January 10, 2023
Some people enjoy hitting the slopes on vacations or weekend trips. But for others, it’s a way of life.
Ski towns attract a certain kind of homeowner—those who thrive on the crisp mountain air, the easy-access snow sports, the chill lifestyle, and the tight-knit camaraderie that townies share. But this seductive way of life doesn’t come cheap. The unfortunate truth is that many of America’s popular ski towns have become overdeveloped, catering largely to the well-heeled. What was once quirky and unique is now shiny and corporate—with prices to match.
“A lot of people are getting priced out of ski towns now,” says Eugene Buchanan, a longtime resident of Steamboat Springs, CO, and author of “Tales From a Mountain Town: Musings From 25 Years of Living in the Colorado Rockies.” “Nobody can afford to live in Aspen anymore.”
Indeed, homes in the most popular ski towns have become accessible only to the massively wealthy. The average home price around Jackson Hole, WY, or Vail, CO, is north of $3 million. Even the average home in a classic East Coast ski town like Stratton, VT, is more than $1 million.
But, with a little creativity, it’s possible to find some places where you can live the ski town life or purchase a vacation home without paying top dollar. The data team at Realtor.com® found these off-the-radar communities where home prices are still reasonable, at least compared to neighboring communities, and ski slopes and amenities abound.
Finding a proper ski town, Buchanan says, means looking for three key factors.
“First, you want a combination of snow and terrain,” he says. “Those are your main qualifiers. You’ve got to have them both.”
That part alone narrows the geography to a few regions of the U.S.
“Second, you have to have access to the mountains. We’re lucky here in Steamboat,” Buchanan continues. “We’re just five or 10 minutes away, so you can actually ski on your lunch hour here. In other towns, it’s a little farther.”
The final piece, Buchanan says, is the community.
“You want to look for a town that’s got a great, built-in community, where … most people are skiers or snowboarders to some degree,” he says. “But it’s more about the friendly neighbors who want to know each other, the kind of place where the library has free film festivals and people actually come out to be around each other.”
To pinpoint where you can still find a relatively bargain-priced home in a ski town, we plotted every U.S. ski resort, then looked at home listings from the past year within a 30- to 45-minute driving distance to the slopes. Of course, cities too big to qualify as a “ski town” and places too small to qualify as a “town” are excluded, as all of these places had between several hundred and 50,000 residents. Ski resort rankings and reviews, along with personal experience, led decisions about which ski areas to target, and a review of local businesses helped qualify which towns actually support the ski town lifestyle (ski shops, cafes, pubs, and pizza joints).
Some of these places are just around the bend from top-dollar resort towns. And yes, some top-tier skiing and snowboarding can be found in areas that have simply remained inexpensive. Most of the towns on this list have median home prices that are well below the national $416,000 in November.
The list stretches from California towns where you can snowboard and surf on the same day to the mountains of Maine, from the upper Midwest’s lake-effect dumps to the southern Rockies’ champagne powder. These are the places where you can find the cozy sense of community and the balance of corduroy carving and mellow living for a bargain, at least relative to the area.
Here’s the list of the best ski towns that are off the beaten path as we close the chapter on 2022 and shred into 2023.
Rutland, VT (Getty Images)
Median listing price: $255,000
Median listing price per square foot: $135
Resorts within 30 minutes: Killington Resort, Pico Mountain Ski Resort
One thing ski towns in the Northeast have that you won’t find in most areas out West: deep history. Take Rutland. This town dates to Colonial times and was named after an English duke. In the 19th century, it became a major marble-producing hub.
Now, it combines affordability with plenty of downtown charm and access to slopes, including one of the biggest ski resorts on the East Coast. Killington is known as the “Beast of the East.” Rutland is about 25 minutes away, and about 15 minutes from the smaller Pico Mountain.
What especially makes Rutland stand out is that homes there are about half the cost of homes in Killington, VT, at the base of the resort.
This two-bedroom home with a garage and a large backyard deck is what the median listing price in Killington gets you these days.
Median listing price: $274,900
Median listing price per square foot: $278
Resorts within 30 minutes: Holiday Valley Resort, HoliMont Ski Club
Resorts within 45 minutes: Kissing Bridge Snow Sports
An hour south of Buffalo, you’ll find the smallest town on the list, Ellicottville. This tiny town sits at the foot of Holiday Valley, just around the corner from HoliMont Ski Club. It’s also home to a winery, a smattering of restaurants, and an adventure park open in the warmer-weather months featuring an aerial park, climbing forest, and lots of mountain biking.
