Winter, as you’ve surely heard, is coming—hard and fast. So why not ride it out in your very own home in the mountains, in a sweet place where the slopes are groomed, the air is clean, and après-ski bars are buzzing? While you’re at it, maybe chill for the summer too! Truth be told, you don’t have to be a second-generation reality TV star, tech titan, or trust-fund kid to live large in a great American ski town. And no, we’re not schussing you. You just need to know where to set your sights.
Hint: It’s not on Aspen, Jackson, Park City, or any of the other snowy playgrounds of the 1%, where median home prices rival or even exceed the most expensive neighborhoods of San Fransisco or New York.
But there are plenty of lower-key, way more inexpensive options around. In fact, just about half of America’s ski towns, as defined by realtor.com®, have a median home price under $300,000. So our data team set out to find the most affordable of the bunch, towns where you can keep the dream of owning a home near the slopes alive, and maybe even have some cash left over for a new snowmobile. Or heck, an SUV!
While you’d be forgoing some of the glam scenes, upper-end nightspots, and world-class powder of the best-known resort towns, these lower-priced mountain meccas are still undisputed winter and summer wonderlands. Some are old mining towns, or small remote cities that built resorts as a means to replace fading industries. They have fewer tourists, and miles of untrammeled nature.
To create our rankings, we started with a list of around 450 ski resorts, as compiled by onthesnow.com, a website that creates snow reports for the ski industry. We then looked at median list prices in the nearest towns or cities to those resorts to figure out which had the least expensive real estate. Only places with at least 50 homes for sale in October were included, and for geographic diversity, we included just one place per state.
So pull on that discount Uniqlo parka, grab a hot toddy or three, and let’s check out the best bargain ski towns in America.
Median list price: $59,800
Yes, you read that median home price correctly. Located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Iron River used to be dominated by copper and iron mines. But as the mines have closed, the town has been forced to reinvent itself. Fortunately, it had proximity on its side—it’s home to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and is in a county with 64 lakes. And right in town is Ski Brule, a resort with 12 lifts and trails ranging from beginner to expert.
More than two-thirds of real estate agent Corey Shankleton‘s clients are looking for second homes in the region, either on a lake or in secluded areas with lots of acreage. They can pick up a hunting cabin on 40 acres in the woods for $50,000, a lakefront home for $100,000, or one of the higher-end properties going for seven figures.
“People have really awoken to all that the Upper Peninsula has to offer,” says Shankleton, of UP Riverland Realty in Iron River. Most of his buyers hail from Midwestern cities and even from the Southeast.
“Because of the affordability of the homes in the area, we’ve got everyone from executives from Chicago looking for $1 million lakefront properties down to families looking for a getaway,” Shankleton says. “If you want to be in the middle of a busy lake with all sports activities, we’ve got those. And if you want to be nestled into the woods on a private lake or pond, we’ve got an abundance of that as well.”
Median list price: $89,500
Located deep in the Adirondack Mountains on the Canadian border, Malone has some of the best fishing and snowmobiling sites in upstate New York. And that’s appealing to folks trying to escape the bustle of New York City and Boston.
On a stroll through Malone, folks take in its quaintness and small-town America vibe. The downtown streets are lined with old stone and red-brick structures, and in the summer, the city hosts the Franklin County Fair, the largest county fair in New York.
Buyers “either are moving for a job or they really want the culture of an outside lifestyle. Most of the time, it’s a lifestyle choice,” says Karamarie Morton, a local real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Whitbeck Associates. “They want the skiing and the snowmobiling in the winter and the fly-fishing, hiking, swimming, and boating in the summer.”
Home buyers here want to immerse themselves in nature and buy something with some land—and mountain views. And they don’t have to go broke doing it. Just check out this remodeled three-bedroom chalet with a raised porch. The best part? The price tag is just $139,900.
Snow sports in Malone revolve around Titus Mountain Family Ski Center. First opened in the 1960s, Titus now has 10 lifts and around 60 trails, with everything from green terrain to expert-level double black diamond.
3. Bruce, WI
Median list price: $95,000
Bruce isn’t quite what springs to mind when you hear the words “ski town.” It’s a true small town with fewer than 1,000 residents and a half-dozen restaurants. And it’s had its share of economic woes, closing down its local mine a couple of decades ago, followed by nearby Mount Senario College five years later. Today, the area is best known as a cut-rate outdoor destination.
Christie Mountain, which has 30 runs, is popular with skiers, snowboarders, and tubers.
“The biggest draw to this area is recreation, with hunting, fishing, ATV riding. There are fantastic bike trails and hiking trails,” says local real estate agent Jon Kaiser of Kaiser Realty.
Many of his clients are looking for remote properties with lots of land. Lots of cheap land. Just recently he sold 120 acres of wooded land with no home on it to a hunter for just $89,000.
More typically, a log cabin in the woods here can be snagged for less than $70,000. Or folks can buy lakefront land and build their dream home. This 2.2-acre lakefront lot is selling for just $49,000.
