Skip to main content

The West's best ski towns

Telluride, Colorado is a beautiful Western town surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks and the state's tallest free-falling waterfall.
Telluride, Colorado is a beautiful Western town surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks and the state's tallest free-falling waterfall.
  • Telluride, Colorado, is a perfectly preserved Western town
  • The après-ski scene in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is lively and fun
  • Taos, New Mexico offers an array of activities for non-skiers
  • Alpine Skiing
  • Skiing
  • Tourism

(Sunset) -- Whether you're all about the hot toddies, mountain views, Wild West saloons, après-ski eats or small-town charm, we've got the place for you.

Most Old West charm: Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Spur-clad cowboys from the area's 400 cattle ranches mingle with fur-clad skiers on main hub Lincoln Avenue. Wanna look like a local? Stop by F.M. Light & Sons, open since 1905, for cowboy threads.

Slopes: Race down 2,965 acres of some of the West's best gladed and groomed skiing at Steamboat ($97), including Shadows and Buddy's Run. Hang around at the top of the gondola at 1 p.m. and you might get a chance to take the chairlift with 1964 Olympic silver medalist Billy Kidd, decked out in his signature Stetson.

Sleeps: Downtown's Hotel Bristol (from $139) opened in 1948 and still has its Old West touches, from the saloon to the Native American quilts in the bedrooms.

Info: 24 miles from Yampa Valley Regional Airport;

Sunset: 16 great snowy getaways

Prettiest town: Telluride, Colorado

Nestled in a box canyon, the perfectly preserved Western town is dwarfed by 13,000-foot peaks and Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado's tallest free-falling waterfall.

Slopes: The gondola at Telluride Ski Resort ($98) ascends right from town to the ridgetop, with the Mountain Village great for sweeping vistas and cruiser runs. The new above-treeline Revelation Bowl, however, is where to get jaw-dropping views.

Sleeps: At Mountain Village, the ski-in, ski-out Capella Telluride (from $295) combines stone-and-timber design with spectacular scenery like sunset over Mt. Wilson and San Sophia Ridge from your balcony. In town, try the Old West--style New Sheridan Hotel (from $149).

Info: 6 miles from Telluride Regional Airport;

Sunset: 7 quiet winter escapes

Most under the radar: Sandpoint, Idaho

When you hear that Sandpoint is in Idaho's Panhandle between the glacially formed Lake Pend Oreille (pon-duh-ray) and the Selkirk Mountains, a natural reaction would be, "Um ...where?"

And that's the charm of this small town of folk artists, Olympic snowboarders and railroad employees (working Amtrak's Empire Builder route). Everyone comes together at MickDuff's Brewing Co. and Pend d'Oreille Winery's tasting room and Bistro Rouge Café.

Slopes: Eleven miles from Sandpoint at the 2,900-acre Schweitzer Mountain ($65), forests stretch out as far as the eye can see (you might even spot Canada, 45 miles away).

But you won't see crowds of skiers and snowboarders, especially at the Idyle Our T-bar, the lift farthest from Schweitzer's base area. It accesses hundreds of acres of off-trail tree skiing and the resort's longest run, the 2.1-mile intermediate Little Blue Ridge.

Sleeps: Nineteen cedar-shaked, blue-trimmed bungalows are part of Dover Bay Resort (studios from $99), 3 miles from Sandpoint. Access 9 miles of walking or snowshoeing trails winding through wetlands where bald eagles and blue heron winter.

Info: Spokane International Airport is an easy 80 miles southwest.

Sunset: 13 fun winter towns

Most food-focused: Bend, Oregon

A reinvented logging town populated by skateboarding students, Cali refugees and athletes-in-training (all of whom care deeply about what they eat and where it comes from -- the closer, the better), Bend is seeing a post-downturn recovery spurred by locavore dining and nouveau food carts.

Your day should start with a farm-fresh scramble from Chow. Lunch favorites are Jackson's Corner, for cut-above-average sandwiches; and Spork, a cart that serves green Thai curry and tacos. When the dinner bell sounds, great choices are Zydeco, for New Orleans-tinged flavors; 900 Wall, whose ordinary-seeming pasta/pizza/steak menu belies a real talent; and Joolz, for a uniquely Oregonian take on Lebanese food (like Hummus on the Range: seared elk meat with your hummus and pita).

Slopes: Just 22 miles west, rising out of the Deschutes National Forest, is solitary Mt. Bachelor (from $50). It's a challenging ski area: 3,683 acres of exhilarating, windswept runs with a 3,365-foot vertical drop.

Sleeps: The new, boutiquey Oxford Hotel (from $179) puts you in the heart of downtown's buzzy small-plates scene -- and one of the stars is the hotel's own 10 Below restaurant.

Info: 17 miles from Redmond Municipal Airport;

Sunset: Escape to Long Beach, Washington

Most charm: Crested Butte, Colorado

Mix boho with Victorian and you've got Crested Butte's funky Historic District main street, from the ski-toting bike riders to the hand-painted town bus rolling by. Getting here isn't easy, but C.B.'s remoteness keeps the masses away.

Slopes: Three miles from downtown, the slopes of Crested Butte Mountain Resort (from $59) nurture its reputation as steep and chute-packed -- not for the faint of heart. But the more than 900 acres of beginner and intermediate terrain tell another tale. Take the advice of locals and hit the Gold Link and East River lifts for some confidence-building intermediate runs.

Sleeps: Downtown's jewel-colored Ruby (from $149) has 6 rooms with 1,000-thread-count sheets and Frette spa robes. The fresh-baked Ruby Cinnamon Rolls have been known to cause more than one skier to miss the first chair of the morning. Borrow a red townie bike from the inn to fit in with the 2-wheeled population.

