Snow and ice are must-haves for most popular winter sports, and while it may snow in the majority of the United States, not all snowy destinations are created equal. Luckily, we’ve searched the country to find the best small towns for winter sports fans to enjoy everything from skiing to frozen turkey bowling.
Alyeska (Aleut for “the great land to the East”) is located only 40 miles southeast of Anchorage, and is one of the go-to destinations for winter sports. Some of the world’s best ski racers train and compete here, drawn to the high, yet oxygen-rich mountain terrain. Most of the skiing is done inside a glacier-carved bowl in the mountain, an area that receives a whopping 600+ inches of snow annually. There, skiers and snowboarders will find resorts, day lodges and restaurants, and routes ranging from intermediate to black diamond.
Aspen has long been a chic winter destination for the rich and famous, but it’s also a go-to place for those serious about winter sports. Four surrounding mountains — Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass — offer plenty of varied terrain for sports like skiing and snowboarding. Aspen also boasts a lively apres-ski scene in its charming downtown, where luxurious resorts, high-end shops, and an active night life provide the perfect end to a busy day.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
The small century-old Blowing Rock, North Carolina is a mountain town in every sense of the word. The quaint downtown is home to craft and antique shops, a variety of cafes and restaurants, and small wandering streams that are usually in various stages of frozen. Visitors to Blowing Rock have a variety of nearby ski areas to choose from, including Appalachian Ski Mountain, Ski Beech, and Sugar Mountain, all of which host slopes for any ski level. In January, the town puts on a fun Winterfest festival that includes a Polar Plunge, an event in which locals dress in costumes before diving into the freezing Chetola Lake.
There is a good reason that Breckenridge, Colorado is one of the most famous winter sports destinations in the United States. Located an easy 80 miles southwest of Denver, Breckenridge boasts more than 3,000 acres of terrain and around 187 top-notch trails. And with an average annual snowfall of about 25 feet, near-perfect conditions are practically guaranteed.
Glacier, Washington is often overlooked when it comes to winter sports destinations in the Pacific Northwest. The small town (population about 200) is considered the gateway into the Mount Baker Ski Area. Indeed, Glacier is only 17 miles from the much larger and more popular resort area, making it the perfect spot to stay to save a little cash and sanity. Glacier boasts well-stocked ski and snowboard shops, charming cabins available for rental, three restaurants, and a delicious bakery and breakfast place. After a relaxing morning spent in Glacier, families can head up the road to enjoy Mount Baker’s groomed facilities, while serious skiers will love the steep chutes, cliffs, and cornices available right here in town.
Located at the base of Vermont’s Green Mountains, the small town of Grafton feels like something out of a 50s travel magazine. Small, locally-owned shops line the downtown area, while many of the town’s original clapboard buildings have been turned into charming and cozy Bed and Breakfasts. Considering the fact that the American ski industry was practically started in Vermont, it’s not surprising that tiny Grafton, Vermont is a go-to destination for skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, and other winter sports.
Grand Lake, Colorado
Like snowmobiling? Then head to Grand Lake, Colorado, nicknamed the “Snowmobile Capital of Colorado.” The town boasts 300 miles of snowmobile terrain, 150 of which are groomed. Beginners will have just as much fun as the pros, and even guides are available for those looking for a little direction while out exploring the continental divide or the beautiful scenery surrounding the Rocky Mountains.
Hayward, Wisconsin is one of the most popular places in the country for the winter sport of Nordic, or cross-country, skiing. Hayward is home to the 66-mile long Birkebeiner Trail, the premiere course built by the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation. From November to March (or really, whenever there is snow), Hayward hosts a number of cross-country races for just about any level skier. One such Hayward-hosted race is the 27K Birkie Classic Race, one of the biggest Nordic races held anywhere in the U.S.
International Falls, Minnesota
International Falls loves winter. Each year, this small town in Minnesota hosts the Icebox Days Festival, a four day celebration during which the whole town comes out to enjoy ice skating, snowmobile races, ice rink croquet, and snow sculpting competitions, plus night concerts and poker tournaments. True winter sports aficionados will have a blast in the 10k or 5k Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run, while the only thing more fun than nighttime snowshoeing through Voyageurs National Park is bowling with frozen turkeys. Finally, the Festival culminates with a bonfire in Smokey Bear Park.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Rustic and charming Jackson Hole, Wyoming is becoming more and more popular as a destination for winter sports. Jackson Hole, the valley beneath the Tetons that encompasses such towns as Moose and Jackson, has consistently been named the best ski resort region in the entire United States. The biggie of the bunch, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is a great place for such sports as snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing. And while in Jackson Hole, don’t miss out on nearby Yellowstone Park or the National Elk Refuge.
