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The Last Affordable Ski Town in America

I took a road trip across 7,000 miles of the United States this summer with my boyfriend, our 1-year-old daughter, and our 2 dogs. We lived in a van while we bopped from town to town, exploring ski towns in hopes of finding one to make a living in or at least catch a few turns for winter. Along the journey, we learned a lot about ourselves and the once Small Ski Towns of America.

Boyne, MI

Photo by:  Collin Wheeler

Being from the South, I had never thought of Michigan as a ski town destination. My eyes were always set on the West. After I met Collin, a Northern native, my ideas of Michigan changed. The first ski town we visited was Boyne, a quaint place nestled on Lake Charlevoix. Collin grew up skiing at Boyne Mountain and worked for Boyne Resorts. I loved the lake being right in town and the opportunity to both sail and ski in the backyard. This is where we started applying for jobs and to no avail, there were no opportunities here for us as a family. Housing was doable and outdoor activities a plus, but we set our sails North and continued to look for a town that promised jobs, housing, AND the ski dream.

Marquette, MI

Photo by:  Collin Wheeler

The town of Marquette is situated on Lake Superior, which might as well be called an ocean. I was enamored by the size of the lake and the history in the town. The town was built around the ore industry, and I would have never understood the passion behind the Edmund Fitzgerald without seeing an ore dock for myself. With the lake effect combined with good beer from Blackrocks Brewery, it's no surprise that skiing is a big part of the culture in Marquette. Sled dog racing is a casual weekend fling and fat biking is only a pedal away. The annual Michigan Ice Fest happens every February only 45 minutes away, and I've added it to my bucket list. Housing was available in this Northern ski town wonder, but the jobs were lacking. So we kept on a driving, and this time we were headed west.

Teton Valley, ID

Photo by: Collin Wheeler

Yep, we skipped right over Jackson Hole. Sure, we stopped in at all of our favorite places and spent a night for free in the town of antler arches (which is not something many can say). We parked the van a few blocks from the town square and reveled at what first brought us west many moons before. Back then, we thought it was an actual possibility to live in Jackson Hole, but now we came through just as a passing to get to the other side- The Teton Valley, where it was actually possible to work AND live. We had met in the valley when we both had jobs and housing was affordable with roommates. Coming back after a year away, this once 'No red light' town was receiving daily traffic. The housing market, as expected, had not gotten any better and was actually near-impossible to find affordable lodging without trekking out to Rexburg. The snow-magic on this side of the mountain stomps everything else. Skiiers will sweat blood working and pay diamonds to rent a hole in the wall bedroom just to be near the ski hill. And we probably would have done the same if we hadn't been looking for a place with our daughter and stash of dogs. We looked and applied but couldn't find jobs to afford the cost of living without both working doubles and to settle for Rexburg was too far out of reach from the snow for us. We were still searching for a ski town to call home for the winter.

Bozeman, MT

Photo by: Collin Wheeler

Next stop, Bozeman. We didn't want to abandon the Teton Valley but thought Bozeman would be close enough to swap ski hills all winter and have the gold mine for jobs. We hit up the local library every day we were there and applied for jobs and researched the housing market. The jobs were here, along with the college kids, tourists, and insane cost of housing. We hopped downtown to catch a local musician on the crosswalk, and we nearly lost each other in a sea of rad bros and sorority sisters. I confronted the pack of solo-cuppers head on with my fanny pack strapped tight and stroller bar in hand. I found Collin and we made a leap for the nearest guitar shop, Music Villa. You can tell a lot about a ski town by the homeliness of the local music shop. And boy, Bozeman has a great one. We talked with the Martin salesman, and he filled us in. He said that if we had landed there 20 years sooner, we would have seen the small town culture of Bozeman before the college/ tourist boom. He said the streets stayed busy now, and you have to fight a raging trustfunder for a Cup of Joe at the corner coffee shop nowadays. The accessibility to mountains and skiing was almost worth it, but the cost of rentals and housing more than shot us down at a chance in Montana. We applied for income-based housing at the top of Big Sky and kept our fingers crossed as we left the state.

Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth was a dream. We pretended for a few days that we could find affordable housing, but it was just not a reality. We applied at Steven's Pass and rode out fate, as we slept in the van by the gorgeous Icicle River.

Greenwater, WA

About 40 minutes from Crystal Mountain Resort, you will find the town of Greenwater (if you consider it a town). We were on a hunt for a tight-knit community- ski town that had both livable wage jobs and affordable housing. It was starting to seem like an unrealistic combo. We were both offered decent wage jobs with Crystal Mountain. Greenwater was lacking in the housing sector, so we looked into Enumclaw. For a couple days, we seriously considered accepting the jobs, driving an hour each way commute to and from the resort, leaving our daughter an hour away in daycare, and locking the dogs up in the only couple-thousand-dollar a month apartment we could find. We were getting desperate. Mt. Rainier almost had us convinced, but something in our hearts kept telling us that a ski town right for our family was out there, somewhere, hidden in the contiguous 48.

Angel Fire, NM: The Last Affordable Ski Town in America

We explored a lot of territory in between all of the ski towns we visited, but we were on a mission to find a home for winter: One that we could afford, raise our daughter in, and still have time to wax our gear and play in the snow. Driving across the country over 7,000 miles, it was starting to feel like The American Dream no longer existed, that a college degree was a waste of money, and that affordable housing was a joke sold as a paper to accrue student debt. Our last couple of days shuffling around Washington, Collin got a call from Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico. "Isn't that the desert?" I asked him with rattlesnake brain. We had never thought much about going to New Mexico, in fact, it was probably the last place we ever thought about living. Collin accepted the job offer, and we headed south.

  • The town of Angel Fire sits at 8,406 feet.
  • The base of the resort is at 8,600 feet, while the summit is 10,677 feet.
  • It is the only resort to hold the World Championship Shovel Races.
  • The snow count is over 50% from what they received last year, according to a Snow Brains article.
  • The average cost of gas since we have moved to this ski town has not exceeded $2.79 and is down to $2.59 currently, which is cheaper than any other ski town we visited in the Western United States.
  • Milk and groceries are available in town at a slightly higher cost than over the mountain in Taos, but if you're like our fam, you'll take a bi-weekly trip there anyways for cheaper groceries and a taste of the southwestern culture.
  • Daycare, like anywhere, is a challenge in the Moreno Valley unless you work for the resort which adds a great perk of daycare accessibility in the winter months for employees.
  • The melting pot culture in Northern New Mexico is a pleasant attribute to diversity, educational opportunities, and local cuisine. You meet many people from all walks of life, especially at the resort.
  • Along with the ski scene, the resort boasts one of the best mountain biking parks in the nation which secures year-round opportunities to get outside.
  • The tallest peak of New Mexico, Wheeler Peak at 13,159 feet, can be seen from hikes right in Angel Fire and only a half hour drive to the trailhead itself.
  • The housing market is both available and affordable, which is a huge factor in naming Angel Fire The Last Affordable Ski Town in America. Not only are there opportunities to rent right in town, there's also room to buy property and settle down in a mountain town without selling a kidney.

We got lucky to find this quaint ski town hidden in Northern New Mexico. It's a great escape from the crowds that loiter Bozeman and J Hole. And if you decide to check it out for yourself, make sure you ask for "Christmas" on your first authentic New Mexican burrito- you won't regret it! Let us tell you a story!

About The Author

stash member Allie Bynum

A Real, Down to Mars Girl

Great little town- Taos is only 30 min away, good food shopping and really good restaurants, music. Been in Angel Fire every summer for 10 years. Has the finest chamber music festival on Planet Earth for 34 years, Music From Angel Fire, mid August to early Sept. 2018 program was Mozart, 9 concerts, Curtis Institute/Carnegie Hall/Lincoln Center 21st century talent, 18th century’s finest composer, 17th century’s best instrumtents. Come same time 2019, new program, same quality. See ya there.