Touring U.S. Ski Towns

After a few weeks on the beach and a whirlwind tour up the east coast we were itching to get back to the mountains. The heat and humidity had been tolerable, but we certainly prefer the coolness that only comes with altitude. We also needed to get our bodies free of their sea level acclimatization and back into tune with the thin air.

We flew back to Phoenix to pick up our truck, drop our beach gear and grab our mountain gear. When we arrived in Phoenix we were greeted with a lovely reminder of why we only planned to be there 36 hours tops; it was 117 degrees. So while we ran from one air-conditioned space to another, we packed the truck and pointed on a map where we would spend the first night on the road, Mancos Colorado.

Before we knew it we were rolling through Flagstaff Arizona and a few hours later we arrived in Mancos. We spent two nights at the very cozy Chicken Creek B&B. We used the time to get our bodies back into the feel of altitude, Mancos is at 7,000 feet. We also made a plan for the next three days, about as far out as we dare to plan.

So after two nights in the comfort of Mancos we wandered off into the Lizard Head Wilderness that is just outside of our old haunt, Telluride. We backpacked in a little over 5 miles and set up camp at timberline, about 11,200 feet. We felt surprisingly strong considering we had spent so much time recently at sea level, an encouraging sign. With stunning views and no one else around, we talked about options for the next day as we prepped dinner. We also began what would be a three-day losing battle against the flying and biting insects…little bitey bastards as we call them.

The next day we loaded our packs for a day trip and headed up one of the 14,000 foot peaks that surrounded us. We made quick progress up to 13,000 feet. After that the altitude and semi technical class 4 terrain started to slow us down. By the time we reached 13,800 feet we made the smart decision to turn around. Even though it would be less than an hour to the summit, we had pushed our bodies high quickly and knew better than to press our luck, making the summit was never in our plan. Wilson Peaks Photo Album

After an enjoyable hike back to camp we renewed our battle with the bitey bastards…..we lost of course. The next day we hiked out and made the short drive to the lovely town of Telluride. Over lunch at our favorite brewery (Smuggler’s Brew Pub) we decided to spend the night there, Mountain Village to be precise, not the brewery. We made a quick reservation at one of our favorite hotels (Mountain Lodge in Mountain Village) and then rolled into the local laundry to get our clothes and gear cleaned up.

This road trip never had a definitive plan other than get up high and stretch the lungs and legs. While in Telluride we came up with the idea to make this road trip into a tour of some of the best ski / mountain towns in the intermountain west to see if any would make a good future home for us. So the next morning we pointed the truck north and west. As we watched the majestic peaks of the San Juan’s fade in the rear view mirror we enjoyed the amazing red rock that led us into Utah. Photo Album for US Ski Towns

A little over 6 hours after leaving Telluride we were checking into our condo at the base of the ski lifts in Park City. As we had considered moving here a few years ago for a job, it was time to spend two days really checking this place out. Hint: lodging this time of year in Park City is super cheap! The cheapest we found out of any mountain town on this trip.

We easily made the walk across town from our condo. Our awesome location allowed us to explore all the ins and outs of the town. We tried, and usually enjoyed, multiple restaurants. The town really comes alive after 6pm with the main drag is packed with tourists and locals alike. Our hands down favorite was the High West Distillery and Saloon. Amazing food! Fun atmosphere! And their whisky is unmatched in our humble opinion. It was hard not to go back there for every meal.

In addition to checking out the places to be we also rented mountain bikes and cruised up and down the Park City Ski Resort. It was ideal for us as we don’t spend much time on single track, Park City is fairly tame. If you want to crank it up and visit a resort that is better set up for summer mountain biking, just go 10 minutes down the road to Deer Valley. We kicked our own butts for a few hours and were wise enough to stop before we did any permanent damage. But, the mountain biking options between the three resorts here (Deer Valley, Park City, The Canyons) is truly amazing, lots of miles to be enjoyed. Having put some miles on the truck to help us see more of the area we decided to push on to a new destination.

