Whether you want to spend a day far from the chaos of lift lines, give your spaghetti legs a breather, or take a random excursion in search of the nebulous "local," a side trip to an area near your ultimate destination could lead straight to one of your most satisfying ski days.
BRIDGER BOWL, Montana
Sixteen miles outside of Bozeman, Bridger is the perfect contrast to the full-on resort experience of Big Sky -- value-priced tickets ($34), a miss-it-if-you-blink base area, and a loyal cadre of rowdy, old school hardcores. To get the adrenaline pumping, hoof it from the Bridger lift to The Ridge for 400 acres of hike-to terrain liberally sprinkled with all sorts of ski-it-or-slide lines (beacon, shovel, and partner required).
When there's a thorough chill in the air, south-facing Bromley is the place to be. About 20 minutes from Stratton, Bromley offers lots of no-frills bang for your buck. Almost one third of the terrain rates a black diamond, most of it -- like the abrupt moguls of Havoc -- on the mountain's east side. Ample snowmaking helps to counteract the downside of those warming rays.
GRAND TARGHEE, Wyoming
You came to ski pow at Jackson, but it's not a powder day? Just drive an hour west to Targhee, which gets 500 inches of whisper-light fluff per year. (Or take a shuttle; $59 with lift ticket.) Five lifts and a snowcat operation service a generous 3,000 acres draped across two mountains. A new quad up Peaked Mountain now accesses 500 acres of glades and bowls; the other thousand are still for cat skiing only. Targhee's terrain is more cruising than bruising, but with that much snow, who cares?
Less than a half hour from Summit County, right off I-70, Loveland is an early- and late-season snow cache. Denver-area skiers (many on tele gear) flock to this unpretentious area for its high Alpine bowls, steep bump runs, 2,400 feet of vertical, and The Ridge -- expert terrain served by the world's highest quad. A flex ticket lets you ski any four consecutive hours in a day for $31.
Atop the Continental Divide, 75 miles from Crested Butte, Monarch's a place where you -- and likely a few telemarkers from nearby Salida -- can find untracked several days after a storm. The 670 skiable acres, almost half of which are black diamond, hold everything you could ask for: plunging tree shots off Upper Christmas Tree, excellent bumps on Mirage, open steeps on Shagnasty. Or sample 900 out-of-bounds acres with Monarch Snowcat Tours.
MT. ROSE, Nevada
Mt. Rose has some of Tahoe's best snow conditions, thanks to the highest base elevation in the region. Almost 1,000 skiable acres are spread across two faces, but local powderhounds head for the East Bowl side, where runs like Olympic Trees and Pioneer Glade hide light and dry stashes. Carvers gravitate to the main side's Northwest Passage, 1,500 feet of consistently pitched, groomed black terrain.
Locals have long frequented this 2,000-acre area in South Lake Tahoe for its primo tree skiing. Last year, however, Sierra-at-Tahoe opened five backcountry gates into the El Dorado National Forest, letting skiers legally access 600 acres of glades and bowls that many locals had been poaching for years. The steeps are sick, the lines are endless, and the ski back inbounds is relatively modest (25 minutes tops of poling, and routes are marked). Just sign out at the gate, or even better, take a half-day guided tour ($25).
Sleepy Snowbasin, about an hour's drive from Park City, is about to awaken thanks to the three Olyympic races it's hosting. Awaiting discovery are 3,200 acres of amazingly varied, above-tree-line terrain. Short hikes and traverses lead to rock-bordered chutes off Strawberry and De Moisy Peaks, precipitous lines on Allen's Peak, and a gazillion shots in between. Plus, a day lodge, skier services center, and two on-mountain lodges have all sprung up in the past year, transforming Snowbasin's infrastructure faster than you can say 3.2 beer.
SKI SANTA FE, New Mexico
Sixteen miles northeast of the adobe city, Ski Santa Fe is a great warm-up for (or cool-down from) Taos. Which is not to say you won't find challenges among the 600 acres within two large bowls off the 12,000-foot summit. And a lift line here israrer than a mild habañero. For glades that range from moderately pitched to downright abrupt, head to Tequila Sunrise and the North and South Burn. Bumped-up steeps like Avalanche Bowl and Double Eagle V require lightning-fast leg work.
WILDCAT, New Hampshire
With its narrow, winding trails first cut in the 1930s, Wildcat, about an hour from Sunday River, Maine, epitomizes classic, rugged Eastern skiing. The compact trail system serves up 2,112 feet of vertical and an awesome view of Tuckerman Ravine. Thanks to its high elevation and proximity to Mount Washington, the 'Cat gets the highest amount of natural snowfall in the state. A high-speed quad whisks skiers to the top in six minutes; from there you can explore trails like Black Cat and Lift Lion (get it?) and, in a perfect snow year, all sorts of nooks and crannies in between.