Before you bemoan the melting mountain snow, know that many ski resorts are just as good in the heat as they are in the cold
Ski resorts take on a secret life in warmer months. The sun is shining, wildflowers are flaming, and everything—singletrack, whitewater, beer—flows readily. Plus, there’s always an endurance event or music festival somewhere.
Many resort hotels ratchet down their prices by as much as 80 percent compared to peak winter holiday rates, according to Ski.com. Rooms that go for more than $1,000 a night during peak season at the exclusive Washington School House Hotel in Park City, for example, can be had for close to $300 in July.
Fewer crowds (with some exceptions, like Jackson Hole) and warmer, longer days to enjoy the ponderous beauty of the mountains make almost any ski town a sylvan gem come summer. Here are just a few of the best ski towns to hit up after the mud subsides.
Whitefish Mountain Resort, Montana
Best for: Mountain biking
The big news at this northwestern Montana resort is that it recently expanded the existing 30 miles of mountain bike terrain—with 13 lift-access trails and eight cross-country trails—to include three premier expert downhill bike trails, each with more than 2,000 feet of vertical. But the goods were already great: In 2014, IMBA rated Kashmir, a 2.54-mile black diamond run with an elevation loss of 1,684 vertical feet, one of the top four “Model Flow Trails” in the world. As for libations, Bonsai Brewing Project, which reportedly makes the best beer in these parts, just opened a new location midway between the resort and town. Stay at Hibernation House on the mountain to get in on its “Eat, Bike, Sleep, Repeat” package for $80 per night. One more thing: Glacier National Park is less than an hour away.
Mammoth Mountain Resort
Best for: A lake-cation
Everyone knows the eastern Sierra is experiencing the worst drought in more than 120 years. But the Twin Lakes are still full of water—all the more reason to base out of a historic lakeside cabin at Tamarack Lodge at the foot of Mammoth Mountain Resort. You can sit on a large porch with a lake view (from $169 per night, including free boat and bike rentals) and watch your kids try to reel in trout (one-day licenses from $15.12). On mountain, head up to the Mammoth Adventure Center, where, for $40 per head, the kids can have a go at the climbing wall, zip line, bungee trampoline, and lift-accessed 3,500-acre bike park.
Best for: Competitive types
Stowe is a summer festival magnet, beginning with the Wine & Food Classic, June 12 to 14, featuring local brews and a farm-to-table bash. If you’d rather work off calories while on vacation, wait for The North Face Race to the Top of Vermont, a multisport event for the everyman on August 23. The event draws almost 1,000 hikers, mountain bikers, and runners to climb 4.3 miles up the historic Toll Road to the top of 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. You’ll be rewarded with live music and, of course, barbecue. Summer room rates at Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa start at $189, with discounts for booking early and staying three days or more.
Best for: Hiking 14ers
Come summer, you might forget that Breckenridge—just a 90-minute drive from Denver—is actually overrun with skiers in the winter. Its massive playground of fourteeners to summit, five whitewater rivers within an hour’s drive, and endless miles of mountain and road biking, Breckenridge is the all-American summer resort. Which makes it nice to know that luxury hotels like One Ski Hill Place, at the base of the mountain, offer seriously deep discounts. The average per-night stay from June 25 to August 27 starts in the vicinity of $226 for a one-bedroom condo unit that would cost upwards of $1,400 per night over Christmas break. Steel yourself for the new TenMile Flyer Zipline at the Breckenridge Fun Park. The two-stage zip line spans a collective 1,487 feet, 50 feet up in the air, with speeds up to 45 mph.
Best for: Family fun
Downhill bike camp, field trips, fishing trips, whitewater rafting, and a “build your own rocket” camp—and those are just for the kids through Camp Aspen Snowmass. Knowing they’re in good hands makes it easier for Mom and Dad to kick back with lift-accessed mountain biking on more than 50 miles of trails, mountain hikes with naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, or just chilling at the Limelight, an Aspen hotel where the rooms have balconies with stunning mountain views and the breakfast is famously generous with eggs and bacon or homemade granola. Airport and mountain shuttles are included in the price, which starts at $370 per night.
Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Best for: The food
The main resort area is undergoing a major makeover this summer with the addition of a new 85-room hotel, but the Bavarian Lodge at the bottom of Lift 4 sits conveniently above the construction fray. In addition to four luxury suites that cost roughly half of what they do in the winter (from $180 per night with a two-night minimum stay), meals are classic Bavaria: bratwurst slathered with imported spicy mustard and beer steins so big you can barely lift them to your lips. Once you hoist the glass, the 36-ounce Spaten Optimator goes down especially well after standing atop 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the trailhead for which is just a few steps out the Bavarian’s front door. Or grab a bike and hit the scenic mountain biking playground of Northside at Taos Ski Valley—1,200 acres of looped trail that peaks at 12,163 feet and averages a 10 percent grade.