17 of the best ski towns in the US
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring article. However, this particular season, some of the specific offerings and openings mentioned in each town may be altered or unavailable, so verify before packing up your skis and assuming business as usual.
Admittedly, choosing which town is the best ski town is a subjective affair. Some people only care about the town with the deepest powder, while others might prefer the town with the best microbreweries and spas.
According to Michael Levine — a skier of nearly 60 years who has skied at almost 100 resorts around the world — the mountain itself is the most important factor to take into consideration when selecting a ski town. “You can have a really awesome town, but if the skiing sucks, it’s not a great ski town,” Levine said. “I would rather have a sleeping bag in the back of a truck next to a great mountain than a great hotel next to a bad mountain.”
But for those of us who might not be as diehard as Levine when it comes to snow sports, you can’t underestimate the après ski scene, at least in most years.
That’s why, to choose the top ski spots in the nation, we looked for mountain towns with something for everyone. From quaint New England villages to old Gold Rush towns, from stalwart favorites to unsung destinations, from resorts with masterful kid’s programming to hardcore backcountry zones, these are 17 of the best places to hang up your skis this winter.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Crested Butte may not be the most visited ski town in Colorado, but its small-town feel and distance from the traffic and crowds of Summit County make it a worthy underdog.
An old coal-mining town turned into a ski destination, Crested Butte receives more than 300 inches of snow annually on more than 1,500 skiable acres. The town, which is just minutes from the base area, has streets lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The Sunflower, which emphasizes organic ingredients and wine pairings, is a great place to grab dinner. The Lodge at Mountaineer Square, in the Crested Butte Mountain Resort base area, is a luxury property within walking distance of the lifts. It even offers suites for families and groups.
The Gunnison–Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) is just 40 minutes from the resort and offers service to and from a few select airline hub cities, as well as from Denver, allowing travelers to avoid spending a day in traffic to get there.
North Conway, New Hampshire
Often referred to as the birthplace of skiing in North America, North Conway’s deep ski history is reason enough to consider it one of the best ski towns in the U.S. Couple that with six downhill ski resorts within a half-hour of town; restaurants and cafés such as the Thompson House Eatery and Frontside Coffee Roasters; and plenty of lodging options, including the high-end Glen House in Pinkham Notch; and this one is a no-brainer.
And thanks to an organization called Granite Backcountry Alliance, which has been hard at work creating a network of backcountry ski zones around the state, those who prefer to get off-piste to earn their turns will find no shortage of options either.
Taos, New Mexico
In addition to a world-class ski resort, Taos is home to a World Heritage Site (Taos Pueblo), distinctive cuisine and an art culture deeply rooted in the history of the Southwest.
After a day of Rocky Mountain powder — without the crowds of Vail and Aspen — stroll the walkable downtown and admire the adobe architecture that sets this ski town apart. When your legs need a rest, head to the Edelweiss Lodge and Spa, which is a ski-in, ski-out property.
But before you call it a night, head to La Cueva Cafe for chipotle shrimp tacos.
Vail deserves a spot on every skier’s list, whether you’re looking for a hill with steep and deep lines or a town with plenty of cocktails and places to shop. After all, everyone needs a rest day (or two) following a few consecutive days of skiing over 5,200 acres of terrain and 3,450 vertical feet. And when that day comes, keep yourself in the skiing mindset by visiting the Ski and Snowboard Museum, which was reopened in 2018 after a $2.6 million renovation.
There’s also a European bakery and restaurant, appropriately named Alpenrose, in the heart of Vail Village that offers Austrian and German cuisine in a rustic dining room. If you want to stick to the European theme, spend the night at Sonnenalp, a German-style hotel that combines elements of the Old West with a traditional European ski town.
Though the Pacific Northwest is infamous for its long, gloomy winters and persistent precipitation, skiers and snowboarders can head to the mountains, where that rain is transformed into snowfall. That’s why Mount Baker — Bellingham’s local ski hill — has so many deep days.
While the town of Bellingham is over an hour away from the mountain, it still works as a perfect base for exploring Baker’s slopes, thanks to its breadth of lodging and dining venues. Stop by Lettered Streets Coffeehouse for a cup of locally-roasted coffee and a pastry before heading out to the mountain for the day. Hotel Bellwether is a great high-end property directly on Bellingham Bay.
I’m going to be controversial for a minute and sing Ogden’s praises this ski season.
After all, the mountain destination is the gateway to three resorts totaling 11,600 skiable acres with 500 inches of snowfall, making it an underrated alternative to Park City and Alta. Ogden is also the oldest city in Utah, and the jumping-off point for Powder Mountain (the largest ski resort in the U.S.), Nordic Valley and Snowbasin Resort, which has a newly-renovated base lodge (Earl’s Lodge).
All three ski areas are accessible from downtown via public transportation, eliminating the hassle of having to waste too much of your vacation driving. And while you’re there, spend your nights at the stylish 15-room Compass Rose Lodge at Snowbasin, which opened in January 2019.
Home to three ski areas, Jackson is known for its deep snowpack and extensive side and backcountry terrain. Of the three — Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain and Grand Targhee Resort — Jackson Hole is easily the most popular, and rightfully so.
The mountain’s 2,500 skiable acres ascend over 4,100 vertical feet. But if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, consider Snow King or Grand Targhee instead. Spend your nights at the Anvil Hotel, a once forgotten motel that’s been turned into a boutique hotel by a group of Brooklyn-based designers.
For dinner, grab a steak at the famous Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse.
Nestled between a number of 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks in the San Juan Mountains, the central area of this old Victorian mining town has been designated a National Historic Landmark District. Now, Telluride’s historic streets and buildings are filled with gourmet restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, making it a perfect place to base yourself during a ski vacation.
