By Charles Leocha Travel columnist
updated 1/26/2007 6:03:08 PM ET 2007-01-26T23:03:08

Undiscovered resorts are normally “undiscovered” because they are, frankly, hard to reach. Their remoteness and lack of easy access insure that they remain unfound by the masses. But that is not always true. Here in the U.S.A. there are a number of not-so-small resorts that are easily reached from major cities and airports that still remain undiscovered.

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This year’s ski and snowboard season has been a challenge for many because of the strange snow patterns across the U.S.A. While the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest were getting pummeled by historic amounts of snow, the Midwest and New England were suffering from a historic lack of snow. California, Utah and Colorado resorts have acceptable snow, but nothing that will make deep snow headlines.

These seven undiscovered resorts, not only are easy to reach, but they have had excellent early season snow so far this season. They have uncrowded, wide-open trails, renowned dining and après-ski without having to squeeze in or make reservations.

A trip to any of these seven secret snow stashes will provide virtually guaranteed good conditions, minimal crowds and lift tickets for more about $30-a-day less than the best-known resorts. That’s a dream combination in the book of real skiers — secrets that every skier and snowboarder will love to discover.

Santa Fe, N.M.
Here is a ski and snowboard resort that is such a secret; most people don’t even know it exists. But with a peak of more than 12,000 feet, this resort has long trails curling between Ponderosa Pines with desert scenes on the horizon. All this is only 16 miles from the center of Santa Fe and its world-famous cuisine and adobe-style hotels. Santa Fe is packed with shopping and museums that make this the perfect destination for families or couples where both are not avid skiers. Visitors can fly into Santa Fe, but most opt for Albuquerque only about an hour to the south with easy connections to the nation. Another bonus for skiers is Taos Ski Valley about an hour-and-a-half to the north.

Powder Mountain, Utah
Only about a half-hour from the historic main street in Ogden, Utah, and just over an hour from Salt Lake City airport, the largest resort in Utah beckons the world’s top powder skiers and riders. This massive rustic resort spreads along the northern border of the Upper Ogden Valley and catches prodigious amounts of powder every season. The resort only grooms a couple of paths down from each lift. To explore this resort, one needs to know how to ski in deep snow and be ready to hike every so often. Locals swarm to the mountain and get swallowed up by its immense size. Only seven lifts serve 5,500 acres and a bus picks up those who decide to drop over the backside.

Snowbasin, Utah
Rising from the south side of the Upper Ogden Valley, across the Pineview Reservoir from Powder Mountain, is another undiscovered gem. Snowbasin was the site of several Olympic races during the Salt Lake Olympics, but that fame hasn’t changed much for the mountain. The lodges at the base area and at the top of the main lifts are spectacular log buildings with panoramic views or the mountain and lowlands. The dining is some of the best found on any ski slopes and the snowmaking and lift systems among the most modern in the world. Only 20 minutes away, Ogden provides plenty of affordable hotels, restaurants and a smattering of culture to complete the experience.

Mt. Rose, Nevada
This resort, once the local ski area of Reno, Nevada, has grown over the past two years into a resort that has isolated beginner terrain, looping intermediate cruising runs and steep expert chutes. The eastern side of the resort, the Slide area, is a wide-open cruising bowl welcoming to skiers of all levels. It also has excellent terrain parks for snowboarders. The Kit Carson side in the west has intermediate trails cut through thick pines and an extensive beginner area. Between these two areas of the resort is a series of steep, lift-served chutes that provide some of the most sustained steeps anywhere in the country. When visitors realize that these slopes are only about half-hour from downtown Reno with its theaters, museums, arts district, restaurants, casinos and airport, it is easy to see that one can enjoy a complete winter vacation. For insatiable skiers and riders, Reno is also within driving distance of 17 different downhill ski resorts that surround Lake Tahoe.

Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho
Tucked far up in the panhandle of Idaho between Washington and Montana, this resort remains a secret it seems to everyone outside of the Northwest. There is some sort of poetic justice at work here, since the resort was named for a Swiss hermit who settled here years ago. The resort has breathtaking views over Lake Pend Oreille that has been site of secret Navy submarine tests. At the base of the nine-mile access road, an eclectic mixture of once-hippies and Libertarian believers who just want to be left alone settles the town of Sandpoint. For all of its seeming remoteness, the resort is only about an hour-and-a-half from Spokane airport. Skiers and riders will not leave disappointed. The resort has more than 3,000 acres or terrain and steeps that will make one gasp, however, there is plenty for every level of skier and rider to enjoy.

Big Mountain, Mont.
A friend once called this resort an intermediate Jackson Hole. The skiing and riding is down virtually all sides of a mountain dropping more than 2,500 vertical feel from a 7,000-foot summit. A gondola takes skiers and riders up through ice-encrusted trees that stand like snow ghosts along the trails. From the top, wide trails trace their way back to the mountain village or skiers and riders can drop through the hoarfrost-covered trees and eventually curl around on a cat track to the cluster of hotels. A further eight miles down the mountain road, Whitefish provides a low-keyed dining and nightlife experience that has been discovered by many of Hollywood’s elite.

Purgatory, Colo.
Only about a half-hour from the cowboy town of Durango, Purgatory at Durango Mountain (its current name) is an intermediate skier or rider’s dream. Chances are, you’ll be sharing the slopes with someone in blue jeans and a down jacket rather than the latest Bogner fashion. The resort trails drop in steps down a two-mile-long mountain finger bordered by the highway on the east and by a glacier valley on the west. Experts won’t find extraordinary challenge here but intermediates and beginners will have a field day. The resort’s real dining and nightlife center is historic Durango. Once a lively, rough-and-tumble mining town where Jack Dempsey fought, the city still maintains its cowboy character and is filled with restaurants, brewpubs, dance floors, galleries and plenty of college kids. Winter is low season here so there are plenty of lodging bargains.

These are seven ski and snowboard areas that will not disappoint any skier or rider. The crowds are limited. The lift ticket prices are some of the lowest in the country and the nightlife and dining among the most affordable.

Best of all, every one of these resorts has great snow now.

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