Ski Season is almost here!!!! How do Home Prices in your Hometown Compare?
The Most and Least Affordable Ski Towns Across the Country
Posted: November 15, 2018 by Jessica Juracich
The Most and Least Ski Towns Across the United States
You're the type who can't wait for the temperature to drop. Once the leaves start to turn, you're already digging your parka out of the closet and waiting for the first snowflakes of the season. Come December, you're speeding out of the city or 'burbs after work on Friday and heading toward the slopes. Ah, bliss.
Instead, what if you could wake up within a short hop (or shorter ski) to the lifts, right out your door—and then, after a life-affirming day of shredding, carving, or zorbing, return to soak in your very own hot tub, while sipping a fine glass of pinot under the stars? A crazy, wintertime fantasy? Nope. If you think only tech zillionaires and celebs can afford a vacation home in a scenic ski town with killer views of snowcapped mountains, think again.
"People seeking the ski town lifestyle, but who don't want to spend a million dollars for a house, can choose a town that doesn’t come with the fancy name or famous ski resort," says Christopher Steiner, founder of ZRankings, an analytics company that produces ski resort rankings. "To me, a real ski town is a place where you don’t waste any time commuting to and from the slopes—and the mountains close by are good enough that you’ll never get bored."
Toward that magical goal, the snow-loving realtor.com® data team crunched the numbers to find the most affordable ski towns in the U.S.A. (United Slopes of America). And because we wanted to peek at where the one-percenters while away their winter months, we set out to rank the least affordable towns too.
To create our ranking, we started with a list of more than 300 ski resorts, as compiled by onthesnow.com, a website that creates snow reports for resorts. We then located the nearest town or city in those areas, focusing on ones that had at least 50 homes for sale. For geographic diversity, we included just one place per state (sorry, Colorado!).
Winter really is coming. And while the more bargain-friendly towns may not boast many Trump-spawn sightings, Michelin-rated eateries, or snowy mansions, they do offer some fine slopes, a wide range of fun outdoor activities, and some sweet homes.
So light up the Duraflame, pour yourself a big mug of Swiss Miss, and let's take a look.
The most affordable ski towns
1. Harrison, MI
Median home price: $64,000
Rust Belt ski mecca? You betcha. Situated in Central Michigan about three hours from Detroit, the town has a undeniable and seductive outdoorsy vibe.
Founded in 1949, the Snow Snake Mountain Ski Area ski resort has six lifts and 10 runs over more than 40 acres, covering a nice range of beginner and intermediate trails, and even a black diamond run for expert skiers or boarders. And what’s a winter resort without snow tubing? Yeah, they've got that, too.
“A lot of home buyers here are looking for a cabin in the woods or the lake, to get away from the hustle and bustle,” says Rose Mayfield, associate real estate broker at Harrison Realty, of the area's many modest single-family homes. “Harrison is known for 20 lakes in 20 minutes. We have an abundance of state land—lots of snowmobile trails and ice fishing lots.”
In fact, there are so many snowmobile trails here that you can ride flat out for more than two hours in a single direction through the woods. And you'd better pack your fishing poles for when you feel like slowing down: Every year, there's a big ice-fishing contest held during the Frostbite Winter Festival at nearby Budd Lake.
2. Paoli, IN
Median home price: $94,000
For nine months of the year, Paoli is your run-of-the-mill, quiet, little Midwestern town. Then ski season happens.
"We're a community of 3,900 people, but on some weekends [during ski season], we have 10,000 plus at the peaks,” says Rosemary Trinkle, owner and broker at Trinkle Group Real Estate in Paoli. "From my office on Main Street, you can see a steady stream of school buses, church buses, and cars rolling in" and heading toward the slopes.
The little town is home to Paoli Peaks, a ski resort that is open seven days a week from mid-December through mid-March. Located in the southern part of the state, the resort has 15 trails and eight lifts.
“We have people moving in from bigger cities, like Fort Wayne and Indianapolis," Trinkle says. Most of the homes in the area for sale are more affordable, single-family houses with backyards. "Some come here to ski, some come here to hunt."
So you've taken a few too many spills on the slopes? You may want to recover at the Hoosier National Forest, which starts just south of the city limits. The forest has more than 200 miles of trails that allow horseback riding.
3. Biwabik, MN
Median home price: $98,000
The Pepsi Challenge ski race in Biwabik
Imagine gliding straight from your home or condo into the ski-lift line. Fantastic! You don't have to cash in your 401k to achieve this in Aspen and Park City. You can pull it off in Biwabik—for a fraction of the price.
