Winter marks the return of skiers to mountain towns in droves — and that’s set to be even more true in 2022, when travel is expected to see a strong return. Yet there’s actually no reason you need to endure the crowds and lines of popular places like Aspen or Vail yet again in the coming year. In fact, there are plenty of undiscovered ski towns in the U.S. that’ll satisfy your outdoorsy needs, sans all the chaos.
And according to experts, these places aren’t just great for winter sports. Because while they boast nearby mountains with endless acres of skiable terrain, these ski towns are also packed with delicious eateries, stylish hotels, and interesting boutiques. Bozeman, MT, for example, is an up-and-coming college town that’s quickly becoming one of the coolest places in the U.S. Not to mention, it has two major ski resorts nearby. Bend, OR is another that travel pros say is worth visiting; it’s near one of America’s largest ski resorts, and has the most breweries per capita in the state. Aprés-ski recovery shouldn’t be a problem there.
Your mid-winter vacation doesn’t need to be an overwhelming, crowd-filled experience. By venturing off the beaten path, you can create a ski trip that’s equal parts fun, unique, and relaxing. Here, experts reveal the best undiscovered ski towns (and their favorite places to eat, stay, and visit within them) to help you make that a reality.
“You’ve skied the Rockies in Colorado, but what about the portion of the Rocky Mountains that runs through Idaho?” asks Brandon Berkson, travel expert and founder of Hotels Above Par and HAP Concierge. According to him, this area is just as great, sans the crowds. In particular, the under-the-radar town of Ketchum is worth checking out; situated next to Sun Valley, it’s “an over-2,000-acre ski resort wonderland known for its powdery snow and slopes for all levels.”
Once you’ve got your fill of skiing, check out the town’s main historic district, which Berkson says features quirky shops and mountain-esque restaurants. “A town staple, landmark eatery Pioneer Saloon’s Wild West-themed ambiance and hearty steaks make for a great dinner option.” Then, check into Hotel Ketchum in the heart of the town. “The accommodation’s modern mountain flair and cozy atmosphere make you want to drape under a blanket, next to a fireplace, with hot cocoa in hand.”
Located in northern Idaho, Sandpoint is situated on the 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, and is near the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountains. The town also boasts the Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which features 2,900 acres of terrain, lots of snow, and incredible views. “It’s like being in Switzerland, but in Idaho, and we’re here for it,” Coabi Kastan and Janine Seale, co-founders of the travel app Out of Office, tell TZR of the area.
End your busy day of skiing at The Lodge at Sandpoint: “Right on the lake, this hotel has tons of activities and it won’t break the bank,” they note. Soon, you’ll also be able to stay at Humbird, a new boutique hotel in Schweitzer’s village that’s set to open in the winter 2021/2022 season with 31 rooms and various dining outlets, including the farm-to-table restaurant Crow’s Bench.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Henley Vazquez, co-founder and travel advisor at Fora, does admit that Santa Fe may not be at the foot of a mountain. “But with a resort just a 30-minute drive from the city, you can combine all the great culinary and cultural attractions of Santa Fe with plenty of terrain to cover (86 trails, to be exact) at Ski Santa Fe,” she says. “Worth noting is the new Bishop's Lodge, which opened this year and sits on over 300 acres right outside of town, making it a great base for doing ski, city, and on-site riding, horseback riding, and wellness activities. Plan ahead to score the Bunkhouse for a family reunion.”
Taos, New Mexico
Want something more under the radar than Santa Fe? Berkson suggests Taos, NM, which often gets overlooked for the larger town. “Discerning skiers will love Taos Ski Valley, which stands at a base elevation of [over] 9,200 feet and boasts [nearly] 1,300 skiable acres.” In fact, he says the ski resort is on the same echelon as Colorado and Utah — just less expensive and with smaller crowds. “Those who are more experienced will enjoy the resort’s abundance of steep, challenging terrain — some of which requires a bit of a hike.”
And when you’re not skiing? Berkson describes Taos as “teeming with attractions,” including ambrosial restaurants, Southwestern-style galleries, and cultural landmarks. At the end of the day, lay your head at Taos Inn, “a boutique hotel with adobe-style architecture in the center of the town’s historic district, a 25-minute drive from Taos Ski Valley (when on a ski trip, I always prefer staying in the heart of a destination as opposed to on the mountain),” says Berkson. Its Adobe Bar is perfect for aprés-ski cocktails and music at the end of a long day.
Kastan and Seale recommend a trip to Bend, OR for a wonderful skiing and dining scene. Berkson concurs, describing it as a “charming Western-style town in Central Oregon,” right beside the Cascade Mountains. The biggest highlight? It’s also about 30 minutes away from Mt. Bachelor, which is America’s sixth-largest ski resort and has 4,300-plus skiable acres, 3,365 feet of vertical drop, and just over 100 runs.
But it’s not just the slopes that make Bend a must-visit. Berkson says the town of Bend has a bevy of country-style boutiques and farm-to-table eateries (Kastan and Seale recommend Ariana, a “delicious fine-dining restaurant”) in addition to more breweries per capita than any other place in OR. “Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House and Boss Rambler Beer Club serve as great starting points for craft-beer enthusiasts,” says Berkson. For accommodations, the OOO co-founders say Brasada Ranch is a “cool resort 30 minutes from Bend,” and Berkson suggests the downtown McMenamins Old St. Francis School, a rustic boutique inn that used to be a Catholic schoolhouse.
Kastan and Seale count Bozeman, MT on their list of top places, explaining that it’s a “small college town with great skiing nearby.” It’s also making a name for itself as one of the country’s coolest towns, and has been dubbed “the most livable place” in the past. “Bonus upside, you feel like you’re in an episode of Yellowstone,” the co-founders continue.
While you’re there, you can visit the Bridger Bowl Ski Area, which is known as an affordable, laidback option near Bozeman. There’s also the Big Sky Ski Resort, which is midway between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, Montana and has 5,850 acres of skiable terrain. For eating, Kastan and Seale say Blackbird is a “great restaurant on Main St. with delicious pizza,” and Jam! is the best breakfast spot — “look no further.” The new Kimpton Armory Hotel, Bozeman’s first and only four-star hotel, is a luxe and stylish place to rest your head (and your aching muscles).