clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

10 best ski towns to visit this winter

Where to ski and where to stay in 2017-2018

A view of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram. The tram is red and is traveling on a cable above mountains that are covered in snow.
The iconic tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2016 but has been updated with new towns and the latest information for this winter.

Each winter, skiers and snowboarders are faced with the same dilemma: Where should they ski this year? For the lucky few who live near great skiing, a season pass and a few tanks of gas may suffice. But for much of the country, a ski vacation requires a hefty investment, pricey lodging, and hours of travel.

To ensure that you’re getting the most out of ski season, we’ve rounded up the 10 best ski towns you should visit this winter. Iconic destinations—like Aspen and Whistler—made the cut because they offer reliable conditions and walkable towns. But our picks also prioritize other factors, like which resorts are opening new chairlifts, debuting new on-mountain amenities, or have big upcoming events.

To make things even easier, we’ve included a favorite hotel for each ski destination, because nothing tops off skiing quite like a hot tub and a comfy bed.

Upset that your favorite spot didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments what we’re missing and why you love it.

Head to Taos, New Mexico...

A post shared by Taos Ski Valley (@skitaos) on

This iconic ski area in New Mexico is in the midst of a multi-year transformation, with massive investments in both on-mountain amenities (like the Kachina Peak lift, which opened in 2015-2016) and base area improvements. This season, guests can take advantage of a new beginner area, a fully renovated Children’s Center, and a pulse gondola to improve transportation around the resort.

You’ll find some of the best steeps in the country. But even if you don’t catch Taos Ski Valley during one of its infamous storm cycles, the artsy town of Taos and the nearby Taos Pueblo are worth a stop.

After skiing all day, have a beer at the Bavarian where skiers bask in the sun on the deck and hungry diners indulge in spätzle or Swiss fondue at night. Or head into Taos for amazing New Mexican food—try Orlando’s—and great beer and music at Taos Mesa Brewing.

And stay at the Blake Hotel:

Guest rooms at the Blake Hotel in Taos.
Courtesy of The Blake

This brand new 80-room alpine hotel adjacent to Taos Ski Valley’s Lift 1 opened at the end of last ski season with the goal of finally offering top-notch lodging in the base village. Its convenience cannot be beat—you’re only steps away from the ski lift—and a well-thought out design combines local art and history with a sophisticated alpine chic aesthetic.

An in-house restaurant and bar serve up tasty meals and après snacks, while a beautiful spa and wellness center provides top-notch massages and the like.

Head to Sun Valley, Idaho...

Soft snow and blue skies at Sun Valley Resort.
Courtesy of Sun Valley Resort

A longtime playground of America’s celebrities, Sun Valley has received some big overhauls lately. In addition to the recent renovation of the Sun Valley Lodge, this is the first full winter for the Aspen Skiing Company-owned Limelight Hotel.

There are two hills at Sun Valley Resort, the beginner-oriented and family-friendly Dollar Mountain—home to the world’s very first chairlift—and the much larger Bald Mountain. While Sun Valley is famous for incredible groomers, no lines, and sunny skies, if you catch snow at Bald Mountain, prepare to be impressed. This isn’t the steepest mountain you’ll ever ski, but sustained pitches and fun trees make a 10-inch powder day loads of fun.

Catch lunch mid-mountain at the Roundhouse and then get ready for a fun time of the slopes. Ketchum boasts a thriving art scene, delicious food at restaurants like Rickshaw and Cristina’s, and a pleasant, walkable downtown.

And stay at the Limelight Hotel Ketchum:

The Limelight Hotel is located in downtown Ketchum, not far from skiing at Bald Mountain.
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company

The lodging scene in downtown Ketchum got a breath of fresh air last winter when the Limelight opened, and guests just keep coming back thanks to the hotel’s convenient location. A plethora of amenities go the extra mile, including complimentary shuttles, cruiser bikes, a top-notch continental breakfast, outdoor pool and hot tubs, and a lounge area that’s perfect for happy hour.

