When the question “Where’s the best ski town to live in year round?” was posed to a bunch of North American snow sport diehards, consensuses gathered around a few choice areas. These places cater to “graduated” ski bums who want to keep playing hard but might be realizing it’s time to earn their turns — by working, too. Continuing our journey from Western USA and Canada, we’ve made it to our last stop of best spots to stay and play for more than a ski season.
Here are the top four ski towns for Eastern living, as chosen by ski bums who are already doing it.
Home of: Killington Mountain Resort
Perfect for: Those who want to live the country club lifestyle on a ski bum budget.
Skier: Merisa S.
“We’re a triathlon-of-activity-a-day kind of town,” says Merisa of her beloved Killington. Not a bad way to start a conversation when trying to sell the merits of your home to any outdoor enthusiast. This Vermont town calls the varied terrain of the Green Mountains its backyard, giving no wonder to those familiar with the area that it claims a spot on the list.
“Small town Vermont life in the summer balances out our crazy, tourist-filled winters,” says Merisa, adding with a smile, “And so locals play.”
Jump on a section of the Appalachian Trail or the historical Long Trail (America’s first long-distance trail), SUP on Snowshed Pond, or mountain bike the resort’s 35 miles of trail via the gondola or your own pedal power.
And yes, Killington does claim some great golfing, but this place isn’t pretentious. “It’s about the lifestyle not the money or bragging rights,” explains Merisa. “This town is a family. If someone here can’t pay hospital bills, we throw a fundraiser and pay it off.”
Talk about one big, happy, ski bum family.
Though the town is small, there is still plenty going on besides the outdoors. Farmer’s markets, concerts, street fairs (such as the “Winter in August” celebration, proving winter is never far from the mind in a good ski town!), as well as free education presentations ensure that the residents stay well-rounded.
Once you’ve explored town, jump in your car for nearby attractions: Within a half-hour radius you’ll find cheese artisans that invite you to try their custom flavors and apple orchards selling pies and cider. Work those local delicacies off while kayaking 750-acre Chittenden Resevoir, just 17 miles away and surrounded by national forest, or stroll Merchant’s Row in neighboring Rutland to view beautifully restored buildings from the 19th century.
And we know; it’s not exactly in the immediate region, but gosh dang it’s gotta be mentioned: The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory is in nearby(ish) Waterbury, just slightly over an hour’s drive.
We see a freezer stocked full of Cherry Garcia in your future.
When you get here: Get lost in the woods. “Killington marks mile 1,700 on the Appalachian Trail and the midway point of the Long Trail. The two intersect for 100 miles at Maine Junction in Killington,” points out Merisa. It is, according to her, “the most beautiful & famous thru-hiking in the world.”
Home to: Whiteface Mountain*
Perfect for: Those who want to pair hefty vertical with a side of culture.
Skier: Andrew Q.
*Disclaimer: Though Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort is in neighboring Wilmington, it is often unwittingly accredited to the larger area of Lake Placid since the distance is so close to both. We just wanted to give credit where credit is due!
It’s no surprise that east coast skiers named Lake Placid as one of the east’s best ski towns for year-round living: its proximity to the resort that boasts skiing’s biggest vertical drop in the east, its situation inside a larger population base (North Elba) and its illustrious past — including hosting two Winter Olympic games (1932 and 1980) — have helped craft a town that delivers a lively array of attractions, places to work, and cultural events. Add these points to the fact that the geography of the area naturally supports year-round adventure and you’ve got a combo that makes life here feel much (much) larger than its “village” classification.
The residents acknowledge their luck in calling this place “home.” Andrew, the owner of a restaurant in town (Desperados), was raised in the surrounding Adirondack Mountains, an incredible chain of beauty protected by the 6.1 million acre Adirondack Park, the largest state-run park in the lower 48 and largest National Historic Landmark in the country.
“I describe Lake Placid as the greatest outdoor destination in the world,” says Andrew, proudly. “No other place can offer so much in such close proximity. You want to climb? We have it. Want water? Check. Golf? Yup.” Being that this ski town also has viable options for long-term careers, he’s never far from the mountain which he takes advantage of by skiing four days a week without missing a beat at work.
And though the town might be located in rural upstate New York (a world apart from the bustling noise of the state’s iconic city), Lake Placid isn’t lacking in conveniences. A regional airport serves the area and major services can be found within the town, including: a community college; Eastern Mountain Sports, a New England classic which sells all the best gear; outlet stores for clothing; and public and private schools, one of them being the National Sports Academy which trains students in ten different winter sports and provides rigorous college prep.
