The World’s Most Charming Ski Towns

These destinations are just as much about the slopes as they are the après-ski.


Whether you like snow sports or not, a good, cozy ski town is a perfect winter escape. Dedicated “powderhounds” can tear up the slopes, mixing and mingling with like-minded enthusiasts, and nonskiers can stroll quaint downtowns with thriving local arts and culture scenes or curl up by a fire with a good book. And at the end of the day, the atmosphere gets festive as visitors rub elbows with locals in snug bars and intimate restaurants. Here, we’ve collected 10 of the most delightful ski towns from around the globe, including Alpine hamlets and Japanese hot spring spots, with help from the ski-crazy writers who love them.

North America


Telluride, Colorado

You’ll have to wind through the Rockies by car or drop onto an airstrip perched on a cliff at the country’s highest-elevation airport to get to Telluride, but that’s part of the allure of this tiny town stowed away inside a box canyon. Excellent skiing is a straight shot up the mountain, and a free gondola connects the town to the resort; its lifts reach as high 12,515 feet and 2,000 acres of multi-level terrain.

Après-ski comes at a variety of elevations at this Colorado ski town. Stay on the mountain for Moscow mules with house-made ginger beer at Telluride Distilling, a fancy meal at Alpino Vino at nearly 12,000 feet, and hot tubbing on the rooftop terrace of ski-in/ski-out Madeline Hotel & Residences. Or head down the mountain and cozy up at the intimate 221 South Oak, helmed by former Top Chef Eliza Gavin, or eclectic There Bar with its steamed bao buns. Imbibing and feasting aside, there’s plenty more to do: Take a historic walking tour with old-school cowboy Ashley Boling to see the bullet holes from Butch Cassidy’s first bank heist and to hear tales of the New Sheridan Hotel’s wild west saloon and the 1913-built Sheridan Opera House. Thursday night, gallery-hop through Telluride’s creative side during the Art Walk, when 19 art spaces host public receptions. And end your day at the Hotel Telluride; with its European chalet exterior and western chic interior, it perfectly illustrates the town’s balance of classic and contemporary. —NINA KOKOTAS HAHN


Stowe, Vermont

Powder-topped peaks backdrop clapboard inns and a steepled church in Stowe, but the skiers and snowboarders come for 485 acres of cruisy carpets and trails that twist through steep glades on Vermont’s highest peak. And now that Stowe is in the Epic Pass group, those descents are even more accessible for riders from the West Coast. But the winter activities aren’t limited to the slopes: Stowe has horse-drawn sleighs, mountainside spas, and miles of Nordic trails to explore.

A strong local community and rural roots keep this posh mountain town down to earth, and a fresh crop of chefs, farmers, and brewers keep its vintage New England aesthetic hip. Here, your ski instructors might spend their summers on a nearby organic farm, and even the après scene is field to table. Warm up from your last run next to Doc Ponds’ roaring fire listening to classic vinyl, sipping local craft beers, and nibbling Vermont cheddar fritters. Or head to the Von Trapp Brewing Bierhall—yes, the Von Trapps of The Sound of Music fame—for house-made bratwurst and Austrian ales. Accommodations are woodsy chic: Field Guide Lodge blends trendy style and sleepaway-camp nostalgia, while Edson Hill gets Nordic vibes with a touch of hygge from its dark and light wood decor and its forested hillside property complete with a network of ski and snowshoe trails. —JEN ROSE SMITH


Revelstoke, British Columbia

Remote Revelstoke in the Canadian Kootenays was once a destination for backcountry and heli-skiing enthusiasts only. But since the 2007 opening of the Sutton Place Hotel—the only ski-in/ski-out accommodation around—the town has transformed from simplistic base camp to a well-rounded mountain town. Today, new boutique accommodations, including the Explorers Society Hotel and the Stoke Hotel, and off-slopes activities, such as Revelstoke Mountain Resort’s dog-sledding and stargazing tours, are drawing more than expert skiers to this secluded spot.

Riddled with small, personable pubs, including the bustling Village Idiot, Revelstoke has always had ski bums and dive bar enthusiasts covered after the slopes close. But with recent additions, the après scene now appeals to a wider variety of travelers: Mt. Begbie Brewery pours some of the best craft beers in Canada, Monashee Spirits proffers local liquors and cocktails such as the Duck Fat Sazerac, and Mackenzie Common, or “Mac Tavern,” gathers locals over board games. At 112 Restaurant & Lounge, the British Columbia salmon, charbroiled steaks, and elegant atmosphere have kept it the town’s top fine-dining option for more than 35 years. And you can get a taste of both old Revelstoke and new at Woolsey Creek Bistro, where customers sit in rustic wooden booths and dine on such creative dishes as bison ravioli or vegan-friendly cauliflower steaks. —WILL MCGOUGH


Taos, New Mexico

New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains create a semi-arid pocket around Taos Ski Valley, which, as a result, receives exceptionally light and dry powder. The shrine to skiing, built in 1954 by German immigrant Ernie Blake, features steep, challenging slopes that plunge down from 12,481-foot Kachina Peak. Its village area looks decidedly Bavarian, despite being only a half hour from the adobe buildings in Taos. The ski-crazy community here likes to refuel with schnitzel and steins of golden pilsner at the slopeside Bavarian Restaurant, where you might hear stories about the carafes of dry martinis that Blake would bury along the trails as a way to deliver liquid courage to skiers in need.

