When I daydream about moving to a ski town, schools are at the top of my priority list since I have one elementary age kid and one mid schooler. I’d also prefer to not pay $40K a year to send my two kids to an expensive private school. So, the hunt began for the perfect family ski town to live in year round that also have public school options.
So, which epic ski towns also have k-12 public schools?
- Park City, Utah
- Steamboat Springs, Colorado
- Aspen, Colorado
- Vail, Colorado
- Mammoth Lakes, California
- Telluride, Colorado
- South Lake Tahoe, California
Keep reading for the detailed break down on each town and why it made the list. First, I want you to imagine driving your kids to school in 10 minutes or less and then right after drop-off being at the parking lot of an epic ski resort just a few minutes later. And when I say epic, I mean truly epic with big mountain vert and acreage to match.
The resort would have to be one of the best in the country with at least 3,000 feet of vertical drop and plenty of terrain to keep you busy and exploring season after season. Pie in the sky dream? Let’s find out!
I have have spent hours and hours researching the web looking for any info on the practicality of this scenario and have come up with a big fat zero. Which kind of surprised me. Considering that I obsess over this idea – I figured there would be at least some info out on the web but no one had really taken the time to compile it.
I did find one forum post on Teton Gravity Research that discussed what ski town has the best k-12 schools and this discussion basically became an argument between life in Aspen vs life in Park City.
It was pretty easy to eliminate a lot of the larger ski resorts because most don’t have public k-12 at all. Many had just lower grades and then it would be one heck of a drive if you had a middle or high schooler to drop off. Places like Big Sky Montana with it’s jaw dropping terrain but just one public elementary school nearby.
There are usually very small private school options in towns like this but they come with a huge price tag in the $20K to $30K per year range. No thanks.
The Top 7 Finalists Ranked
I assigned a point value to each of the ranking criteria and calculated overall placement by simply adding up the totals. You can see more details on the criteria at the end of the post. Without further adieu. Here’s the finalists ranked in order by most points to least. I also give you links to schools and community items that will make digging deeper a breeze.
#1 – Park City Mountain Resort and Park City, UT
Park City really seems to have it all. When compared to Aspen it has a much closer major metro with Salt Lake City just 30 minutes away. The home prices are on the high end but still considerably less. Park City resort is now combined and connected to The Canyons and offers more terrain than all 4 of Aspen’s mountains put together.
Both have excellent schools and community recreation departments. One thing to keep in mind when considering a move to Utah is the strong Mormon contingent of the state as a whole. Which can be a positive or negative depending on your own point of view. Park City is considered to be more liberal and diverse than the rest of the state but it will really take a visit to understand how this cultural difference affects you one way or the other.
Park City Mountain Resort: http://www.parkcitymountain.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 3,200
In-Bounds Acreage: 7,300
#2 – Steamboat Resort and Steamboat Springs, CO
This is one area of Colorado I have never visited. On paper though, Steamboat seems to have a ton to offer families considering a life in the mountains. I especially love the old Town Hot Springs rec center. Those water slides look like so much fun! With natural hot springs, one of the best ski resorts in Colorado and old town charm downtown there is a lot to like.
Steamboat Springs is quite remote and this helps with having a bit more affordable housing. Much like Mammoth Lakes in California.
Steamboat Resort: https://www.steamboat.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 3,668
In-Bounds Acreage: 2,965
#3 – Aspen Snowmass Resorts and Aspen, CO
We visited Aspen last summer and I was incredibly impressed with everything it offers for families. The schools, rec center and slopes (Highlands) are all within a mile or less! Then you add in that there are 4 total mountains to explore on any given day with free transport between them all and it seems like paradise!
Aspen easily checks off all the big ‘must haves’ for this report. However, for all it offers in positives it more than makes up for with a negative for cost of living. With vacation homes in the 10’s of millions of dollars driving up the overall prices for year-round residents it’s very difficult to find affordable housing.
There are ways to make it work though if you have a lower end budget but it will definitely come with compromises. Maybe it will mean buying a condo instead of a single family home. And maybe within having to buy a condo it will mean buying a two bedroom instead of a 3 bedroom to make it work. I believe though, that if you love the place enough, you can find a way to make it work!
Aspen Snowmass: https://www.aspensnowmass.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 4,406 (Snowmass)
In-Bounds Acreage: 5,303 (combined Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk)
#4 – Vail/Beaver Creek and Avon, CO
My wife and I stayed in Vail Village for a couple nights last summer but we did not explore Avon or Beaver Creek at all. But I really like what I see in my research of this area. I like the proximity to Denver. With this comes more crowds but it also means more convenience to big city activities if that’s important to you.
The schools and community rec centers all appear to be nice and new. Nottingham lake and park look like an awesome place for a family to spend a day and it’s smack dab in the middle of everything. Vail is arguably the best terrain in the country and just a short drive from Avon and beaver creek. I definitely want to return and explore this area more.