While the town is great for retail therapy, the high quality of the resort will have you more focused on powder turns than buying a new jacket. Before heading out for a day on the slopes, fuel up at the Butcher and Baker Cafe. Spend the night at the historic New Sheridan Hotel, a few blocks from the mountain’s gondola for a stay with some history, or check out the hospitality at the well-appointed Dunton Town House.
Bend’s location in Oregon’s high desert makes it the perfect place to enjoy a few hours of powder in the morning, world-class rock climbing in the afternoon and an evening of golf all in the same day.
Just a few miles from Mount Bachelor, which receives more than 400 inches of snow annually, the city tends to experience much less precipitation. Beer lovers will be thrilled to know that Bend is known as “Beer City USA” and boasts a diverse range of breweries such as the Crux Fermentation Project and Deschutes Brewery.
Waitsfield, in the Mad River Valley, is a good alternative to the Killington ski area and Stowe if you’re looking to avoid crowds and explore untracked terrain. For those who want to ditch the car for the weekend, the Mad Bus typically offers free service around the region during the winter.
Sugarbush and the other nearby resort, Mad River Glen, both receive a notable amount of annual snowfall by East Coast standards. Book a room at the Sugarbush Inn, which has a prime location at the base of Sugarbush and just minutes from town. The Pitcher Inn, down the road in Warren, is a luxury inn and makes for another great lodging option. For a bite to eat, check out Blue Stone for pizza and local brews or the Mad Taco for Mexican.
Durango is a small town just north of the New Mexico border, which means it often gets overshadowed by resorts closer to Denver. The town is a great jumping-off point for Purgatory: a smaller resort with great beginner terrain and plenty of challenging terrain for more experienced skiers.
Durango is also home to a handful of breweries, such as Carver Brewing Company and Ska Brewing Company, and has a number of great places to lay your head. Travelers should visit now before Durango goes the way of some of the more touristed ski towns.
With an average of 275 days of sunshine, 400 inches of annual snowfall and 12 downhill resorts (including the world-class Squaw Valley) within a 10-mile radius, it’s no wonder that skiers from across the country choose Truckee and the Lake Tahoe area for their annual family ski trip.
Beer and pizza fans should head to Old Town Tap to try the mushroom pie and a local brew, while wine lovers will appreciate the selection at Uncorked. The historic Truckee Hotel is centrally located within walking distance of many shops and restaurants, allowing you to ditch the car for the night.
Another top contender, of course, is the Mammoth Mountain ski area, though travelers can experience it long after winter ends, thanks to its northern-facing slopes and high summit elevation. And Truckee is just a short drive from a higher concentration of downhill resorts,
Many think of Stowe, another classic New England ski town, as “the ski capital of the East.”
In addition to the 314 inches of snow that gets dumped onto 485 skiable acres annually, the town is home to one of the best microbreweries in the country: The Alchemist.
Treat yourself to a spa day at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa and then sample some of Vermont’s finest beers at Doc Ponds. The Rusty Nail often has live music in the evenings and makes for a great way to end the night. And if you want to explore new terrain after a few days on the mountain, head over to Smugglers’ Notch, which is just an hour’s drive away during the winter.
Related: The best annual ski pass
Another Colorado mining town, Breckenridge Ski Resort (or Breck, as the locals call it) is home to the highest chairlift in North America. The town is filled with local restaurants, distilleries, galleries and breweries, so you don’t have to feel bad about taking a rest day. The Mountain Thunder Lodge is a great property for travelers who want the convenience of a ski-in, gondola-out resort in a secluded setting.
Before ending your vacation, be sure to stop by the Breckenridge Distillery, which claims to be the highest distillery on Earth, and explore a few of the area’s other mountains. The Summit Stage bus offers free service to Copper Mountain and Keystone, for example. The latter of which is one of the best ski resorts for families in the country.
Whitefish, at the edge of Glacier National Park, is a bustling small town in a wild, untamed setting. Originally settled in the early 20th century thanks to the Great Northern Railway, the town continues to flourish with help from the 3,000-acre Whitefish Mountain Resort.
While Big Sky Mountain Resort’s 5,800 acres get all the attention, Whitefish deserves recognition for being a modest, unflashy destination with excellent terrain. The resort is continuing almost a decade of steady improvements, including new glading projects and new groomers.
The streets are lined with fine dining establishments, ski shops, cafes, distilleries and breweries. Before starting your day, grab a cup of coffee at one of two Montana Coffee Traders locations in town. Spend your nights at the Grouse Mountain Lodge, which offers upscale accommodations just a mile from downtown.
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Typically known for its vibrant nightlife and après scene in a normal year, Killington is also the largest ski resort east of the Mississippi. Rightfully known as “The Beast of the East,” Killington has a 3,050-foot vertical drop and over 1,500 acres of skiable terrain.
Oh, and the mountain is often the first to open and the last to close on the East Coast. This year the resort is targeting a mid-November opening date.
Aspen‘s reputation may seem inflated, but this 20th-century mining town continues to reinvent itself, helping it edge out other well-liked ski towns.
Aspen Skiing Company’s four resorts (Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen Snowmass) offer plenty of varied terrain, but several are still standouts for children still mastering their pizzas and french fries. And the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is just a few miles from town, making Aspen easily accessible for travelers (at least when the weather cooperates).
Travelers should book a room (or at least check out the scene) at the new W Aspen, which opened in August 2019 on the site of the former Sky Hotel. There’s also The Little Nell, the iconic mountainside property that completed a significant refresh two years ago. After a day on the slopes, try the Pan-American and French fusion menu at Betula, which opened last year. And believe it or not, Aspen on a budget is 100% possible — so enjoy the terrain and powder without blowing your whole wallet.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull
Featured image via Shutterstock.
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