Considering the often complicated logistics that go into planning a ski trips, it’s rare to have to throw together a snow excursion at the last minute. But it does happen; sometimes it’s because you’ve procrastinated or gotten buried under other responsibilities, and all of a sudden your family or your friends are looking at you for details that you haven’t ironed out – yet. Sometimes it’s because you didn’t know you’d have the free time until right before it’s time to leave (Bonus!). But if you’ve left your planning for the eleventh hour, don’t stress, just study this list of perfect last minute ski destinations.
There’s a difference between a quick ski trip and full-on ski vacation… So, we’ll split this list into two categories. If you’ve only got a couple days free, then this first section is for you.
Hunter Mountain, NY
Hunter Mountain isn’t a household name across the country, but as a ski bum that was formerly trapped in New York City, believe me, it’s hard to overstate the joy this place can bring. If you don’t live in or near NYC then you probably won’t be making the effort to get to Hunter Mountain, which is about 2.5 hours north of the city. But, since nearly one in 15 people in America DO live in or near NYC, it shows up first on this list. Hunter Mountain has more than its proximity to New York going for it. When planning any last-minute ski trips you want to feel confident that there will actually be snow on the slopes when you arrive. Hunter was the first resort in New York to have any snow-making operations at all, and the first in the world with top to bottom snow-making. No matter what, you’ll have snow to ride the 1,600 vertical feet of groomers, glades, and terrain parks. When you’ve been cooped up in the concrete jungle, a day or two at Hunter can be just as rejuvenating as a week of heli-skiing in Alaska. So if you have an unexpected free weekend, hop on the train or hop in a car, and head up the Hudson for some snowy fun. Pack your helmet, though, as you’ll be far from the only one on these slopes.
It rarely snows in Portland, so you’re forgiven if you didn’t realize the city is actually a world-class ski destination. It’s also the perfect destination if you’ve only got days (or hours) to put your trip together. Portland is a big enough city that you can almost always find affordable flights and lodging, and despite the paltry snow totals in the city, nearby Mt. Hood collects up to 1,000 inches each year!
Mt. Hood boasts 4 ski areas, 2 are quite large, Timberline and Mt. Hood Meadows, and offer every type of terrain you can imagine; from high mountain glacier snowfields, to treed glades and rolling cruisers. The other 2, Mt. Hood Skibowl and Summit Ski Area, are a throwback to a simpler time. These two tiny operations are perfect for beginners and families.
While you can always count on tons of snow at Mt. Hood, there’s plenty to do in Portland if your last-minute ski trip turns into a last-minute brewery tour. I say this about Portland every time I talk about it but it doesn’t make it any less true: it’s the best beer city in the best beer state in the country. The slopes are less than 2 hours from downtown, so if you find yourself with an unexpected holiday weekend this winter, find a cheap flight to Portland, spend a day or two skiing Mt. Hood, and whatever time you have left exploring the breweries throughout the city.
Summit County, CO
Colorado, arguably, boasts the highest concentration of world-class ski resorts in the world. Summit County sits right at the center of that concentration. Find a cheap flight to Denver and drive less than two hours to high altitude paradise.
Check out these family-friendly resorts with all the amenities:
Looking for a more rustic vibe and endless expert terrain, visit:
And of course, if it’s Alpine Touring you want, just strap on your skis and point yourself up any one of the giant peaks that ring the area. This is the perfect destination for last-minute planners – nowhere in the world has more convenient ski infrastructure. You simply cannot go wrong.
If you are a planning a full ski vacation at the last minute, not just a quick trip, don’t panic, just try out one of these spots.
Reno, NV (Lake Tahoe)
Most people know Lake Tahoe, but Reno seems to get lost in the shuffle. The city may be Las Vegas’ forgotten little brother, but it just might be the best ski gateway in North America. Find cheap flights to Reno and on landing you’ll be a maximum of 2 hours from all of the following resorts:
- Mt. Rose
- Diamond Peak
- Donner Ski Ranch
- Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows
- Sierra at Tahoe
No matter what type of skier you are, or how many people are in your family or ski group, you will find what you are looking for at one of these ski areas. And with Tahoe getting consistently barraged with snowfall (some resorts stayed open past July 4th this year!) you can rest assured that you’ll have enough snow to explore all that this magical place has to offer.
You can find last minute lodging options to suit every budget in Truckee, CA, South Lake Tahoe, or any one of the small towns that dot the lake shore. Or if you were hoping to ski by day and hit the blackjack tables by night, book a room in Reno or Stateline, NV. From family reunions to bachelor parties, Reno and Lake Tahoe offer the perfect, ready-made vacation, whether you planned it a year or a day in advance.
Salt Lake City, UT
This one is a no-brainer… Utah is known for its fluffy, dry (and copious) snow. It’s also known for its beautiful, sunny weather, even throughout the winter. That snow and that weather directly impact 10 of the nation’s best ski resorts – and all are about an hour or less from Salt Lake City.
- Park City and The Canyons
- Deer Valley
- Powder Mountain
A resort for every type of skier, every taste, even every mood, and all closer than you realized to Salt Lake City, which is itself, an unsung gem of a town.
If you have limited time to put together a snowy vacation, you’d be hard pressed to find a more versatile and convenient location. SLC has one of the busiest airports in the country, ensuring cheap flights, and whether you stay in the city or at any of the listed resorts, your lodging and nightlife options are essentially endless (yes even in “buttoned up” Utah). If you’re there for a few days or for more than a week, there is so much skiing and so much varied terrain that you couldn’t possibly get bored. If last-minute vacations mean more time in Utah’s mountains, then I might never plan ahead again.
Everyone knows that Salt Lake City and Lake Tahoe boast near unbelievable concentrations of awesome skiing and riding. But while Vermont’s mountains aren’t quite as big as they are out west, Burlington definitely belongs on this list. Just look at this collection of classic ski resorts all within a 2-hour radius of town:
- Smuggler’s Notch
- Bolton Valley
- Mad River Glen
- Pico Mountain
- Jay Peak
- Whiteface, and even the beast of the east, Killington.
I grew up skiing the east and I can attest, if you’re willing to brave the often cold and windy conditions, you’ll find some of the most challenging and enjoyable ski experiences of your life in Vermont. Check out the posh amenities in Stowe and Killington, or go for the historic, rustic vibes of Mad River Glen, which operates the last remaining single chairlift in the country.
Burlington is a growing town with an efficient little international airport. It’s also a foodie paradise, with incredible restaurants and lively nightlife throughout the city. If there are non-skiers in your group, be sure to send them off to get a tour of Ben and Jerry’s world headquarters, just a few miles up the road, or to go ice driving on Lake Champlain. The last word I would use to describe Vermont is crowded, so no matter when you plan your trip, you’ll have options here! Take advantage of what the rest of the country doesn’t know, and check out this ski paradise next time you find yourself scrambling for plans in the eleventh hour.