Truckee, California

Population: 15,936

Fresh turns     Photo: Hank de Vre/Northstar-at-Tahoe

My Town: Truckee

"There's so much freedom here, and so much you can do," says Truckee-based skier Daron Rahlves, winner of 12 World Cup and seven U.S. national titles. "Skiing at Sugar Bowl is insane, with dense, heavy snow, really technical terrain, and rocks and good drops and tree skiing. It's a gem."

If Truckee hasn't had nine lives yet, it's getting close. In the last century and a half, the town, bounded by the Truckee River and jaw-dropping Sierra Nevada mountainscapes, has been a stagecoach stop, a rough-and-tumble lumber-mill town (complete with a red-light district, opium dens, and routine gunfights), and a haunt of golden-age Hollywood movie crews—Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable both filmed on location nearby. These days, Truckee is best known as a locals' home base in the resort-infested Lake Tahoe Basin, 190 miles northeast of San Francisco and just east of the crest of the Sierra Nevada. That a good number of those locals are freeskiers, ski-film makers, or members of the U.S. ski or snowboard team has much to do with the dozen lift-served mountains within minutes of town: 2,850 feet of vertical at Squaw Valley's natural amphitheater, the quieter runs and backcountry of Sugar Bowl, and the intermediates' paradise at Northstar-at-Tahoe, to name a few. On Commercial Row, the brothels are gone, but a funky Wild West feel lives on in Truckee's downtown historic district, where covered walkways lead to shops, low-key bars, and a wider range of restaurants than a town this size has any right to, from Cal-Asian cafés to wood-fired- pizza joints. Not surprisingly, tourism accounts for about a third of local jobs, with retail and construction not far behind. But with epic hiking, trout fishing, mountain biking, and whitewater paddling nearby once snow season ends, no one actually comes here to be a workaholic.

REALITY CHECK:
With the year-round population ballooning more than 70 percent since 1990 and golf courses multiplying, debates about growth and development threatening Truckee's small-town vibe won't end anytime soon.

NEXT BEST:
Jackson, Wyoming. It's steep: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has 4,000-plus feet of vertical drop. It's deep: Jackson gets about 38 feet of annual snowfall. It's a leap: off towering cliffs and into narrow couloirs. But it's definitely not cheap: The average house price tops $1 million.

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