NatGeo Picks Top 25 Classic Ski Towns: Aspen To Stowe To Wanaka
Just what makes a classic ski town? National Geographic has chosen what it considers the 25 best in the world. Agree? Disagree? We at SnoCountry.com did a little bit of both. Here’s the NatGeo list in no particular order.
Girdwood, Alaska: “Best for off-the-beaten-path powder hounds with an aversion to glamour.”
“A former gold-mining town carved out of the forest at the foot of the famed Chugach Mountains, Girdwood has refashioned itself into Alaska’s premier ski town. Hippies and ski bums flocked here in the 1970s and, a luxury hotel at the ski area’s base notwithstanding, its laid-back, frontier-style ambience remains intact. Situated about 40 miles south of Anchorage (and its international airport), life in this humble hamlet of 2,000 revolves around skiing and snowboarding.” Good eats - Cheap: Coast Pizza; Gourmet: The Double Musky Inn.
Fernie, British Columbia, Canada: “Best for adventurous skiers with a hunger for the steep and deep.”
“Though it serves up some of the most spectacular terrain and best snow in all of Canada, this historic mining hamlet of 4,217 people tucked into the far southeastern corner of British Columbia still somehow flies below the greater ski-scene radar. Which isn’t a bad thing—its wide-open alpine bowls, knife ridges, and daredevil chutes are rarely crowded, and fresh tracks can still be found in afternoons on powder days." Best Digs - Budget: The Raging Elk Hostel; Swank: The Lizard Creek Lodge on the mountain.
Zermatt, Switzerland: “Best for photographers with a taste for old-world culture and never-ending descents.”
“Switzerland is a country of classic ski towns, but Zermatt is its crown jewel. To many, it is the world’s ultimate ski resort. Though surrounded by several glacier-clad peaks, everything here—the town, the skiing, the sky—is dominated by the spiking pyramid of the mighty Matterhorn, one of the most distinctive mountains on Earth. The village itself allows only electric cars (you arrive by rail), and luxury hotels sit side by side with centuries-old wooden barns. Streets are narrow and cobbled; restaurants are abundant and expensive. It’s everything you imagine a Swiss ski village to be." Best After-Ski Party Spot - Unique Hotel Post Zermatt has five bars.
Bozeman, Montana: “Best for diehard skiers who wear their duct tape with pride (and beginners who look forward to doing the same someday).”
“The adventure capital of the Northern Rockies, Bozeman is an old Montana university town of cowboys and ski bums, pickups and unleashed dogs, and two of the premier ski hills in America. More of a working town than a traditional “ski town.” There’s nowhere you can’t wear blue jeans. Bridger Bowl is the storied, scruffy little brother, a condo-free, nonprofit ski area 20 minutes out of town. An hour’s drive south of town in the majestic Madison Range, Big Sky Resort is the brash, lusty big brother, a gigantic ski area that offers joint lift tickets with the adjacent Moonlight Basin to create one of the largest ski areas in America." Best eats - Cheap: Watanabe; Gourmet: Starky’s
Chamonix, France: “Best for adrenaline junkies who like their mountains big.”
"Globally renowned as the birthplace of extreme skiing (often defined as “you fall, you die”), Chamonix has some of the world’s premier lift-accessed steep skiing and snowboarding, including plenty of terrain that won’t leave you dead on a glacier if you catch an edge wrong. Chamonix’s cobblestone streets and car-free pedestrian center make for a classic mountain village environment typically bustling with leathery mountaineers and gawking tourists." Classic Ski Run: La Vallée Blanche starts from the top of the Aiguille du Midi and goes for 16 kilometers on top of a glacier in the middle of incredible mountains.
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy: “Best for aesthetically minded skiers who appreciate fine wine.”
"With the dramatic peaks of the Dolomites rising like ruddy cathedrals in every direction, the ski areas around Cortina have been called the most beautiful in the world. Many of the bejeweled visitors here seem to be vying for the same title. Cortina’s car-free Corso Italia is packed with furriers, designer boutiques, and Italians with sunglasses that cost more than most skis." Best digs - Budget: Hotel Montana; Swank: Hotel de la Poste is where you can really experience the Italian atmosphere.
