By Hristina Byrnes
People don’t have to love skiing, snowboarding, or any other sport that requires snow to enjoy the winter. Vacationing at a ski lodge, relaxing at a day spa, taking long walks surrounded by snow, or enjoying some fresh air can be an exhilarating experience by itself.
The outdoor vibe of mountain towns – popular or lesser-known – gives you energy like nothing else. They offer plenty of (safe but unbelievable) adventures. Winter often has a way of making towns look gloomy and depressing, but certain places seem to be immune to that effect.
If you plan a relaxing vacation but don’t want to miss out on all the fun the winter has to offer, here is a list of cities in the U.S. you should check out.
Aspen, Colorado (Courtesy: Aspen Highlands)
This city has it all – secluded resorts, bustling nightlife, and the Aspen Mountain all around it. Many experienced skiers prefer it for the quality of its slopes, but non-skiers can enjoy outdoor heated pools, hot tubs, horseback riding, or hiking. A lot of the region surrounding Aspen is public land and part of the White River National Forest. For those of you who are more art-oriented, the city has a lot of cultural activities scheduled. One of them is Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”
If it’s too cold outside, even though Aspen has 300 sunny days a year, don’t hibernate in the hotel. The Aspen Recreation Center offers swimming, skating, rock-climbing and many other games. The Center for Environmental Studies is another famous attraction. People can sign up for wildlife workshops, go on a winter snowshoe walk, or meet “America’s bird” – the bald eagle.
Stowe, Vermont (Photo: DonLand / Shutterstock)
If you are looking for scenic attractions you can visit by walking and not skiing, go to the Frozen Bingham Falls. It’s a fairly easy hike. Stowe fits everyone’s notion of a relaxing winter getaway. This is the place to go on a sled pulled by Alaskan huskies. If you want to experience the mountain after dark, go on one of the many night tours through the beautiful landscape. The locals’ favorite bar is the Rusty Nail Bar & Grille because of its sunken dance floor and live music. Visit the Vermont Ski Museum if you’re curious about the history of ski fashion, or go on a carriage ride through the woods.
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Lewisberg, West Virginia
Lewisberg, West Virginia (Photo: Bucknell University)
This is an up-and-coming winter destination. Unlike many other cities in West Virginia, Lewisberg has a lot of young residents. The cultural life in the city is getting richer. Galleries are opening, music events are being scheduled often – all of that on the edge of the Monongahela National Forest. Locals’ favorite activities are mountain biking – for that go to the Greenbrier State Forest, which has an easier terrain than the Monongahela – and fly fishing on the Greenbrier River. It’s common knowledge that tourists should start their visit on the first Friday of each month, when shops and galleries open with wine tastings.
Telluride, Colorado (Photo: Zach Dischner/Flickr)
For those looking to try something other than skiing or snowboarding, consider snowshoeing. A walk through the quiet alpine meadows of Telluride is the perfect place to try it. Some resorts offer miles of easy trails. For a more authentic experience, you may consider going on such a hike with naturalists. For all architects out there, Telluride is famous for its Victorian and Greek revival architecture in the historic district. Everyone’s favorite is the 13-minute gondola ride. You can use it up to up to Mt. Village. It’s free.
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Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah Photo: Keith Kendrick/Flickr
Home to some of Utah’s finest slopes, and more. Go to the Olympic Park for firsthand experience in high-speed bobsled rides. If you’d prefer something slower, the Snowcat Sleigh ride may be a good choice. You’ll be sliding through the mountain for about 20 minutes. Then end the day at a spa. Or go out for a live music show. Something is happening every night in the city’s 100-plus restaurants. Plan fly fishing for the next day with a guide to catch all sorts of fish in the streams around you. Zip-lining is another popular adventure for non-skiers visiting Park City. Don’t miss the Alpine Coaster for an awesome ride through the beautiful Wasatch mountain scenery.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos, New Mexico (Photo: Taos Ski Valley)
Taos has a lot of public spas and health clubs, so you can make the most of your trip to this tiny town of about 5,000 people and its hot springs. Taos is very close to Taos Pueblo, a Native American village that is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Wild Rivers Recreation Area is a “hidden gem” in the state, ideal for hiking, camping or simply enjoying a breathtaking view. The Rio Grande George Bridge is another must-see in Taos (and read some of the inspiring messages written on it).
Whitefish, Montana (Photo: Sean Patrick Doran / Shutterstock)
Biking is a typical winter sport in Whitefish since the new Fat Bikes came out. This small, charming city is right at the bottom of Big Mountain and Glacier National Park. The city resembles a giant ski village with the Whitefish Mountain Resort being the go-to place for everyone. For a change of scenery, visit the Sunti World Art Museum to see bronze sculptures by the famous sculptor, Sunti, commemorating Native American chiefs and historic legends – a stunning display of art.
Jackson, Wyoming (Photo: MISHELLA / Shutterstock)
Don’t just go to the mountain; take a tandem paragliding flight there! Aside from the popular winter activities such as skiing, you can try dogsledding. Visit the National Elk Refuge, where thousands of migratory elk come every November when mating season starts. Jackson Hole is famous for its three local ski areas, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort and Snow King Resort where, among the usual things, you can try snowmobiling and wildlife safaris. Want another incredible way to see the landscape? Go on a six-hour hiking experience (great exercise, too).
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Ketchum, Idaho (Photo: Sam Beebe/Flickr)
Ketchum is known as the place where Ernest Hemingway is buried. His house is still standing but you can only see it from afar because it’s not open to the public. Other than skiing, people from all over go for hiking and trail riding. Ketchum is a ranching (and mining) town. Bring a towel and a bathing suit and go to the region’s hot springs. They are mostly undeveloped areas of the wilderness. Or head toward to Galena Pass into the magnificent Stanley Basin. Oh, if you’re into ice-skating, the rinks in Ketchum and the neighboring Sun Valley are astonishing.
Lake Placid, N.Y.
Lake Placid, N.Y. (Photo: Lake Placid Region/Flickr)
Ah, the Olympic Village. Ice climbing may not be the most relaxing winter activity out there, but it’s certainly one worth trying. If you are in Lake Placid, don’t miss your chance (but go with a guide, please). Now, for a more soothing experience, why not try tobogganing. Pond hockey has grown in popularity tremendously. There is even a tournament every year in January. For a light and fun outdoor activity, ice skating in Lake Placid is like nothing else. There is a beautiful out-in-the-open skating loop on Mirror Lake and several cleared natural rinks elsewhere.
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