Head to Aspen, Colorado...

Skiing Aspen Mountain down to town
Skiing Aspen Mountain down to town.
Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company

Aspen always delivers an epic ski vacation, but this winter Aspen Snowmass will make headlines in January when it hosts the Olympic Qualifying Events. Athletes from the U.S. Snowboard and U.S. Freeski Team will compete at Snowmass Ski Area to earn a ticket to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Beyond this major event, Aspen offers up skiing at four different resorts: the kid-friendly Buttermilk, the steep and in-town Aspen Mountain, the nearly always awesome Highlands, and a large ski area with something for everyone, Snowmass.

Families will love the Aspen Snowmass ski program (held at Buttermilk and Snowmass), while hard-core skiers just can’t get enough of the ski company’s diverse terrain. Pro tip: Experts should check out Highland Bowl, hike-to terrain that is as close to inbounds big-mountain skiing as it gets.

It’s truly hard to have a bad time in Aspen. Check out the amazing—and free—Aspen Art Museum, listen to seriously good music at Belly Up, have a chicken sandwich at White House Tavern, or a drink at the historic Hotel Jerome. And don’t miss après ski at Ajax Tavern (located at the bottom of Aspen Mountain).

And stay at the Little Nell:

The Little Nell at night with Aspen Mountain in the background.
Photo by Shawn O'Connor and Courtesy of the Little Nell

As one of the best luxury hotels in the state of Colorado, a stay at the Little Nell won’t come cheap, but it always impresses. With an in-town, slope-side location on Aspen Mountain, you’re just steps away from the Silver Queen Gondola and the hotel boasts an indulgent year-round pool and spa. Guests can also sign up for the complimentary First Tracks program, which will allow skiers to board the gondola at 8:15 am and get access to groomed corduroy or fresh powder 45 minutes before the public.

Head to Jackson Hole, Wyoming...

A view of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort tram. The tram is red and is traveling on a cable above mountains that are covered in snow.
The iconic tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Wyoming’s most famous ski town is always a good choice for skiing, and last winter skiers got to ride the resort’s new 8-person Sweetwater Gondola. Replacing the outdated Sweetwater Triple, the gondola now rises 1,276 vertical feet, transports up to 2,000 people per hour, provides access to plentiful intermediate terrain, and should also help reduce lines on the resort’s iconic tram.

On top of the new gondola, visitors to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort will get some of the best (read: steep) expert terrain in the country, ample snowfall, and amazing views of the Tetons. But Jackson Hole also delivers on an excellent beginner ski school and plentiful lodging options located right at the base. Take a 15-minute drive from the ski area into downtown Jackson and you’ll find a walkable downtown with lots of shops and restaurants (don’t miss Persephone Bakery for breakfast and Bin 22 for dinner).

Need another good reason to head to Jackson? While Colorado and Utah have seen an especially dry start to winter, Jackson has already racked up 139 inches of snow.

And stay at the Hotel Jackson:

The Jackson Suite at the Hotel Jackson in Wyoming.
Courtesy of the Hotel Jackson

Opened in 2015, the Hotel Jackson was the first luxury hotel to be built in downtown Jackson. Guests have access to 55 western-chic rooms—including 4 suites—all of which feature fireplaces, spa-like bathrooms, and L’Occitane amenities.

And don’t let the downtown location deter you; there’s a free shuttle to Snow King and Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. When you’re finished burning out the legs skiing, the hotel is walking distance to all of Jackson’s best restaurants and shops.

Head to Vail, Colorado...

The famous Back Bowls at Vail Mountain.
Jack Affleck / Vail Resorts

Long-time skiers of Vail will know that the Sun Up lift—also called chair 17—in the resort’s back bowls has been a bottleneck for years. Last season Vail replaced the Sun Up lift with a detachable high-speed quad, and this winter chair 11 (Northwoods Express) is being upgraded to a new six-person lift. For those counting, that’s the 10th new lift at Vail Mountain in a decade, and that kind of sustained investment is unprecedented in the ski industry. Sure, the ski area can get crowded at times, but if you catch first chair and ski hard, there are plenty of runs to be had.

