You know that retired couple who you occasionally ride the lift with — who tell you all about how they moved to the mountains to get away from it all, and now all they do is ski and live the dream? That can be you. Working hard in the city has been great, but maybe you, too, are finally ready for a more relaxed pace and a decidedly more natural environment. Retirees are increasingly moving to the mountains once their working years are through. But for those who want to stretch their pension dollars further than would be possible in towns like Telluride or Park City, it can often be hard to find the perfect affordable mountain locale. To that end, we’ve put together this list of the nine best mountain towns to retire to — because we know you’re ready to stop riding elevators to the office and start riding lifts to fresh powder.
This darling of southwest Colorado is well appointed, providing both excellent infrastructure/amenities and spectacular natural beauty at a fraction of the cost of a town like Aspen. Durango boasts a solid regional airport, excellent medical facilities, and tons of community services and activities. And its proximity to the gorgeous San Juan National Forest and tons of trout-filled rivers and lakes makes it an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. For skiers and riders, there might not be a better location on this list — Purgatory, Wolf Creek, and Telluride are all nearby. During the summer, the Durango art scene is one of its biggest draws, with galleries lining the streets, festivals and other events popping up every week, and a number of museums (like the beautifully designed and expertly curated Southern Ute Museum) to explore in and around town.
Diehard northeast skiers will recognize Burlington as the ideal jumping off point for legendary Vermont ski areas like Smugglers’ Notch, Whiteface, and Jay Peak. Situated on Lake Champlain, in the middle of the stunning White Mountains, Burlington is a great escape for those who’ve been toiling away in NYC (or Boston, or Philadelphia, or anywhere really) and are now ready for a quieter pace. The food scene is fantastic, with a great mix of restaurants, coffee shops, and breweries. And at just above $400k, average home prices are very reasonable, especially for those who are used to paying rent in Tribeca.
Winter Park, Colorado
This one is a fantastic alternative to Vail, Breckenridge, and many of the pricier ski towns along the I-70 corridor. The median home price is well below that of similar towns in Colorado. The skiing and riding, however, is every bit as exciting (Winter Park — and its 3,000+ acres of skiable terrain — has twice been named the best resort in North America in the USA Today Readers’ Choice poll). In terms of amenities, there’s a community center, several public parks, and a free bus service that goes between the resort, downtown, and the nearby towns of Granby and Fraser. Some excellent dining options line Main Street, and medical care is easily accessible. An easy two-hour drive from Denver, Winter Park is a simple transition for those just finishing a career in the Mile-High City.
Bozeman is the perfect mix of seclusion and culture, with jaw-dropping wilderness just outside town and a hint of metropolitan flare in the city limits. World-class ski areas like Big Sky, Yellowstone Club, and Bridger Bowl are within an hour’s drive, making this town a ski-bum-turned-retiree’s dream. A cultural hotbed (thanks, in part, to local Montana State University), Bozeman is home to several art museums and galleries, a flourishing food scene, and countless community events and festivals. There’s even a symphony. Hiking and biking trails abound in the Custer Gallatin National Forest near town, as do spectacular trout streams, tranquil lakes, and restorative hot springs. It is also a very accessible option, with multiple airlines offering flights into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport from numerous cities across the country. Get there fast, though —the town seems to be having a moment.
For those who have been working in big cities in the Pacific Northwest, Wenatchee is a scenic, affordable retirement destination. And with average home prices under $450k, it’s definitely a budget-conscious choice when compared to cities like Seattle or Portland. Spread out along the Columbia River, Wenatchee is an outdoorsy retiree’s paradise. In addition to several golf courses, there are some excellent ski areas within an hour’s drive, including small local spots like Leavenworth Ski Hill and powder-filled meccas like Stevens Pass. Also, there are tons of great activities for children, including apple picking, museums, and public parks and playgrounds; so the grandkids will have plenty to do when they visit. Plus, it’s about two hours from the Seattle-Tacoma airport, making it a fairly easy-to-reach locale.
Just north of bustling Salt Lake City, Ogden is a much more affordable city that offers no less in the way of outdoor activities. In terms of accessibility, you’re not likely to find a better option. With both an in-town regional airport (Ogden-Hinckley) and a big international airport (SLC) within 45 minutes, your family will have no problem visiting — and you’ll have no problem getting away when the Utah winter gets a little too chilly. Often passed over by the crowds flocking to Park City or Alta, Ogden is base camp for two underrated ski areas, Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. (The latter is a well-kept secret that accrues around 500 inches of snow a year and has more skiable terrain than anywhere in the US.)
According to Zillow, typical home prices in Bethel hover just above the $270,000 mark, which makes this town one of the most budget-friendly options on our list. Bethel oozes New England small town charm, with a population of just over 2,500. If you’re looking for some isolation, this is your spot. This means there are some access issues, but we think that the pristine natural surroundings — combined with excellent dining, solid public amenities, and an enchanting downtown — more than make up for it. Oh, and did we mention that Sunday River, one of the northeast’s best ski hills, is just up the road?
At the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Placerville is a sunny enclave surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and teeming with activities for retirees. If you’re looking to indulge your inner oenophile in retirement, there are several excellent wineries just outside of town. For adventurous pensioners, the gorgeous Eldorado National Forest lies just to the east of town, and the shores and slopes of Lake Tahoe are only an hour and a half away. And, conveniently, Sacramento and its airport (SMF) are only an hour west of town. If you’ve been toiling away in California’s capital, it’s well worth checking out Placerville when you’re ready to give up the grind.
This northern Idaho gem on the shore of Lake Pend is a fantastic alternative to the more well-known (and expensive) Sun Valley. If you’re looking to stay active, there are miles upon miles of trails for hiking and biking that wind through gorgeous natural settings in and around town. Then there is Schweitzer, one of the best under-the-radar ski resorts anywhere, just a stone’s throw from town. In addition to some wonderful restaurants, shops, and bars, there are plenty of medical facilities, a library, and a disproportionate amount of public park land (the Sandpoint City Beach Park is a favorite). When you want to get out of town, Spokane and its international airport are only 80 miles from Sandpoint. Or, for a more scenic trip, you could take the Empire Builder Amtrak route that happens to run right through town.
Tips for Finding Your Own Town to Retire In
Of course, you can always try to discover the next great cheap ski town. Here are some pointers to help you search for an affordable new home:
- Look to the outlying areas. Of course, ski-in/ski-out access would be great; but liquidating the retirement account for a house at the base of your favorite mountain may not be the best idea. Instead, it can be more cost effective to look in nearby towns, where home prices are going to be more reasonable — think Frisco, Colorado, instead of Breckenridge, or Carson City, Nevada, instead of Tahoe.
- Think about accessibility. If you’re not planning on doing much traveling or having visitors often, then this one might not be a big problem. Most retirees, though, find that accessibility is important, particularly when they want to host kids and grandkids. Look for nearby airports with direct flights or train/bus routes running through town.
- Don’t forget the amenities. In general, mountain towns won’t have the infrastructure and services you’ll find in a larger city. But some are definitely more amenity rich than others. Things to consider include access to public transportation; community centers; libraries; post offices and banks; pharmacies, grocery stores, and other markets; and — of particular importance to skiers and riders of a certain age — medical facilities.
With our list as a reference, and the above tips to help guide you, by this winter you could be that seasoned local riding lifts with visitors and recounting the story of how you took the plunge and retired to the mountains.