Sure, bigger ski towns like Vail and Park City have plenty to recommend them. They’re packed with amenities, have an exciting pace, and attract visitors from all over the world. They’re also often known for long lift lines, crowded restaurants, and too much traffic, leaving harried travelers searching for more serene, untouched locales. Luckily, there are still places all over North America that bring the whole Aspen before it was Aspen vibe, offering up incredible dining, world-class arts scenes, and bountiful powder. If you’re looking for less-trodden main streets and uncrowded lifts, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite mountain towns that haven’t yet been swarmed by tourists (i.e., ruined).
Windham, New York
Located less than three hours north of New York City, Windham often gets passed over by skiers and riders on their way from the city to bigger resorts in Vermont or Maine. Those travelers, however, are missing out on a delightfully under-the-radar mountain town with great skiing and a fun atmosphere. Windham Mountain has over 1,500 ft of vertical, 11 lifts, and 54 trails — along with 6 terrain parks. And there’s a ton to do in town, including breweries, excellent dining, and chic hotels (we recommend the Eastwind). Oenophiles should make the short trip to The Vineyard at Windham, a well-appointed winery with amazing views overlooking the Catskills.
Bridgton is an impossibly charming New England mountain town in western Maine, with a great ski area, variety of excellent restaurants, and several classic inns. Visit nearby Shawnee Peak, the beloved ski resort overlooking Moose Pond, to take advantage of its 40 runs and 7 glades. There’s plenty of terrain for both beginners and more advanced skiers and riders. Or come during the fall to see the area’s spectacular foliage. Of course, there’s also lots to do in the warmer months — try fishing the region’s extensive waterways or hitting up the Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theater just south of town for a double feature.
Thanks in part to its university, Missoula is quickly becoming a cultural hub, with artists, writers, and artisans starting to take note of the high quality of life that Big Sky Country promotes. For the powder-obsessed, there are a number of ski areas nearby, including Snowbowl, a mountain with a plethora of both expert and beginner terrain, and Discovery, which boasts over 65 trails serviced by 8 lifts. When you’re not shredding, peruse the local art galleries, check out one of the town’s distilleries, or indulge in a spa day. Or, have your own A River Runs Through It moment fishing the Blackfoot River.
Hood River, Oregon
Draped along the Columbia River, with Mount Hood in the distance, and the Columbia River Gorge in its backyard, Hood River is unbelievably scenic. The small town is just an hour and a half from Portland and is the perfect basecamp for tons of outdoor adventures, including hiking, fishing, skiing, and even windsurfing. Sample excellent food, coffee, and craft beer while taking in views of the river; then take a walk along the Hood River Waterfront Park before ducking into Hood River Distillers, which bills itself as “The Northwest’s Oldest and Largest Distillery.”
Squamish, British Columbia
Though it’s historically received much less buzz than neighboring Whistler, Squamish is slowly but surely making a name for itself as an adventure destination of its own. The town is located right at the mouth of the Squamish River, where it empties into the Howe Sound. It’s super close to the Coast Mountains and beautiful Vancouver, with whitewater rafting, skiing, rock climbing, and a host of other outdoor activities minutes away. Don’t forget to check out the Sea to Sky Gondola, which gives you epic views of the Howe Sound and surrounding mountains. Get there quick, though — the secret is nearly out.
Located at the foot of the Wasatch Range of the Rockies, Ogden is gives you easy access to some seriously underrated Utah ski resorts, including Snowbasin and Nordic Valley. It’s also one of the best towns on this list for those with kids. Take the little ones to the Hill Aerospace Museum or Eccles Dinosaur Park, before visiting the Ogden Botanical Gardens or one of several beautiful parks. For the adults, be sure to explore 25th Street — a hub for bars, restaurants, and hotels with a, let’s say, colorful past.
This gorgeous enclave in southwestern Colorado won’t be a secret for too much longer. Creede is the epitome of the old-school mining town turned charming mountain destination. It provides easy access to fishing on the Rio Grande and skiing at a number of nearby resorts, including Wolf Creek and Purgatory (even Telluride, if you’re up for a drive). Along with several solid restaurants and hotels, Creede also boasts the Repertory Theatre, an internationally known theatre company that draws talented actors from all over.
Driving into Leavenworth, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d just arrived in an old-world town in the German Alps. Against the imposing backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, the small village a couple hours east of Seattle is idyllic — and has yet to be overrun with visitors. In addition to its own ski hill, scenic trails, and the beautiful Wenatchee River winding through town, Leavenworth has a ton of unique attractions: there’s a summer theater, several microbreweries, and even a nutcracker museum. When it comes to accommodations, you have a bevy of options, but we recommend you go for one of the Bavarian-style lodges that line the town’s streets.
Strung around Payette Lake is an all-season town that’s long been in the shadow of larger Idaho resorts and cities like Sun Valley and Ketchum. McCall is only 15 minutes from Brundage Mountain, a great local ski area with over 2,000 acres of terrain. And Payette Lake is a veritable outdoor playground, attracting kayakers, sailors, swimmers, and fisherman to its shores. Spend your days enjoying a round at the picturesque McCall Golf Club, strolling the quaint downtown area, and/or paying a visit to the Central Idaho Historical Museum. If you’re able, plan your stay during late January/early February to enjoy the McCall Winter Carnival, a local celebration with tons of events and great local flavor.
Taos, New Mexico
We know, this one is not that under the radar. But, somehow, Taos has managed to avoid all of the overcrowding that similarly storied resorts have experienced, mostly because of its remote location. Until recently, it was fairly difficult to reach the actual ski area, and there weren’t many lodging options near the mountain even when you did. That changed with new direct flights from several airports and a new upscale hotel in the heart of the village. Down in the valley, the art scene in Taos is unrivaled, and the Hatch-green-chile-adorned food is top notch (Michael’s is a favorite). If it’s good enough for Julia Roberts, it’s good enough for us.
Every mega-popular mountain town — from Telluride to Whistler to Jackson Hole — came from much humbler beginnings. (Aspen had a population of around 700 in the ‘30s!) So, you can still find the next diamond in the rough tucked away in the mountains — you’ll just have to know where to look.