Top Cruisers: Ten Fabulous Trails for Mere Mortals

For the rest of us… Ski these trails, and you won’t impress your expert skier friends. But you’ll experience pure joy as you glide along, and you won’t care what anyone else thinks while you’re on these trails. Assuming you can get to low-end intermediate skill level, these are the runs that will give you something akin to a religious experience. Go ahead, snowplow when you need to.

  1. Alta, UT • The Chartreuse Route Well, sort of the Chartreuse Route. Just a few acres removed from the real Chartreuse, so it’s close enough. To ski it, take the Collins lift to the top, and ski off the “back side” on what is now called Devil’s Way. This was indeed the original entry to Chartreuse. Follow it to Devil’s Elbow, and on down to Home Run (the original route did follow most of what is now Home Run). If you’ve got any legs left, ride the transfer tow back. In the early days of Alta this route was done a bit skier’s left, funelling into what is now called Glory Gulch. Many average skiers found that a bit too challenging, so it was extended out to the Sugarloaf area. Devil’s Way & Elbow both have some pitchy parts, but it’s generally well groomed and the snow is like feathers — even the lowest intermediates can manage it. It’s wide open, peppered with a few trees to make it interesting. The view of the ski area below is simply wonderful. Ski this, and you’re skiing one of the great all-time cruisers in the USA. And one of the longest; in days gone by, skiers would pack a picnic. Today you can conveniently stop for a break at Alf’s Restaurant. It’s all easy coasting from there.
  2. Wildcat, NH • Polecat One of the oldest, longest cruisers in the east. It twists and turns down the mountain, but unlike most novice cruisers, this one does so without heavy regrading and switchback gullies. It flows naturally with the terrain, serving up breathtaking views of the Presidential Range for the entire length. Rated a green, it has a few pitches that will give pure novices some trouble, but it is wide enough and varying enough in those sections that a gentle route can be traversed easily. It’s almost three miles long. Let yourself go.
  3. Crystal Mountain, WA • Green Valley Starting from the top the Green Valley lift, this has been a Pacific Northwest favorite for decades. The bowl itself has some giddyup, and you can swing in and out of trees and find soft moguls if you want to, but most just follow the groomed path on down to the base of the lift, and continue on Kelly’s Gap Road to the base area for the ultimate “end of the day” cruise. From top to bottom it’s a tour of the Cascade alpine zones from above timberline into the heart of the forest. The Road twists and turns, narrows and widens, serving up fresh delights for the entire length.
  4. Arapahoe Basin, CO • Lenawee to Dercum’s Point ’em and go. It’s above timberline, wide open, groomed, usually soft snow and basking in the sunshine. Rated a blue, the meticulous grooming makes the Lenawee Face accessible to even the lowest end intermediates. Follow it down to Dercum’s, which is easier, but it is something of a funnel so it requires a bit of awareness of what is going on around you. The scenery is amazing, and the layout of A-Basin makes you feel as if you are skiing into something, even though it’s all wide open. With nary a tree in sight for 2/3 of the route, it’s unlike anything a typical emerging intermediate has ever skied before. Pure snow, pure enjoyment.
  5. Copper Mountain, CO • Rendezvous Bowl Unhurried, uncrowded, unbelievable wide open area dotted with trees, groomed to perfection. Even the novice can ski just about anywhere in this overlooked part of Copper Mountain, zipping around picture-perfect evergreens. Ski down, and do it all over again and again, because you’ve got your own chairlift here. Most skiers just use this lift as an annoying shortcut to the back bowls, but those without the big skills will see no reason to leave. Every time you ski it, you’ll find a new route.
  6. Sugarloaf, ME • Timberline to Tote Road Here’s an amazing, lengthy adventure that even high-end novices can manage. But that doesn’t mean better skiers should pooh-pooh it; hardly. Upper Timberline starts from the highest lift access on Sugarloaf, and takes the skier away from the front side to a fantasy world of dwarf, snow encrusted trees that appears to have been illustrated by Dr. Seuss. The continuous view of the surrounding mountains looks more like remote Siberia than cozy New England. The occasional unexpected powder is a potential bonus. Timberline ends at Bullwinkle’s, a mid-mountain lodge that affords a nice break. Using a short section called Scoot, the skier works toward the right and quickly crosses over to Lower Tote Road. A few turns and it becomes clear just how big this mountain is; we can see that the base area is still a long way down. Tote Road widens, glides, and gently rolls you the rest of the way home.
  7. Porkies, MI • Hidden Valley Probably the best cruising ski trail you’ve never heard of on the best little midwest mountain you’ve never heard of. Narrow, gently rolling run that combines a throwback New England feel with breathtaking views of Lake Superior. It’s easily the shortest route on this list, but it’s long enough that you’ll forget all about the usual midwestern ups-and-downs that tend to be over before you can put your pole straps back on. You’ll see a lot of big smiles at the end of this trail.
  8. Heavenly, CA/NV • Skyline/Big Dipper From the top of the Sky Express lift in California, this wide-open stunner provides sweeping views of the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding high Sierras. Cruising through bowls and glades, Skyline crosses the state line and ultimately to the Big Dipper trail, which affords a completely different but equally fabulous view of the high desert and plateaus of western Nevada. Spectacular views even the non-spectacular skier can enjoy without focusing too much on the terrain underfoot.
  9. Catamount, NY/MA • Ridge Trail This is more of an “honorable mention,” it’s the East Coast answer to Heavenly’s state-to-state Skyline Trail. Beginning from a New York summit, the Ridge Trail rolls gently into Massachusetts and true to its name, it does so along the top of a ridgeline. This ridge can be windblown; trees are somewhat stunted and gnarly. The trail is narrow old school New England — complete with a couple of slight uphills that are no problem for the skier with enough momentum. It finishes with a flurry of rollers and a fun dogleg left, then on down to the valley by whatever trail you choose. The fact is many trails at Catamount criss-cross state lines, but none are as quirky as Ridge.
  10. Whitefish, MT • Hell Fire Trail Those familiar with Whitefish (formerly “Big Mountain”) might be scratching their heads, as the Hell Fire section is hardly intermediate. But there is a beautifully groomed forest road that serves as the outer perimeter, and it’s a dandy of dips and swoops with plenty of western style width that makes it doable for even the lowest intermediates. Whitefish has plenty of other long, groomed cruisers — including the Toni Matt and Inspiration trails. All good, all wonderful cruises, but Hell Fire is the one to enjoy and savor.

Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.