Ski in/ski out accommodations are yours for the taking at the Lodge at Giants Ridge and the Village, which offers both hotel rooms and one- to two-bedroom condominiums for sale. The chairlifts for Giants Ridge, the local resort, start right at the lodge. The place has 35 downhill runs and 40 miles of cross-country trails.
If skiing ain't your thing, there's an excellent spa for those preferring pedicures or massages to moguls. And the community is the trailhead of the Mesabi Trail, a bicycle trail that runs more than 120 miles through scenic Minnesota, with several campgrounds and fishing spots.
4. Malone, NY
Median home price: $98,000
Even for a skiing or boarding obsessive, living in a place that revolves solely around your sport can get a little old. Malone has prime access to the breathtaking Adirondack Mountains and the opportunity for some of New York's best lake fishing and fastest snowmobiling.
“We are a very small town, one of those places where everyone knows everyone,” says Brittany Taylor, director of marketing at Titus Mountain Family Ski Center, the local ski resort. "And it’s not very common to have a mountain 10 minutes outside a town, like we do in Malone."
Opened in the 1960s, the resort has grown into 10 lifts and 58 trails, with a peak elevation of around 2,000 feet. The trails range from green terrain to expert-level double black diamond.
Bargain-priced homes abound in the town, such as a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home built in 1880, selling for just $18,500. Just be prepared to put in a bit of elbow grease to restore these places to their former glory.
Located only a couple of miles from the Canadian border, the town offers a quick getaway to Montreal and Ottawa, each about two hours away. No wonder nearly half of the ski resort's visitors come from the Lumberjack Country (aka Canada).
5. Scranton, PA
Median home price: $98,000
Living just minutes from the slopes is great—something you can find in many of America’s premier ski towns. But it's hardly common in an affordable U.S. city. That’s where Scranton stands out.
‘We have [about] 10 resorts within two hours,” says Ryan Widenor, an assistant manager at Ski Corner, a ski shop in town. “It gives you a lot of options for terrains and different types of skiing.”
Many might associate this economically challenged city more readily with the Dunder Mifflin paper company than topnotch outdoor thrills 'n' chills. But maybe it's time for that to change.
Scranton itself boasts Montage Mountain, more than a third of whose nearly 30 trails are at the advanced or expert skill level. The resort is also home to “White Lightning,” the second steepest slope on the East Coast. A 40-minute drive southwest of the city will take you to Camelback Mountain Resort, which has more than 30 trails over more than 150 acres.
The rest of the top 10 most affordable ski towns are Bruce, WI; the appropriately named Snowshoe, WV; Mansfield, OH; Kellogg, ID; and Brian Head, UT.
Catch the (snow) drift? OK, get out the designer parkas, it's time to take a gander at how the other half lives in the winter months.
The Most Expensive Ski Towns
1. Aspen, CO
Median home price: $2,124,000
It's the crème de la crème of American ski towns, the place where everyone wants to see and be seen. This Rocky Mountains town boasts some of the top resorts in the world—with the prices to match. But over the years, it's grown into something much bigger: a cultural mecca, a playground for the rich, the fabulous, and the curious, even something of an intellectual hotspot. There are nationally renowned art galleries and restaurants here, and no shortage of folks eager to indulge in both.
"We are the only major ski town where you won't run into any lines [on the slopes]; that's because it's not about the skiing as much now," says Wendalin Whitman, president and owner of Whitman Fine Properties in Aspen. "Our summers are more popular than our winters."
Don't let all the glitz and celebrity sightings distract you (not too much, anyway). Aspen still has great slopes.
You can hop on the gondola right at the south end of town, to be whisked up to the top of Aspen Mountain. Or take a free shuttle to Snowmass Mountain, a 94-slope behemoth owned by the same company. Other world-class resorts in the corporate family are Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain (home of the Winter X Games).
But good deals on swanky, contemporary houses in this former mining town—where the picturesque cobblestone streets are now lined with boutiques from Prada to Burberry—are few and far between.
“It is very cutthroat. If you find a good deal, you have to move fast,” Whitman says. “People can’t believe they have to pay more than $1 million for a condo built in the ‘70s that needs work. … If you want something good, you’ll need to spend $6 or $7 million.”
2. Jackson, WY
Median home price: $1,324,000
Living in Jackson will cost you (but probably not as much as it cost these elk).
