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Thrill Hills

The best places to board.

The days when ski areas banned snowboarders are all but gone. However, some places — because of their terrain or willing embrace of the burgeoning sport — are better destinations for adults. Here are some of the best.

Best Powder Riding: Snowbird

Big Picture: Champagne powder — dry and light — covers a mountain that's rugged, steep, and without snowboard-stalling flats.
Where: 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
Vertical Drop: 3,240 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 2,030 acres.
Lifts: 9.
Average Annual Snowfall: 500 inches.
Insider's Tip: Ride like a pro or get off the mountain — there are very few beginner runs at Snowbird.
High: First ride down Great Scott chute. Bagging this untracked, precipitous plunge will earn you a summer's worth of bragging rights.
Low: Snowbird's gray, concrete buildings are about as appealing as a bomb shelter.
Best Bet for Lodging: The Cliff Lodge (801-742-2222) has a rooftop swimming pool and Jacuzzi, with a heady view of Little Cottonwood Canyon.
Closest Airport: Salt Lake City, 30 to 90 minutes by car, depending on the weather.
Ticket: $43.
Phone : 800-453-3000.

Best Big Steeps: Jackson Hole

Big Picture: The only place in the U.S. to ride 4,000 vertical feet of sustained steeps.
Where: Jackson, Wyoming.
Vertical Drop: 4,139 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 2,500 acres.
Lifts: 9.
Average Annual Snowfall: 384 inches.
Insider's Tip: Bring goggles with vermilion or orange lenses, as winter weather is often overcast.
High: Bagging Corbett's Couloir. Beginning with a 20-foot jump onto a narrow tongue of snow between two rock walls, Corbett's is a rite of passage.
Low: The 45-minute wait for the tram.
Best Bet for Lodging: This Wild West resort is not known for it's guest amenities, but the European-style Alpenhof Hotel (800-732-3244) smoothes out the rough edges.
Closest airport: Jackson, eight miles from town.
Ticket: $45.
Phone: 800-443-6931.

Best for Families: Vail

Big Picture: From the free, in-town bus service to the centrally located restaurants, Vail's efficiency is impressive. Cut the kids loose and don't look back.
Where: 100 miles west of Denver.
Vertical Drop: 3,330 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 4,644 acres.
Lifts : 26.
Average Annual Snowfall: 341 inches.
Insider's Tip: To catch the riding crowd, go for breakfast at the Daily Grind espresso bar
High: Warping down the Back Bowls' treeless expanse.
Low: Heading home.
Best Bet for Lodging: The Sonnenalp Hotel and Resort (970-476-5656) will cost you $288 per night, but the service is the best in Vail.
Closest airport: Eagle (30 miles) or Denver International Airport (120 miles). Allow for a two-and-a-half-hour drive from DIA.
Ticket: $52.
Phone: 800-622-3131.

Best Carving: Aspen's Buttermilk

Big Picture: Naturally concave trails, groomed to perfection, are drawing a great influx of carvers.
Where: Aspen, Colorado.
Vertical Drop: 2,030 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 410 acres.
Lifts: 7.
Average Annual Snowfall: 250 inches.
Insider's Tip: Ride at first light to catch freshly groomed trails.
High: Ripping carves on perfect snow.
Low: The wannabe carving aces who clog the slopes on weekends.
Best Bet for Lodging: The Ritz-Carlton (970-920-3300) is the plushest hotel in snow country.
Closest Airport: Aspen. Connecting flights through Denver International and Colorado Springs.
Ticket: $56.
Phone: 970-925-1220.

Best Riding in the East: Stratton

Big Picture: Cognoscenti carvers go cruising in Stratton, site of snowboarding's U.S. Open.
Where: Stratton, Vermont.
Vertical Drop: 2,003 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 500 acres.
Lifts: 12.
Average Annual Snowfall: 180 inches.
Insider's Tip: Dress in layers — Stratton can feel like an ice box in midwinter.
High: Midweek riders are scarce, so the trails are yours to rip.
Low: Weekend crowds gum up the works.
Best Bet for Lodging: Stratton Mountain Inn (800-787-2886) combines New England coziness with
High: Yankee standards.
Closest Airport : Albany, New York, a 90-minute drive.
Ticket: $49 on weekends.
Phone: 800-787-2886.

Best California Ride: Mammoth Mountain

Big Picture: Yes, the mountain really is mammoth — there's miles of concave runs and an above-tree-line summit.
Where: Mammoth Lakes, California.
Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 3,500 acres.
Lifts: 31.
Average Annual Snowfall: 353 inches.
Insider's Tip: Check out the Wave Rave snowboard shop (619-934-2471) for the local lowdown on gear and riding.
High: Riding Climax Bowl's 40-degree slope.
Low: Getting caught in LA-style gridlock on Sunday nights.
Best Bet for Lodging: The slopeside Mammoth Mountain Inn (800-228-4947).
Closest airport : Reno Airport, three hours away.
Ticket: $45.
Phone: 888-462-6668.

Best Undiscovered Area: Crystal Mountain

Big Picture: Craggy peaks, no crowds, steep slopes, and no flats.
Where: 76 miles southeast of Seattle.
Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 2,300 acres.
Lifts: 11.
Average Annual Snowfall: 340 inches.
Insider's Tip: You must have avalanche beacons and shovels to ride the back country.
High: The view of 14,411-foot Mount Rainier from Crystal's summit.
Low: Getting stuck in the Sierra's heavy, cement- like snow.
Best Bet for Lodging: There aren't many lodges in the small resort. Alpine Inn Hotel
(360-663-2262) is the best.
Closest Airport: Seattle. On dry roads, it's a 90-minute drive.
Ticket: Weekends, $35.
Phone : 360-663-2526.

Best North-of-the-Border Riding: Whistler/Blackcomb

Big Picture: Two resorts form one mega-playground. This being Canada, there are none of the liability laws that constrain you in the United States. You can ride the steepest steeps, but ride at your own risk.
Where: 75 miles north of Vancouver.
Vertical Drop: 5,280 feet.
Rideable Terrain: 6,998 acres.
Lifts: 27.
Average Annual Snowfall: 360 inches.
Insider's Tip: Check British Columbia's weather before you head north, as the area is nearly unrideable in poor visibility.
High: The freedom to push yourself as far as you want to go.
Low: Groping your way through B.C.'s fog banks.
Best Bet for Lodging: For convenience, the Blackcomb Lodge (800-667-2855) is hard by the mountain.
Closest Airport: Vancouver International is a two-hour drive.
Ticket: $54.
Phone: 800-944-7853.

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