Everyone knows about Aspen and Tahoe — and the massive crowds and overpriced ski resorts that make them so famous — but who’s heard of Brian Head or Driggs?
The slopes have gotten busier and the price tags on everything from hot chocolate to lodging have skyrocketed. Pros and amateurs alike have begun to seek out alternate ski destinations. In recent years, dozens of up-and-coming towns have started to separate themselves from the pack by offering comfortable lodging and powdery slopes at lower prices. To find out which up-and-coming ski towns are most worth your while, we sought the advice of ski bums and other snow lovers to compile our list of 30 great underrated ski towns in America.
Despite being situated on Bellingham Bay, this pretty town of about 83,000 residents is solidifying itself as one of the country’s most underrated places to ski. Bellingham is located within a stone’s throw from the Mount Baker Ski Area. Here, snow lovers will find 10 ski lifts, lots of hills suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers, and a massive 1,500-foot vertical incline. Back in town, Bellingham enjoys a fun community atmosphere. Each of Bellingham’s 25 neighborhoods seems to have a culture of its own. And the Western Washington University students ensure there’s always something fun to do.
Skiing aside, Bend, Oregon has become one of the hottest places to be in recent years. It’s the perfect town for snow lovers and other outdoor aficionados. Bend enjoys a median home price of $249,998 — a bargain for the desirable West Coast. The Cascade Mountains and Mount Bachelor Ski Resort, with its 71 ski runs and vertical drops of up to 3,000 feet, ensure snow lovers will have a great time during the winter. In summer, residents can hike the Deschutes National Forest and fish in the Deschutes River.
Plenty of skiers and snowboarders make their way to Sunday River Ski Resort in Bethel, Maine each year. But few actually experience the charm and welcome of Bethel village! Founded in 1774, Bethel is absolutely adorable, with a walkable downtown, tasty restaurants, historic homes and hotels, and of course, great skiing. At Sunday River, snow lovers can enjoy one of the longest ski seasons on the East Coast. The resort includes a 15-acre super park, trails and slopes suitable for beginners and children, tons of trails, and the longest halfpipe in the east.
Brian Head, Utah
Despite averaging a whopping 360 inches of snow per year, Brian Head has remained one of the most underrated ski towns in America. This is surprising considering the town boasts a ski resort with 650 acres of skiable terrain, stunning views, and laid-back, barely there crowds. While downhill skiers will find plenty to do here, Brian Head is unique because it’s also great for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and young families looking to play in the snow.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Despite its popularity among tourists, Crested Butte, Colorado remains a totally underrated ski town. Home to only about 1,500 people, Crested Butte has enjoyed a long history as a coal-mining town. But skiing remains an important part of the local culture, as well, thanks in part to the town’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The resort has a top elevation of 12,170 feet. It has more than 1,500 acres of skiable terrain, 16 ski lifts, and runs as long as 2.6 miles. The overall appeal of this historic town and its inviting ski resort are why Crested Butte enjoys the nickname “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town.”
Davis, West Virginia
West Virginia residents already know that the aptly nicknamed Mountain State boasts great skiing, but for the rest of the country, West Virginia ski towns remain relatively underrated. One such under-the-radar ski town is Davis, which is home to two top-rated ski resorts. Nestled into the Allegheny Mountains, Canaan Valley Resort offers nearly 50 trails ranging from beginner to expert. It also has a full calendar of fun community events. Just down the road is the Timberline Four Seasons Resort, which receives a whopping 200 inches of snow annually. Skiers and snowboarders love the 39 runs over 100 acres of terrain. The gutsiest of the gutsy enjoy Timberline’s evening hours for nighttime skiing.
As housing prices (along with prices for just about everything else) continue to skyrocket in nearby Jackson Hole, the small town of Driggs, Idaho has become better known as a ski destination. Driggs is situated on the western slopes of the Teton Mountains. This is a mountain town through and through (with the occasional artisanal cheese shop). In Driggs’s backyard is Grand Teton National Park, where cross-country skiing and snowshoeing through forests and meadows are popular pastimes. For snowboarding and downhill skiing, visitors can head 12 miles down the road to Grand Targhee Resort. It’s a popular snow area that gets well reviewed for being much more “mellow” than the sometimes hoity-toity resorts nearby.
Situated 750 feet above sea level in the Cascade Mountains, Enumclaw, Washington is yet another underrated ski town located in the Evergreen State. Enumclaw, means “thundering noise,” is home to Crystal Mountain Resort. The resort boasts 11 ski lifts, various slopes appropriate for all levels of skiers, and a summit elevation of 6,872 feet. All in all, a great place for Enumclaw snow lovers to enjoy the mountain’s annual snowfall average of 486 inches.
There are dozens of ski towns in Colorado, but a few still manage to stay under the radar. One such underrated town is Fraser. This historic and inviting small town has a ton of character. While skiing is only one local pastime, it’s definitely a favorite. Fraser sits within a stone’s throw of Winter Park Resort, one of the state’s best ski resorts. Winter Park — which can be reached by both private car or Amtrak train — has more than 3,000 feet of vertical drops, along with 25 lifts to get you there.
