K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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It will soon be time to exchange surfboards, paddleboards, and hiking poles for snowshoes, snowboards, and skis. Having lived and visited many destinations around the country, I’ve spent time in more than a few ski towns, with the best not only offering fantastic slopes with a variety of terrain but a buzzing après-ski scene, outstanding accommodation options, and postcard-perfect views. From some of Colorado’s most renowned spots to destinations with New England charms, these are some of the best ski towns you’ll find in the United States.
Tucked into a box canyon, Telluride is one of the most picturesque towns in Colorado, surrounded on three sides by 14,000-foot-high peaks with its streets lined with Victorian-era buildings, many of which house unique shops, trendy bars, and eateries providing a perfect spot to hang out after a day on the mountain. It’s become somewhat of a foodie destination, on par with what you’d expect to find in a big city, and also boasts a thriving nightlife scene. There’s a free and scenic gondola that links the former mining town to Telluride Ski Resort, offering over 2,000 skiable acres for skiing and boarding with no lift lines. It’s renowned for its uncrowded trails while offering everything from beginner runs to challenging downhill slopes.
Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, just south of Grand Teton National Park, Jackson is the quintessential western ski town. The downtown area is known for its antler arches at the corners of Town Square, with centuries-old buildings lining wooden sidewalks that house numerous shops, galleries, restaurants, and nightlife venues. Skiers and boarders come to hit the slopes of Snow King Mountain or drive a bit further to the world-class wonderland that is Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, one of the premier destinations in the country for extreme skiers. It’s one of the best places to ski in the United States, as few ski resorts offer more variety, and the scenery is out of this world.
Sun Valley opened in 1936 as the country’s first-ever destination winter resort, and today it often ranks among the best. While it tends to attract quite a few celebrities, it has a friendly, small-town feel with a fantastic arts scene, outstanding restaurants, and spectacular ski lodges. Plus, as the name suggests, 80 percent of the ski season enjoys bright sunny skies. Dollar Mountain is known for its diverse variety of terrain and terrain parks with something for everyone from the beginner to the advanced, while Bald Mountain has a consistent vertical drop and slopes for skiers of all levels.
While Vermont is full of top ski destinations, Stowe is sometimes referred to as the “ski capital of the East”. It also boasts a charming downtown area with casual eateries serving mouthwatering eats, lots of great local shops, and one of the country’s best microbreweries, The Alchemist. In the winter, it’s a magical wonderland that looks like a postcard while high-speed gondolas and quads will whisk you up to Mount Mansfield or Spruce Peak. Mount Mansfield is Vermont’s highest peak, attracting adventurous skiers with four double-black diamond runs, while beginners can get the hang of the sport at Spruce Peak, which has a ski school along with gentle blue and green runs.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, South Lake Tahoe is one of the most renowned ski towns in the country, with winters legendary for skiing and boarding along with many other sports like sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skating. Set along the shores of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, it not only offers epic scenery but many world-class ski resorts like Heavenly Mountain, where you can ski with a jaw-dropping view of the sparkling blue waters, surrounded by mountain peaks blanketed with white powder. Kirkwood Mountain and Sierra-at-Tahoe are options too, and all three offer everything from beginner terrain to slopes for the experts. The entertainment options afterward are practically endless, with the town often hosting big-name concerts as well as offering breweries, pubs, and fine dining with a lake view. Head to the Nevada side of the lake for casino gambling.
Girdwood is less than an hour south of Anchorage yet it feels as if it’s a world away. It has just a small year-round population, but many visitors come to take advantage of the over 500 inches of annual snow that provides world-class skiing at Alyeska Resort, with over 1,600 skiable acres and seven lifts that take you to a vertical rise of 2,500 feet. After a day of shredding the slopes, there’s a vibrant aprés scene with venues for live music, parties, and plenty of food and drink. There are lodging options right at Alyesca and throughout Girdwood, but you’ll want to book well ahead as this is a very popular place during the peak of ski season.
Settled during the 1859 Gold Rush, Breckenridge boasts Colorado’s largest historic district, which is filled with Victorian-era buildings that house a wide range of shopping and dining experiences. It also hosts a namesake brewery and distillery while the Gold Pan Saloon opened its doors over 140 years ago, offering live music, food, and libations in a setting with lots of historic charm, having played host to gunfights while outlasting Prohibition. Breckenridge Ski Resort is home to five distinct peaks and the highest chairlift in North America, which carries riders up to a peak of 12,840 feet, providing jaw-dropping views and access to outstanding slopes.
