All Articles 6 North American ski towns that even non-skiers should visit

6 North American ski towns that even non-skiers should visit

There’s more to these retreats than hitting the slopes.

Sarah Kuta
By Sarah KutaFeb. 16, 2023 5 minutes read
Downtown Banff, Canada
Downtown Banff, Canada
Image: Grant Gunderson/Courtesy of SkiBig3

Between the chilly weather, expensive lift tickets, uncomfortable gear, and physical coordination required, skiing and snowboarding may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But hitting the slopes is only one way to enjoy your time in a wintry resort town. Ski-focused properties are typically located in beautiful locations that offer seriously cozy vibes: think snow-covered evergreen trees, picturesque vistas, and charming streets adorned with twinkle lights.

After all, curling up in front of a roaring fire with a steaming mug of hot cocoa and a good book is basically the winter equivalent of kicking back on a beach with a tropical drink. So instead of skipping your friend group’s next big ski trip, tag along and enjoy the many other fun activities and rejuvenating amenities that ski towns have to offer during the season.

Read on for some of the best ski destinations for non-skiers in North America—and suggestions for what to do during your next visit.

Sandpoint, Idaho

Snowmobiling in Sandpoint, Idaho
Snowmobiling in Sandpoint, Idaho
Image: Courtesy of Visit Idaho

Perched in the Selkirk Mountains near Sandpoint, Idaho, Schweitzer is the largest ski resort in the state (as well as neighboring Washington), with more than 2,900 acres of pristine terrain. Powderhounds love Schweitzerfor its abundant tree skiing, family-friendly vibes, and panoramic views, but skiing and snowboarding are far from the only ways to take in the awe-inspiring landscape of the area.

Strap on a pair of snowshoes and meander through majestic old-growth forests on a guided moonlight snowshoe hike, cruise through more than 20 miles of groomed trails on “snow bikes” equipped with fat tires, or coast downhill in an inner tube at Schweitzer’s Hermit’s Hollow. Since Lake Pend Oreille typically doesn’t freeze over, you can even book a chartered fishing trip.

If you’re looking for a lower-octane experience, book a session with the experts at Schweitzer Massage, who offer three rejuvenating treatments (more of which will be available at the resort’s Cambium Spa, set to open before the end of the 2022/2023 season).

Banff, Canada

Dinner at Bluebird in Banff, Canada
Dinner at Bluebird in Banff, Canada
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Skiers and snowboarders flock to Banff each winter to shred the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies at Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine Village, and Mt. Norquay—a collective of unique ski resorts inside Banff National Park known as SkiBig3. And while the skiing in Banff is certainly top-notch, this historic Bow Valley mountain town also offers plenty to do off the slopes.

Relish a multi-course meal with local ingredients and carefully curated wine pairings at Eden, located inside the stunning Rimrock Resort Hotel, or tuck into a plate of tender prime rib amid the mid-century modern inspired Bluebird, one of Banff’s newest restaurants. Art lovers can wander through more than a dozen galleries, including All in the Wild, Willock & Sax, and Carter-Ryan, while history buffs can learn stories of the valley's past with trips to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

For a closer look at the area’s decidedly great outdoors, book a guided “ice walk” that will allow you to see the frozen waterfalls of Johnston Canyon with Discover Banff Tours. Afterward, warm up with a craft cocktail at Park Distillery or a refreshing pint at Three Bears Brewery. Dipping into the toasty, geothermal water of Banff Upper Hot Springs under the stars is an ideal way to end your evening.

Aspen, CO

Aspen Art Museum

With four world-class resorts (Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands), Aspen is a prime skiing destination for snowsports lovers from all over the world. But this glamorous, high-elevation town, nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, also has a rich arts and culture scene.

While skiers play in the powder, visit the free Aspen Art Museum and grab a bite to eat at its sun-drenched rooftop cafe. Catch a concert at Belly Up Aspen, an intimate venue that’s seen acts like Melissa Etheridge, Gary Clark Jr., and Diplo grace its stage, or take in a performance at Theatre Aspen (for touring Broadway shows) or the Wheeler Opera House, a beautifully maintained 133-year-old Victorian-era venue that’s been a frequent host of the Aspen Laugh Festival. The John Denver Sanctuary pays homage to the iconic singer and longtime Aspen resident with lyrics carved into boulders around the grounds, near Theater Aspen and the Roaring Fork River.

