Europe’s eternally charming Alps region, spanning France, Monaco, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia, is on many travelers’ wish lists for a reason. (Hello, gorgeous snowy peaks, endless fondue, après cocktails, and hot springs.) If you’re yearning for an alpine experience closer to home, get your fix in several U.S. ski towns with a distinctly European past and aesthetic.
How did these Alps-inspired ski hubs come to be? In the 1930s, pioneering U.S. ski developers turned to a small group of Germans and Austrians fleeing the rise of Hitler and deployed them to run America’s first ski schools. They had been taught by the “father of modern skiing,” Hannes Schneider, at a famous ski school in St. Anton, Austria, and in turn helped transform American mountain towns into world-class resorts, often looking toward the aesthetics of their home countries when designing hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
Can’t make it to the Alps region this winter? From Stowe, Vermont, to Leavenworth, Washington, many of America’s coolest ski towns offer a taste of European mountain culture right here in the USA.
If the thought of vacationing inside a life-size snow globe appeals to you, Leavenworth, Washington, is a good bet. This Bavarian-style village, dominated by German A-line architecture with tiny windows and wooden balconies, is a two-hour drive from Seattle, set in a narrow valley of the Cascade Mountains. Many Seattleites will decamp for Oktoberfest here each year, though the forested winter wonderland scene appeals all season. Leavenworth is also home to one of the country’s earliest private ski clubs, with a long legacy of competitive jumping. Visitors can still ski at this little mountain, now owned by the town, or head to nearby Stevens Pass, which is included in the Epic Pass. Farther afield, you’ll find world-class runs like Mission Ridge, Mount Hood Meadows, or Crystal Mountain, where Schneider’s pupil, Austrian Otto Lang, founded a ski school and made some of the first ski films, classics such as Ski Flight and Sun Valley Serenade.
From Thanksgiving until February, the entire town of Leavenworth, one of America’s most festive Christmas destinations, is decked out in thousands of strings of lights and hosts carolers and numerous holiday events. There’s even a nearby reindeer farm. Snack on authentic German fare at München Haus Bavarian Grill & Beer Garden or Andreas Keller, and stay at the Bavarian Lodge or the Haus Hanika, a Swiss chalet with river and mountain views.
North Conway, New Hampshire
The ski town of North Conway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains was once home to Schneider himself. The legendary founder of the ever-popular three-step Arlberg teaching technique (that takes skiers from snowplow to parallel by shifting their weight on their outside ski for a “stem Christie” wedge turn) arrived in North Conway in 1939 straight from anti-Nazi house arrest. An influential financier pulled some strings and had Schneider released in Germany to come run his ski school at what’s now Cranmore Mountain Resort. Schneider’s son, Herbert, cofounder of the Professional Ski Instructors of America organization, later acquired Cranmore, and Schneider’s grandson went on to open the Schneider Hof Hotel Garni in St. Anton, Austria, in 2017, bringing the family story full circle.
Today, the Schneider legend can be felt throughout the Cranmore experience. From the New England Ski Museum to the oldest ski shop in America (Lahout’s, which opened in 1920), the area is a scavenger hunt of rich World War II–era European ski history and a short drive to about a dozen ski resorts. After hitting the slopes, stay at one of America’s first ski schools that is now converted into an inn, Eastern Slope Inn Resort, or opt for Old World Austrian charm at Mittersill Alpine Resort, modeled by Baron Hubert von Pantz after his Austrian castle and ski club.
Early Austrian influences in “the ski capital of the east” date back to 1936. That’s when Schneider’s student, Austrian engineer Sepp Ruschp, arrived in Stowe, Vermont, to direct the ski school at Mount Mansfield, now Stowe Mountain Resort—home to the country’s first ski patrol. By the 1950s, climbers and skiers were traveling from all over to the Trapp Family Lodge, still owned and operated by the descendants of Maria and Baron Georg von Trapp of The Sound of Music fame. Over the years, the family has expanded with additions like the country’s first cross-country ski center, the von Trapp Brewing Bierhall Restaurant, and a kaffeehaus.
For other Alps-inspired spots in Stowe, check out the Innsbruck Inn at Stowe, which reopened in 2022 after a major renovation; the Edelweiss Mountain Deli, which occupies a former one-room schoolhouse built in the 1830s; and Swiss Fondue by Heinz, where the menu includes such dishes as Bündnerfleisch (Swiss-style air-dried beef) and fondue, made with three Swiss cheeses, Kirsch brandy, nutmeg, and white wine.
Sun Valley, Idaho
In 1935, the Union Pacific Railroad commissioned Austrian ski resort developer Count Felix Schaffgotsch to find a piece of skiable land where “the powder is dry, the sun shines all day, and the harsh winds of winter don’t penetrate,” according to Sun Valley: A Biography. Schaffgotsch responded with Sun Valley, a mining town on the northwest edge of the Rockies, which he claimed “contains more delightful features for a winter sports center than any other place I have seen in the United States, Switzerland, or Austria,” the city’s website retells. One of America’s first destination ski resorts is home to the country’s first chairlift, which opened in 1936; it has remained a prominent ski school, which was under Austrian leadership until 2006. It was directed by greats who trained under Schneider in St. Anton, like Sigi Engl (his trail, Sigi’s Bowl, offers gentle, intermediate terrain for the day’s first tracks), Sepp Fröhlich, Otto Lang, Hans Hauser, and Friedl Pfeifer.
For generations, Sun Valley and the neighboring town of Ketchum have been favorite hideaways for celebrities, like Gary Cooper, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and especially Ernest Hemingway, who finished his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge. Other accommodations in the resort include the Old World Sun Valley Inn, which is modeled after an Austrian ski chalet and opened in 1937. The inn sits in the heart of the village, close to Konditorei Bakery & Cafe, which is equally as beloved for its après-ski cocktails as it is for its all-day brunch dishes like crispy schnitzel and waffles. Outside of Ketchum, take a plunge in the natural hot springs—long a favorite tradition in the Alps.
If you’re after big powder with traditional Austrian charm, get a taste of the Alps in the Rockies. It’s impossible to overlook the influence that Austrian Olympic skier Pepi Gramshammer had on the 5,317 acres that is Vail Ski Resort. After leaving Austria in 1960 to teach skiing at Sun Valley in Idaho, he was lured to Vail the year it opened in 1966 and remained at the heart of the community until his death in 2019. Authentic Austrian hospitality lives on at the base of some of the best skiing in the country at Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, which he founded with his wife Sheika in 1964. This Austrian-styled inn offers an intimate setting in its 37 rooms, where you can feel the rustic ambience in its hand-carved furniture and wooden beams. And don’t miss Gramshammer’s former ski shop, Pepi Sports, for a wide selection of top gear and luxurious alpine knitwear.
A similar Bavarian aesthetic suffuses the Sonnenalp Hotel, the sister property of a mountain inn of the same name that opened in southern Germany’s Allgäu Alps back in 1919; both are still owned by the Faessler family all these generations later, and the Vail location includes the Swiss Chalet restaurant, which serves dishes like käsespätzle and wiener schnitzel.
Throughout Vail, you’ll find traditional restaurants run by German immigrants, like Alpenrose and Almresi, where the staff wears uniforms inspired by South Tyrolean mountaineer Luis Trenker. For a particularly cozy experience, book into Alpenrose’s private gondola dining experience, a multi-course raclette and fondue meal that takes place inside a gondola cabin that was upcycled and redesigned in Germany and Austria before being shipped to Vail.
This article originally appeared online in 2021; it was most recently updated on November 10, 2023, to include current information.