Crested Butte, Colorado: “Best for families hoping to raise the next freeskiing world champion.”
"Like its Colorado siblings Aspen and Telluride, Crested Butte is a remote, high-elevation former mining town of historic buildings surrounded by spectacular scenery. Crested Butte, though, has a different, more counterculture character than its glossy counterparts—it’s funkier, saltier, more altimeter watch than Rolex. There are restaurants in back-alley log cabins and buildings sided with old license plates, and the free shuttle buses to the ski area are wildly painted by local artists. You don’t come here to shop or be seen, you come here to ski and to revel in the surrounding Elk Mountains and one of the most eclectic, adventurous playgrounds in the Rockies." Best Eats - Cheap: Teocalli Tamale; Gourmet: Soupçon Bistro.
Aspen, Colorado: “Best for well-heeled scenesters and celebrity-stalkers with a love for top-quality skiing.”
"Hype aside, Aspen is still the ski town all North American ski towns compare themselves to—and one of the few places that manages to be both hip and classic at the same time. Riddled with galleries and boutiques and coffeehouses and gourmet restaurants, this is where movie stars mingle with Olympic athletes and where full-length fur coats never go out of style. It’s undeniably ostentatious—and enough to make a dirtbag ski bum barf on his duck-taped Gore-Tex—but it may also be the world’s most sophisticated mountain town outside of Europe." Best Digs - Budget: The Tyrolean Lodge; Swank: The Hotel Jerome.
Niseko, Japan: “Best for powder worshippers with plenty of frequent flyer miles and a taste for hot springs and sushi.”
“Thanks to the near-constant storm cycles pumping out of neighboring Siberia, the mountains on the Japanese island of Hokkaido are globally renowned for having some of the most consistent, lightest powder on Earth. Niseko is the preeminent spot here, an amalgam of four independently owned, interconnected resorts that girdle 4,291-foot Mount Niseko Annupuri (skiable with one lift ticket). The town of Niseko is an easy drive from the four separate base areas and features a laid-back, surfing-town vibe and dozens of onsen, or hot springs, for settling into after-ski comas." Best Eats - Cheap: Seico Mart; Gourmet: A-Bu-Cha.
Kitzbühel, Austria: “Best for intermediate skiing couples with a taste for the cosmopolitan.”
“A classic medieval village turned internationally famous ski destination, the glitzy town of Kitzbühel in Austria’s Tyrol region looks more like a chocolate-box illustration than an actual place. Not only is it real, it hosts some of the most scenic and extensive skiing in the Alps—particularly for the non-extreme set. The romantic town center features narrow cobbled streets and horse-drawn sleighs, but things turn decidedly more spirited by evening, when the many chic bars and clubs turn up the volume.” Best digs - Budget: Hof Unterleiten; Swank: Grand Tirolia Kitzbühel.
Bend, Oregon: “Best for multisport junkies with a taste for microbrews.”
"The biggest town on this list, Bend is a fast-growing, adventure paradise of more than 76,000 people in central Oregon that happens to have the region’s premier ski area, Mount Bachelor, 22 miles west up the road. If you ever dream of skiing in the Pacific Northwest, Bachelor is the kind of mountain you dream about. A 9,000-foot stratovolcano lined with high-speed quads and skiable down every side. Beginner and intermediate runs are scattered throughout Bachelor, and some of the groomers are world-class. But with fully 60 percent of the alpine terrain rated black or double-black, experts will get the most from the mountain. From the summit, adventuresome skiers and boarders can jump cornices into the blasted-open summit crater or head for the mountain’s backside of wide-open, backcountry-style double-blacks." Best After-Ski Party Spot: Deschutes Brewery.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada: “Best for croissant-loving skiers and snowboarders looking for European ambiance without the overseas flight.”
"Tremblant offers some of the best skiing in eastern Canada, with a master-planned village that feels cut from Europe - or at least the old quarter of Quebec City. With the first lift opening here in 1939, Tremblant was one of the first ski areas in North America, though the 18th-century French Alps-styled village at the base of its lifts wasn’t built until the 1990s. Fortunately, Tremblant did it right, with hotels, patisseries, and bistros packed into colorful multistory buildings that overlook narrow cobbled streets and squares. Underground parking means the entire village is car-free, making for an inviting, old-world environment." Best Eats - Cheap: Chez Lorraine; Gourmet: Aux Truffes.
