Just what makes a classic ski town? It starts, naturally, with skiing and snowboarding so good they attract people like youth-bestowing fountains. Then add an inviting mountain burg steeped in ski heritage, amenities, and culture. These are the 25 best. For insider tips, we asked local luminaries where to stay, play, and party, whether you’re on a budget or indulging.
A few years ago, Jeremy Jones was cutting up one of his favorite runs down a glacier in Chamonix, the legendary French ski area high in the Aiguilles Rouges mountains. Jones has been a regular at this spot for the last 15 years, coming for a few weeks every winter to hone the skills that have made him one of the world’s leading big mountain snowboarders. But on this occasion, he did something he doesn’t often do: stop short. The glacier, he said, had receded a few hundred yards up the valley, effectively chopping off the end of his run. “That’s kind of a drastic deal,” he told me, and not because he was bummed about losing the powder: “Glaciers aren’t supposed to move that fast.”
Video: Watch the Amazing JP Auclair Street Skiing Scene From All.I.Can.
This scene from the award-winning Sherpas Cinema ski film All.I.Can. may have been our favorite at the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Set to LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yourself Clean,” it features freeskier JP Auclair jibbing his way through three towns in British Columbia, Canada. “We asked people if we could ‘play’ in their front yards before we’d start jumping over their cars, etc.,” says Auclair, who seems to effortlessly ski across snowless roads (causing sparks), down staircases, and flipping through intersections. Read the whole interview
Travis Rice’s father was in the ski patrol at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And like many dads, he raised his son to follow in his ski tracks. Fortunately for snowboarding, things didn’t go as planned.
A decade ago and unheard of at the time, Rice arrived at Snowboarder magazine’s Superpark contest at Mammoth Mountain, launched a now legendary backside rodeo across a 117-foot gap jump, and left a star. Since then, Rice has developed into the best all-around snowboarder in the world: He is equally capable of showing up to win a slope style event in Aspen as he is in pioneering a first descent in the remote Darwin Range on the tip of South America. The 29-year-old makes use of all the tools in a snowboarder’s quiver—big-mountain tenacity, acrobatics, and snow and mountain sense, often in a single descent. And 2011 was the apex so far in Rice’s career.
Filming for the highly anticipated film The Art of Flight, which he co-produced with Brain Farm Digital Cinema’s Curt Morgan and Chad Jackson, Rice took the staggering aerial tricks usually reserved for the relative safety of the manicured, avalanche-controlled terrain parks made popular by the X Games and the Olympics, and applied them to the big mountains. In these peaks, a fall could mean tumbling down a vertical face or being swept into a gaping crevasse. Rice performed them all while under the watchful eye of director Curt Morgan’s superslow motion camera.
The movie, whose trailer went viral, marked the final stage of snowboarding’s crossover into the mainstream. It generated excited retweets from 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake and large movie industry players—such as Dolby Laboratories and Skywalker Ranch—teamed up with Morgan.
While the tricks and big-mountain lines mixed with cutting-edge cinematography inspire “ahhs” from wide-eyed audiences, ultimately it’s Rice’s enthusiasm for pushing the limits of his sport that resonate. In 2011, Rice made an entire generation of young skiers consider buying a snowboard.
“Experiencing the world through endless secondhand information isn’t enough,” says Rice. “If we want authenticity we have to initiate it.”