Park City is the textbook definition of a ski town with the Town Lift providing a direct connection from lower Main Street with nearly four dozen buildings on the National Register of Historic Places to 7,300 acres of skiable terrain. You’ll find some of the best powder and a variety of mountain zones at Park City Mountain Resort that make the mountain ideal for skiers of all ages and abilities. It also boasts a visible Olympic legacy through the must-visit Olympic Park and a wide range of other winter sports that include snow biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Combined with some outstanding spas, a great arts scene, and around 150 distilleries, breweries, wineries, and restaurants for fabulous après, it’s hard to beat.
Just a short drive from Glacier National Park, Whitefish is a winter sports lover’s dream with 3,000+ acres of skiable terrain at Whitefish Mountain Resort, just seven miles north of town. Snowboarding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing can all be enjoyed at this popular ski resort in Montana. The lift ticket prices are reasonable, the scenery unforgettable, and night skiing is available too. Plus, the complimentary Snow bus provides transport between the two, making it easy to enjoy the slopes by day and the local scene at night, which includes breweries, distilleries, cafes, and fine dining establishments.
Nestled in the White Mountain National Forest with streets lined with pastel-hued Victorian buildings, North Conway is within 30 minutes of over 10 ski resorts and cross-country centers, with hundreds of scenic trails to explore. Cranmore Mountain overlooks the village and hosts a snowsports school, nearly five dozen trails and glades with a variety of terrain for all ability levels, and the Tubing and Mountain Adventure Park. This town itself is filled with character and charm as one of the most beautiful winter wonderland towns in the U.S., providing the perfect place to return to after a day on the slopes. There are local shops with handcrafted items, antique stores, and playhouses, along with a wide range of eateries and accommodation options.
Located in the high desert just east of the Cascades, Bend has been called a skiing and boarding Nirvana. Visitors can take advantage of epic powder in the morning and then head to a golf course or take part in world-class rock climbing. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Mount Bachelor, which gets over 400 inches of snow a year and hosts over 100 runs with over 4,300 acres, but the town itself receives much less precipitation. After a day of any activity, you might hit the Bend Ale Trail, featuring more than two dozen breweries. You’ll find lots of interesting shops and a wide range of delicious eats as well.
Just minutes from Lake Placid, Whiteface Mountain was the home of the 1980 Winter Olympics and one of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. It boasts the greatest vertical drop on the East Coast with 11 lifts and 90 trails with plenty of terrain for skiers of all levels and other activities, from a speed skating oval to a four-person toboggan. There are no ski-in/ski-out accommodations, but you’ll find plenty of lodging options in the charming Adirondack village of Lake Plaicd itself. This fantastic ski town boasts a Main Street that’s a joy to stroll with charming shops, brewpubs, lots of fantastic eateries, and a breathtaking mountain backdrop.
While it comes with a high price, Aspen is a world-class ski town, home to Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass, which together make up a total of more than 5,500 skiable acres with over 360 trails from beginner to expert, and 41 chairlifts. They’re connected via a free bus system, making it possible to ski all four in one day. As a winter playground for the rich and famous, there’s no shortage of shopping venues with everything from eclectic boutiques to designer stores and vintage apparel. Plus, the food and drink scene is top-notch, and there are some fabulous ski-in/ski-out resorts.
Mammoth Lakes is in the Eastern Sierras, nestled between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border. It’s all about the great outdoors here, with many coming to take advantage of Mammoth Mountain and its 3,500 acres of skiable terrain and annual snowfall of 400 inches. It’s home to the state’s highest lift-served summit at over 11,000 feet, providing spectacular views of the mountains, and after a day on the slopes, there is a wealth of microbreweries, pubs, and restaurants to enjoy in town.
While there are many great ski towns in Colorado, Steamboat Springs is well worth the longer drive from Denver to enjoy some of the best snow in the state. As it’s farther than popular spots like Breckenridge, the crowds are typically thinner, making it even more enjoyable to take advantage of the dry, light “champagne powder.” There are nearly 170 named trails and over 2,900 acres that overlook Yampa Valley, and as more Olympians call Steamboat home than any other ski area, it’s been dubbed “Ski Town, USA.” After a day on the slopes at Steamboat Resort, there’s a hot springs pool to soak in right downtown, or you can head to Strawberry Park Hot Springs a few miles further. In the quaint downtown area, there are plenty of choices for food and drink with a laid-back atmosphere where you’re more likely to see cowboy boots than fur coats.