As one of the most famous ski destinations in the world, Vail offers something for everyone. Non-skiers will like walking around the base village, kids can take advantage of the well-organized ski school and creative playgrounds, and an array of dining and lodging options means that there’s always plenty to choose from. Check out Vendettas for casual pizza or Mountain Standard for a more traditional post-skiing dinner.

And stay at the The Sebastian-Vail:

The Sebastian Vail is well-located in Vail Village.
Courtesy of the Sebastian

Ideally located in Vail Village, The Sebastian-Vail is a 100-room boutique hotel that’s a top choice for lodging in the valley. There’s an on-site spa, slope-side ski valet service at the Sebastian Base Camp at the foot of Vail Mountain, and well-appointed rooms and suites suitable for couples and families alike. Throw in the gorgeous pool, hot tub, and a multi-million dollar art collection and you’ve got a destination that goes way beyond Vail’s reputation for faux Bavarian schtick.

Head to Snowbird, Utah...

A post shared by Snowbird (@snowbird) on

Snowbird Ski Resort has been making headlines lately, opening a new 23,000-square-foot lodge at the top of Hidden Peak in 2015 as part of the resort's recent $35 million capital investment project. And the gorgeous mountain-top building provides views of just what makes this Utah ski area so special: namely, the 2,500 acres of diverse terrain that sees an annual average of 500 inches of snow.

That snow is light and dry, and expert skiers will have a field day with the resort’s 3,240-foot vertical drop. But the best part of Snowbird—beyond the awesome skiing—might just be the ease of access. It takes 40 minutes to get to the ski area from Salt Lake City, where cheap flights and even international connections abound. Trust us, Snowbird is a must ski.

And stay at the Cliff Lodge:

The Cliff Lodge at sunset in Snowbird Ski Resort.
Courtesy of Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort

Recently renovated in 2015, the Cliff Lodge is a classic and should be on any skier’s bucket list. Sure, the huge concrete profile may look a bit imposing compared to the faux-Swiss look of some ski towns, but the ski-in/ski-out location and amazing views more than make up for it. The Cliff Lodge also offers a heated outdoor pool, hot tubs, and the best spa in the Cottonwood Canyons.

Head to Steamboat, Colorado...

With sunny days, a lively concert schedule throughout the winter, and some of the best tree skiing in the state, Steamboat offers a good option for skiers looking for Colorado snow without the crowds of the I-70 resorts. New this winter, Ski Town U.S.A. has upgraded the Steamboat gondola, added more nonstop flights into town, and debuted the longest mountain coaster in North America.

Families will also feel at home at Steamboat. The learn-to-ski and snowboard programs boast accomplished instructors and younger kiddos can take advantage of the on-site daycare. After a day on the hill, head into the town of Steamboat Springs for a dip in the hot springs—we love both the more remote Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs and the family-friendly Old Town Hot Springs in downtown—and an upscale meal at the Laundry Restaurant.

And stay at a Moving Mountains ski chalet:

a snowy ski chalet
A 7-bedroom, 5.5-bath ski chalet in Steamboat Springs available for vacation rentals.
Courtesy of Moving Mountains

Although the Steamboat Grand has a nice location at the base village, Steamboat just doesn’t have the same number of high-quality hotel accommodations as other ski towns. So take a page out of the European ski book and opt for a catered ski chalet with Moving Mountains. With an array of homes and condos available for rent—many of them ski-in/ski-out—Moving Mountains offers an in-house chef, concierge services, and five-star amenities. Head over here for more info.

Head to Stowe, Vermont...

