There’s something special about winter in a perfect New England ski town, with pedestrians filling streets lined with unique shops and restaurants. Some of these towns are steeped in history, with roots planted before the United States was officially born.
Most of New England’s ski towns are located in Vermont and New Hampshire where many of the area’s ski resorts can be found. Each of these communities has a number of activities that can be appreciated by skiers and non-skiers alike.
Here are the top ski towns in New England to live and visit, in no particular order:
With Okemo Mountain Resort only a few minutes away, Ludlow is a great spot that combines a small ski town vibe with premier slopes. The town’s historical designation adds to its unique New England charm.
Ludlow was chartered in the 1760s but wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the area began to thrive. Milling was the primary industry for more than a century, with the converted woolen mill still part of the downtown. Today the village and historic area has a population of around 800, while the surrounding town of Ludlow has more than 2,000 residents.
Along with many other areas of Vermont, Ludlow has hiking and biking trails in the summer with kayaking and paddle boarding on nearby lakes. It’s one of the few ski towns with its own natural swimming hole at Buttermilk Falls. For an educational experience, pay a visit to the Black River Academy Museum to learn more about the area’s history.
With views of Okemo in the distance, it’s evident that skiing is the main reason visitors stay in this Vermont ski town. For convenience, a shuttle bus runs between Okemo and Ludlow on weekends and holidays from late December through March.
The center of Ludlow has a wide range of retail shops and dining, or spend time combining the two at the farmers market. The downtown market features locally made baked goods, honey, and wine in the summertime. At any time of the year, visit the local cheese factory to learn how to make one of Vermont’s most notable products.
North Conway, New Hampshire
The community may be small at only four square miles, but that only adds to the charm of North Conway. Just a mile away from Cranmore Mountain Resort, this New Hampshire ski town has excellent access to downhill slopes, a mountain amusement park, and a full menu of activities throughout the year.
During the winter, locals and visitors can attempt fat biking, curling, ice skating, and cross-country skiing along with the downhill slopes of Cranmore. That’s also the location for the Cranmore Mountain Adventure Park, with a variety of attractions like a mountain coaster and bungee trampoline, many of which are open year-round.
In North Conway and the surrounding White Mountains, horseback riding, rock climbing, golf, fishing, and kayaking are among the favorite summer activities. The town of 2,000 residents was founded in 1765 and features many historic buildings including the Depot and Railroad Yard. Riding the scenic rails in an 1874 train is one of the biggest draws to the area.
New Hampshire doesn’t charge sales tax, so visitors can take advantage of shopping at the local outlet mall a short drive away. Or visit the rows of unique shops and restaurants which line Main Street, fronted by brick sidewalks.
Its long history and preserved buildings are one part of the appeal, while its appreciation for culture is another. North Conway is a haven for artists, featuring many artisan festivals, and several art galleries. Or visit the New England Ski Museum with many artifacts and displays highlighting the area’s skiing history.
The quintessential historic New England town of Stowe is also one of the area’s best ski towns. Church steeples and colonial buildings fill the streets against a hilly backdrop, and it’s a frequent stop in the fall when the leaves change.
The area hosts a range of activities from cider tasting to fly fishing. Food options are never a challenge to find in Stowe, with restaurants for every palette and budget. Cheese, maple, and craft beverages are all waiting to be sampled at local producers and specialty markets.
Skiing and snowboarding at Stowe Mountain Resort is a primary reason that many visit the town, but dog sledding, fat biking, ice climbing, and ice fishing can be found in the winter. When the snow melts, many return to the mountain for hiking or mountain biking. The Stowe Recreation Path is a five-mile loop with incredible scenery and open to walkers, joggers, or bikers.
Chartered in 1763, Stowe is Vermont’s largest town in terms of land area, though its population is around 5,000. The town first became a popular summer resort starting in the mid-1800s. Then in 1921, with the advent of Stowe’s first Winter Carnival, an interest in ski jumping began and this ski town was born.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
In northern New Hampshire, in the midst of the White Mountain National Forest, the ski town of Bretton Woods centers around a historic resort and the state’s largest ski area. Omni Mount Washington Resort has been a draw to the area since 1902, well before Bretton Woods Ski Resort was even conceived.
While there are accommodations at inns and lodges around Bretton Woods, many opt to stay at the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort. The grand resort has golf, tennis, horseback riding, fishing, and disc golf in the summer. During the winter, guests enjoy sled rides, ice climbing, dog sledding, and cross-country skiing as well as the downhill ski area.
Located within the larger town of Carroll, Bretton Woods’ history began in 1772 when King George III granted land to an Englishman from West Yorkshire’s Bretton Hall. The entire plantation took the name Carroll while one section retained the name of the English estate.
The town is home to the Mount Washington Cog Railway which has been in operation since 1868. It’s recognized as the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway and today is a popular tourist destination, taking visitors to the top of Mount Washington.
Most of the dining and retail options are located on the resort property, but there are many more choices just a short drive away in Carroll. It’s worth the drive, as the tree-lined roads winding through the hills are their own attraction when visiting Bretton Woods.
Stratton Mountain, Vermont
The Village at Stratton Mountain Resort isn’t the largest ski town in New England, but its European charm sets it apart from others. Stratton’s founders placed the town’s signature clock tower at the base in 1962 and simply built the rest of the community around it.
The clock tower serves as a directional beacon for skiers and tourists, guiding them either from the mountaintop to the base, or from lodging to the primary cluster of shops and restaurants. A wide range of dining and retail choices await visitors any time of the year along the Village streets.
Most lodging surrounds the Village and ski area base, with free shuttles providing access to the in the winter. Some of the accommodations house permanent residents, of which there are approximately 440 although the resort has thousands of employees once the snow begins to fall.
In the winter, Stratton is at its busiest. Guests can find a wide range of outdoor activities including snow tubing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, fat biking, snowmobiling, and ice skating. For a different adventure, try cat skiing to a dinner destination, then end the evening with yoga by fireside. The summer months are more laid back, with golf, biking, hiking, and tennis available at the resort.
Just over the New Hampshire border in Maine, the quaint town of Bethel has been welcoming visitors for more than 200 years. The town has clapboard homes and buildings, with church steeples and brick architecture lining the streets, some predating its incorporation in 1796.
Bethel is a short distance from Sunday River Resort, which can be accessed by the free shuttle service, Mountain Explorer. The slopes obviously celebrate the first snowfall, but even Bethel residents appreciate the abundance of snow. They created the world’s tallest snowman and then the tallest snowwoman, a record which remains today.
Nordic and fat bike trails trails pass around Bethel, while snowmobiling, dog sledding, and ice fishing further prove how important snow is to the community. Summertime means hiking through the state parks, camping, fishing, or ATV riding. With an abundance of lakes to explore, canoeing, kayaking, boating, and swimming are top of the outdoor adventure list.
Bethel has a range of food from around the world along with ski town standards of pub food. Shops feature locally-sourced products and plenty of outdoor gear.
The town has fewer than 3,000 residents, but a community atmosphere and vibe that makes it feel more intimate and connected. With its setting in the midst of the mountains and incredible views, it’s a haven at any time of the year.
New England has more than 70 ski areas, yet true ski towns are a bit harder to find. The most charming ones have a special something that makes them worth visiting over and over.
All of these ski towns are easily walkable, with amenities and activities reachable within a few minutes. They all are near large ski areas so skiers and snowboarders have no need to drive far to hit the slopes, and of course they all have extra benefits for any non-skier or snowboarder.