The idea of skiing terrifies you. But you don’t want to miss out when your friends recount their adventures on the slopes. We’re here for you.
We understand why you might not be into the idea of hurtling yourself down the side of a slippery and snowy mountain with nothing for support other than what are essentially two sticks. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a fun winter vacation or a last-minute getaway.
There are many great ski towns in the USA that you can enjoy without hitting the slopes. If you want to breathe in that fresh mountain air and try alternative outdoor activities, or even just enjoy mulled wine in a cozy cabin beside a roaring fire after a day spent browsing in galleries and markets, read on. No matter which one you choose, here are ski towns whose variety of activities and experiences make them well worth a visit this winter.
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Nestled in the southwest corner of Colorado, Telluride looks and feels like a proper Swiss mountain village. The Rocky Mountain town is renowned for its ski resorts – and over the years it has developed a variety of activities for non-skiers to enjoy in winter, too, with opportunities for snowshoeing, ice-skating, dog-sledding and more. You can even soak in a natural hot spring in the 19th-century revamped ghost town of Dunton Hot Springs, just across the mountain from Telluride. For something more adventurous, rent fat-tire bikes from San Juan Outdoor Adventures to cycle steadily across the snow.
If you want to escape the winter chill, duck into the Telluride Historical Museum or one of the town’s many independent shops and boutiques. You’ll find a dizzying number of breweries and distilleries to enjoy, too, with something for all tastes. Most breweries, including the Telluride Brewing Company and Smugglers Brew Pub, have cozy on-site restaurants where you can tuck into plates of comfort food that will warm you up instantly.
Telluride is also known for its film festival, which takes place in September. Yet even during a winter break you can soak up some movie magic. Located in the former Old First National Bank Building, the historic Nugget Theater offers the charm of an old-school cinema.
Fat-tire snow cycling offers an exciting way to get a winter-sports fix – no skis required © Predrag Vuckovic / Getty Images
Sun Valley, Idaho
If alpine skiing isn’t your jam, try the Nordic (or cross-country) variety. In the glorious mountains of Idaho, Sun Valley Nordic Center has almost 125 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, in addition to snowshoeing and fat biking. If a motorized adventure is more appealing, take a guided tour on a snow machine at Smiley Creek Lodge in Sawtooth City. Sun Valley has hundreds of miles of groomed trails as well as backcountry bowls that are open to snowmobiles. If you’d rather watch than participate in winter sports, get into the spirit and join local fans to cheer on the Sun Valley Suns hockey team, which goes head to head with other ski-town teams at Campion Ice House in neighboring Hailey.
Sun Valley is also one of America’s top towns for culture, and filled with local galleries featuring Western and contemporary art. And the Spa at Sun Valley Lodge offers a relaxing oasis for massages, body rituals like Ayurvedic balancing treatments, and other wellness and healing modalities.
The aptly named Breathtaker Alpine Coaster © Courtesy Snowmass / Dan Bayer
The towering Rocky Mountains aren’t the only thing that will take your breath away when you visit Aspen/Snowmass. Take the Elk Camp Gondola to the top of Snowmass to board the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, which soars through the Snowmass wilderness and over ski runs at up to 28 miles per hour. (This will thrill the kids.) Or sign up for Ullr Nights, select Friday nights that offer coaster rides, tubing, s’mores, music, dinner and other fun things.
For a more laid-back mountain experience, hop aboard the Aspen Mountain gondola for a 15-minute ride that takes you up 3200ft to lunch on the sundeck. There’s also free ice skating in the Snowmass Base Village and complimentary snow tubing at the Snowmass Limelight hotel.
A meal with a view at Cliff House © Courtesy Go Stowe / Sarah Peet Photography
This classic New England destination is scenic, inviting and neighborly. Since the locavore movement started in Vermont, Stowe’s dining scene is a celebration of locally sourced ingredients served with a creative twist. Take the Mansfield Gondola to grab a farm-to-table lunch at Cliff House, at the top of Vermont’s highest peak. Then browse the town’s 50 unique boutiques, country stores, galleries, specialty markets, sporting goods stores and other retailers.
Next, make a stop at the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum to learn the history of skiing and riding in the Green Mountain State. Then lace up your ice skates for a glide around the outdoor rink in the shadow of Mt Mansfield at the Lodge at Spruce Peak before grabbing a drink in the lobby of Stowe Mountain Lodge and watching the snow fall through floor-to-ceiling windows.
Elk spotting near Jackson Hole © Courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Wyoming’s famous vacation destination isn’t just for well-do-do skiers: there’s plenty to do on and off the mountains. First, take the legendary Jackson Hole Aerial Tram: in 12 minutes, you’ll ascend 4139ft as you enjoy 360-degree views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole valley. At the top, grab a waffle at Corbet’s.
Down below, there’s plenty of shopping in Teton Village, as well as in the historic town of Jackson (easy to access via public bus), whether you’re looking for handmade knives, locally distilled spirits or trendy apparel.
If you’re in the mood for a different kind of winter adventure, arrange for a sleigh ride, dog sledding, snowmobiling or snow-coach tour through the National Elk Refuge. At Astoria Hot Springs Park on the banks of the Snake River, you can soak your cares away in the shadow of the Tetons surrounded by a 95-acre park.
Snow tubing at Woodward Park City © Courtesy of Park City
Park City, Utah
Non-skiers will find plenty to explore in Park City, Utah. History buffs will love the town’s idyllic Main St, with its 47 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Wander through this “Western Saloon Town” and you’ll find an abundance of boutique shops, restaurants and galleries to explore.
If you still want to get outside, Escape Room Park City lets you challenge yourself with an outdoor scavenger hunt. For exercise, consider stand-up-paddleboard yoga in a geothermal crater with Park City Yoga Adventures, or snow-season fly fishing in blue-ribbon-awarded riverways through Park City Fly Fishing Guides. Ever wondered what it feels like to soar down a bobsled course? Wonder no more. At Utah Olympic Park you can race down the same track used the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
Stellar food and drink options abound in Park City. Prefer to stay in? Order up The Bartender’s Box, an at-home (or at-hotel) delivery that comes with all the makings of a delicious cocktail. (You supply the booze.) The Viking Yurt welcomes guests by sleigh ride to an elaborate, Norwegian-inspired tent. And the trip up to Rime Seafood & Raw Bar at Deer Valley Resort, via the Jordanelle Gondola, is almost as satisfying as the menu of decadent oysters, clams, shellfish and other delicacies.