The Best Cities for Skiers to Live

·17 min read

Let’s be clear from the outset: The 2,000 or so words you read below will not provide a roadmap to ski heaven. This isn’t another ranking of the best ski towns; it’s a collection of the best ski cities. We did this on purpose because the reality is, most of us can’t and don’t live in the idyllic (and exclusive) enclaves at the base of a ski area in the Mountain West. Still, some of the entries here are home to world-class resorts. But not all of them. (Related reading: Covid-19 accelerated the housing crisis in ski towns, and now it’s shutting down economies and displacing longtime locals.) We considered a number of factors in what makes a city one of the best for skiers. Ski accessibility was just one factor in our (extremely unscientific) calculation, as were public transit, job opportunities, diversity, and cost of living. That’s why you’ll see a place like Chicago included right alongside Reno. (No offense, Chicagoans, but your city’s not exactly sitting on the Alps.) It is, however, within a 2-hour drive to a handful of ski areas where lift tickets cost far less than $200 a day. Because as great as the apres-ski lifestyle is, we can’t all live in Aspen and be ski bums. The goal, then, is to find a place where you can both build a career, find affordable housing, and nab first chair on the weekends. Big bonus points if the region can offer diversity in income, race, ethnicity, and language. Skiing needs to embrace all of these differences in order to survive. Hopefully, this list helps shine a light on a few potential landing pads for skiers to live, work, and play. We’ve listed them here in order of increasing household income. Chicago, Illinois Chestnut Mountain Resort perches high on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River where skiers can enjoy nineteen ski trails. Median household income: $58,247 Where to stay: Publishing House Bed and Breakfast, The Robey Where to ski: Alpine Valley, Chestnut, Wilmot, Cascade; or use O’Hare to get, well, anywhere Who to link up with: Lincoln Park Ski Club, which was founded in 1969 and is open for anyone 21 and over, offers ski vacations to resorts across the U.S. and in Europe. It also has monthly happy hours, a summer golf league, and organized bike rides. ✅ O’Hare International Airport ✅ Diversity ❌ Flat state ❌ Surrounded by ski areas You picture Chicago, and you might imagine the Sears Tower, deep-dish pizza, maybe even “Da Bears” guys. You probably don’t think of skiing. That’s understandable—Illinois is, after all, the second-flattest state in the U.S. (right behind Florida). But the Windy City actually has a great ski scene, in large part thanks to O’Hare International, the country’s best-connected airport. Whether it’s Montana, Vermont, or Colorado, you’re looking at a short flight from O’Hare. “It’s a lot of non-stop flights here, compared to other places,” said Bob Olson, owner of Viking Ski Shop, which has locations in Chicago and nearby Barrington. “Chicago’s best feature is it’s the easiest city in the U.S. to get out of.” Chicago ranks in the top ten cities in the U.S. for diversity, entertainment, and outdoor activities. You can ski nearby, or easily hop on a flight to chase winter anywhere in the country. That said, you don’t have to hop on a plane to get on the snow. Alpine Valley, Chestnut, Wilmot, and Cascade are all within a reasonable driving distance from the city. And given that neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan have the second and third most ski resorts of any state, it’s not like you’re in danger of running out of new runs. As far as the city itself goes, Chicago ranks in the top ten, per WalletHub, for diversity, entertainment, and outdoor activities. It’s also, according to Nerdwallet, the 25th most expensive city in the U.S. A bonus: Transit passes in Chicago cost about $100 per month, which is cheaper than other major cities (ahem, New York). Reno, Nevada Mt. Rose is the closest skiing to Reno. Located only 25 minutes away from the city, the base elevation is 8,260 and primed for snowfall. Median HH income: $58,790 Where to stay: The Jesse, Peppermill Resort Spa Casino Where to ski: Lake Tahoe, Donner Pass Ranch, Mt. Rose Who to link up with: Reno Ski and Recreation Club has been a hub for Nevada skiers since 1979. The club also offers other activities such as water-skiing, tennis, house boating, and group dinners. For you speed freaks, Reno Ski and Recreation Club also has an active ski racing team. ✅ Six major resorts nearby ✅ Strong economy ❌ No bros The inclusion of the Reno was kind of a no-brainer