Skiing Bowls – What to Know Before Dropping In on Skis

Most skiers start their skiing journeys on groomers but eventually, they hear about the allure of skiing bowls. Skiing bowls are one of the most exciting mountain features to see, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Here’s what you need to know before you hit the bowls and where to find them in the US.

Dropping in Silverton's iconic Billboard, CO
Dropping at Silverton. Photo Credit Zach Dischner (Flickr CC)

What Are Ski Bowls?

A ski bowl is a type of skiing area that is typically shaped like a bowl. The shape of the bowl allows skiers to access different areas with ease and also provides for a variety of different terrain options. Ski bowls usually have a few main trails that lead down into the center of the bowl, as well as several smaller trails that branch off from these main trails.

Many ski bowls also offer lift access to their uppermost slopes, which can provide skiers with even more options for exploring the area.

No two ski bowls are the same and that is some of the beauty of skiing bowls. You can ski a bowl many times and not take the same line each time. They have a different feel to skiing trails where you have a predetermined route. Bowls are vast and some of the most expansive terrain in a ski area.

How Are Ski Bowls Made?

Ski bowls are made by shaping the land into a large bowl if it is not a natural bowl. Then the area is cleared of trees and other obstacles. Next, the land is graded and shaped to create the bowl shape. Finally, a layer of snow is added to the bowl to create the skiing surface. Come on mother nature!

The depth of the bowl also varies depending on the intended use. Shallow bowls are typically used for beginner skiers, while deeper bowls are better suited for more experienced skiers. Generally speaking, you at least need to be able to ski blue runs to ski bowls. Some ski resorts only have bowls for advanced skiers.

Where Can I Find Ski Bowls?

When it comes to finding the best ski bowls, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, consider where you want to ski. Do you want to be close to home or are you willing to travel? If you’re willing to travel, look for ski bowls in areas with good snowfall and plenty of terrain. More to come on this below so stay with us!

Another thing to consider is the type of skiing you want to do. Are you looking for powder skiing or groomed runs? If you’re looking for powder skiing, look for bowls that have a lot of trees or are located in high alpine areas. For groomed runs, look for bowls that have wide-open slopes and gentle gradients.

Don’t get too picky though, I haven’t ridden a ski bowl that hasn’t been a great time.

Are Ski Bowls Safe?

Caution Avalanche Danger sign

The biggest risk with ski bowls is skiers who ski them but aren’t advanced enough for the terrain. They all get excited since the resort has a bowl but there is no reason, they should be on it in the first place.

Ungroomed bowls can also pose a bit greater risk than an ungroomed bowl. If you are skiing a backcountry bowl then make sure you are aware of the risks of avalanches and know how to deal with them. Backcountry bowls also call for riding with the appropriate avalanche gear.

How to Ride a Ski Bowl Safely

Skiing bowls can be a lot of fun, but it’s important to stay safe while you’re doing it.

Here are some tips to help you stay safe while you’re on skis and riding in a ski bowl:

  • Always ski with a partner or group. This will help you stay together and keep an eye on each other in case someone falls or gets into trouble.
  • Take the time to learn the proper technique for skiing in a bowl. This will help you avoid crossing paths with other skis. Always be aware of where everyone is downhill.
  • This goes into saying, be aware of your surroundings at all times. Pay attention to the terrain and conditions so that you can avoid obstacles or hazards.
  • Always wear proper safety gear when skiing like a helmet. This will help protect you in case of an accident. If you are going to ride backcountry bowls then you should be taking more gear with you.

How Advanced Do You Have to Be to Ski Bowls?

There are a lot of different ways to measure in advance when it comes to skiing. One common way is by getting familiar with the levels of skiing. For some, simply being able to ski down a groomed run is enough. But for others, skiing bowls is the ultimate skiing experience. So how advanced do you have to be to ski bowls?

First and foremost, you need to be an experienced skier. Skiing blues will often cut it if the bowl you are looking at is rated for beginner to intermediate riders.

Is Bowl Skiing Overrated?

Feeling better spraying snow at Silverton CO
Feeling better spraying snow at Silverton CO. Photo Credit Zach Dischner (Flickr CC)

Bowl skiing is a hotly debated topic among ski enthusiasts. Some people swear by it, while others think it’s overrated. So, what’s the verdict? Is bowl skiing really worth the hype?

Here are some things to consider: First of all, bowl skiing can be extremely challenging. I’ve seen some of the most difficult terrain of Colorado’s ski bowls. Likewise, there are still ski bowls that are suited for beginners.

Being from the east coast, I drool at any chance I get to ride a decent bowl when I head out west. That being said, if you ride them all the time, I could see how you could get tired of them.

Where to Go to Ski Bowls

A lot of the resorts with the best ski bowls are on the west coast. Bigger mountains mean bigger and longer bowls to ride. Here are 3 resorts with bowls that you should add to your must-ride list.

Vail, Colorado

Vail’s bowls are legendary and a huge reason that so many skiers flock there every winter. Between the famous China Bowl, Sun Up Bowl and Mongolia Bowl, you can find varying steepness. For an intermediate bowl, head to China Bowl on the backside.

Want a big of trees in your runs? Head over to Mongolia Bowl which welcomes intermediate to advanced skiers.

Telluride, Colorado

Telluride’s bowls are just as spectacular as Vail. Some would argue that they are even better but you are splitting hairs in my opinion. The two you are going to want to ride at Telluride at Revelation and Black Iron Bowl. Get stuck in that fresh snow and see everything Telluride has to offer when you take a trip down one of their bowls.

Big Sky, Montana

Skiing in a bowl in Big Sky Montana
Skiing in a bowl in Big Sky Montana. Photo Credit m01229 (Flickr CC)

Last Things to Know Before Skiing a Bowl

I’ll challenge you this – if you haven’t skied a bowl, to get out there and put it on your list. Compared to skiing trails, bowls are expansive, fun and exciting.

Give them a try and the highlight of your ski season may just be that new bowl that you ride!

Alec Wilson writes for Proper Peaks and lives near Claremont, VT. He hardly misses a weekend on the ski slopes in the winter. If there is snow, Alec’s skis are on for a go. Look out for his stickered up helmet and you might just meet him on the trails.

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