Taos, New Mexico: “Best for art-loving skiers and boarders with a taste for steep runs and green chilies.”
In the world of classic ski towns, Taos is a unique gem. Originally an ancient, high-desert pueblo at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico. In 1955, a German immigrant named Ernie Blake founded Taos Ski Valley 18 miles outside of town in a narrow valley engulfed by precipitous peaks. Today, the Swiss-style chalets at the area’s base exude an old-time European character while the town itself feels like a funky Southwestern artist’s colony." Best Digs - Budget: Abominable Snowmansion; Swank: El Monte Sagrado.
Park City, Utah: “Best for cinephile families with a range of abilities.”
“Home to the U.S. Ski Team and the Sundance Film Festival, three sprawling ski resorts, and Utah’s feathery, desert-dry powder, Park City has established itself as one of the premier ski towns in America. A 19th-century mining outpost turned glossy tourism boomtown, its chairlifts launch directly from downtown, where a skier's bridge delivers you to the city's historic Main Street and its lineup of high-end restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries." Best Eats - Cheap: El Chubasco in Park City; Gourmet: The Mariposa at Deer Valley.
Truckee, California: “Best for families with aspiring ski or rider rock star kids; also, ski and rider rock stars.”
“In the Sierra Nevada north of Lake Tahoe, between Reno and South Lake Tahoe, the old logging and railway town of Truckee has bloomed into a ski mecca, with no less than eight different ski areas within 15 miles. The burg still maintains much of its Old West character, with wooden walkways in its historic downtown and a still active, clapboard train station (Amtrak service twice daily). Its population of 16,180 is growing fast, but the relaxed town has managed to eschew the glitz of the larger Tahoe resort scene. This is where the locals live." Best Digs - Budget: Truckee Hotel; Swank: Resort at Squaw Creek.
Whistler, British Columbia: “Best for skiers and snowboarders who want the biggest of everything.”
“Whistler Blackcomb is North America's mega-mountain. A gargantuan ski resort in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains, and a two-hour drive from Vancouver’s international airport, it hosts two conjoined areas—Whistler and Blackcomb. It gets the most snow, has some of the longest vertical drops, the largest terrain parks, the steepest steeps, the most runs, and the greatest acreage of any ski area on the continent." Best Eats - Cheap: Pasta Lupino; Gourmet: Umberto's Trattoria.
North Conway, New Hampshire: “Best for history-buff families in the northeastern U.S.”
“North Conway may be less well known than many of the towns on this list, but only a few towns in North America can rival its skiing heritage. Tucked into Mount Washington Valley in the White Mountains, some of the first purpose-cut ski runs on the continent and a host of other innovations in grooming, lifts, and ski schools were developed here in the 1930s. North Conway was one of the leading lights in American skiing for decades before Western resorts rose to prominence." Best Digs - Budget: The Yankee Clipper Inn; Swank: White Mountain Hotel & Resort.
Banff, Canada: “Best for hardy skiers and snowboarders of all abilities who love big views, wild panoramas, and bighorn sheep on the front lawn.”
“The only town on this list located inside a national park, Banff also happens to be one of the most cosmopolitan. Typically teeming with visitors from many continents, downtown is a warren of international eateries, tourist shops, and museums, all surrounded by pristine mountain peaks stabbing thousands of feet into the sky. It’s one of the few places on Earth where you can walk out of a hip nightclub and two blocks later bump into a grazing bull elk (seriously, keep an eye out, they’re all over the place). Historic hotels and mountain hot springs add to the ambiance of frontier luxury." Best After-Ski Party Spot - Downtown Banff. Over 30 bars and restaurants within three blocks.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado: “Best for families hoping to groom the next Bode Miller.”