Living in Jackson will cost you (but probably not as much as it cost these elk).nycshooter/iStock
In some ways, Jackson is the opposite of Aspen—those who can afford to buy here gravitate toward a decidedly lower-key brand of glamour. The town itself has fewer than 10,000 residents, and yet Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has been ranked as the top ski resort in North America by Forbes for six consecutive years.
"It's a true mountain town, with wooded sidewalks and one-off stores. It has an out West character that really attracts people,” says Allison Kneubuhl, interim director of sales and marketing at Snow King Hotel. “It hasn’t been taken over by Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, or Ann Taylor—you don’t see that in the [town] square the way you do in Aspen or Vail.”
There are two main resorts in the region, the world-class Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which is known for its steep-steeps, and Snow King Mountain, which has 400 acres of skiable land, including 15 expert-level trails.
It wouldn’t be a world-class ski town without some star sightings, although celebs here keep it on the down low. Hey, is that Harrison Ford ducking into the Snake River Grill? .
The real estate is equally breathtaking. Those with money to burn can check out this 11,500-square-foot mountain estate, sitting on 40 acres. It includes a 20-foot mahogany bar, a private, three-hole golf course, an exercise room, and a creek stocked with trout ... for just $28,000,000.
3. Park City, UT
Median home price: $1,298,000
Feathery-soft snow, more than 7,000 acres of killer terrain, and just an hour's easy drive from a major airport, Park City is a great escape for many snow lovers across the nation.
“You can leave Florida in the morning and be skiing by lunch time,” says Nancy Tallman, a real estate agent at Summit Sotheby's International Realty.
Park City Mountain Resort, one of the best in North America, is right in town, an easy walking distance from many condos. It has more than 40 lift systems and 300-plus runs spread across more than 7,000 acres—the country's biggest ski resort. And if that isn't enough, down the road, Deer Valley caters to a more pampered clientele (the Ritz-Carlton is just next door), while Alta and Snowbird offer fantastic terrain just a little farther afield.
Come January, the streets of Park City are flooded with movie stars, movie makers, and assorted industry types. Founded in 1978, the Sundance Film Festival is now the largest in the country. If you own a home here, you can rent it at a premium during the festival, or enjoy the many screenings, film talks, and parties for yourself—local residents get discounted tickets. Hey, you might even catch some quality time with Sundance founder Robert Redford.
4. Incline Village, NV
Median home price: $1,076,000
Lake Tahoe is well known as one of America’s premier lakes, and a favorite getaway from the San Francisco Bay Area. And the lesser-known Incline Village hits its mark in summer and winter, home to many of the area's poshest mountain retreats, while sitting on the lake's stunning banks.
"[It] has a uniqueness because it is basically on Lake Tahoe,” ZRankings’ Steiner says. “There is no other lake like it, and [Incline Village] is the nicest town on it. ... The scenery is magnificent."
Diamond Peak is the town’s ski resort, with around 30 ski runs on more than 600 acres, including world-famous Crystal Ridge. There's also casino gaming, a championship golf course, and mountain biking in the town during the warmer months.
But those views come with an long price tag. This summer, a property owned by casino and real estate businessman Steve Wynn sold for more than $30 million. Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison also owns a (palatial) home here.
5. Big Sky, MT
Median home price: $894,000
As you're carving turns in the powder, you can take in the spectacular mountain scenery. And if skiing isn't your thing, you're just an hour's drive from Yellowstone National Park.
“The mountains here are regularly compared to the Swiss Alps," says Martha Johnson, a broker at the Big Sky Real Estate Co. "And the Gallatin River flows right through town and is a Blue Ribbon trout stream.” Blue Ribbon fisheries are government-designated as of exceptionally high quality.
The ski town is home to Big Sky Resort, the No. 12 ranked resort in North America and the best in Montana, according to ZRankings.
But before you set up shop here, better make sure your ski skills are up to par. More than half of the trails are for advanced skiers. For those who aren't so confident on the slopes, there are plenty of local companies offering other diversions, including dog sledding.
The downside? Well, there is a reason the town and its many pricey, rustic-style mountain retreats cost so much.
“We aren’t an easy place to get to, but that’s a big part of the appeal," Johnson says.
The rest of the top 10 most expensive ski towns are Cashiers, NC; Truckee, CA; Mahwah, NJ; Sun Valley, ID; and Stowe, VT.
Lance Lambert is a data journalist for realtor.com.