Georgetown has had the nickname “Silver Queen of the Rockies” since the silver boom of the 1850s. While that affectionate moniker isn’t likely to go away any time soon, Georgetown is becoming known more and more as an underrated ski town. The Beaver Creek Resort, Loveland Ski Area, Vail Ski Resort, and Wolf Creek Resort are all located within easy access of town. This makes it convenient for Georgetown-based ski lovers to hit the slopes at the first sign of snow. Also worth mentioning is Georgetown’s affordable cost of living. With a median home price of $189,000, this charming up-and-coming ski town is a more affordable option than nearby places like Golden, Breckinridge, and Keystone.
Located in the same Ogden Valley region as a couple other underrated ski towns on our list, Huntsville is a small town where people love skiing. Despite its population of only 600 people, Huntsville is home to two great ski areas — Diamond Peaks and Snowbasin. And it’s only a short drive to the resorts in Eden and Ogden. For those looking to move permanently to a ski town, Huntsville is a great choice! In fact, it was recently named by RealtyTrac as the best ski town for real estate investors, thanks in part to its median home price of $170,000 and low unemployment rate of 3.7 percent.
Things work a little differently in Kellogg, Idaho. For example, the town welcomes newcomers with a sign that says, “This is a town founded by a jackass and inhabited by its descendants” in lieu of the traditional “hello.” But this town is a friendly one, with a population of around 2,100 snow lovers. In Kellogg itself is Silver Mountain Resort. Spanning two mountains, the resort boasts a total of 1,600 acres of terrain, a 2,200 vertical rise, and the world’s longest single-cabin gondola ride.
Lake Arrowhead, California
While the massive snow-loving crowds of Los Angeles tend to flock to Big Bear, nearby Lake Arrowhead remains relatively underrated. That’s too bad, because this Southern California retreat is full of stunning mountain scenery, rustic charm, and a big local snow culture. Cross-country skiers will love Rim Nordic, where the trails are machine-groomed daily. For families, the nearby Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park and the SkyPark at Santa’s Village are a must during the wintery holiday months.
Lead, South Dakota
The small town of Lead, South Dakota is home to 3,000 people. Its been gaining quite the reputation in recent years as one of America’s best underrated ski towns. For the most part, this reputation has come about due to Lead’s convenient location. Lead residents need to drive only about 10 minutes to reach Ski Mystic Deer Mountain, an impressive resort boasting nearly 900 feet of vertical drop and more than 40 trails.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Despite taking up only four square miles, Mammoth Lakes is quickly becoming a powerhouse ski and snowboarding destination. The popular Mammoth Mountain Resort boasts 150 trails and 28 ski lifts. The 300-mile Mammoth Lakes Trail System is ideal for snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Snow sports are easily the preferred pastimes of the majority of Mammoth Lakes’ 8,000 residents, though this former gold rush town isn’t necessarily for the snow bunny on a budget. The median home price in the Mammoth Lakes Basin is $340,000 — a deal perhaps for expensive California, but one of the highest medians on our list.
McCall is another underrated ski town in Idaho. It’s home to Brundage Mountain, which proudly claims to have “the best snow in Idaho.” Perhaps that is true, as National Geographic did recently refer to McCall as one of the country’s best “secret” ski towns. And since McCall isn’t too far from Kellogg, another town on our list, McCall visitors have additional resorts to choose from, depending on crowds and snow quality.
Utah is chock-full of great ski areas. However, some of the best terrain in the state (maybe even the country!) remain totally underrated. One such area is the town of Ogden. Located just 40 miles from Salt lake City, Ogden is home to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain, two fantastic resorts known for getting great powder. Snowbasin is known for its state-of-the-art amenities. Powder Mountain is beloved for its old-school ski atmosphere, complete with a bus that travels the access roads to pick up skiers and snowboarders who make their way down the mountain’s back side.
Michigan may not be known for its many mountains, but it is home to Ontonagon, one of the most underrated ski towns in the U.S. Located at the mouth of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon is well known regionally for having “some of the finest cross-country skiing trails in America.” In fact, every winter, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers come from miles around to enjoy this stunning natural area. Downhill skiers aren’t left out, though! The Porcupine Mountains Ski Area has well-groomed trails for skiers of all levels to enjoy.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Most people may picture the Rocky Mountains when they think of skiing in Colorado. But the small town of Pagosa Springs proves that the under-the-radar San Juan Mountains is just as worthy of a ski trip. Pagosa Springs gets nearly 500 inches of powder each winter, spurring some to make the bold declaration that this underrated ski town actually has the best snow in the state. Pagosa Springs is home to three million acres of national forest and wilderness, much of which is prime land for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Downhill skiers will love Wolf Creek Resort. Located just outside of the town limits, Wolf Creek has some of the most exciting runs and verticals around. Best yet, after a long day of hitting the slopes, Pagosa Springs visitors can indulge in one of the town’s 25 relaxing natural hot springs.