4. Biwabik, MN
Median list price: $99,500
Every skiers’ dream is to walk straight from their home to the ski lifts. But these commute-free homes can cost a fortune. But not in Biwabik! Ski-in/ski-out condos here can be purchased for under $100,000.
Situated on the hilltops of Minnesota’s Iron Range is Giants Ridge, a ski resort with more than 35 downhill runs and 40 miles of cross-country trails. And right at its foothills is the Lodge at Giants Ridge, a large complex offering a combination of hotel rooms and condominiums.
Built in 1999, the one-bedroom condos at Giants Ridge have access to an indoor pool and recreational area. But what really pique buyer interest are the views of the towering pine trees and ski slopes.
Biwabik doesn’t offer the large shopping and restaurant scenes of upper-crust resort towns—it has only about 1,000 residents and its quaint, quintessentially Midwestern downtown (complete with red sidewalks) reflects that. But the town punches above its weight when it comes to fun. There are nearby spas, golf courses, and a bicycle trail that runs more than 100 miles through the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
5. Scranton, PA
Median list price: $114,900
Ski resorts tend to be far away from big cities—and big-city amenities. That’s where Scranton separates itself. It might not be huge, but with a population of around 75,000, there is a lot more to do here than just ski.
Scranton is home to Montage Mountain, known for its excellent expert-level trails. Its biggest claim to fame is White Lightning, the second-steepest slope on the East Coast. Not enough? Just a 40-minute drive south of the city is Camelback Mountain Resort, which has more than 30 trails.
And the real estate is really cheap. Buyers can snag older three- to four-bedroom homes with new kitchens for around $100,000, says Robert Vanston, a real estate broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Preferred Properties in Clarks Summit, PA. Newer four-bedroom, 2.5-bath abodes can go for $300,000 to $400,000.
Median list price: $115,900
In 1961, developers turned one of Ohio’s highest points of elevation into the state’s first ski resort. Since Snow Trails opened in Mansfield, about an hour’s drive north of Columbus, it has grown into the Buckeye State’s mecca for winter sports. The resort has nine lifts, 17 runs, and multiple bars on site. On site!
Home to 46,000 residents, its streets are full of history. The downtown has beautiful three-story churches and handsome old courthouses. And many of the homes for sale here are older homes built in the 1920s and ’30s, with charming front porches that breathe the air of an older era.
7. Boone, IA
Median list price: $129,900
Boone is still a bargain, but it’s getting increasingly popular as a home-buying and vacation spot. And why not? You have the banks of the Des Moines River, breweries, a golf club, and a state park all nearby. Oh yeah, and a fine ski resort.
Seven Oaks Recreation offers 11 ski and snowboard runs, and snow tubing too. And when the warmer weather hits, locals go canoeing, kayaking, or fishing, or face off in a fierce game of paintball.
But it’s all still relatively affordable.
8. Kellogg, ID
Median list price: $138,500
In the hills of northern Idaho, outdoors lovers search out Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg. It’s busy year-round, with everything from skiing and snowboarding to an indoor water park.
But Kellogg wasn’t always packed with vacationers. For nearly a century, this was a gritty, blue-collar mining town. That started to change when Silver Mountain Resort, then named Jackass Ski Bowl, opened in 1968. Then in 1972, one of the country’s worst mining accidents occurred in Kellogg, killing more than 90 miners. Around a decade later, the Bunker Hill Mine closed and virtually ended the region’s mining business. But as one industry ended, another flourished, and the place has been known for outdoor recreation ever since.
Median list price: $152,900
There’s no shortage of great ski resorts in Utah. But the best known of them sure ain’t cheap. This is where Brian Head stands out. A full-day adult ticket at Snowbird in Salt Lake City costs around $125, compared with around $79 at Brian Head Resort, which covers 650 acres and offers 71 runs and eight chair lifts.
“Our biggest claim is that it’s a nice family resort, great for the kids,” says Mike Carr, a real estate agent at High Country Realty. “It’s really affordable compared to other ski destinations in the area.”
Around a four-hour drive from downtown Salt Lake City and three hours from Las Vegas, Brian Head becomes a hiker’s dream once the snow clears. At the edges of the city are Dixie National Forest, known for its wildlife and beautiful red rock formations.
Median list price: $159,900
Mount Jackson is a small town of antiques stores hawking Civil War memorabilia, independently owned restaurants, and plenty of vineyards and wineries. There are national forests nearby, which attract hikers and mountain bikers. And the Bryce Resort offers skiing and snowboarding in the winter and golfing, zip lining, and tubing in the summer.
The area was hit hard in the recession of a decade ago, but the second-home buyers and retirees have been returning in recent years, says local real estate agent David Shalap of ERA Beasley Realty. Many of them are coming from Washington, DC, about two hours to the east.
“The prices out here are extremely reasonable,” says Shalap. He also touted the low taxes and cost of living.
“We have high-end homes, but we also have nice homes in the $175,000 to $275,000 price range,” he continues. “You can get a little bit of land around it, 1 to 3 acres maybe.”
Judy Dutton, Clare Trapasso, Allison Underhill, and Natalie Way contributed to this report.