“Though it hosts one of Colorado’s largest and most well-known ski resorts, the town of Steamboat Springs, population 12,088, has a character that is unique in the state. Northern Colorado is ranching country, and Steamboat is still an authentic, working cowboy town that has evolved into one of the most important ski towns in America. You won’t find cutesy false-front stores here, but you will find the city-owned Howelsen Hill, the longest continuously operating ski area in Colorado, where the town’s Winter Sports Club practices on seven wooden ski jumps contoured out of the mountain." Best Eats - Cheap: Slopeside Grill. Gourmet: Harwigs L'Apogeé.
Telluride, Colorado: “Best for big-lunged skiers and boarders with a taste for fine wine and the mountain high life.”
"Remote and unrelentingly beautiful, Telluride may be the most picturesque ski town in North America, a Victorian-era silver-mining hamlet set deep in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. The steep runs of Telluride Ski Resort spill right into the edge of the town’s National Historic District, where a gondola whisks skiers back up into the area’s almost 4,000 vertical feet of absurdly scenic skiing." Best Digs - Budget: Mountainside Inn; Swank: The Peaks Resort.
Jackson, Wyoming: "Best for advanced skiers and riders looking for test pieces and line dancing."
“The giant of American skiing. If your dreams are filled with big mountains and steep, powder-smothered slopes, Jackson Hole is the promised land. The town of Jackson, a 12-mile drive from the ski area, sits in a remote, high valley in northwestern Wyoming in the shadow of the mighty Teton Range and just south of Yellowstone National Park. From its wooden sidewalks and cowboy bars to its restaurants that sling unnecessarily large slabs of red meat, the town of just over 9,500 embraces its Wild West heritage". Best After-Ski Party Spot - Mangy Moose Restaurant and Saloon.
Whitefish, Montana: "Best for families and groups with disparate skiing abilities"
"Whitefish, a former logging and railroad town near the entrance to Glacier National Park, has been quietly delivering glitz-free Montana skiing for over half a century. Despite a recent influx of Mercedes and fur coats, the town has managed to maintain its appealingly rough-hewn character. The newly rechristened Whitefish Mountain Resort, the resort formerly known as Big Mountain, looms invitingly above the bars and restaurants of the Western-style downtown, which is anchored by Whitefish’s historic train station." Best digs - Budget: Hibernation House; Swank: The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.
Wanaka, New Zealand: “Best For skiing and snowboarding addicts from the Northern Hemisphere who just can’t let go when winter slips away.”
“Quickly developing a reputation as one of the world’s premier adventure towns, Wanaka sits on the shores of sprawling Lake Wanaka amid New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Surrounded by rugged, Lord of the Rings-style alpine scenery, the tranquil town of 5,000 is peppered with hostels, cafes, pubs, and small, luxury eco-lodges. As is customary in New Zealand ski towns, there’s no skiing right there, but four ski areas are within a 40-minute drive." Best Eats - Cheap: Redstar; Gourmet: Botswana Butchery.
Stowe, Vermont: “Best for patrician eastern U.S. skiers with a taste for fine dining.”
“The archetypal New England ski village, Stowe is an impossibly quaint town of clapboard houses and steepled churches set in wooded hills at the foot of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Main Street and Mountain Road are alive with boutiques and eateries. The larger community harbors more three- and four-star restaurants than any ski town in the Northeast." Stowe’s Classic Ski Run -The Goat.
Ketchum, Idaho: “Best for hard-carving skiers and boarders who like playing ‘spot the movie star.’”
“The original Rocky Mountain ski resort, Ketchum’s Sun Valley featured the world’s first chairlift when it opened in 1936 and was long the stomping ground for classic-era Hollywood. The upscale mountain and its opulent lodges still carry the grandeur of their pre-war days while the old mining and sheep town of Ketchum maintains a rustic elegance, with gourmet restaurants and steak-and-microbrew saloons in century-old brick buildings. The resort village of Sun Valley borders Ketchum at the base of Dollar Mountain, the original ski hill and now an ideal learner’s area with a ski school, terrain park, and separate, inexpensive lift tickets." Best Eats - Cheap: Pioneer Saloon. Gourmet: Michel's Christiania.
Click here for the full reviews.
Photo: Classic town of Stowe, Vt. (Examiner.com); Crested Butte, Co. (Crested Butte Chamber); Park City, Ut. (Park City Chamber)/ Whitefish, Mt. (Whitefish Chamber)