In December 2013, the Blakes announced that they’d sold the resort to conservation-minded billionaire Louis Bacon, who vowed to improve it while preserving its distinct character. He committed $300 million to advancements, including more beginner terrain and the new 80-room, certified-green hotel the Blake. The changes, along with Taos Ski Valley’s commitment to sustainable business practices, such as reduced-energy snowmaking and locally sourced food, helped it earn B Corp status—a designation given to socially and environmentally responsible companies.

But as promised, such upgrades haven’t formalized the area’s offbeat soul. While skiers can recharge at the Blake’s cosmopolitan spa, they also still gather under the rustic exposed ceiling beams of nearby Hotel St. Bernard for family-style meals. And ski-school instructors still lead nervous students to martini caches—now hidden in boxes mounted on tree trunks rather than buried in the snow. —KELLY BASTONE



Krün, Germany

Each winter, skiers flock to Bavaria to enjoy its cloudless “bluebird” days. Many beeline for the popular (and crowded) Garmisch-Partenkirchen ski resort, which is conveniently an hour north of Innsbruck, and under two hours south of Munich. But only a 20 minutes’ drive east is the tiny, picturesque, and far less visited village of Krün.

In the Upper Isar Valley, Krün is part of the Alpenwelt Karwendel area, which contains three resorts connected by 10 lifts. It is beloved for its woodsy snow hiking and pine-lined cross-country trails dotted with gemütlich A-frame houses. One favorite excursion ends at the 19th-century hilltop lodge of King Ludwig II, Schachen. While the ground floor of this historic house museum is a typical Alpine chalet, the upper floor is a riot of Eastern design influences and gilded fountains, embroidered divans, and ostentatious candelabras. Next door is the Alpengarten auf dem Schachen, a botanical garden that includes 1,000-plus species of Alpine flora.

Krün proper is home to Schloss Elmau, the 162-room fairy-tale castle hotel that hosted the G7 Summit in 2015. It was here that Angela Merkel and Barack Obama were photographed on a bench overlooking Germany’s highest point, the Zugspitze. The hotel boasts six spas, which include numerous infinity pools and saunas and offer forest bathing and floating treatments. Of the 10 restaurants on property, don’t miss two-Michelin-starred Luce d’Oro, where dishes such as veal in Japanese sudachi jus mix Asian flavors with Bavarian ingredients from the surrounding countryside. —ADAM HARNEY GRAHAM


Arosa, Switzerland

The Swiss Alps are known for glamorous ski destinations, but sheltered in the Schanfigg Valley in Switzerland’s easternmost canton, Arosa is a welcome foil to the seeing and being seen that happens in St. Mortiz, Verbier, and Gstaad.

Instead of nightclubs and designer boutiques, this Alpine town charms with a storybook setting, bucolic activities, and plentiful skiing. Its network of lifts is linked with the neighboring Lenzerheide resort for a total of 140 miles of trails mostly suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers. But there’s plenty of difficult and backcountry terrain for thrill-seekers too. Off the mountain, travelers can take a ski-building workshop at Gisler Sport; check out historic farming tools at the Eggahus, the oldest house in the village and site of the Arosa Museum; indulge in fondue at Alpenblick (accessible by foot, ski, or carriage ride); and visit the Arosa Bear Sanctuary, a refuge to three fuzzy bears rescued from circuses and mini-zoos.

As pastoral as it sounds, Arosa is just 90 miles outside of Zurich and has a sophisticated side. It’s home to exceptional hotels, including the architecturally stunning Tschuggen Grand, known for the soaring glass sails that top its spa—designed by celebrated Swiss architect Mario Botta. And the sustainability-focused Valsana Hotel runs entirely on an ice battery and has been free of single-use plastics since opening in 2017. What’s more, even though Arosa doesn’t need to be the hippest hot spot, it still knows how to party: The village comes alive in mid-January for Arosa Gay Ski Week, with slope-side games, cabarets, and more. —CHADNER NAVARRO


San Cassiano, Italy

In the Italian Dolomites, popular Cortina may offer the best shopping (Jimmy Choo and Moncler boutiques fill its strollable city center), but gourmands know to head 40 minutes southeast to San Cassiano. Throughout the idyllic valley, carved-wood balconies adorn folksy low-rise buildings, and the Dolomites’ pinnacles make for mesmerizing mountain views. But more than simply quaint, the smaller South Tyrol village holds the region’s best restaurants and hotels.

Located amid San Cassiano’s cluster of clothing stores, day spas, and bakeries, the Rosa Alpina’s 51 rooms and suites take a light approach to chalet aesthetics with pale, rather than dark, wood paneling, glass-walled fireplaces, and beds topped with Marzotto cashmere blankets. And at the hotel’s three-Michelin-starred St. Hubertus, chef Norbert Niederkofler turns local wild greens and game into edible art.