Like the other Vermont towns on this list, Killington is another of the best small towns for winter sports — especially skiing! Visitors will love the budget-friendly Killington Mountain Resort, which has recently undergone an impressive $35 million in improvements. For an apres-ski, head to Killington’s quaint historic district to enjoy a leisurely stroll, some hot chocolate, and perhaps even a sleigh ride.
From November to March, serious cross-country skiers head to beautiful Kingfield, Maine. Here, 45 demanding miles of trails are available, and most skiers accomplish the whole route. By day, skiers can choose from a variety of routes, while small, semi-luxury huts are available throughout the area for warm and comfortable nights.
Lake Placid, New York
Lake Placid, host of the 1980 Winter Olympics, is now home to one of the best winter sports resorts in the world. Skiing and cross-country skiing are both popular activities at Lake Placid, though most winter sports enthusiasts find themselves here for the luge track. Experienced lugers can ride the former Olympic track alone, while those a little newer to the sport can opt to ride the track with a pro.
Snow bunnies can find one of Colorado’s best budget-friendly ski areas located less than an hour from downtown Denver. The small town of Loveland is one of the nation’s highest resort areas, with base areas well over 10,000 feet above sea level (so don’t skimp on the warm clothing). Despite its laid-back vibe, stunning scenery, and acres upon acres of varied terrain, Loveland never seems to get overly crowded, making it an easy addition to our list of the best small towns for winter sports.
According to TransWorld Snowboarding, Mammoth is the best place in the nation for serious snowboarders. Those who fancy themselves pros will love the Olympic-sized, six-meter deep pipe, while those who are newer to the sport won’t be disappointed with the four-meter Canyon pipe located nearby. Though Mammoth has long been a favorite getaway for the Southern California crowd, it’s still completely underrated as a national destination.
Marquette’s cold winter climate makes it the perfect destination for winter sports. The area’s local terrain is flatter than most other major winter destinations, making it the perfect go-to for cross-country skiing. Indeed, more than four miles of cross-country skiing trails wind their way through Presque Isle Park, through beautiful woods and long the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior.
McCall, Idaho, once a quiet logging town, is today a low-key (and totally underrated) resort town known for its consistently powdery snow and great skiing terrain. Brundage Mountains, located only about eight miles from downtown McCall, averages 320 inches of snow per season, and offers beginners and pros alike lots of glades and slopes. Night skiing and backcountry skiing are popular here, too, while Tamarack Resort, only 20 miles south of town, is great for sledding, skiing, and other family-friendly fun.
New Paltz, New York
The unique winter sport of curling has become increasingly popular over recent years, and one of the best places to experience this sport firsthand is New Paltz, New York, a quaint village only an hour’s drive from New York City. Prospective curlers can take a lesson or two from one of the local curling schools, while those wanting to try their hand at something a tad more adventurous can head to nearby Shawangunk Ridge, one of the most popular rock climbing spots in North America.
North Conway, New Hampshire
North Conway, New Hampshire is home to a number of great ski mountains, including Attitash, Black Mountain, Bretton Woods, Cranmore, King Pine, Wildcat Mountain, and Tuckerman Ravine — all of which are perfect for serious skiers, those looking for hardcore wilderness experiences, or any other winter sports junkies. Those looking for winter adventure will love the historical significance of North Conway (some of history’s greatest outdoorsmen passed through here), while amateur photographers will love the many photography opportunities this gorgeous area presents.
Located in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the small town of Ouray is nicknamed the “Switzerland of America.” There are no ski resorts here, just the Uncompahgre River Gorge, dozens of frozen waterfalls, and a healthy ice climbing industry. Indeed, every December, hundreds of people make their way to Ouray to climb the massive rock walls of the ravine. Pros will love the larger walls, which can often grow to the size of an apartment building, while beginners will be happy to know that plenty of local guides offer lessons and equipment rentals.