thanks in large part to Lake Tahoe, which is home to six world-class resorts and lies about 45 minutes from the city, and is accessible by shuttle service from the airport. There are other local spots too, such as Donner Pass Ranch and Mt. Rose. “You have, you have more variety when you’re in Reno versus being based in just one town in Tahoe itself,” said Luke Jacobson, CEO of Reno-based Moment Skis. Another bonus to Reno, according to Jacobson: Traffic is quite easy compared to most of the other major ski hubs. “It’s not like Denver’s I-70 hell drive,” he said. The cheapest way to get from Reno to Kirkwood is a $9 bus ticket. Drive and you’ll be there in less than 90 minutes. To many, Reno is still synonymous with gambling and prostitution, said Jacobson (even though the latter is actually banned in Washoe County). “Reno gets this weird reputation,” says Jacobson. “There’s been a grungy depiction of the city in the media over the years. But it’s not really like that, to that. It’s a very clean, nice city.” It’s also a city with a strong economy, thanks in large part to service centers and mega-facilities set up by the likes of Patagonia, Apple, Tesla, and Google. “A lot of people come to Nevada for tax purposes, because it’s a short drive from the Bay Area,” Jacobson said. Little wonder, then, that the Biggest Little City in the World ranked fourth in the Milken Institute’s 2020 list of Best-Performing Cities. Salt Lake City, Utah Skiing in Utah is just big mountains and deep pow (they have that too), it’s also home to some of the best groomer skiing in the country. Enter Deer Valley. Median HH income: $60,676 Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Salt Lake City, Ellerbeck Bed & Breakfast Where to ski: Snowbird, Deer Valley, Park City, Alta Who to link up with: Active since 1920, Wasatch Mountain Club offers skiing, backpacking, camping, canoeing, climbing, and much more. ✅ Hottest job market in the U.S. ✅ Greatest snow on earth. Yeah, we said it. ❌ Liquor stores are closed on Sunday ❌ Air pollution When Dash Longe moved from Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City, he was immediately smitten, with both the city and the snow. “In Tahoe, where I grew up, the snow would get hot pretty quickly and would get manky as the sun came out,” said Longe, the pro skier-turned-realtor. “Here you can still find powder like multiple days after a storm in the backcountry.” For those not quite as adventurous as Longe, there are plenty of excellent resorts near Salt Lake City: Snowbird, Deer Valley, Park City, and Alta are all less than an hour away. “I’ve traveled all over the world. And there are not that many cities that are this close to skiing,” Longe said. Live in Salt Lake City and score the goods at Park City Mountain Resort. No canyon traffic here. (Photo: Michael Madsen) There’s more than just good skiing though: Earlier this year, SLC was rated the hottest job market in the U.S. by the Wall Street Journal, thanks in part to a budding tech sector and a low cost of living. Add in a great arts and food scene in neighborhoods like The Avenues and the Sugar House District—plus a Utah Jazz team that’s actually…very good?—and it’s not hard to see why Utah is the fastest growing state in the country. “This place was a little bit of a secret,” Longe said, “but I think the secret’s out at this point.” New York City, New York New York City’s Times Square: Ski it if you can, right? Median HH income: $63,998 Where to stay: The Box Hotel, Moxy NYC Chelsea Where to ski: Hunter, Windham, Mountain Creek, Gore, Big Snow Who to link up with: All winter, Miramar Ski Club runs weekend bus trips from New York City to a lodge in Waitsfield, Vermont, for downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding at nearby Sugarbush, Killington, Stowe and Mad River Glen. For skiers of color, Sno-burners includes more than 300 members and is one of the founding clubs of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. The club has also offered trips to most major U.S. ski resorts, plus mountains in Europe, Canada, and Japan. ✅ Most ski resorts of any state ✅ Three major airports ❌ Driving in/out of the city Escape the city grind. Gore Mountain is in the Adirondack Mountains, located in North Creek, New York. You already know New York as the city of $1 pizza slices, rat-infested subway stations, and near-nude buskers. But were you aware it’s also not too far from some pretty good skiing? Hunter, Windham, Mountain Creek, and Gore are all only a couple of hours’ drive away. And there’s plenty more: New York has the most resorts of any state in the U.S., and