#5 – Mammoth Mountain Resort And Mammoth Lakes, CA
Having just spent 2 weeks in Mammoth Lakes and exploring the area I have a very fresh perspective on the community. We loved everything about this place. The mountain is spectacular with gondola service to the summit. The views are absolutely stunning. There are tons of high mountain lakes and trails to explore as well.
The town is lovely and just the right size with everything a family would require week to week in everyday normal life. The only negative is the isolation. But this can also be a positive because it means more quiet time during the week with most tourists coming to town just for weekends.
It really does have a small town charm that hasn’t been over run by the super high end luxury vibe that you can get in some Colorado resort towns.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort: https://www.mammothmountain.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 3,100
In-Bounds Acreage: 3,500
#6 – Telluride Ski Resort and Telluride, CO
I’d say Telluride is the most visually stunning town of all in this list. Located in a beautiful box canyon surrounded by towering peaks. The elevation is high, the scenery is beautiful and the skiing is challenging. This town is very isolated and because the canyon is so narrow there is simply a lack of livable area which has driven up prices making this one of the most exclusive ski towns in Colorado.
However, there is still enough residents to justify a k-12 public school system and it is one of the best in the state. If you don’t mind the very small town vibe and the isolation – this place is worth a look.
Telluride Ski Resort: http://www.tellurideskiresort.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 3,845
In-Bounds Acreage: 2,000+
#7 – Heavenly Mountain Resort and South Lake Tahoe, CA
This is another area that I have only driven through but it is definitely worth a look. South lake Tahoe has everything a family would need in terms of year round living. My assumption though, is that this area can get very crowded with Bay area tourists and also the proximity to Reno.
There is also the Nevada border cutting the ski resort in half and so you are going to have the casinos and everything that comes with that. The trade off is the spectacularly beautiful Lake Tahoe and all that it offers.
Heavenly Mountain Resort: http://www.skiheavenly.com/
Vertical Drop (ft): 3,500
In-Bounds Acreage: 4,800
How I Selected The Top Ski Resorts With Public K-12 Schools Nearby
In the simplest terms, I am looking for the biggest mountains with the closest public schools. Practically speaking though, here’s the specific criteria I used to filter down to just a handful of towns.
- Proximity to public schools – Town must have public k-12 schools within roughly 5 miles of ski lift parking.
- Vertical drop – Ski resort must have roughly 3,000 feet of vertical drop or more.
- Skiable acreage – Ski resort must have roughly 3,000 acres of in-bounds terrain or more.
Keep in mind, some resorts may qualify based on their collective size. For example, Aspen operates four different mountains within the same general vicinity.
Within this framework comes a lot of peripheral community benefits by default. If the town is established enough to have k-12 schools, then it’s going to have all of the basics like a decent grocery store, library, recreation center, churches and lots of community events. Everything a young family would utilize on a regular basis.
Sorry East coasters! I never realized just how drastically smaller east coast skiing was until I did this report and ran the largest resorts through my filters. A few made it through the vertical drop filter but would never come close in terms of overall acreage. If you want to “have it all” it’s gonna be in the Rockies or west coast.
There were also a few other important secondary criteria that weighed in on my overall ranking decisions. These are definitely not “deal breakers” but are important items to think about.
- Cost of living – You are paying for convenience by living so close to the mountain. It’s going to naturally be more expensive because of this. Also, from resort to resort there will be a huge difference in cost to buy a home or rent.
- Proximity to major metro – For this item I feel like it would be nice to have a major metro within two hours or less but definitely not critical. This is a huge personal preference. Some of you will care a great deal about being able to visit “civilization” and some of you believe more remote the better.
- Quality of education – All public schools systems are definitely not created equal. From one resort to another you will see varying degrees of quality within the public school system. There is no substitute for visiting the school and speaking with staff. I used Niche.com rankings for the purposes of this report but take the results with a grain of salt as you would any review site.
- Quality of community recreation centers – This is another item that can see very drastic differences from one community to another. With children in tow, this is important to look at. Especially if you do a lot of community swimming, sports and camps etc.
What are the highest paying ski resort jobs? The highest paying jobs at ski resorts are usually mechanically related. There are a lot of moving parts and machinery at a resort of this magnitude that need constant upkeep and repair. From ski lifts to snowcats and everything in between.
These are also typically full salary positions with benefits. Try to avoid an hourly position (i.e. lifty, rental equipment or food service) if at all possible and you’ll make a lot more money.
What is the cheapest ski resort in Colorado? The cheapest ski resort in Colorado is Ski Cooper just outside of Leadville. This is a smaller, family friendly hill with 5 lifts. With the right online discount, you can get tickets for a day pass in the mid $50’s.
David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.