Just east of the village, the Hotel Ciasa Salares puts skiers within steps of the Alta Badia ski area, one gateway to the famous 24-mile Sella Ronda circuit. During après, a raucous dance party takes place on Ciasa Salares’s wraparound deck, and after, visitors can soothe sore muscles in the spa’s steam rooms, saunas, or hot tubs. In the hotel’s cellar restaurant, Cocun, a collection of 24,000 bottles of wine surrounds diners feasting on handmade pasta in a three-tomato red sauce, and meals are capped off in the cheese cave or chocolate room. —KELLY BASTONE



Photo by Chen Min Chun/Shutterstock

Zao Onsen, Japan

In Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture, Zao Onsen doesn’t have the glamour of Aspen or the international renown of Niseko. But what the traditional, delightful, and sulfurous onsen town lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in wooden bathhouses with bubbling hot springs, gourmet eats, offbeat attractions, and excellent skiing. The ski resort’s 450 acres of terrain include 42 lifts, a 2,890-foot vertical drop, a surplus of beginner blues, and enough intermediate and advanced runs to keep bombers stoked. Zao Freizeit Ski School offers lessons, rentals, and excellent English-speaking guides who will lead you to the Snow Monsters: lumbering fir trees that, in winter, become sealed in rime ice and coated with fresh snow. The monsters creak and clink like icicles and are illuminated with multi-colored lights at night. If that weren’t Japanese enough, there’s also a giant Jizo Buddha statue buried so deep in a snowbank, only its red hood pokes above the surface.

For on-piste dining, carve your way through ivory corduroy toward the Utopia Slope’s Todo Matsu, marked with an unmistakable blue triangle roof; the fueling station offers steamy bowls of soba, sizzling pork donbori, and a spicy Korean bibimbap. Back in town, unlatch your boots and slip your lactic legs into the subterranean cypress onsen at Le Vert Zao. It might seem like an ordinary ryokan, but the ornate kaiseki meals—tableside nabe hot pots served with tofu, leeks, and shiitake, and tender marbled Yamagata beef sukiyaki—are outstanding. In Zao Onsen, little luxuries are everywhere. —ADAM HARNEY GRAHAM

Southern Hemisphere


Wanaka, New Zealand

With three ski areas within 45 minutes of this lakeside hamlet, Wanaka residents joke about “powder clauses” in their employment contracts allowing for flexible workdays during ski season. Whether you’re hitting backcountry areas and long, groomed runs at Treble Cone, tackling the slopes and terrain parks at Cardrona (which hosts international teams and events every winter), or cross-country skiing the 34 miles of trails at Snow Farm, you can’t miss the arresting views of the Crown Range and the Southern Alps.

When the sun dips behind the mountains, the après scene starts swinging. Patrons queue for the Cardrona Hotel’s mulled wine—a local tradition—and indulge in hot snacks and cold craft beer at Kai Whakapai’s outdoor communal tables. Even in winter (June through August), it rarely snows in town, so grab a jacket and takeaway from Erik’s Fish & Chips and picnic beside Lake Wanaka. Or enjoy Italian hospitality and cuisine at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen before catching a movie at one of Wanaka’s eclectic movie houses: Cinema Paradiso serves freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies, and Rubys Cinema & Bar evokes old Hollywood with classic cocktails and velvet walls.

At night, watch the stars appear over the lake from one of the studios, suites, or apartments at the shorefront Edgewater Hotel, an easy stroll from town. Or continue a few miles to Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet, a glass-and-timber villa that provides luxury and privacy for small groups of family and friends. —CARRIE MILLER

La Trancas, Chile

Courtesy of the Hideaway

Las Trancas, Chile

Nestled in a sylvan valley overlooked by active volcanoes, Las Trancas doesn’t fit the typical ski town profile. There’s no main drag of uniform storefronts. No fancy, name-brand outdoor gear stores. Proudly eschewing the ritzy ambience of most resort-adjacent destinations, Las Trancas feels lived in, a friendly alpine hideaway of rustic wooden cabins surrounded by Andean mountains perfect for hiking, skiing, and horseback riding. Resorts closer to Santiago, such as Portillo, tend to be overrun by ski enthusiasts, but those who make the five-hour drive south to Las Trancas have the luxury of uncrowded runs and ample opportunities for first tracks. Just outside of town, the modern Nevados de Chillán resort is home to South America’s longest run (the 11.8-mile Las Tres Marias) and diverse, multilevel terrain that annually receives 30 feet of snow.

After a day of off-piste skiing, snowshoeing, or dogsledding, take a rejuvenating soak in the renowned, slopeside Termas de Chillán thermal hot springs, then head to the folksy Snow Pub, the local après “It” spot, or Olivia’s Restaurant for casual eats and great pisco sours. Unwind for the night in town at stylish digs like the chalet-chic MI Lodge or the trendy, Scandinavian-inspired Las Trancas Hideaway, where you can revel in the local, laid-back vibe. —ZOE BAILLARGEON

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR