Whether you’re taking your job remote and relocating to the mountains, or you’re looking to plan a ski trip to somewhere new, choosing the right ski town comes with a lot of options—and a lot of responsibility. Do you want to be nestled deep in a mountain range far from the madding crowds? Or do you need to be near a major airport and have reliably fast Wi-Fi? What’s your preference when it comes to hitting the slopes: a major ski resort, a small local hill, or good backcountry access (or all three)? And can you contribute to the town’s community in a responsible way without adding to the housing crunch, congestion, and staff shortages that many mountain towns are experiencing these days?
To determine our favorite ski towns, we looked at a variety of factors, including lodging, housing availability, cost of living, and whether a wide range of accessible ski terrain for all abilities is offered. There isn’t a North American mountain hub that hasn’t felt the pandemic crunch, but these places—from a White Mountains outpost on the East Coast to a relatively low-key gateway in Colorado—are quieter alternatives to the perennially popular ski destinations.
North Conway, New Hampshire
In the heart of the White Mountains, North Conway shines as a community-driven town with ample access to a multitude of alpine- and nordic-skiing options. There are seven affordable, family-oriented resorts within 30 minutes of downtown, including Attitash Mountain, Cranmore Mountain, Wildcat, Shawnee Peak, and Black Mountain. Start your ski day with pastries at the Underground Bakery and Café and end with nachos at the Shannon Door. While North Conway’s population has increased during the pandemic, putting a crunch on housing, you can still find an apartment to rent near the heart of things, and the average house is selling for around $360,000. On top of that, it’s the epicenter of East Coast backcountry skiing, with above-tree-line terrain on Mount Washington and new gladed zones maintained by North Conway–based nonprofit Granite Backcountry Alliance, which is also organizing the Mt. Washington Backcountry Festival from February 24 to 27.
Maybe it’s the far-flung northern location of the town of Whitefish or its ski area’s under-the-radar vibe, but Whitefish Mountain Resort sees far fewer crowds than famed Montana destinations like Big Sky. With easy access to the nearby Kalispell airport and the wild vastness of Glacier National Park, to the east, this place isn’t hard to get to yet feels worlds away. Housing availability is certainly an issue here, too, and home prices have spiked during the pandemic, but locals are putting their heads together to create solutions, like asking employers to provide workforce accommodations. The resort offers 3,000 skiable acres and an average 300 inches of snow a year, so there’s plenty of powder to go around, or book a guided backcountry tour outside the gates with Whitefish Vertical Adventures. A new six-person chair from the base area is expected to go in next winter, quickening access to the upper mountain.
The neighboring small towns of Huntsville, Eden, and Liberty function as a larger community in the greater Ogden Valley. Housing prices are on the rise, but it’s still considerably more affordable here—not to mention less crowded—than Utah hot spots like Park City or areas closer to Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons. A lot of people settle hereabouts for the farming and ranching, not the skiing, but you can’t beat the ski access: Powder Mountain and Snowbasin for empty terrain and untracked snow, and Nordic Valley for kid-friendly runs and beloved night skiing. The Salt Lake City airport is less than an hour away, and the city of Ogden is 20 minutes down the canyon. If you’re coming to visit, stay at the Compass Rose Lodge (from $219) in Huntsville.
If you love Bavarian-themed architecture and deep powder, look no further than Leavenworth, a hidden gem of a ski town in the Cascade Range, about two hours east of Seattle. Stevens Pass is the biggest ski resort nearby, but the in-town Leavenworth Ski Hill gratifies with great beginner slopes and day tickets starting at just $24. Or take a day trip to ski Mission Ridge, in Wenatchee, less than an hour away. In Leavenworth you’ll find locals grabbing breakfast sandwiches at Argonaut Coffee before heading up to the hill, later hitting Yodelin for après-ski cocktails and rice bowls. The RV lot (from $49) at Stevens Pass fills up with families and ski bums each weekend, offering one of the coolest ski-in, ski-out parking scenes in the Northwest.