For those looking for a slightly larger alternative, and one with a little lower prices, Salamanca, NY, right around the bend offers better prices, but with a little less of the ski town vibe.
For someone looking for an especially bargain-priced home in Ellicottville, a three-bedroom home can be found for well under $100,000.
Median listing price: $322,000
Median listing price per square foot: $181
Resorts within 30 minutes: Sugarloaf Mountain
Perched in the western mountains of Maine, about 30 miles from the Canadian border, you’ll find Sugarloaf Mountain, another of the most acclaimed skiing destinations in the Northeast. It’s the second-tallest mountain in Maine, with more than 1,200 skiable acres, and boasts the only lift service in the East above the treeline.
Those who want to live in the community closest to Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley, pay quite a premium, with a median listing price of $649,000. But just another 15 minutes southeast from there is Kingfield, where the median home price is less than half of that in Carrabassett Valley.
Kingfield is one of the smaller towns on our list, but it still offers cultural events like the Winter Carnival, where, among other things, you can watch (or compete in) kayak snow races where people see how well they can navigate ski slopes in a boat. Fun!
Median listing price: $372,450
Median listing price per square foot: $300
Resorts within 30 minutes: Loon Mountain Resort
Resorts within 45 minutes: Cannon Mountain
In the center of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, about two hours north of Boston on Interstate Highway 93, you’ll find Lincoln, a small town that sits at the base of another well-known East Coast ski resort, Loon Mountain.
Loon Mountain stretches across three peaks and has 11 lifts and 61 runs, making it one of the 20 biggest ski resorts on the East Coast.
The town is relatively affordable compared with other parts of New England, with the median home listing price about 25% less expensive than the New Hampshire median.
Though this town has fewer than 1,000 residents, it’s got a thriving arts and culture scene, including an annual summer arts festival, a Scottish heritage festival every September, and a historic opera house.
Median listing price: $399,000
Median listing price per square foot: $240
Resorts within 30 minutes: Hunter Mountain Resort, Windham Mountain
About 2.5 hours north of New York City, in the heart of the Catskills, Tannersville is a relatively inexpensive, small town. It’s just 25 minutes from Windham, less than 10 minutes from Hunter Mountain, and a half-hour north of the famed town of Woodstock, NY.
Visitors can check out the tasting room of a local winery, an arboretum, and an antiques center, as well as catch performances at a local film and performing arts center.
For around the average listing price in Tannersville, you can get a three-story, four-bedroom home in the center of town.
Median listing price: $114,700
Median listing price per square foot: $82
Resorts within 30 minutes: Big Powderhorn Mountain Resort, Black River Basin at Snowriver Mountain Resort, Whitecap Mountains Resort
In the far north of Wisconsin, near Lake Superior along the Michigan border, you’ll find Hurley, a small town with access to three ski resorts nearby, including Snowriver. The area is referred to as “Big Snow Country” because of the 200 inches of snow it typically gets, due to lake-effect moisture coming from Lake Superior.
Hurley has the most affordable homes of any town on the list, with a median listing price far below that of Wisconsin, Michigan, and the U.S. in general. For $115,000 in Hurley, you can get a two-bedroom bungalow on a corner lot with a two-car garage.
Median listing price: $289,450
Median listing price per square foot: $132
Resorts within 30 minutes: Mount Kato Ski Area
Mankato is the largest town on the list, and it’s also home to Minnesota State University Mankato, adding even more spunk to this Midwestern ski haven. Mankato’s historic downtown straddles the Minnesota River and has tons of charm with lots of restaurants, bars, and cultural establishments.
The town is located near the Mount Kato Ski Area, which offers 19 trails, terrain parks, and a snow tubing park.
Homes in Mankato are 20% to 30% less than in the rest of Minnesota, and Mount Kato Ski Area is just on the outskirts of town. For someone looking for an enormous, historic home in downtown Mankato, this seven-bedroom Victorian home built in 1896 is listed at just $215,000.
Median listing price: $357,450
Median listing price per square foot: $200
Resorts within 30 minutes: Boyne Mountain Resort, The Highlands at Harbor Springs, Nubs Nob Ski Resort
Boyne City is a small town on the southeast corner of Lake Charlevoix, on the mitten tip of Michigan not far from the Canadian border. It provides access to three nearby ski resorts, and a few others a little farther away.
The area is also home to the state’s largest indoor waterpark—a nice incentive for families with kids—and two championship golf courses.
