Most avid skiers and snowboarders have been to Vail, dreamed about Whistler, and have spent a long weekend at Jackson Hole, but what about the secret ski towns? Without the money to advertise or the prowess of luxury, some ski towns have remained some of the world’s best-kept secrets. Here is a list of places to make a point of visiting this season. While most are off the beaten path, all of them are fantastic places to catch fresh tracks and beat the lines and prices of the well-known luxury resorts.
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Located 18 miles away from the town of Taos, Taos Ski Valley features steep terrain and over 300 days of sunshine. It is the ski town for the adventurous spirit—the vertical drop is 2,612 feet and with over 110 runs, most of the terrain is challenging. Originally built by a Swiss-German man named Ernie Blake, Taos Ski Valley has European architecture and style yet also is blended with the local Native American and Spanish styles. While it is definitely a spot for the seasoned skier, Blake also created family friendly runs for beginners, so it is a great place for a family vacation or easy-going group trip.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Often outshined by its bigger and more glamorous neighbors—Crested Butte is a ski town that embodies a laid-back and funky vibe. Since it’s about a four-hour drive from Denver, and doesn’t have quite the reputation for luxury as other towns in its area, Crested Butte is not filled with lift lines, big chain restaurants and tourists. Instead Crested Butte as a town comes off as homey and casual, making the après ski especially comfortable. In addition, the 1,550 acres of terrain and extremely high-altitude (the base of the mountain starts at 9,375 feet), make it a great place for the skier who wants freedom and fresh tracks.
When preparing to ski the Swiss Alps, Flims is a destination that does not readily come to mind. Yet it gets more snow AND less-tourists per capita than the world-renowned St. Mortiz. The steady source of snow is guaranteed by the ski town’s location: right on top of the Vorab glacier, 70% above sea level which makes it a magnet for steady snow. Flims has all the charms of a Swiss Ski town while maintaining a family-oriented and down home feel.
Spain does not often come up as a place for terrific skiing, which makes the ski town of Formigal, Spain a must see in 2013. Less pricey than its European neighbors, Formigal is a total steal. The terrain is dynamic, because it is spread out over four valleys, and thus has four separate bases. The ski terrain as a result has a lot of variety for every level of skier or snowboarder. In addition, the widespread layout creates many options for restaurants and accommodations.
Are is known as a ski town with exceptionally well-groomed runs and excellent local restaurants. Often overlooked by those on a mission to ski Europe, Are has been a mountain town for over 1000 years. In 1957 and then again in 2007 The Alpine World Championships were held in Are, and the terrain was considered for the 2014 Winter Olympics. It is a great choice for the intermediate skier or snowboarder, with an interest in Swedish culture.
Kicking Horse, Canada
While Kicking Horse is starting to make a name for itself, it doesn’t get half the credit it deserves. Located right outside Golden, British Columbia, Kicking Horse has the fourth highest vertical drop in North America (only six feet shorter than Jackson Hole). The terrain is comprised of four large bowls that filter down to easy, well-groomed ski areas. The area is especially known for creating light, dry snow called “champagne powder,” which is reason to visit this resort alone. Not to mention one of their main lifts is called “Stairway to Heaven,” which definitely gives them bonus points.