Big Snow—located at the new American Dream Mall a half-hour from Manhattan—is the country’s only indoor ski slope (i.e. year-round). There are also three major airports in NYC, which means you can always catch a flight—albeit a longer one—out West. “It is easy for us to ski throughout the United States,” said Maxine Spence, president of Sno-burners club and a member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. “A lot of the ski trips we do are to Lake Tahoe.” Everything else about New York kind of speaks for itself, but in case you’ve been living under a rock, a quick primer: It’s got the best public transit, the biggest economy, the most people, and scores as the third-most diverse city in the country. It’s also known as the capital of finance, media, the arts, and fashion. It is also apparently home to the world’s best cup of coffee. Los Angeles, California Two hours from DTLA, Bear Mountain feels like another world. Median HH income: $68,044 Where to stay: The Kinney Hotel, The Ace Hotel Where to ski: Mammoth Mountain, Big Bear, Mountain High Who to link up with: Beach Cities Ski Club, based in the South Bay of L.A. County, offers ski trips, happy hours, clam bakes, and beach volleyball to its 100-plus members. ✅ Ski and surf in the same day ✅ Tom Hanks lives here ❌ High cost of living ❌ No public transportation Southern California is well-known in the ski world for offering what’s colloquially as the “twofer”—that is, the ability to surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon. “L.A. is kind of unique in that way,” said Bruce Lee, president of the Manhattan Beach-based Beach Cities Ski Club. But the twofer is more for the bucket list than anything else, though he admit “it takes a little bit [of effort] to do that.” Weekends outside the city are worth it. Make the drive to Mammoth Mountain and you won’t regret it. Even better if you can go mid-week and avoid the traffic. Despite its beaches and sunshine, there’s quite a vibrant ski culture in L.A., and it’s largely based around Mammoth Mountain, which is about a roughly five-and-a-half-hour drive from the city. “The primary destination for Southern California is Mammoth,” Lee said, “If you took any skier from Southern California, it’s very likely that person will ski at Mammoth.” But let’s not ignore the local spots either: Big Bear and Mountain High are both under three hours by car. L.A. also has LAX, the much-maligned but conveniently located airport that can get you places like Colorado, Washington, and Utah in just a few hours. “You can get to Salt Lake City within two hours,” Lee said. Now, if you’re looking for great entertainment, affordable outdoor activities (surfing is free, mostly), and diversity, L.A. has got you covered. If you care about affordability and public transportation, maybe not the place for you. Denver, Colorado When you first arrive in Denver, you might think: “I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.” But just a few hours away at Vail, you’ll see what John Denver was talking about all along. (Photo: Jack Affleck) Median HH income: $68,592 Where to stay: The Warwick Denver, The Maven Where to ski: Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, A-Basin, Vail, Beaver Creek Who to link up with: Ski Noir, one of Denver’s newest ski clubs, is geared toward young professionals of color., Colorado Ski and Snowboard is another great bet. ✅ 10 resorts within 2 hours ✅ Legal bud, Jah bless ❌ I-70 weekend traffic Denver may seem like too obvious a choice, but let’s not overthink this: The Mile High City is known as an outdoor person’s mecca for a reason, with Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, A-Basin, Vail, and Beaver Creek all under a two-hour drive away. (For a closer trek, there’s also Echo Mountain, which is still better than most resorts on the East Coast.) “You can hit 10 different ski resorts in a week and not even have gone to all of the different runs that are at those resorts because they are so plentiful,” said Quincy Shannon, president of Ski Noir and member of the National Brotherhood of Skiers. “One thing I hear from others who have skied on the East Coast is just how long our runs are.” Copper Mountain is just 75 miles from Denver with 2,507 acres of skiable terrain and a village that feels more like a neighborhood. The city, meanwhile, continues to grow at a rapid (perhaps alarming) rate. That’s no big surprise, given that Denver consistently places in the top 15 places to live by US News and World Report. Sure, the city has a so-so public transit system, and yes, the cost of living continues to trend upward, but