Just what makes a best ski town in the world? It starts, naturally, with skiing and snowboarding so good they attract people like youth-bestowing fountains. Then add an inviting mountain burg steeped in ski heritage, amenities, and culture. These are the 25 best. For insider tips, we asked local luminaries where to stay, play, and party, whether you’re on a budget or indulging.
Best For: Off-the-beaten-path powder hounds with an aversion to glamour
Rising up from the edge of town, Alyeska Resort is the largest ski area in Alaska. It has six lifts, two magic carpets, and a 60-person tram that climbs the mountain’s steep north face with views to the ocean. Tree line is low this far north, so the upper half of the mountain is wide-open alpine, more like the open terrain of the Alps than a typical American resort. There are ample blue runs and a smattering of beginner runs near the base, but experts will get the most out of the mountain. If you’re not afraid of a little in-bounds hiking, the ridges near Alyeska peak harbor an array of vertiginous chutes.
As you would expect in Alaska, crowds are nonexistent. There is also real-deal Chugach heli- and cat-skiing available right from Alyeska’s base area. Best to visit in March, when there is an average of 12 hours of daylight, though lifts keep running through April and on weekends in May.
2.Fernie, British Columbia, Canada
Best For: Adventurous skiers with a hunger for the steep and deep
Fernie Alpine Resort overlooks the Elk River Valley from 4.5 miles outside town, clinging to the sculpted faces of the Lizard Range. Its five distinct bowls will keep advanced skiers and snowboarders drunk on adrenaline all day, while the new chairlift to the summit of Polar Peak opens up hundred-mile mountain views and 3,497 feet of vertical drop. Diehard powder addicts can head up to the Bear Lodge of Island Lake Catskiing, a few miles past the ski area, for world-class cat skiing.
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 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,” here overpriced lodges and fine dining are the exception, though there are a few high-end options and classically trained chefs. But being Bozeman, there’s nowhere you can’t wear blue jeans. You don’t come here for the restaurants, you come to ski the two wild Montana mountains. Bridger Bowl is the storied, scruffy little brother, a condo-free, nonprofit ski area 20 minutes out of town and where some of America’s original extreme skiers—Scot Schmidt, Tom Jungst, and Doug Coombs—cut their teeth and began preaching the steep skiing gospel. Hardcore skiers flock here for The Ridge, in-bounds hiking terrain with a murderer’s row of hairball chutes, and the new Schlasman’s Lift accessing expert-only, backcountry-style terrain (avalanche transceivers)
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. Located in a deeply cleaved valley near the trisection of France, Italy, and Switzerland, the town sits in the shadow of the highest peak in the Alps, Mont Blanc, and a tangle of other glacier-clad mountains. Chamonix’s cobblestone streets and car-free pedestrian center make for a classic mountain village environment typically bustling with leathery mountaineers and gawking tourists. This is France, so the nightlife is predictably spirited, and diverse accommodations range from grimy climbers’ hostels to luxury lodgings.
6.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. The most upscale resort in Italy, Cortina’s car-free Corso Italia is packed with furriers, designer boutiques, and Italians with sunglasses that cost more than most skis. It’s a slice of classic Italy and loads of fun if you want to sample la dolce vita.
Best For: Families and groups with disparate skiing abilities
Whitefish, a former logging and railroad town of more than 6,000 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. About 15 percent of Whitefish’s winter visitors arrive via daily train service, which, combined with the free skier shuttle that connects town to mountain, makes car-free trips here easy.
8.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. There are currently no chain stores, and with a population of only 1,487, shopping options may be limited. But that’s the point. 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 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 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). Averaging a jaw-dropping 590 inches of snow a year, there’s fresh powder more days than not on Niseko Annupuri and its abundant, lightly skied off-piste terrain (the Japanese have been inexplicably slow to embrace powder’s addictiveness). The town of Niseko, population 4,685, 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.
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