for first-timers? If you’re winded and struggling, you’re not doing it right. Skiing should be effortless. Try to learn on mellow runs, so you won’t fear losing control. And be sure to get equipment that’s sized right. You want a shop where the employees ski every day and understand the gear.

Should I take a lesson? Yes! You don’t want to start ski-ing wrong; it’s harder to correct later. Often an instructor will tell you something, and you won’t get it. Then after trying over and over, you’ll have a breakthrough, and suddenly you’re on the next level. It’s incredible to watch.

Why do you love skiing? The freedom. If you play tennis, you need a court. But skiing  you can do anywhere there’s snow—on the trails, in the treeline. I love that.

Better, Warmer

No more clunky coats and rickety skis to muck up your mountain fantasy. Today’s gear is engineered for maximum performance, while keeping you warm from nose to toes.

Your hands Take one pair of waterproof gloves, add a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and you get … the new Capstone Heated Gloves. Now, you can warm your mitts at the touch of a button. $500; outdoorresearch.com.

Your face The futuristic Anon M3 MFI Goggles have concealed magnets that attach to your face warmer, keeping you covered from chin to nose on windy lift rides. $265; burton.com.

Your toes Cold, stiff boots are tough on the toes. The solution: the Transpack Heated Boot Pro bag, an ingenious satchel that plugs right into your car lighter. Works on socks, gloves, and hats too. $220; transpack.net.

Your core Made from 100 percent merino wool, the REI Merino Midweight base layer has the warmth of wool with the soft feel of a synthetic. The top also wicks moisture, keeping you dry until the sun sets. $80; rei.com.

Your new skis With an hourglass shape, a lightweight core, and a tip and tail curved like Elvis Presley’s lips, the Rossignol Soul 7 HD skis practically turn on their own. $850; rossignol.com.

Your tush Nothing can ruin your run quicker than an ice-cold lift chair. The specially designed Women’s Cheeky Pants combat bum-freeze with an additional, removable pair of thermal shorts. $450; marmot.com.