good luck finding a more liberal, ski-obsessed major city (and one that offers hot springs, spicy green chile, and an ungodly number of breweries). Plus, Denver’s been at the forefront of the “green rush,” with weed-related commerce maintaining its foothold in the state since residents voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana. “It’s a different version of our Mile High,” said Shannon. Portland, Oregon Mt. Hood Ski Bowl is waiting for you to send that last email and make your way here after work. Median HH income: $71,005 Where to stay: Jupiter Hotel, McMenamins Kennedy School Where to ski: Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood Skibowl, Timberline Lodge & Ski Area Who to link up with: Northwest Ski Club Council represents 25 ski and snowboard clubs across Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. The council holds monthly meetings—many of which feature guest speakers on topics like travel, community service, and ski safety. Participation in the council also gets you membership in the Far West Ski Association, a sibling guild that offers discounts on lodging, rentals, and ski gear. ✅ Yearound skiing on Mt. Hood (yes, even in July) ✅ Breweries on breweries on breweries ❌ Lacks diversity Portland is second only to Honolulu in Wallethub’s ranking of best cities for an active lifestyle. For that, the city has Mt. Hood to thank. Just 90 minutes from Portland, Mt. Hood is home to three resorts: Mt. Hood Meadows, Mt. Hood Skibowl, and Timberline Lodge & Ski Area. (The latter of the three is open nearly year-round.) “There is a rich culture of snowboarders and skiers in Portland,” said pro skier and Season Eqpt. founder Eric Pollard. “You can really design your life around riding and live in the city.” The Jupiter Hotel is quintessential Portland vibes. Stay here when you’re checking out the neighborhood before making the move. There are other resorts within driving distance, such as Mount Bachelor and, for any cross-country enthusiasts, Teacup Lake (where a pass is somehow just $10). Pollard had a couple of other local spots in mind too but, like any good local, he kept mum on their whereabouts. “There are some low-key mountains to be discovered, but I’m not going to name them,” he said with a laugh. As for some non-skiing highlights that make Portland livable, they’ve got high marks for things like public transit, entertainment, breweries per capita, and cost of living. (In the interest of transparency, got a very low diversity rating, as Portland has been labeled the “whitest city in America.”) Boston, Massachusettes What was that about the “Ice Coast” you said? Loon Mountain Resort is the ultimate weekend getaway from Boston to New Hampshire. Median HH income: $71,115 Where to stay: The Revolution Hotel, The Verb Hotel Where to ski: Loon, Waterville Valley, Cannon, Mount Snow. Who to link up with: Boston Ski & Sports Club goes way beyond skiing: The organization, which reaches over 50,000 participants annually, also offers everything from basketball and golf to frisbee and softball. ✅ Great school systems and public transport ✅ The Red Sox ❌ The Red Sox ❌ There’s a reason they call it the “Ice Coast” As is the case with universities and mob movies, when it comes to skiing Boston offers as much in quantity as it does in quality. With dozens of resorts within a decent driving radius, Beantown has got enough to keep even the most diehard plankers satisfied. As such, it’s developed a strong community of skiers, says Berkowitz, brand director for The Ski Monster shop in Boston. Just 2 hours outside Boston, Waterville Valley Resort offers an adventurous escape from city life. “People obviously love the city, but when it comes to recreation, they also like to get to the mountains,” he said. “It’s part of the culture in the city for sure.” While Massachusetts does have its own resorts, Berkowitz, says the city’s skiers tend to be willing to go a bit further for better snow. “A lot of our customers are traveling to Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine,” he said. “Routes 93 and 95 both shoot straight up from Boston, right into the mountains.” Some driveable highlights, according to Berkowitz, include Loon, Waterville Valley, Cannon, and Mount Snow. Other cool things about Boston: Per Wallethub’s rankings, it has the second-best public transit system in the country, and—to the shock of no one—Massachusetts has the best school system. It’s also got the Freedom Trail, the Museum of Fine Arts, the JFK Presidential Library, and Fenway Park (though, depending on your view of the Red Sox, Fenway might be a place to avoid).