With high altitude and low attitude, America’s best ski towns offer plenty of fun beyond the slopes.
America's Best Ski Towns
Colorado’s largest historic district is in Breckenridge, which was settled during the 1859 Gold Rush. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that western-movie-set-like “Breck” got its first ski runs. Some properties have two entrances (one faces the lift and the other faces Main Street), and the free Summit Stage bus service to Copper Mountain and Keystone makes it easy to mountain-hop. To get going on snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, turn to the Breckenridge Nordic Center. Breck, like many great ski towns, has a namesake brewery and distillery, plus the Gold Pan Saloon (the oldest liquor license west of the Mississippi) and escargot and buffalo short ribs served at Briar Rose Chophouse and Saloon. When tired legs get the best of them, visitors can take a pottery, creative writing, or ceramics workshop in the Breckenridge Arts District.
“There’s nothing like a hot tub and ski-in, ski-out lodging, but a great ski town needs more than that,” says Steve Kopitz, founder of specialty gear shop Skis.com.
We certainly won’t argue with a man who has traveled to more than 40 ski towns across America. As Kopitz suggests, our favorites not only deliver the bars, restaurants, and adventures that winter vacationers want, but also have a certain small-town appeal, a sense of history, and the carefree vibe that brought downhillers there in the first place.
“The single thing that makes a ski town is authenticity,” adds Dan Sherman, managing director of marketing for Ski.com, which customizes ski trips. “People go on a cruise or beach vacation because they want to get away. Skiers are different. They’re going on a ski vacation because it’s part of who they are. It’s a very special club.”
But you don’t need to be a part of that black-diamond club to appreciate all that these ski towns have to offer. Visitors to Bend, OR, for example, can sample more than 12 microbreweries in between runs or go rock-climbing in Smith Rock State Park. In Taos, NM, take shelter from the cold in galleries and museums that display masterpieces by the likes of Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe—artists who found inspiration in the surrounding desert and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Or simply lounge by the kiva fireplace in your adobe inn.
Kids have their pick among several ice-skating rinks in Truckee, CA, while parents can experience the country’s only ski-in distillery, High West Distillery and Saloon, not far from historic Main Street in Park City, UT. These towns did not just have histories before the first lifts ever got there. They honored them.
Sure, there are other great places where you can base a ski trip, such as Salt Lake City, which provides easy access to the renowned Brighton, Solitude, Alta, and Snowbird resorts, or Aspen, CO, which went from modest silver-mining roots to a swanky favorite among the rich and famous.
We’ve set our sights, however, on the towns that prove ski vacations aren’t just about the slopes or mega-resorts or chic chalets. They are about embracing a lifestyle—and they are just plain fun.