Every winter, the American Midwest gets bum rushed with relentlessly unending blasts of arctic air and snowstorms that bury towns alive. Sure, everyone loves a white Christmas, but once that’s done and gone, seemingly half the population jets off to Cancun for a brief reprieve. You can’t blame them when winter drags on for ages.
Still though, there remains an ever-persistent clique of crazies who can’t get enough of it. The skiers, the boarders, their grungey posse of filmers, ramp builders, and all-around groupies. For these select few, a winter vacation means jumping from the flat, snow-suffocated Midwest to superior powder and slopes in a mountainous ski town.
But for seasoned vets and those too cool-for-the-mainstream, the overwhelming popularity of famous resort towns have dulled their initial luster. For the adventurous few, only off-the-beaten track, mom-and-pop laden compounds will do to knock their bindings off. If you’re in the market for a different kind of stay, look no further than these little-known ski towns.
The Town: Built around an ore mining operation, and christened after the mastermind behind it, Philipsburg has been kicking it since 1867. Expect small-town America at its chillest.
The Slopes: Discovery Ski Area remains a sleeping giant amongst the Rockies. Discovery eschews many standard resort amenities in favor of raw shredding, and you won’t even care. Three faces are on tap. The front is a family friendly friendly layout of courses gently winding through the woodwork.
The Granite Chair, Discovery’s second face, ups the ante on black diamond course and sick setups for mogul skiing. But head to the back and you’ll be snowbombing double black runs through an alpine battlefield. This is Montana backcountry in vicious form.
Best Base: Kaiser House Lodgings. Oldest hotel in historic Philipsburg. Towncenter hotspot, 5-star service for $180/night. Killer deal when stuffing for scruffy boards in a room.
Stellar Grub: BBQ everything at UpNSmokin BBQ House. Stuff up on piles of meat, slaw, and beans.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
The Town: This tiny settlement, tucked away amongst 3 million acres of national parks, is heaven for nature lovers. Wolf Creek Ski Area lies only 23 miles away, but the true monolithic element? Hot springs; heaven on earth for weary enthusiasts.
The Slopes: Wolf Creek dominates southwest Colorado’s ski scene first and foremost for killer budget prices. Secondly, 465 inches annual snowfall. Won’t find such an abundance of fine and dry powder anywhere else in Colorado.
Wolf Creek resort tops off the mountains peak. The high altitude ensures a delicate balance of smooth snow and pristine conditions for riding.
Best Base: So those springs… They’re so extensive they fill three separate, massive pools in town. The Springs Resort & Spa is top novelty though, since their property’s spring is the world’s deepest.
Stellar Grub: Swish down mounds of nachos, pork sliders, and wings at Riff Raff Brewing Company with locally crafted micro brews.
The Town: Stars shine bright in this dusty railroad stop 70 westward of Denver. Unless you enjoy crusty old bowling alleys, Winter Park is the primary reason to visit Fraser. And what a reason that is, considering Fraser somehow avoided primetime commercial makeovers plaguing Colorado’s other nearby resort towns.
The Slopes: Winter Park is old school pedigree, having been in operation longer than any of Colorado’s other resorts. It’s garnered a sticky rep as family-friendly cozy due to wide stretches of groomers, but the park’s 3000 acres cover a diverse ensemble for all levels.
A single pass here nets access to the 7 surrounding territories. As such, the variety is off the hook with cliff-packed summit to base runs on Parsenn bowl, thrashes through Mary Jane’s thick glades, and freestyle grinding in the Rail Yard.
Best Base: Romance alert! Complimentary wine and hot tub at Wild Horse Inn! Ski couples incoming!
Stellar Grub: Taste the sweet caress of summer in Shark’s Eatery before facing winter’s brutality.
The Town: Sandwiched between Payette Lake’s southern shore and Payette National Forest, McCall is a former logging town that lies isolated near the Salmon River Mountains. It’s now a tame resort town overshadowed by practically endless expanses of ranges to cruise.
The Slopes: Brundage Mountain is best for its 8-mile out proximity. The lodges here are old school timecapsules straight from 1961. The frills were saved for the majestically wide groomed runs and hardcore glade fields.
And take note, the West Central Mountains give adepts a shot at bomb pounding drops if you’re willing to shell out a lil extra for Payette Powder Guides.
Best Base: Shore Lodge straddles the water’s edge of Lake Payette. A brief cross country ski over the lake lands you in a national park. No competition.
Stellar Grub: Stacey Cakes heats up frozen rippers with charming sets of java and gingersnaps.
The Town: Glacier’s 200 strong population resides closer to Mt. Baker than any other. Main street oversees a cluster brick storefronts including cafes, a grocery store, and of course ski and snowboard shops. Every cardinal direction meets a skyline dominated by the Cascade Mountains.
The Slopes: Mt. Baker ski area is low elevation, high snowfall(701 inches annually!), and features few riders on non-powder days. It’s below treeline, so brace for kickers off rugged terrain and non-piste trails.
Ritzy commercial areas, massage parlors, and superfluous festivities are nowhere in sight. Despite its barebones accommodations, Mt. Baker’s accrued an almost sacred status amongst shredding elite. Your chances of catching a hot-shot pro on pilgrimage aren’t bad at all.
Best Base: Glacier is small, shelter is sparse. Head to Mt. Baker for lodgings and heavy partying instead.
Stellar Grub: Traditional Italian coupled with mile-long wine-lists, and of course big boy portions equals Milano’s Pasta Fresca.
Mount Shasta, California
The Town: Outside glimpses tell of a low-key resort town for scamps to rent the season on the cheap. A deeper look into local beliefs on the esoteric mysteries surrounding Mount Shasta will prove that this town is anything but ordinary.
Earliest legends are accredited to Native Americans who believe a volcano god once occupied the mountains volcanic core. Still, other locals are convinced that the mythical city of Lemuria hides away beneath the network of peaks. Sound crazy? Good. We’re powder hounds, we like it crazy.
The Slopes: The largest stratovolcano in the Cascade mountain range equip with four separate peaks creates a wonderland of backcountry goodness. The descent from the volcanic apex(don’t worry it’s dormant) presents a magical 8,000 ft descent listed that’s dubbed as the “Finest Ski Descent in California”
Anticipate lengthy trails that open into wide faces that then wind through several terrain parks. Don’t pass up the Douglas Butte for a no holds-barred open ski of maximum unsupervised cliff jumping madness.
Best Base: Cold Creek Inn and Shasta Lodge deliver neat little rooms for less. Otherwise, rent a mountainside cabin through Mount Shasta Resort.
Stellar Grub: Maruti Restaurant. Curry and slopestyle? Hey, why not?
Los Alamos, New Mexico
The Town: This tawny township on the Pajarito Plateau began life as a U.S. government constructed prop during WWII. No really, it was designed to disguise the scientists living there running tests for the Manhattan project. Now it houses an authentic population and a plaza equip with an orchestra hall and, predictably, a science museum.
The Slopes: With such quirks to its history, you almost wouldn’t care whether or not Los Alamos houses a sick ski escape to boot. But that it does in the form of Pajarito Mountain.
The resort is maintained by the local ski club, so expect quaint but personal bells and whistles. Not a huge concern though when the priority rests with hitting Pajarito’s infamously steep black diamond runs at breakneck speeds; satisfactory for advanced riders.
Best Base: Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express are your best bets here for maximum comfort vs. value.
Stellar Grub: Blue Window Bistro for savory TexMex with a lighter touch of fine soups, sandwiches, and wines.