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 6 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 unbelievably beautiful spots that offer seriously cozy vibes: think snow-covered evergreen trees, picturesque mountains, and charming streets adorned with twinkle lights. After all, curling up in front of a fire with a mug of hot cocoa and a book is basically the winter equivalent of kicking back on a beach with a frozen drink. So don't skip your friends' next big ski trip—instead, tag along to enjoy the fun activities and rejuvenating amenities that ski towns have to offer.

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

Skiers love: abundant tree-skiing and family-friendly slopes

Non-skiers love: snowshoeing, tubing, and sauna time

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. To best explore 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 (note: participants must be at least 42” tall to tube). 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 rejuvenating treatment at Schweitzer’s Cambium Spa, which offers massages, foot soaks, sauna sessions and more.

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Banff, Canada

Skiers love: tons of ski resort options and pristine slopes

Non-skiers love: gallery-hopping, brewery visits, and hot springs

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.

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 at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies and Cave and Basin National Historic Site. And for a closer look at the area’s great outdoors, book a guided “ice walk” that'll take you to 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. (Three Bears has an afternoon happy hour from October through May with discounts on pizza and beer.) Dipping into Banff Upper Hot Springs' geothermal waters under the stars is an ideal way to end your evening.

Travelers say: “I'd recommend arriving early or later in the day [to Banff Upper Hot Springs] if possible as it does get quite crowded and the wait can be relatively long. My personal preference is a winter visit if possible, as it offers the perfect contrast to the snow and cold only meters away.”—@798sergen

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Aspen, CO

Skiers love: unrivaled backcountry slopes and the après-ski scene

Non-skiers love: the top-tier arts and the après-ski scene

Aspen Art Museum

With four world-class resorts (Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Aspen Highlands), glamorous Aspen is a prime skiing destination with 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 the Wheeler Opera House, a beautifully maintained 133-year-old Victorian-era venue that’s been a frequent host of the Aspen Laugh Festival.

There’s plenty of ways for non-skiers to enjoy Aspen’s great outdoors, too. The John Denver Sanctuary pays homage to the iconic singer and longtime Aspen resident with lyrics carved into the ground's boulders—while you won’t see the sanctuary's spring blooms, reviewers note that you may have the place to yourself in winter. Many hiking trails are also open to snowshoers, including the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail.

Travelers say: "I have hiked Maroon Bells in the summer and it is unbelievable, but now I have snowshoed it in the winter and it is breathtaking! The snowshoe is 3 miles longer each way since they have to close the road in the winter, so make sure you bring plenty of water and some snacks to keep you going."—@lkabernathy

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.

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Mammoth Lakes, CA

Skiers love: easy access from Los Angeles and Cali's highest slopes

Non-skiers love: kid-friendly adventures and snowmobiling

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

Just a five-hour drive from L.A. in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the ski town of Mammoth Lakes and the sprawling Mammoth Mountain offer 3,500 acres of skiable terrain (plus, 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.

Travelers say: "Our family of 4 (kids are 12 and 14) had so much fun at Woolly’s. ...We went mid-week before Christmas at the twilight hour. In the one hour, we got in nine runs, but it wasn’t very crowded and we moved fast between runs."—@julieaL6315ZU

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.

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Stowe, VT

Skiers love: picture-perfect slopes in the the ski capital of the East

Non-skiers love: ice climbing and spa days

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. 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 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. Or you can dive into ski culture without without strapping on a pair with a visit to t the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum to learn about the state’s deep skiing roots.

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. And yes, it’s owned and operated by *the* von Trapp family.

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Sun Valley, Idaho

Skiers love: well-groomed slopes and ski history

Non-skiers love: ice skating and starry nights

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, there's more than just the slopes to enjoy. 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 (admission is free). 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 on Friday and Saturday evenings. And when the sun sets, 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.

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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.