Skip the big mountain resorts; these five communities have authentic snowbound charm.
Crested Butte, Colorado
America's Best Small Ski Towns
Crested Butte, Colorado
Set among the endless snowfields and working cattle ranches of the Elk Mountains, “The Butte,” as residents call it, started as a rough-and-tumble coal-mining camp in the late 19th century. Coal gave way to ski resorts in the 1960’s, but this headstrong community held tight to its saloons and false-front stores, eschewing development in favor of Historic District status. Good move: stately Victorian houses and antique streetlights still line the town’s 37 blocks, and a proud tradition of locally owned businesses continues.
The main draw of ski towns is, of course, the skiing. But let’s not kid ourselves: the slopes aren’t all that matter. Part of what makes a ski vacation wonderful—especially for city dwellers—is the experience of staying in a mountain community, away from the hustle and glitz of urban life.
Some of the best-known ski towns in America have come to resemble mountain metropolises in recent years—with towering luxury hotels, glittering boutiques, and celebrity-chef restaurants. And while plenty of visitors love this, others may wish for something a little more low-key.
Happily, for them, there are still a handful of small, lesser-known slope-side havens.
Scattered across the country’s most breathtaking mountain ranges—like the Sierra Nevada, the Tetons, the Green Mountains, and the Cascades—a few small, laid-back ski towns still exist. Some are just a stone’s throw from big, ritzy resorts, like the former logging town of Truckee, California (15 minutes from Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe); and the tiny hamlets of Victor, Driggs, and Tetonia, Idaho (25 miles across the Wyoming border from Jackson Hole). Others—like Bend, Oregon, and Crested Butte, Colorado—are off in the relative hinterlands, far from the Bogner-clad crowds.
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What just about all these communities share is a sense of small-town rugged individualism. The twin Vermont villages of Waitsfield and Warren—adjacent to one of the East Coast’s greatest, hairiest old-school ski mountains, Mad River Glen—are filled with organic bakeries and artisans’ studios, and the countercultural locals who frequent them; in rough-hewn Truckee, diners and restaurants feed lumberjack appetites with dishes like the “Big Assed Pork Platter.” In Crested Butte (known for its steep, challenging Elk Mountains terrain), a designation as a national Historic District along with a proud tradition of locally owned businesses means there’s not a single McDonald’s or Starbucks to be found.
What there is, instead, is character. In the words of Craig Maestro, who owns Crested Butte’s most popular breakfast spot, Izzy’s, “Uniqueness counts here.”
Jeff Wise is a T+L contributing editor. Stacey Brugeman is a writer based in Denver.