We had heard many good things about Missoula Montana, so we set our sights further north. After dropping into Salt Lake City to head north we discussed Missoula more. By the time we hit Idaho we decided that it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. So instead we turned northeast and made our way to a place that held more promise of the ideals we were searching for – Big Sky. The joy of not planning too much and being open to change on the fly!

Big Sky turned out to be such a treat. The ski resort itself is huge! It has more black diamond terrain that all the terrain in Jackson Hole combined. Even with so much terrain the mountain isn’t nearly as spread out as say the Park City area, meaning it won’t take you all day to explore all there is to ski / ride.

We showed up with no reservation and were able to score a great deal on a room with a view. Once we parked we didn’t use the truck until it was time to roll out as there was plenty to keep us busy on the mountain. We took the chair lift up and climbed the remaining elevation to the top of Lone Peak, the top of the resort. Pretty rocky and loose hike, but from the top we could see into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. After hiking down another 90 minutes we were treated to the wonderful views to be had on the chair lift ride back the resort’s core.

The thing that struck us about this place is the amount of in-bounds and out-of-bounds skiing to be had, there is great rock and ice climbing nearby, the resort / town is small yet spread out, the prices are not as steep as similar resort towns and the people who live and work there just gush about how much they love it there. I mean everyone we spoke with couldn’t have been nicer or had more good things to say about the area…..it left an impression for sure. (Dining Recommendation)

After two days exploring the area we hopped in the truck a little after 5am and made the 45 minute drive to the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The plan was for an epic long day of touring as much of Yellowstone as possible….and that is what happened, an epic day.

IMG_2792As we rolled into the park the temperature was in the 30’s which allowed us to easily spot the thermal geysers. We lucked out and walked right up to within 4 feet of a geyser that only erupts every 5 hours, right as it went off. As we were so early we were able to see Old Faithful and many other of the primary attractions before the hoards of tourists descended on the park.

By 4pm we had seen most of the major attractions, both geological and animal. As all the campsites in the park were booked we headed south. Once out of the park, we pulled over in Grand Teton National Park and made a reservation for the night in the ski resort of Jackson Hole. An hour later we were walking into our next great hotel with a mountain view. (Hotel restaurant review & breakfast spot review)

As we awoke in Jackson Hole we were feeling the effects of the previous day’s effort. Fourteen hours of driving on two lane roads while dodging RV’s, slow drivers, pedestrians, animals while trying to see the sights took a bit out of us. So we quickly booked the room for one more night and made plans for the day.

By 11am we were on the tram heading for the top of the ski resort. From the top we could see Idaho, Yellowstone, the Wind River Range and the town of Jackson. It was nice to get a new perspective or view of the Grand Teton as we had climbed it a few years back. We did a two plus mile hike north that led us to the top of the resort’s gondola. After relaxing on the deck of the restaurant there we took the gondola back down and headed for the bar. The afternoon was spent enjoying the weather, sites and relaxation to be had.

We needed to be back to the Colorado front range on August 6th, as we were lined up to house / dog sit for a good friend that was heading out on vacation. So after a relaxing morning and lunch at a brewery in Jackson we made our way down to Pinedale Wyoming for the night. Once in the room that evening we pulled out the computers to decided where to spend our one remaining night on the road. After a fairly brief search we decided that our last night, and last ski resort town would be Aspen.

After another 6 plus hours of driving we rolled into Aspen. As we had both been there multiple times this stop was less about seeing something new and more about lining us up to be at our friend’s house the next day. But we made the most of it and our awesome hotel, The Mountain Chalet. We enjoyed a good meal, a good run and some nice relaxing time. Aspen is a cool town, but due to the price, somewhat snobby attitude that is in the air, I don’t see us ever ending up there.

It was a treat to be able to visit and explore some of the best ski resort towns in America. They all have their highs and lows and for the most part it takes some solid figures in your bank account to make them a long-term destination. But for us it gives us more insight into what we do and don’t want out of a place to live. If we had to choose from one of these mountains towns today….it would be Big Sky! I know, we were surprised too….


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