Info: 29 miles from Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional;

Most relaxed: Rossland, British Columbia

The bonus of a small ski town that hasn't yet crossed over into resort-town territory? The locals aren't jaded and the tourists aren't pushy. Stop into almost any watering hole or breakfast spot (like Clansey's Cappuccino, on the three-block main drag, Columbia Avenue), and you're likely to make new friends. Look for pockets of activity at the Flying Steamshovel and at Drift Izakaya, where locals go for a sushi fix.

Slopes: With only 112,000 total visitors per year (and only 6 total lifts), the tree-lined trails at Red Mountain Resort ($63 U.S.) stay fairly quiet. Even the newly 300 percent larger deck at Red's base lodge shouldn't dilute the mellow non-scene scene.

Sleeps: There are plenty of hot tub-equipped condos, or try the homey Red Shutter Inn (from $99 U.S.), the closest hotel to the lifts and the base camp for snowcat skiing with Big Red Cats ($352 U.S.). Wake to the smell of bacon wafting from Red Shutter's first-floor kitchen, where group breakfasts are fuel for days of powering down untracked powder in the surrounding Monashees.

Info: West Kootenay Regional is about 30 minutes away, but connections are pricey; Spokane Int'l is about a 2 1/2-hour drive.

Best après-ski scene: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A strangely sophisticated combo of authentic elk-antler archways, sleek lodgings and hard-skiing as well as hard-partying locals who know where to ditch the poles after a day on the mountain. Like the Mangy Moose (at the base of the mountain) for Moose Drool Ale on tap -- and more moose-themed memorabilia than you can shake an antler at. Or the always-popular Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where you can sit in a saddle while you revel.

Slopes: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (from $59) has the biggest continuous vertical rise in the U.S. (4,139 feet) and enough double black diamonds to raise anyone's blood pressure. But newbies and intermediate folk needn't fret: Après Vous, the tamer of the resort's two mountains, is a consolation prize. Just 6 blocks from Town Square are 400 skiable acres at Snow King Mountain (from $25), which also offers night skiing.

Sleeps: The historic Wort Hotel (from $229), a block from Town Square, boasts the Silver Dollar Bar, where (as you might suspect) the bar is inlaid with silver dollars -- 2,032 of them. Live music and a party-hearty scene are the weekend norm here.

Info: 16 miles from Jackson Hole;

Most well-rounded: Truckee, California

Keeping a low-pro just 13 miles north of Life List-worthy Lake Tahoe is this unritzified ski town -- despite the swank Ritz at Northstar up the street. The historic main drag can please teenagers and grandparents alike, with a Blue Bottle Coffee-loving cafe (Elijah Bleu's), jazz lounge (Moody's) and a growing number of tasting rooms (the Pour House, Truckee River Winery).

Slopes: The closest of the big guns is blue square-saturated Northstar (check the website for lift prices), but black diamond skiers come for the chutes on its Lookout Mountain. Laid-back powderhounds prefer Alpine Meadows (from $71), while the extreme skier-scenesters stick to Squaw Valley ($86;, aka Squallywood. Beginners head to Tahoe Donner ($39) and Soda Springs ($35).

Sleeps: Something for everyone: just-gimme-a-bed at revamped Truckee Tahoe Lodge (from $159); eco-chic-boutique Cedar House Sport Hotel (from $170); and Northstar's chichi Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe (from $399), with 2 outdoor pools, a restaurant by celeb chef Traci Des Jardins and a concierge who unbuckles your ski boots, for crying out loud.

Info: 35 miles from Reno-Tahoe Int'l;

Easiest ski weekend: Park City, Utah

Pick a flight and be on the ground by noon, where a sweet-as-pie Main Street mixes with some seriously fine dining (Grappa; Chimayo; the buzzy High West Distillery & Saloon) and a swank L.A.-N.Y. celeb scene (hi, Paris) during Sundance.

Slopes: Three resorts, all within a 10-minute drive -- Deer Valley, Park City Mountain, and the Canyons. But nothing beats awkward-ski-boot-stepping out of your hotel and onto the Town Lift chair; from Main Street to the summit of Park City Mountain (check the website for lift prices), it's 18 minutes flat.

Sleeps: Staying on-mountain will cost you, like $845 at the new Montage, which is set to open midmountain at Deer Valley this month.

But if you plan on doing anything besides skiing, it's more fun to stay in town. For just you and your sweetie, book a cozy room at the Washington School Inn (from $150). The Sky Lodge (from $500 through December 19, then from $900) is rich in amenities -- with a rooftop cocktail lounge, soaking tubs in the spa, shuttle service on command and sprawling, tricked-out suites that are great for groups.

Info: 37 miles from Salt Lake City Int'l Airport;

Best for nonskiers: Taos, New Mexico

With steep slopes atop a 9,207-foot base, Taos Ski Valley's harrowing frontside beckons experts. For the rest of us, there's the town of Taos. Check out the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, the John Dunn House Shops, El Monte Sagrado's spa for pure Zen and the Taos Art Museum.

Slopes: Old-school Swiss chalet-style lodges line the road into Taos Ski Valley (from $48), just 20 minutes from town. The family-owned resort's remote location keeps skier visits to a quarter of what Colorado's Vail gets, yet it still has its own little village serving up everything from homemade tamales to grass-fed filet mignon.

Sleeps: The Bavarian (from $175), a luxe A-frame at the foot of the resort's Kachina Peak, has four 3-bedroom chalets. Chow down on traditional German food from the slopeside deck. In town, try the close-to-everything Taos Inn (from $75).

Info: 1 1/2 hours from Santa Fe; more flights at Albuquerque Int'l (2 1/2 hours away);

Sunset - Get Your Weekly Guide to Sunset - food, homes and travel. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter.

Copyright 2004-2011 Sunset magazine. All rights reserved.