Enter into tiny Silverton, Colorado from the “Million Dollar Highway,” and the steep cliffs and stunning mountain backdrop should instantly tell you that you’re in a great spot for winter sports. Indeed, this small town of 500 full-time residents is said to represent “the true soul of skiing” — at least, that is what Elevation Outdoors said when it ranked Silverton one of its Best Small Towns. Families and pros alike will love Silverton’s Kendall Mountain Ski Area and Recreation Center, a popular destination offering a variety of snow-related sports opportunities.
Soda Springs, California
Soda Springs, California is the perfect destination for those who love cross-country skiing. The small town is home to the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort, the largest of its kind anywhere in North America. The resort boasts more than 90 groomed and un-groomed trails, plus warming huts, rental options, a ski school, and a ski patrol. For those looking for a little more variety, two more resorts in the area offer plenty of opportunity for relaxing, skiing, and sledding.
South Lake Tahoe, CalNeva
Any of the small towns surrounding Lake Tahoe should be considered a great place for winter sports, but for those really looking for fun and adventure, you can’t beat South Lake Tahoe. Straddling both California and Nevada, South Lake Tahoe is surrounded by more than a dozen ski resorts, though dog sledding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing are other popular local winter sports. After a long day in the snow, Tahoe’s bustling lakeside downtown area offers plenty of fun in the form of casinos, live shows, night life, great restaurants, and even a gondola ride with stunning lake views.
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
With six mountain peaks within easy access, it’s no wonder that Steamboat Springs is one of the best small towns for winter sports. More than 3,000 acres of varied ski trails, plus kid friendly hills and chutes for experts, means there is plenty of skiing to be had here. And with four snowboard-specific terrain parks in town, snowboarders will be delighted with Steamboat Springs, too!
There’s a reason Stowe, Vermont has becoming synonymous with skiing. Whether amateurs or pros, thousands of East Coast snowbirds find their way to Stowe each year to enjoy what are said to be the best freestyle slopes in the country. The small town is situated just below Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest mountain, so the views here are stunning as well. Besides skiing, there is also a healthy local ice climbing industry.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
For those who love ice fishing, there may be no better winter sports destination than Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Bass, walleye, salmon, panfish, brown trout, and northern pike can all be caught in plentiful amounts here, with the latter being especially common during the winter months. Avid ice fishermen will also appreciate the myriad fishing competitions hosted by this family friendly destination each winter.
Ranked by U.S. News as the 4th best ski destination in the country, Telluride, Colorado is one of the best small towns for winter sports. Despite its popularity, the 2,000+ skiable acres in and around Telluride mean that it has plenty of room for those with all kinds of interests. The biggest resort in town — both in size and reputation — is the Telluride Ski Resort, which boasts nearly 150 trails for skiers and snowboarders. After a long day spent in the snow, tired snow bunnies can head downtown, where romantic ski chalets and top-notch restaurants make for a great apres ski.
Whitefish, Montana is that rare winter sports destination that is both wild and rustic, yet completely luxe. There’s a lot going on in this small town. Located about as far north as one can get before crossing into Canada, Whitefish is a top-notch destination for skiing, fishing, dog sledding, and cross-country skiing, among other sports.
Winter Park, Colorado
Cross-country skiing, dog sledding, wintertime hot air ballooning, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, tubing, sledding, sleigh riding, snowboarding, skiing, snowcat skiing — if it’s a winter spot, it’s available in Winter Park, Colorado! This gorgeous small town has long been a favorite destination for both families and hardcore winter athletes, many of whom come yearly to enjoy Winter Park Resort, the oldest continuously operating ski resort in Colorado. While there are dozens of shops and restaurants to choose from here, Winter Park is also near a number of day trip-worthy historical towns such as Georgetown or Idaho Springs, the latter of which has a downtown that has barely changed since the 1800s.
Surfing may be the big sport in Yakutat, Alaska, but this isn’t your typical surf scene. With water temperatures that hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a wetsuit — and a die-hard surfer spirit — are definitely necessary here (at least one of these things can be purchased in the local Icy Waves surf shop). The town enjoys about 20 to 30 local surfers, though even winter time brings in a healthy number of out-of-towners looking to dodge the ice chunks and ride Yakutat’s famous waves.