Did the latter appeal to you as a member of a dedicated ski family? You’re in luck. As ski towns go, there are quite a number of families residing in the Lake Placid area. This means if you’ve got little ones, you’ll find plenty of friends to schedule play dates with. However, wipe the idea of it being a date with blocks and books: “Lake Placid has hard core skier, climber, and hockey families,” mentions Andrew, which means adults, along with their children, will share equally in the enjoyment of these get-togethers.
Some of those outings, depending on the season (and the age of the kids in tow), might include skating on the Olympic Oval or dog sledding on Mirror Lake (which shoulders up to the town), tubing at the Olympic ski jumps, ice climbing in Cascade Pass, playing ice hockey or going ice fishing, hiking the Adirondack’s 46 peaks that reach over 4,000’, or leisurely paddling on one of the regions many lakes.
Last but not least, let’s not forget the food adventures: Lake Placid covers the dining spectrum with over 90 eateries and breweries. If you feel like whipping up your own delights, pick up produce from one of the local growers at one of the region’s 10+ farmer’s markets that run in season. Specialty cheeses, meats, and the works of crafty artisans are also available to peruse and sample.
(Big breath of air…) And this is all just the beginning.
When you get here: Andrew might be a bit biased in his suggestion, but it does sound pretty tasty! “The first thing you do is come to Desperados and get an order of Roulettes and ask the bartender what tequila to try — we have over 180 different kinds!”
Perfect for: The gnarliest of east-coast skiers.
Skier: Alanna D.
Teleskier: Andrew C.
One of my favorite things to say about east coast skiers is: “They take what the mountain gives them — and love it.” North Conway, located within the valley of the 6,288’ Mount Washington (home of the highest surface wind speed observed by man and dubbed as having the “World’s Worst Weather”), hosts a community full of such skiers who continue to stay post-season.
No matter what the weather is bringing to the mountain, you’ll find these die-hards out there. -10°, gale-force winds and humidity to boot? You won’t hear whining or fussing. Not a perfect powder day? Get over it and get on the hill. These folks love skiing because they love skiing. Period.
If you’re of that mindset, this place is for you.
Because the area has a year-round lifestyle and career-oriented professions, two ski bum sources, Alanna Davis (former Wildcat Administrative Assistant) and Andrew Chastney (former Attitash ski patroller), both chose to stay in the North Conway area after graduating from their seasonal shifts.
The region is jam-packed with an outdoor history that helps craft the vibe of the town. For example, the country’s oldest, continuously used hiking trail, Crawford Path, was built here 195 years ago. And in the early part of the last century, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) carved a large chunk of the area’s trails and erected shelters along their routes, many of which are still in use today.
Of the intensity of these trails, Andrew relates a local legend: “It’s said that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the CCC, some of the first recreation trails they cut were in the White Mountains (of which Mount Washington is a part). They cut them straight up, with no switchbacks. When the CCC made it west, they finally figured out that switchbacks made it less strenuous.”
Added to the no-nonsense nature of these trails, many require 3-4,000’ elevation gains, making them on par with a number of Colorado’s 14er summit trails. (For more, check out The Surprising Difference Between East and West Hiking.)
“This area has some of the gnarliest [outdoor] stuff for being in the northeast,” says Alanna.
And it’s true. Mount Washington, one of the world’s most dangerous mountains with over 130 deaths, is used as training grounds for mountaineers looking to take on summits such as Denali. Backcountry skiers and others on this mountain have to be aware of crevasses, massive pieces of falling ice, avalanches and the mountain’s famously fickle (and unfriendly) weather that can catch visitors at any time of the year with sub-zero temps and hurricane-force blizzards.
In more modern times, the area is also home to the largest cross-country ski trail system in the east and has become a world-class rock and ice climbing destination, with a festival held for the latter every year. Lift-serviced mountain biking trails, whitewater kayaking, and stunning access to fly-fishing are all within reach here.
No wonder the people here have such a drive to be out no matter the elements.
When you get here: Take Andrew’s tip and make your way to the top of Mount Washington via hiking, the historic cog train, skinning in winter, or using a combo of hiking and rock/ice climbing. Afterwards in town, celebrate your summit at the Moat Mountain Brewery for a mug o’ Alanna’s favorite: Violet B’s Blueberry beer.
Live in one of the east’s favorite ski towns or have one of your own to add? Leave a comment and tell us about it!