Ah, ‘Merica. There’s a lot to love about skiing there.
Stunning scenery, a high-elevation mix of terrifying and exhilarating terrain, seemingly bottomless refills of powder snow, and more resorts than you can poke an avalanche probe at.
But – like anywhere – the USA also has its share of skier frustrations.
I’m writing this as I come to the end of a four-week road trip through the snow-riddled state of Colorado, during which I’ve been reminded of all the things I love (and loathe) about snow travel in this country.
Here are 10 that stand out.
It’s one of the main reasons we love the USA – for its consistent and reliable snowfall, promising freshies and ridiculously fun untracked powder skiing. The states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and northern California all cop frequent dumps through January to March.
Colorado’s Wolf Creek receives about 11 metres of snowfall on average, every year (compare that to Thredbo’s two metres). Other resorts have even begun battling over the best name to dub their flakes – Steamboat in Colorado trademarked the phrase “champagne powder” for good reason, while Utah claims “The Greatest Snow on Earth” (with over 500 inches or 1270cms this season already you can understand why).
There are plenty of reasons to call America the home of the brave, but here’s one: it has some of the biggest, steepest, most thrilling in-bounds terrain in the world. Breckenridge in Colorado has the highest lift-accessed point at 3914m above sea level (about double the height of Australia’s highest lifted point on Karel’s T-bar in Thredbo at 1365m).
Colorado also boasts the largest vertical drop in a ski resort – a stunning 1345m from top to bottom at Telluride in the San Juan Mountains. Nearby, Rambo run in Crested Butte has a gut-loosening pitch of 55 degrees, the steepest in the country. It sounds terrifying but in places that receive a lot of snow, a steeper pitch is absolutely necessary to help you float through all that pow.
Did we mention Jackson Hole’s Corbett’s Couloir in Wyoming? The chutes at Palisades in Cali? Great Scott at Snowbird in Utah? The list goes on.
Gas stations and convenience stores (that are actually convenient)
In four weeks of road-tripping through Colorado, I haven’t once needed to scramble under a tree for a roadside restroom. Every gas station or convenience store has a toilet – free to use and available without having to buy something or ask for a key.
Most also have water fountains to fill your bottle (for free), microwaves and kitchenettes, and an impressive array of hot snacks like mini burritos for less than $2. Some offer free coffee for filling your petrol tank – what a perk!
Ask an American ski town resident what they’re doing on the weekend and their answer will include at least one of the following: hiking, biking, bouldering, skiing, skinning, ice-climbing, trail running, fishing, skating, sport or camping. It will not – generally – revolve around drinking Aperol Spritzes at a bougie bar (that can be squeezed in later). These people are my people.
The USA shares a border with Mexico, and the food really is that much better for it. It’s a realisation that hits me every time I order a fish taco, beef birria burrito, a margarita or otherwise – whether from a casual taco truck or a fancy restaurant. And guac usually comes free. It will heighten your standards forever (you’ve been warned).
A really convenient practice that is weirdly frowned upon in Australian restaurants. In America, you can split a bill five ways. You can pay for half your meal in cash and half on credit card. Servers have even asked me how many checks the group I am dining with would like – so they can create separate orders and payment from the get-go. No more awkward conversations over who ordered less and who drank more alcohol.
However, this point also leads me to my first point of loathing…
Tipping and taxes
A total minefield for Aussie tourists. How can you ever know what something costs when the advertised price does not include the taxes or tip? What’s the point of a tip if it’s expected and a given anyway?
If you want to ensure your food comes out hot and the bartender doesn’t spit in your drink, you need to tip 15-25 per cent (the norm was previously 10-20 per cent but inflation has hit tipping, too). And just remember those pesky taxes; in the US they’re added at the point of sale. Good luck budgeting.
Driving on the right (wrong) side of the road
Miles, Fahrenheit, gallons, pounds, and driving: why does the US always have to be different? Driving on the right means getting used to entering the drivers’ door on the left and flicking on indicators on the opposite side to Australian cars.
But the worst is when you need to reach for the radio dial or cup holder with your right hand (as it is closest to the centre console) while leaving your left to steer the vehicle. This feels weird and like you have less control of the steering wheel. As the majority of society is right-handed, it makes no sense to me.
Gun laws and politics
The dark shadow looming over an otherwise beautiful and welcoming country. For the most part, Australian skiers and snowboarders avoid gun violence debate by keeping the chairlift chatter to weather and when the next powder day is forecast. Still, more than 80 shootings have been documented in the USA in 2023 so far. Loathe.
With some premium exceptions, coffee is mostly bitter, watery, gunky brown liquid that Americans disguise with cream, sugar and weird artificial flavourings. Someday, the country will learn to make a cappuccino with chocolate powder shaken on a light foam that does not bubble through the entire cup. Today is not that day.