Let’s face it: things change. You get older, technology races full speed ahead and you can no longer get a tank of gas for less than a dollar. The ski industry has changed, too. From high-speed six-person chairlifts to apps that track your stats to helmets (gasp), ski resorts and ski towns are constantly trying to offer the next new thing to convince skiers and snowboarders to spend their hard-earned dollars there.
As a result, the number of quaint ski towns filled with salt-of-the-earth folks that want nothing more than 150 days on the mountain are dwindling. While it’s easy to find a massage or a Starbucks in most ski towns, finding a town where there’s a long-standing history, colorful locals and more powder than pretense can be a bit more challenging. To help you in your search here are six of U.S.’s last great ski towns.*
*This is an incomplete list. There are other ski towns where you can find a low-key vibe and more characters than CEOs. However, we were warned not to give away all of our secrets.
1. Crested Butte, Colorado
Billing itself as the “Last Great Colorado Ski Town,” Crested Butte doesn’t have to worry about getting in trouble for false advertising. This high-altitude former mining town is just that: one of the last great ski towns in Colorado.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort is known for pioneering adventure skiing—there are plenty of steeps, cliffs and coulouirs—but there’s also enough beginner and intermediate terrain to keep most folks happy.
After a mind-blowing day on the mountain, head into the fun and funky downtown (with nary a Starbucks in sight) and rub elbows with the locals at historic bars that are just begging you to sit for a spell.
2. Ogden, Utah
There are plenty of places to ski in Utah (as residents are quick tell you if you mention that you’re from Colorado), but the days of wide-open spaces at many resorts are dwindling. Head to Ogden, which is just 40 miles north of SLC and you’ll find a former railroad town that boasts high-caliber restaurants and bars housed in former brothels and opium dens.
With both Powder and Snowbasin Mountain nearby—neither of which are crowded—you have a choice of experiences. Snowbasin features spectacular steeps while Powder is an intermediate skier or rider’s dream. With 7000 acres, Powder is one of the largest ski area in the U.S. (if you count its hiking and snowcat terrain) and, with snowcat rides starting at $20, why wouldn’t you?
See Utah lift tickets.
3. Boone, North Carolina
Say what you will about skiing in the southeast, but the fact remains that these resorts nestled in the Appalachians have lots of charm and plenty of folks who love ‘em. The resorts are small but the people are passionate, like Jim Cottrell, founder of Appalachian Ski Mountain’s French-Swiss Ski College, who’ll teach beginners the “ski dance” that he created, or Fred, who’s still running Fred’s General Mercantile on Beech Mountain.
Hunker down in Boone and you’ll have access to Beech, Sugar and Appalachian Ski Mountain for your downhill pleasure. Sure, you’ll have to wait until it’s cold enough for the resorts to blow snow, but there are plenty breweries and restaurants (yum, barbecue) to visit, live music to listen to, and the Blue Ridge Parkway to explore while you’re visiting.
4. Whitefish, Montana
Take a wild west sensibility and combine it with mountains that scream “big sky country” and you’ve got Whitefish, a town that has access to plenty of terrain without the big resort feel. Home to Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly big mountain), this former logging and current railroad town is within sight distance of Glacier National Park.
Whitefish attracts all sorts of people who want to not only admire nature, but get out into it, too. Though not big, the town has an authentic western feel with plenty of restaurants and bars for those who arrive by train and those who have spent the day on the snow. With options for all levels from beginners (wide open groomers) to experts (plenty of tree skiing among the “snow ghosts”), Whitefish is fast-becoming a destination for Montana skiing.
5. Waitsfield, Vermont
For a quintessential New England ski town, look no further than Waitsfield, Vermont. Step into this postcard-like town, complete with covered bridges and steeples, and you might almost forget that the Green Mountains’ best resorts are also nearby.
With restaurants where farm-to-table is tradition rather than fad and taverns that encourage the telling of tall tales, Waitsfield is a haven for those who want their ski town gilded in history. Nearby, skiers-only Mad River Glen is rustic and decidedly old-school—who needs high-speed quads?—while Sugarbush allows both skiers and snowboarders access to its winding blues, underutilized expert runs and lift-accessible backcountry terrain.
6. Girdwood, Alaska
Sometimes you have to travel to experience one of the last great ski towns. Girdwood, Alaska, is located about 40 miles south of Anchorage and has been welcoming ski bums and hippies since the 1970s. This former gold-mining town in the Chugach Mountains has retained its hard-working roots (you’ll see more flannel than fur here); folks are here to ski and snowboard.
Alyeska Resort, the largest ski resort in Alaska, is located on the edge of town, offering up 2000 vertical feet, including hike-to chutes as well as the heli- and cat-skiing available from Alyeska’s base area. February and March are the best months to visit—you’ll get more daylight hours than in the lower 48. Take the tram and you’ll get to see the ocean from the north face—though you won’t see Russia.