With all of the ski areas located in Wyoming, it’s no wonder some great ski towns disappear under the radar. One such underrated town is Pinedale. This ski destination is located about 10 miles from White Pine Ski Resort, where ski bunnies have their choice of 25 different trails ranging from novice to advanced. Pinedale is extremely family friendly. The local resort often works in conjunction with the town to host local learn-to-ski programs, competitions, regional races, and other fun snow-themed events.
Okay, so Reno isn’t exactly a ski town in the traditional sense. But when it comes to underrated places to live and ski, this growing city with a small-town feel certainly fits the category. Reno is less than an hour from Squaw Valley in Truckee (also on our list) and all of the resorts in South Lake Tahoe and Tahoe City. Even closer is Mount Rose, a top-ranked ski resort boasting 360-degree views of Tahoe, lots of exciting terrain, and some of the longest steep vertical in the U.S. The city of Reno also owns its own mountain called Sky Tavern. Run like a co-op, parents volunteer to teach ski lessons to local kids.
Sunset Magazine recently named Sandpoint, Idaho as the best under-the-radar ski town in North America. It’s situated between Lake Pend Oreille and the Selkirk Mountains. Sandpoint is a small, artsy town where everyone from the resident Olympic snowboarders to the bartenders love all things snow. There aren’t any major resorts in Sandpoint proper. But the town is located just 11 miles from Schweitzer Mountain, with 2,900 acres of terrain and views that stretch all the way to Canada.
Sandy, Utah is home to approximately 90,000 people, making it much larger than its Wasach Mountain neighbors Huntsville, Eden, and Ogden. Snow lovers living here have their pick of nearby ski resorts, including Alta, Brighton, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City Mountain, Snowbasin, and Solitude Mountain. There are skiing opportunities no matter the levels of snow and crowds. As a suburb of Salt Lake City, Sandy also enjoys a wide variety of amenities and housing options.
Like Driggs, Tetonia is a small town located just across the border from Jackson Hole. Farming is still the region’s main industry, though perhaps “ski town” is a description in Tetonia’s future. Tetonia is nestled along the slopes of the Teton Mountains. While there aren’t as many millionaires here as in Jackson Hole, this small town is home to Teton Ridge Ranch, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s 4,000-acre private ranch. Tetonia residents have easy access to Grand Targhee Resort located in Alta, Wyoming. They also have access to the many snowshoeing and cross-country skiing areas surrounding Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
California-based snow lovers tend to drive right past the tiny town of Truckee, while Nevadans never quite make it at all. Situated in the shadows of popular and glamorous Lake Tahoe, Truckee has somehow avoided the crowds and the high prices of its more famous neighbor. Still, skiing in Truckee is world class. Squaw Valley (one of the sites used for the 1960 Winter Olympics) is a family-friendly resort with a variety of slopes that include the famous experts-only run. Other Truckee-based ski resorts include the popular Northstar Tahoe, the Hyatt Residence Club, and a Ritz-Carlton. If Truckee continues to rise the way it has been, it likely won’t be considered underrated for too much longer.
Tiny Victor, Idaho is the neighbor of Driggs and Tetonia, which also make our list of the most underrated ski towns. Victor is located just across the state border from crowded Jackson Hole. It shares with its neighbors easy access to the snowshoeing mecca Grand Teton National Park, as well as the Grand Targhee (ski) Resort in nearby Alta, Wyoming.
Waitsfield, Vermont is an artsy little up-and-coming ski town located in the Mad River Valley. The small and inviting downtown areas are lined with locally owned businesses, and the sense of community is strong. Situated just between Waitsfield and Warren, which also makes our list, is Mad River Glen, the local ski resort. Mad River is “old school” and celebrates skiing in the way that many ski bums still prefer. Runs often go ungroomed for a greater challenge, the lift is single passenger, and snowboarders aren’t exactly welcomed.
Like its neighbor described above, Warren, Vermont is one of the country’s last great traditional ski towns. Downtown, Warren residents can enjoy locally owned businesses and amenities. The local ski resort, Mad River Glen, celebrates “old school” skiing in all the best ways. Warren and Waitsfield are also located a convenient 15 minutes from Sugarbush, one of Vermont’s most state-of-the-art resorts.
POWDER calls Waterbury, Vermont a “quintessential satellite ski town.” Located in the picturesque Green Mountains, this small town is nestled between Mount Mansfield and Camel’s Hump, two 4,000-plus-foot summits. This makes Waterbury a convenient location to enjoy some of Vermont’s most famous resorts, including Stowe Mountain Resort, Sugarbush, Bolton Valley, and the resorts around Mad River.
Wenatchee, Washington’s convenient location on the east side of the Cascade Mountains makes it a great — if not totally underrated — ski town. It was once a major stopping point for the Great Northern Railway. Today Wenatchee is an important agricultural center and comes alive during the winter months. Town residents have convenient access to some of the Cascades’ most popular ski areas, including Badger Mountain, Echo Valley, Mission Ridge, and Leavenworth. And with an average of 300 sunny days per year, you can be sure that folks in Wenatchee are spending their winters on the slopes enjoying the snow.