Ski schools aren't just for beginners anymore. As part of an overall resort revival, ski mountains are pouring millions of dollars into their instructional and guiding programs. "People are asking for more personalized coaching," says Andy Buckley, director of skier services at Northstar in Lake Tahoe. "When you struggle with something technical, it's analogous to work and life stuff – the psychological barriers, getting over the hump. The best ski coaches turn into life coaches." These days it's not uncommon for your instructor to be a local legend or an Olympic medalist; some resorts are engineering their runs so they have just the right angles and aspects to learn on; cat- and heli-skiing trips now often include a full master class on evaluating snow conditions. These are the best mountains, ski schools, and guided adventures to help you raise your game.
Best in the Backcountry Business: Alyeska, AK
ADVANCED TO EXPERT
Alaska is where pro skiers and guides go to test themselves on world-class peaks. Just 45 minutes from Anchorage is Alyeska, a resort that helps the rest of us make that transition to big-mountain backcountry terrain. Basically, its in-bounds 3,200 vertical feet and 650 inches of snowfall per year are the perfect warmup for the real reason to make the trip from the Lower 48: Chugach Powder Guides.
CPG, one of the best in the continental U.S., is Alyeska's partner in cat- and heli-skiing. Cat trips access endless virgin tree runs and bowls, and the helicopter gets you above tree line and onto steeper faces. But CPG isn't just there to babysit. "The first thing we try to teach," says CPG lead guide Henry Munter, "is a healthy respect for, and patience with, the mountains. They're the ones in charge." Working with beacons, shovels, and probes in real time, and, more important, watching the world's top guides work, is the best backcountry class of all.
More information: Day of heli-skiing, $1,175; day of cat-skiing, $375; chugachpowderguides.com, alyeskaresort.com.
Credit: Michael Neumann