A snowy morning at Stowe Mountain Resort.
Courtesy of Stowe Mountain Resort

As one of New England’s favorite ski towns, Stowe offers fine dining, plush digs, and plenty of turns. It’s also one of the Northeast’s most picturesque ski destinations, with a European vibe, an iconic—and very Instagrammable—church steeple, and lovely views of Stowe Mountain.

The skiing is an intermediate’s dream—think plenty of blue cruisers—but experts will still find challenging runs like Ridgeview and National. Don’t miss the Cliff House restaurant at the top of the Gondola for great views and hit up Piecasso Pizzeria in town for on-point Italian.

Last winter Stowe Mountain Resort opened the $80 million Adventure Center, home to the ski area’s children’s programs. But the biggest news was the ski area’s purchase by Vail Resorts. Skiers can now enjoy Stowe on the Epic Pass, a ski season pass that starts at $859 and offers skiing not only at Stowe but also at 10 destination resorts (like Vail, Whistler, and Park City) in the west.

And stay at the Field Guide:

The Field Guide in Stowe, Vermont.
Courtesy of the Field Guide

This recently-opened 30-room boutique property is a short walk from downtown Stowe and only a 15-minute drive from the ski area. It features beautifully designed interiors, and offers extra touches like complimentary breakfast baskets delivered each morning and a well-reviewed restaurant—Picnic Social—on site.

Head to Whistler, British Columbia...

A powder and a blue-sky day in Whistler.
Photo by Eric Decker, Courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb

In 2016, Whistler made the biggest ski headlines of the year when Vail Resorts bought the Canadian resort—the biggest in North America—for $1.3 billion. This winter, skiers and snowboarders with the wildly popular Vail Resorts Epic Pass can ski all they want at Whistler.

Families will love the $2.4 million in recent upgrades that Whistler spent on its learning areas. But what makes Whistler the go-to Canadian ski destination is the incredible variety of terrain and the lively base village. Don’t miss happy hour at the Garibaldi Lift Co—conveniently located next to the Whistler Village Gondola—and a blow-out dinner at Bearfoot Bistro, where champagne sabering and an all-ice vodka room are part of the fun.

And stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Resort:

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler in winter.
Courtesy of the Fairmont Chateau

With an ideal location at the base of Blackcomb mountain, the Fairmount offers luxurious digs with a hopping bar scene in the Mallard Lounge, and delicious (albeit a bit pricey) breakfasts at the Wildflower restaurant. If you can swing it, upgrade to Fairmont Gold so you have access to the complimentary continental breakfast, honor bar, and afternoon snacks. We also love the outdoor heated lap pool (complete with underwater music) and the many hot tubs that are sure to warm you up after a day of skiing.

Head to Telluride, Colorado...

Skiing down the slopes towards the town of Telluride.
Photo by Ben Eng, Courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort

It’s easier than ever to get to this remote ski town in Colorado, which is good because Telluride might have the most gorgeous scenery of any ski area in the country. Great Lakes Airlines flies direct into Telluride Regional Airport from Denver International Airport 10 times each week, and there is also increased flight service into Montrose/Telluride Airport from destinations across the country (head over here for more).

Once you’re in Telluride, you’ll find a gorgeous and walkable downtown area with easy access to the ski area. Telluride’s free gondola, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, connects the historic town to the ski area’s Mountain Village up above. Experts will love hiking Telluride’s Gold Hill Chutes or Palmyra Peak, and there’s plenty of well-groomed blue runs for families. After skiing, don’t miss the Detroit-style pizza at Brown Dog Pizza and the Thai food at Siam.

And stay at the Lumiere:

The entrance to the Hotel Lumiere in Telluride.
Courtesy of the Hotel Lumiere

This boutique ski-in/ski-out property in Telluride’s Mountain Village is conveniently located near the town gondola and offers 11 hotel rooms and 18 guest residences. The ski concierge is convenient, the rooms are large, and the resort gets high marks for small luxurious touches, like the steam showers that transport you to water nirvana.