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East Coast vs. West Coast Skiing: Which Is Right for You?

Jan 08, 2013 02:37PM ● By Erin Frisch

East Coast vs. West Coast Skiing: Which Is Right for You?

Ski season is finally here, and whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned skier, the East and West Coasts boast some very different conditions and terrains for your skiing fun. With forecasts for a snowier winter compared to last year’s, we’ve put together a comparison of what each coast has to offer skiers or boarders so you can decide which is right for you.

The East Coast offers skiing as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee, although these locales don’t always have a lot of snow. Farther north, you’ll find resorts in Virginia, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. However, the best East Coast skiing by far is found in the New England area, most notably in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine (though Connecticut and Massachusetts have slopes too).

On the East Coast, peaks are lower in altitude than in the Rockies, there’s less snowfall and it’s wetter, and you’ll find more man-made snow. The trails tend to be narrower with less vertical, so if you prefer runs that aren’t as steep, this coast is the one for you. If you go far enough north in Vermont, though, you’ll find some steeper terrain with a more vertical drop. The trails tend to be groomed by a machine to provide a hard-packed yet fairly even riding surface at the beginning of the day. The downside to all this is that as the day goes on, the snow gets pushed around, and you’re left with the base, which tends to be quite icy. You might even say that this makes the runs more technical. You’ll want your skis or board to have sharp edges and a nicely waxed bottom to be able to dig into the snowpack and glide easily along flatter traverses between runs. The best skis for this type of terrain are good racing or carving skis.

The West Coast has ski resorts as far south as Arizona and New Mexico. More well known, though, are the resorts in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and California. There are also plenty of choices in Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. And since the Rockies extend into Canada, British Columbia and Alberta offer some great options as well.

In the Rockies, you’ll find higher altitudes and deeper snow that’s drier and more powdery. Powder days are common, where an overnight snowfall can leave a foot or more of new, fluffy snow for you to make fresh tracks on in the morning. The trails are usually wider and more vertical, and the terrain has greater variation. Bowls and backcountry skiing are common, and trees often dot the runs. Above the tree line, though, skiing seems to be easier than on East Coast slopes where the trails don’t extend much above it. No trees make for big easy turns, even on steeper terrain. The more difficult terrain in the West is rated that way because it is steep and usually involves chutes, cornices, and trees (below the tree line). There is less ice and less man-made snow, due to the more abundant natural snowfall in the area. Wider skis are better for flotation out West, even in packed powder conditions.

Both coasts have plenty to offer, and resorts can vary greatly when it comes to cost, availability, and amenities. It’s up to you to decide.

Which one suits your style?

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