Waitsfield is a quintessential New England farming town with great ski access—both Mad River Glen, with its skier-only historic vibe, and Sugarbush, with its slopeside hotels and legendary steeps under the Castlerock chair, are nearby. The larger Mad River Valley is a worthy alternative to Killington and Stowe if you’re looking to avoid the masses and find untracked snow, but, again, housing is an issue here. Help reduce traffic by hopping on the Mad Bus for free service to the ski areas during the winter. Grab a room at the Mad River Barn (from $185), chow on tacos at Mad Taco, and pick up cans of Sip of Sunshine IPA from Lawson’s at the end of the day.
Nelson, British Columbia
Nelson may be a ski town, thanks to its proximity to excellent runs at nearby Whitewater Ski Resort and Red Mountain, but this spot has so much more going on. From music festivals and a thriving food and art scene, Nelson feels like a small, polished city in a stunning mountain setting on the shores of Kootenay Lake. You’ll enjoy charming historic homes, tucked-away French bakeries, and hot springs with views of the lake. Start with coffee at Oso Negro, then head to Whitewater, where you’ll come for the skiing but should stay for lunch: Fresh Tracks Café in the base lodge serves up legitimately good food.
Taos, New Mexico
People forget that New Mexico has big, snowy mountains, but in Taos, those spiky peaks are hard to miss. When a storm hits the Southwest, the plunging steeps off the ridge at Taos Ski Valley deliver some of the finest skiing in the southern Rockies. Later in the season, you can ride a lift to 12,481 feet—the top of Kachina Peak—or descend the groomers to a lunch of schnitzel and steins of beer on the deck of the Bavarian Restaurant. Stay slopeside at the Blake Hotel (from $425), or rent an off-the-grid Earthship for the night outside the town of Taos, a funky artists’ enclave. The gentler, kid-friendly slopes of Angel Fire are 40 minutes away, or head to Ski Santa Fe, two hours south, for green chile stew mid-mountain and a liberal uphill policy.
Want to really get away? Welcome to Girdwood. Just 40 minutes from Anchorage, this ski town at the base of Alyeska Resort has a wild, unpretentious feel. The mountain gets a whopping 650 inches of snow a year, and you can ski powder under the lights during a storm, since the bottom of the mountain stays open for night skiing until 8 P.M. Thursdays through Saturdays. Post up at Hotel Alyeska (from $239), which has a new Nordic spa, an entrancing saltwater pool, and easy access to the 60-person aerial tram that whisks you to the top of the mountain. Don’t miss the bottomless soup and gooey cinnamon rolls at the Bake Shop at the base of the hill.
The main reason we love Truckee is the plentitude of skiing nearby. In one direction, you can ride a historic gondola and find empty slopes at Sugar Bowl or hit the park or practice your tricks on the trampolines at Woodward Tahoe at Boreal. In the other direction, you can rip endless groomers at Northstar, or head toward Lake Tahoe to the legendary twin mountains of Palisades Tahoe. Plus, there’s backcountry terrain off Donner Summit, Mount Rose, or Lake Tahoe’s west shore, all just a short drive from downtown Truckee. Access is key here, too: you can be at the Reno airport in under an hour or in the San Francisco Bay Area in three. Truckee’s food and drink scene has grown in recent years, with the addition of spots like Great Gold, Good Wolf Brewing, and Como—all local favorites. Before you come, read up on sustainability efforts in the Truckee-Tahoe area, including park-and-ride services to the ski resorts, electric-vehicle charging stations, and sustainability gift cards. And the hotel brand Gravity Haus recently took over ownership of the Cedar House Sport Hotel, so look for that option next winter.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Colorado has so many world-class ski towns that it’s hard to pick a favorite. Yet Steamboat Springs stands out because it feels like a place where normal people can live. It’s got a thriving downtown with vibrant western heritage, and everything from cabins, guest ranches, and skier-friendly motels to suit a range of budgets. As for the skiing, there’s powder-stuffed glades on Shadows and Closets at Steamboat Resort, or learn to ski without dropping big bucks: at Howelson Hill, the country’s oldest continually operating ski area, tickets start at $39, and it’s located right in town. To earn your turns, head to Bluebird Backcountry, a ski area with marked trails and guided options that’s 30 minutes southeast. And be that conscientious skier: read up on how to visit responsibly, including leaving no trace, using public transit, and supporting local efforts.
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