Admire the groundbreaking designs of Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer (who was influential in developing Apsen’s identity as a ski town and arts hub) while exploring the Aspen Institute, home of the Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies. Cap off the day après-ski drinks and bites (hey, no one needs to know you didn’t actually go skiing) at buzzy spots like Ajax Tavern, the Living Room at Hotel Jerome, or French Alpine Bistro.

Mammoth Lakes, CA

Snow tubing at Mammoth Lake, California
Snow tubing at Mammoth Lake, CA
Image: Sarah Wallock/Courtesy of Visit Mammoth

Situated high in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, the ski town of Mammoth Lakes is just a five-hour drive from Los Angeles. Sprawling Mammoth Mountain offers 3,500 expansive acres of skiable terrain to explore (including the highest lift-served slopes in all of California), while nearby June Mountain has a laid back vibe and stellar views.

Off the slopes in Mammoth Lakes, little ones won’t be able to contain their laughter while zooming down the snow on tubes at Woolly’s Tube Park, which also has a large snow play area (and a full bar for parents). Another adrenaline-pumping option is snowmobiling across the region’s 75,000 acres of glittering wilderness, led by guides with DJ’s Snowmobile Adventures and Mammoth Mountain.

For a more serene jaunt through the snow, head to Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center, which offers access to more than 19 miles of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails through the woods.

Stowe, VT

Outdoor fire pit at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont
Outdoor fire pit at Topnotch Resort in Stowe, VT
Image: Courtesy of Topnotch Resort

Come winter, Stowe looks like a scene straight out of a snow globe. This charming New England retreat is home to the historic Stowe Mountain Resort, which traces its roots back to 1937, and is referred to by many as the ski capital of the East. But even if cruising down the slopes of Mount Mansfield (the highest peak in Vermont) isn’t your jam, you can still embrace the magic of winter while in town.

Spend a day escaping the cold in one of the area’s spacious spas—at The Spa at Topnotch, you can choose from more than 100 treatments before lounging by the fireplace, taking a dip in the indoor pool, or soaking in the hot tub. Learn about the Green Mountain State’s deep skiing roots at the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum.

Stowe also offers plenty in the way of adventure, from tours with Snowmobile Vermont to ice climbing excursions with Sunrise Mountain Guides. For a more mellow day on the snow, we recommend Nordic skiing at Trapp Family Lodge, a European-inspired chalet with more than 62 miles of trails for snowshoeing as well as cross-country skiing.

Sun Valley, Idaho

Sun Valley holds a special place in the skiing history books. It’s where engineers invented and installed the world’s very first chair lifts in December 1936. Over the years, the resort town also hosted an array of star-studded guests, from movie stars like Clark Gable and Lucille Ball to several members of the Kennedy family.

But even though skiing is practically embedded in Sun Valley’s DNA, you don’t have to hit the slopes to enjoy yourself in this central Idaho winter wonderland. Glide around on skates at Ketchum’s Christina Potters Outdoor Ice Rink or Sun Valley Resort’s rink, or head indoors and get inspired at the Sun Valley Museum of Art.

Book a rejuvenating signature massage at The Spa at Sun Valley, or cozy up by the massive fireplace in the lobby at the Limelight Hotel Ketchum, where you can often catch live music. For an unforgettable excursion, take a short hike out of town for unobstructed views of the starry night sky—Sun Valley is part of the 906,000-acre Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve.

Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta is a writer and editor based in Colorado who specializes in travel, food and drink, science, history, and more. Her work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Robb Report, Food & Wine, NBC News, Lonely Planet, Smithsonian Magazine, the Denver Post, 5280 Magazine, the Toronto Star, and many other publications. When she's not writing, she's probably skiing, birdwatching, road tripping in her converted camper van, hiking with her dog Daisy, mountain biking, or checking out craft breweries.