The real estate in Boyne City is a little above average for Michigan, but still below the national figure. Take this two-bedroom home near downtown listed for just $174,900.
Median listing price: $405,000
Median listing price per square foot: $278
Resorts within 30 minutes: Mt. Shasta Ski Park
On a clear day, Mount Shasta can be seen from 100 miles away. This (potentially still active) stratovolcano reaches almost 15,000 feet elevation at the peak, rising 10,000 feet from the surrounding forest floor.
For anyone who’s driven along Northern California’s main highway, Interstate 5, Mount Shasta is impossible to miss.
For those who call the small town near Mount Shasta Ski Park home, it’s a haven for relatively affordable housing, only about 15 minutes from the ski base. The median home price in Mount Shasta is well below the rest of California. For the same kind of proximity to a ski resort near Lake Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain, the median home price is two to four times as much.
Median listing price: $479,400
Median listing price per square foot: $289
Resorts within 45 minutes: Willamette Pass Resort, Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort
La Pine, situated in the heart of the Cascades, provides access within 45 minutes to two ski resorts, the smaller Willamette Pass to the southwest and the world-class Mt. Bachelor to the north. The outdoorsy paradise offers plenty of trails, parks, and camping sites.
While Bend, about 45 minutes north of La Pine, is a little closer to Mt. Bachelor, home prices there are about 50% more expensive.
Here’s a two-bedroom bungalow with a large front deck just a few minutes from downtown La Pine, on nearly an acre of land, for well below the area’s average, at $257,000.
Median listing price: $499,900
Median listing price per square foot: $278
Resorts within 45 minutes: Mt. Hood Skibowl, Timberline Lodge, Mt. Hood Meadows
Mount Hood is one of the most famous ski mountains in the U.S., with access to the slopes that extends well past the spring and into the summer. There’s some limited and very pricey housing available at the base of the mountain’s two ski resorts, but for a more affordable option, and one with a little more of a town to explore, take a look at Sandy.
The town’s main street is dotted with restaurants, bars, and cafes, and residents can get to three ski resorts within 45 minutes.
Homes in Sandy are about 10% less expensive than in Portland, 45 minutes to the northwest, and about half the price of the limited, top-dollar housing at the base of Mount Hood’s three ski resorts.
Median listing price: $300,000
Median listing price per square foot: $177
Resorts within 30 minutes: Discovery
About 90 minutes southwest of Helena, you’ll find the small town of Anaconda, which provides close access to the Discovery Ski Mountain, a resort that provides lift access to the peak of Rumsey Mountain, with beginner runs on the front side of the resort and expert skiing on the backside.
Anaconda sits at a little above 5,000 feet, but Discovery tops 8,000 feet at its peak.
Many of the best ski towns in the West were established as mining towns, and Anaconda is no exception, as it was a hub for copper mining.
The downtown resembles many of the Western ski towns, with a historic main street with more bars, restaurants, and coffee shops than you would expect for a town with fewer than 10,000 folks.
Median listing price: $305,000
Median listing price per square foot: $235
Resorts within 30 minutes: Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area, Silver Mountain Resort
You’ll find Kellogg along Interstate Highway 90, about 30 minutes southeast of Coeur d’Alene, with access to two nearby ski resorts. Kellogg is the ski town farthest north on our list, about 100 miles south of the Canadian border, and it has all the trappings of a ski town.
Residents can quickly get to Lookout Pass, a relatively small ski resort about 25 miles to the southeast. But the real attraction for skiers and snowboarders living in Kellogg is the quick access to Silver Mountain, a large ski resort centered on Kellogg Peak, which looms large over the town, just to the south.
The median home price in Kellogg is about 17% above the median for Idaho, but about 25% below the national figure. But compared with other Idaho ski resort towns, like the areas around Sun Valley, to the north, where homes are about four times as expensive, homes in Kellogg can be found at a serious discount.
This two-bedroom home near the center of Kellogg is listed for a little below the area’s average, at $289,000.
Median listing price: $365,000
Median listing price per square foot: $218
Resorts within 30 minutes: Ski Apache
Did you ever think you could be carving fresh powder at the same latitude as Phoenix?
Well, welcome to Ruidoso, a high-desert oasis that sits at 6,900 feet elevation, in the Sierra Blanca mountain, which juts up from the sandy desert floor halfway between White Sands National Park to the west and Roswell to the east.
This small town is surrounded by pine forests and snow-capped peaks—hardly what people think of when they envision New Mexico.
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