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The Powder Line: Whitefish to Santa Fe

The ski resorts of the Rocky Mountains owe an enormous debt to the Sierras and the Cascades. The mountains along the Pacific coast thrust their teeth into the prevailing weather as it moves west to east and comb the moisture out of the air. The winds that have crossed the Pacific are heavy with water, and the snow that is dropped from them is, accordingly, a heavy, damp snow. These winds blow on for 500 miles across the high, dry plateau of the Great American Desert until they hit the great wall of the Rockies. Once again they are driven upward, now in a northeasterly direction, and once again snow falls, but this time snow which, like a soufflé, is more air than matter—a gallon bucket of it melts to a cup of water. This is western powder, and when it falls in depths of more than 250 inches in a season, as it does in the ski areas along the Continental Divide, it produces a bottomless blanket. The nine resorts shown above have the right combination of very cold nights to keep the snow dry, steep slopes, with altitudes above 7,000 feet, and very high timberlines to hold the powder safely out of the crusting wind. In the Alps the timberline is only 6,000 feet, but in the Rockies it goes up to 12,000 feet, and this makes all the difference to the resorts described on the opposite page. The time to find the best powder in most of them is from mid-January to March 1. Write area directors—not lodge owners—for where-to-stay information.

WHITEFISH, Mont., most northerly U.S. powder area, makes up in latitude what it lacks in altitude. Its Big Mountain is only 7,000 feet at the summit (heights on map are top of skiable area), but there is plenty of powder that never gets skied off—there are no crowds. From the top of the mountain there are wide bowls that descend into parklike runs. The best powder run is directly beneath the one double chair, which, incidentally, is 6,800 feet long and rises 2,000 feet. The Lodge and the Chalet right at the mountain can accommodate 150 skiers, and the timber town of Whitefish, which is on the main line of the Great Northern Railway, has rooms for 500 more. The best powder instructor in Karl Hinderman's ski school is Jim Black.

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. opens next week as a ski area of staggering dimensions. Its 63-passenger aerial tram is 12,500 feet (2½ miles) long, with a vertical rise of 4,135 feet—truly Alpine statistics. There are three double chair lifts as well, but they face southeast to the winter sun, a hazardous direction for powder snow, even in coldest Jackson. But from the top of the tram there will be enough powder to wear the legs off a Ted Johnson on the east-facing areas of this gigantic mountain. Even above timberline there are bowls protected from the wind. Rendezvous Run on the south side of the tram and Sleeping Indian are the best powder trails, but the skier who is expert enough for the top of this mountain will be able to pick and choose his snow all over the landscape. Five lodges are being completed at the area. Pepi Stiegler, the Austrian gold and bronze medalist at Innsbruck, heads the ski school.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho was never particularly thought of as a powder-snow place when it was the showplace of the Union Pacific Railroad. In fact, if fresh powder fell at night the ski patrol and instructors would pack it down for the guests early next morning. Today's guests would pack up and leave if anyone messed up new powder, and the Janss brothers, who bought the resort last year, are improving the powder trails. The six Sun Valley bowls have good powder when conditions are perfect, but they are above the timberline and get sun-softened or windblown frequently. Bill Janss has had the big evergreen glade of the Warm Springs area on the north side thinned out to provide a downhill powder run of 2½ miles, with plenty of trees left to hold the snow. The best powder instructors in Sigi Engl's school are Raymond Wurzenreiner, Conrad Staudinger, Lennie Erharter and Paul Ramlow.

ALTA, Utah invented deep powder. It has an enormous variety of bowls, gulches, chutes and slopes—all steep enough to make full use of the fabulous light snow. Because of Alta's northern exposure the season starts at Thanksgiving, when powder hounds and ski instructors from other western resorts congregate to get their legs and technique in shape. Alf Engen, Eddie Morris and Gene Huber are the best instructors. They take their students to Yellow Trail, Wildcat and High Rustler. It takes a long traverse to reach High Rustler, but the trek is worth it for the powder skier. High Rustler plunges three-quarters of a mile at an average pitch of 40° from Rustler Peak to the door of the Alta Lodge. When the choice spots are skied out the powder hounds disappear over the ridge to liftless Peruvian Gulch, or hike over Germania Pass to Gad Valley, another seldom-skied paradise.

VAIL, Colo. has the best powder skiing in Colorado, thanks to its proximity to the Continental Divide and the fact that all of its 11,250 feet is below timberline. Its back bowls, with two miles of downhill, face south, but since they sweep in almost 300° arcs, the powder is usually good somewhere. The Over Yonder side of Sun Up Bowl is the expert's choice. Riva Ridge is long, ever-changing and tough, but if you get there before the crowd it is the best powder run on the north side. Roger Staub, Swiss giant-slalom gold medalist at Squaw Valley, is the new ski school director. The best powder teachers are Tom Jacobson, Bill Peterson and George Rau.

ARAPAHOE BASIN, Colo. makes this list in spite of the fact that about half of it is above timberline. It is so high—12,500 feet at the top of the lift—that powder in protected areas stays until early May. Arapahoe's most popular powder runs are Lenawee Park, Upper North Glade and Palavacinni, which is a 30° dive. The top powder instructors in Willy Schaeffler's ski school are Jerry Muth and Max Dercum.

ASPEN, Colo., with its complex of Buttermilk, Aspen Mountain and the developing Snowmass zone, has to be counted the No. 1 all-round ski area in America, but there is so much traffic that you have to get up with the ski patrol to get to the powder before it is skied off. To remedy this condition, the Aspen Skiing Corporation thinned out the trees on the top of the No. 3 lift this year, promising a good powder run down Bell Mountain into Spar Gulch. Nearby Snowmass, which opens with five lifts in 1967, now features Sno-Cat trips to its mammoth bowls for untracked powder. Rates are $10 per person for the trip, a guide and lunch; only 20 people can be taken each day. An area called Big Burn—a fire burned off the timber—has miles of powder, but the pitch is on the gentle side for the expert.

TAOS, N. Mex. and Santa Fe are the anachronisms of the booming ski world. They have superb snow but few people. The local citizens have not caught the powder bug and almost everybody else thinks of New Mexico as one big desert. Taos is a one-man ski resort, built by Ernie Blake, a rare ski idealist who claims that as long as he lives there will never be a lift line at this area. There are 300 beds in six lodges. At Taos the timberline soars above 12,000 feet and the slopes are all steep—this is no place for beginners. All of these factors make bad economics for Ernie Blake but wonderful skiing in a most congenial place. The New Mexican resorts, rising out of the high desert, have 11 days of sun for three of snow—you are often able to ski powder in shirtsleeves in January and February. A new upper lift at Taos opens up a powder run four miles long, of great variety and pitch—a combination of Zagava and Longhorn. Two brothers from Saint-Gervais, France, Dadou and Jean Mayer, are the top powder teachers.

SANTA FE, N. Mex. has lifts that go to 12,000 feet, with a view all the way to Colorado and a 1.2-mile run down Burro Alley that is perfectly pitched for good powder skiing. There are no lodges at the ski area, but Santa Fe is only 16 miles away. Kingsbury Pitcher, director of the area, and Carl Sverre are the best powder instructors.





San Francisco




ALTA 11,100


JACKSON 10,446

VAIL 11,250

ASPEN 11,340


TAOS 12,450

SANTA FE 12,040