Expert: Chris Davenport
Claim to fame: One of the world’s most accomplished big-mountain skiers, Davenport won gold at the 1996 World Extreme Skiing Championship in Alaska and at the 2001 Red Bull Snow Thrill of Alaska. He is an author (Ski the 14ers), has been in more than 20 feature ski films, and is a commentator for ESPN, ESPN on ABC, and RSN (the Resort Sports Network).
“I tend to think of the mountains as a playground, and if you go to a playground with one swing set, that’s not very fun. The more terrain, variety, better snow quality, the better the experience. Which is why I love Verbier, Switzerland. It’s enormous -- a series of four interconnected valleys, where lifts go up one side and down the other -- and the town is an idyllic Swiss village on a high, sun-soaked plateau. “You can make a plan in the morning to get to a restaurant café for lunch that is literally 20 miles from where you’re starting. Since the trail system is really well marked, you know which sector you are going into and don’t get lost. “It’s definitely a family destination. The village is self-contained, there is very easy access to the mountain, and it has a world-class ski school. Getting to Verbier is easy. Fly to Geneva or Zurich and then take a train or rent a car, and an hour and a half later, you’re there.” Info: www.verbier.ch
Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
Expert: Chris Harrison
Claim to fame: Harrison hosts ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
“When I first went to Whistler, I was a little worried it wasn’t going to live up to the hype, but beginning with the drive from Vancouver, which is beautiful, the experience was incredible. I always stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler hotel, and from the moment you check in, everyone is authentically friendly.
“It’s a huge resort, and you cannot even begin to prepare for the skiable area. I love that you have to take the gondola up to the moderate runs, where the family zone is, so you get the feel of the enormity of the place. Most mountains stick the beginner trails at the base area. A major highlight is the peak-to-peak gondola, which connects Whistler and Blackcomb mountains and spans a 1,427-foot-deep gorge. Another must-do: Ride the T-bar and hike the back glacier. You don’t get an opportunity like that at most other resorts. But what really makes Whistler are the people. I ended up meeting some local folks on the lift, and we skied together the entire day. They were happy to show me around. “You don’t exactly have to live the high life to enjoy Whistler. The village has a lot of different lodging and eating options, so it doesn’t have to be too expensive, but you should splurge and eat at the Rimrock Café and the Bearfoot Bistro. I savored the Champagne and liquid-nitrogen ice cream. Or just have a beer and burger at the Longhorn Saloon & Grill.” Info: www.whistler.com
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Mammoth Lakes, California
Expert: Suzy “Chapstick” Chaffee
Claim to fame: Chaffee is an Olympic skier and a three-time world champion in freestyle skiing, and she was inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1988. She’s also a Ford model and has endorsements with ChapStick, Revlon, Dannon yogurt, and Seagram’s spirits.
“Mammoth has the best snow in America, and it is a magnificent mountain. It is very big, has a ton of variety, and is gorgeous. The snow sticks around well into summer, and you can ski in June. I first skied there in 1965, when Dave McCoy (founder of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area) gave me the coaching I needed to make the U.S. Ski Team. Back then, I thought the area ought to go to charm school -- it was a little rough around the edges. I’ve been back over the years, most recently this past May, and I can tell you, it has. It’s a beautiful town and base area, with fabulous lakes and natural hot springs nearby, and if you drive down to Bishop, in 45 minutes you’re in an entirely different climate, one that’s warm and pleasant year-round. You can literally ski Mammoth in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Yosemite National Park is a few hours away, and the mountain even has a public bus to the park. If you like cheap thrills, you’ll love Mammoth’s mild earthquakes. They’re minor tremors, really, and good reminders that Mother Earth is the boss.
“The skiing is legendary, and many famous skiers have come out of (or chosen to settle in) the Mammoth Mountain area. Even though it has some of the most extreme terrain, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has a lot of family atmosphere. Why is Mammoth so iconic? It is big enough that there aren’t too many lift lines, it is stunningly beautiful, and it has more snow than other resorts near the ocean. I think that’s because Mammoth has good karma for sharing this resource with ancestral tribes. The ski area has worked cooperatively with the native Paiute tribe from its very beginning.” Info: www.mammothmountain.com