Image: Whistler ski resort
Eric Berger  /  Tourism Whistler / AP file
A skier enjoys some fresh powder on the slopes of Whistler in British Columbia.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/9/2008 11:43:32 AM ET 2008-12-09T16:43:32

Ride on, dude. Ski season is upon us, and resorts across the continent are hoping to boost their appeal with a bumper crop of new lifts and added terrain. Here, for your sliding pleasure, are a dozen tickets to ride:

Leave it to the master planners at the largest ski resort  in North America to think really big. On December 12, Whistler Blackcomb will unveil the Peak 2 Peak gondola, a valley-spanning lift that will link the two mountains from twin terminals nearly 4,000 feet above Whistler Village. Traversing the 2.7-mile route in just 11 minutes, the $53-million lift features 28-person cabins, soars up to 1,427 feet above the ground and eliminates the need to ski to the valley floor to get to the other mountain.

As North America’s newest resort, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, outside Revelstoke, B.C., is also on its way to becoming one of the biggest. Having opened in December 2007 with a gondola and one high-speed quad chair, the resort has now extended the gondola, added another high-speed quad and upped its skiable terrain to more than 3,000 acres. Even more significant, the resort now claims the greatest vertical drop in North America (5,620 feet).

Surface lifts may not sound exciting, but at Kirkwood, near South Lake Tahoe, two new ones offer easier entrée to some of the resort’s best powder stashes. The Lookout Vista T-bar provides direct access to the chutes of Thunder Saddle, eliminating the traditional uphill trudge, while the Covered Wagon poma leads to the open bowls of Fawn Ridge and a series of backcountry gates.

Across the lake, Northstar-at-Tahoe has given the former Lookout Express a shot of slopeside steroids: Now called the Martis Camp Express, the lift was extended by nearly 40 percent (to 1,722 vertical feet). The move allowed the resort to lengthen three existing trails on Lookout Mountain and add a fourth for a total of 414 acres of new terrain.

Montana-bound powderhounds get easier access to the goods at Bridger Bowl this year thanks to the just-built Schlasman’s chair. The new lift climbs 1,700 vertical feet, opens up 300 acres of new terrain beyond Pierre’s Knob and provides the first public lift service to the area’s legendary Ridge. (Riders will be required to carry avalanche transceivers, and skiing with a partner and shovels is recommended.)

If you’re a fan of the old Tram at Jackson Hole, Wyo., mark your calendar for December 20. That’s the day the resort will open the successor to the “big red box,” which closed in 2006 after 40 years of service. The new tram travels the same route, climbing 4,319 vertical feet, but goes a bit faster (nine minutes vs. 10.5) and carries 100 vs. 54 passengers.

Visitors to Park City Mountain Resort can get on the fast track to more slopes this winter with the debut of the Crescent high-speed quad, which will run parallel to the older, slower Ski Team Lift. Almost twice as long as its predecessor, the new lift reaches the top of Crescent Ridge (aka Ski Team Ridge) and provides direct access to the popular runs off the Bonanza, King Con and Silverlode lifts.

Long known for its stunning scenery, Telluride Ski Resort offers a new view this year with the opening of Revelation Bowl. The northeast-facing basin drops off the back side of Gold Hill and offers a pristine expanse of open slopes and 800 vertical feet of advanced and expert terrain. At the bottom, riders can hop on a new fixed-grip quad for the five-minute trip back up.

Across the country, in Upstate New York, Whiteface will celebrate its 51st year by opening Lookout Mountain. Located just northeast of the main summit, the area will feature a new triple chair, three runs and 1,560 vertical feet of intermediate and expert terrain. Conditions permitting, guests will also be able to tackle Sugar Valley Glades, a 60-acre pocket of hardwood forest.

In Maine, skiers and snowboarders at Sunday River will get to ride the first “chondola” in the Northeast. The lift, which features both six-person chairs and eight-person gondola cabins, will run from the South Ridge base area to the top of North Peak, turning what used to be a 20-minute, two-lift trip into a single ride of less than seven minutes. Grand opening festivities on December 20 will include fireworks, live music and an après-ski party.

Finally, for something completely different, consider a trip to Sugarbush, Vt., the first (and currently only) resort in New England to feature snowcat skiing. Offered on powder days, the service kicks off at 6:45 a.m., costs $75 per person and runs until the regular lifts open. Don’t dawdle, though; seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 12 people who show up at Guest Services.

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