Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned skier, you’ll find some of the best ski areas in the American West. The rugged Rocky and Sierra Nevada mountains have light, fluffy snow and varied terrain. Equally fun: après-ski winter activities in ski towns steeped in pioneer and mining history. These are our picks for best-in-the-west ski towns for families.
Best for Beginners: Northstar California Resort, Truckee, CA
A gateway to the west since the mid-1800s, Truckee is steeped in ski culture. The first recorded ski lift in the U.S. was a Truckee steam-powered toboggan lift in 1910. Truckee is also one of California’s only ski towns located near iconic ski resorts in Lake Tahoe.
Get a jumpstart at Northstar, where beginners will shred like pros in no time. With slope-side lodging, easily whisk kids from their beds to the slopes. You’ll even find sturdy wagons throughout the village for transporting kids and gear.
The Northstar Ski and Ride School (pictured above right) offers several programs. Great for first timers: Ultimate 4 Lesson (max four students), the Burton Snowboard Academy (pictured opposite page right, exclusive to Northstar) and Ripperoo Riglet Park for ages 3 and older (potty-trained). Practice makes perfect at the Northstar Kids Adventure Zones, an intermediate snow/ride area.
Après-ski, while kids bust their moves on the village ice-skating rink, claim a fire pit and enjoy Northstar’s signature Dirty Snowman toddy (hot cocoa with vodka) and live music on weekends.
Best for Darefevil Teens: Ogden, UT
Three ski resorts and a cool downtown jam-packed with activities keep adrenaline-junkie teens on their toes. Located 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City, this former boomtown (with a notorious past that includes brothels and political scandals) was created by the first transcontinental railroad in 1869.
Today, it’s a laid-back ski town near three different ski resorts: Nordic Valley and challenging Powder Mountain and Snowbasin Resort. The town ski bus allows independent teens to travel on their own to the slopes of their choice.
Powder hounds find bliss at Powder Mountain, where more than 8,464 acres of skiable terrain includes serious steeps, deep fluff and two terrain parks. Ticket sales cap at 1,500, so don’t worry about crowds.
At Snowbasin (where several 2002 Winter Olympic races took place), daredevil teens can shred between trees, find little pockets off main trails and do a little hiking and sidestepping off DeMoisy Peak. Snowbasin also has the best mountain eats. Try the tomato basil bisque and paninis at the John Paul Lodge.
Ogden’s après-ski scene is equally enticing. Adults can enjoy a shotski (shot glasses secured on a ski so several people drink together) and live music at Snowbasin’s Cinnabar. For teens, downtown Ogden offers indoor skydiving, a climbing wall and Social Axe throwing. Safer than it sounds (honest!), players 15 and older team up for a competitive game of throwing axes at a target. Like a dart game, but with axes.
Best for Families Skiing Together, Breckebridge, CO
Affectionately known as Breck, the ski-in, ski-out mountain town was founded by gold prospectors in 1859. It’s still a gem for families who enjoy skiing together. Ski or ride out the door from your slope-side condo to trails, ski school and the prettiest ski town in the west.
Located at 9,600 feet above sea level, Breck is blessed with heaps of natural snow and the highest chairlift in North America. Breck’s five peaks – part of Colorado’s Tenmile Range – are each about a mile apart with diverse terrain for everyone. Get acclimated with a family private lesson (pictured above left, up to six people) and learn new skills to help you conquer the mountain.
Then cruise over to the family learning zones for beginners and intermediates at Peak 9, making a pit stop at Ten Mile Station’s Candy Corner. Locals recommend the Colorado lamb pie at Pioneer Crossing at Peak 7.
See more of Colorado wilderness on dog sled and snowmobile tours with Good Times Adventures. On the thrilling dog sled tour, you’ll run the dogs and ride as passengers.
Cap off the day with a stroll along Main Street in the cozy Victorian town. Every January, Breck celebrates Ullr Fest, a Viking-themed event with a parade, music and bonfire.
Best for Multi-Generational Groups: Mammoth Lakes, CA
Stressed planning a big family getaway? Chill. Mammoth has tons of lodging and activities for skiers and non-skiers of all ages. Find spacious rooms at Mammoth Mountain Inn, condos around Canyon Lodge and the Village at Mammoth. Non-skiers will enjoy mountain or village views while skiers are steps from the slopes. Free public transportation enables everyone to go their own way or stay together.
The big mountain (150-plus named trails) treats skiers and snowboarders to varied terrain, from friendly groomers and wide bowls to steep chutes. Mammoth also has 19 miles of cross-country and snowshoe trails. That doesn’t mean non-skiers are left behind. Bundle up for a scenic gondola ride to mid-mountain or the summit at 11,053 feet. While skiers carve their way down the mountain, younger kids and grandparents can explore the Eleven53 interpretive center in the summit gondola building.
Catching ski fever? Lessons are available for ages 3 and older. Daycare for newborns and young kids means no one misses out on any fun. More things to do include snowmobiling, tubing and ice skating. At day’s end, enjoy drinks and wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas at Campo Mammoth.