Ask a group of skiers about their favorite ski towns, and chances are you’ll hear a variety of opinions. Some might say it’s all about the mountain, while others will gush about the local vibe and après-ski experience. There’s no right answer — it just depends on what you’re looking for. But if you want to check out someplace new on your next ski vacation, and your requirements include great skiing and a great place to enjoy your off-slope time, these 10 communities are among the best ski towns in the U.S.
The Colorado collection: Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge and Telluride
No matter how far and wide you look, it seems like all roads lead to Colorado — at least in the world of skiing. The state is a global ski destination, dominated by the Rocky Mountains in the West, with plenty of sky-high slopes offering massive vertical descents. You really can’t go wrong in the Colorado mountains, but these ski towns top the list.
Vail is one of the country’s best-known ski towns, and for good reason. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges, Vail boasts spectacular views from any vantage point and is the gateway to Colorado’s largest ski area, Vail Ski Resort. With 5,300 acres across three sections — Front Side, Blue Sky Basin and Back Bowls — the resort is known for its big-powder bowl skiing and advanced runs, but it also offers a nice mix of gladed terrain and beginner-friendly runs. Unlike some of Colorado’s other popular ski towns, Vail was intentionally built as a ski community. Modeled in the style of a Bavarian village, the town is designed for pedestrians, making it easy to pop into one of the many upscale shops and restaurants steps away from Vail’s assortment of luxury hotels. The small-town yet swanky atmosphere attracts celebs and CEOs, but the skiing and scenery is a draw for anyone who loves the mountains. Just be prepared for high-end prices, from lodging, dining and shopping in town, to lift tickets at the resort.
South of Vail, Aspen rivals its neighbor to the north as one of the country’s best ski towns, with epic skiing and plenty of off-the-slopes amenities. Like many small towns in the region, it was originally a mining camp, and historic buildings line the main street. It offers easy access to four ski areas: Aspen Mountain, closest to town, with a mix of intermediate and advanced runs; Snowmass, the biggest Aspen-area resort, with ski-in, ski-out lodging and a bustling base area; Buttermilk, with gentler slopes for beginners and a good number of intermediate runs; and Aspen Highlands, the “locals’ mountain,” known for smaller crowds, expert runs and unmatched terrain. When you’re not on the mountain, the town has plenty to offer, including fine dining, galleries, festivals and museums showcasing the area’s history. Like Vail, the A-list crowd flocks to Aspen, and it’s a popular second home location for the rich and famous, so don’t expect bargains unless you visit in the off season.
Less than a two-hour drive southwest of Denver, Breckenridge is easily accessible from the capital city and bursting with charm. Founded during the Gold Rush, Breckenridge is a down-to-earth ski town with Victorian-era roots. You’ll find its historic main street lined with cute shops, a handful of local breweries and a variety of lodging options. When you’re ready to ski, hop on a free shuttle from town and head up to Breckenridge Ski Resort. The mountain is known for its five peaks, each with unique terrain, and offers the highest lift-served terrain in North America. With a good balance of beginner/intermediate and advanced/expert runs spread across 187 trails, skiers of all levels can enjoy the experience. Unlike Vail and Aspen, both the mountain and town of Breckenridge cater to more of the local crowd, while still providing plenty of amenities for travelers looking for a more laid-back, less ritzy atmosphere.
Located in southwestern Colorado on the Western Slope, Telluride is another former mining town that has gradually transformed itself into a premier ski vacation destination. Telluride Ski Resort is a family-friendly resort with 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, plenty of trails for beginners, and long steep runs, including a 4.6-mile run covering a portion of the mountain’s 4,425-foot vertical drop. The mountain gets lots of sunshine and loads of snow, which means beautiful views and big powder throughout the ski season. A free gondola shuttles skiers between the base and downtown Telluride, so it’s easy to get around. The ski town has an authentic Western sensibility, smaller crowds compared to the state’s chichi resorts, and a relaxed community atmosphere. You can expect good times in town and great skiing on the mountain.
The West Coast wonders: Bend and Tahoe
The Cascade Mountain Range, extending from southern British Columbia through Northern California, is home to massive peaks and many popular ski areas. Among the Cascade ski towns, Bend, Oregon, on the eastern slope, stands out as a haven for outdoor adventurers and ski enthusiasts. Heading south into California, you’ll find the best skiing in the Sierra Nevadas, and Lake Tahoe is a prime destination with more than a dozen ski areas around the lake.
Bend is known for its year-round outdoor adventures, including rock climbing, water sports and golf — including three courses at the luxury Sunriver Resort just south of town — and of course skiing at nearby Mt. Bachelor, Oregon’s premier ski resort. The largest city in Central Oregon’s high desert, Bend was once a sleepy logging town, but it has grown into a lively city and vacation hotspot in recent decades. The revitalized downtown core offers a plethora of small distilleries and craft breweries, earning it the status of “Beer City USA,” but it’s also a haven for families and offers a mix of boutiques, cafes and an active arts community. This ski town is an ideal basecamp for skiers heading up to Mt. Bachelor, which boasts more 4,300 acres of lift-accessible terrain, placing it among the top 10 largest ski resorts in the U.S. Terrain is evenly split between beginner/intermediate and advanced runs, so novice and expert skiers can enjoy plenty of challenging runs all day long.
The Lake Tahoe region, high in the Sierra Nevadas, is home to some 14 major ski areas, so there’s truly something for everyone. It’s hard to choose a single best ski town, but standout resorts include Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Alpine, encompassing Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley resorts) and Heavenly, the two largest near the lake. Palisades Tahoe is famous for hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics and offers long, steep runs with stunning views. Its two mountains boast a combined area of 6,000 acres and a fairly even distribution of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs. The base town, The Village at Palisades Tahoe, was designed with après-ski in mind. You’ll find resort-quality lodging and dozens of boutiques and restaurants. Plus, you don’t have to drive far to reach several other quaint North Lake Tahoe communities, each with unique personalities and ski-town amenities. Heavenly Ski Resort is situated in South Tahoe, spanning South Lake Tahoe, California, and Stateline, Nevada. The resort offers 4,800 skiable acres and the highest elevation in Tahoe. The skiing is world-class, and South Lake Tahoe is both a ski town and a party town known for its nightlife and club scene. Over in Stateline, you can try your luck at one of the many casinos.
The Western trio: Park City, Jackson and Sun Valley
The former Utah mining town of Park City has come a long way from its rustic roots. Considered one of the best ski towns, Park City couples historic charm with modern amenities. Cinema lovers and stars flock here for the annual Sundance Film Festival, and you’ll find chic dining and shopping establishments throughout downtown. Luxury lodging, boutiques, spas and breathtaking scenery make Park City an upscale vacation destination. Take your pick of two world-class ski resorts near town, Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort, which both hosted events during the 2002 Winter Olympics and remain a training ground for the U.S. Ski Team. Park City Mountain is massive — it’s the largest ski area in the country, with 7,300 skiable acres and 330 trails — so there’s a lot to explore, and seasoned skiers can hone their skills on the mixed terrain. At around 2,000 acres, Deer Valley is considerably smaller — but it’s also less crowded and offers more beginner runs, so it’s a great option for newer skiers.
Picture a classic Western mountain town, and you may envision a place like Jackson, Wyoming. Situated in the Jackson Hole Valley between two mountain ranges, far from major cities and surrounded by national forest, Jackson feels remote and rugged. As the area’s industry transitioned from timber to tourism in recent years, Jackson has gained increasing popularity as one of the best ski towns in the West. It has all the amenities — shops, restaurants and luxury lodging — while retaining its frontier-like appeal. You won’t find the glitz of Vail or Squaw Valley, but Jackson offers beautiful wilderness and a relaxed pace of life. It’s also the gateway to three ski resorts, the most popular being Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. The resort encompasses 2,500 acres and provides an abundance of advanced runs, plenty of intermediate runs and a few beginner trails. It borders Grand Teton National Park, and you’ll get the best views by taking the aerial tram up to the resort’s highest point on Rendezvous Mountain, elevation 10,450 feet. For experienced skiers, the tram also provides access to one of the steepest runs in North America, Corbet’s Couloir, a chute that terrifies and thrills skiers who dare to test their skills.
One of the oldest planned ski towns in the country, Sun Valley, Idaho, was developed at a time when alpine skiing was starting to gain momentum in the U.S., spurred in part by the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The resort opened in 1936 and included the world’s first chairlifts (don’t worry, they’ve been replaced since then). Throughout the decades, Sun Valley has attracted celebrities and other icons, from Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who currently owns a second home there and has a ski run named after him. The Sun Valley area includes the town of Ketchum, just west of the resort, which is an outdoor paradise with a vibrant arts community. As newer, swankier resorts have cropped up throughout the West, Sun Valley Resort may feel a bit old school to some — but it’s also more affordable, with excellent skiing for all levels including a large proportion of beginner runs. Novice skiers can access gentle trails on Dollar Mountain, while experts will find fun and challenging bowls on Bald Mountain.
The East Coast classic: Stowe
Serious skiers are drawn to the big mountains of the West, but the eastern U.S. has some noteworthy resorts that make the most of the region’s more modest slopes.
Stowe is a picture-perfect New England ski town. This quaint Vermont village exudes Americana — think malt shops, white steepled churches and main street parades — plus a healthy dose of the Austrian Alps. In fact, the real Von Trapp family settled there in the 1940s after fleeing their native Austria because the town reminded them of their alpine home. They built the Trapp Family Lodge, which was later rebuilt after a fire and now offers a full European-style resort experience. Stowe offers lots of local charm, with live music and breweries, friendly residents and affordable family activities. Stowe Mountain Resort packs 116 quality trails into its 485 acres, with a mix of beginner and expert runs, and a large variety of intermediate trails. If a trip to the West is out of reach, this gem of the East is a great choice for skiers of all levels and deserves its spot on the list of best ski towns.
Find your perfect ski home
Pacaso has stunning second homes in some of the best ski towns in the West, including Park City, Tahoe and Colorado mountain towns. All of our second homes offer luxurious amenities and easy access to top local destinations. Choose how much you want to own, and enjoy all the benefits of your second home with less hassle — Pacaso takes care of maintenance and property management. View our listings to get started.
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