Five out of the way mountain towns where you can find the pure winter experience.

By Jennifer Sherowski

In theory, the experience of snowboarding encompasses you, your friends, the snow, and the odd chairlift transporting you skyward. However, modern-day snowboarding is so much more-and not necessarily in a good way. There’re the “reserve parking lots” serviced by noisy cattle trucks that haul load upon load of snow enthusiasts to the base area. There’re lift-ticket lines, chairlift lines, base-lodge food lines, and bathroom lines. There’re near-death collisions on jump landings in crowded-ass parks. There’re angry parking attendants who yell at you because you were trying to find that one last close-in spot (there always is one). Seriously, there’s enough stress in a weekend of shredding that going back to work on Monday morning is like a vacation itself. It’s time for a change.

Although you might not realize it, North America is still home to dozens of small towns next to sick, sick mountains. These hidden gems remain relatively untarnished by the aforementioned touches of modernity simply because of their distance from major cities and airports. In other words, they’re out in the cuts. If you’re seriously ready to drop everything in search of that pure winter experience, pay attention. The following destinations are prime spots to fall off the map, get out of the scene, and yeah-just ride.

Nelson, B.C.

If you’re not quite ready to give up a few city-living conveniences like amazing international cuisine or being able to strike up conversations with college-educated people, Nelson’s your spot. Although this little mountain town (population 10,000) is at least three hours from the closest “city” (Spokane, Washington), its vibe is strangely cosmopolitan. A lot of intelligent folks left behind the city rat race to move here for more organic living, bringing a few of the finer things with them but leaving behind the B.S. Also, the community took a left turn on the development front a long while ago, resisting the typical tourist industry buildup and maintaining a laid-back pace.

Riding-wise, the Selkirk Mountains of Southeastern B.C. are definitely epic. High elevations and cold temps make for light fluffy pow, while a brutal winter storm pattern dictates that there’s lots of it. Whitewater, the local resort just up the road from Nelson, might be comprised of a mere two chairlifts, but those two lifts service a surprisingly quantity of sick terrain, and backcountry gates are around every corner. Like the rest of Nelson, Whitewater is a very eco-friendly op with amazing organic food served up at the base lodge. This area also has nearly a dozen backcountry operations, from snowcat lodges like Baldface, Valhalla Powder Cats, and Retallack to heli tours and snowmobiling.

Coordinates: By highway, Nelson is 412 miles from Vancouver, B.C., 387 miles from Calgary, and 148 miles from Spokane, Washington. The closest airport is in the town of Castlegar, 25 miles from downtown Nelson.

Shred economy: With the amount of insane eating and drinking establishments in Nelson, service-industry jobs for seasonal workers are definitely available and fairly easy for the non-skilled snow seeker to land-especially if you love washing dishes. However, if you happen to be a U.S. citizen, things are a bit trickier. The mountain isn’t even allowed to hire volunteers, and “the man” watches businesses closely. Might want to save up over the summer if you plan to expatriate. As far as rental housing goes, a room generally runs about 500 per month or 1,500 for a full house. There are three hostels around town, which are great places to set up and start your search from.

Local shops: Tribute, Sacred Ride, Ripping Giraffe.

Local Resort-Whitewater Winter Resort

Average annual snowfall: 540 inches

Summit elevation: 6,700 feet

Vertical drop: 1,300 feet

Shreddable acres: 600

Price of a season’s pass: $675 ($540 if you buy befo September 29)

Other nearby mountains: Red Mountain (near Rossland, B.C.), 1.25 hours from Nelson

Fernie, B.C.

Fernie Alpine Resort is pretty much Jackson Hole without the tramline. This mountain is steep, with heavily pitched tree glades off every chairlift, and long, leg-burning runs. There’re plenty of places to scare yourself in-bounds, as well as several misty hiking spots off the resort into a variety of untracked terrain that dumps you back out at the bottom of the lifts. It also has a decent park most days and a tight little crew of locals who session it.

As the quintessential mining town turned mountain town, Fernie has a colorful variety of inhabitants. From grizzly old miners to smoked-out shredders and international seasonaires to the Fernie born and raised, it’s a mixture that manages to keep the vibe real and the community tight. The year-round population is about 4,200, but that number swells up during the winter months with the snow devoted. No one sleeps on a powder day, so bring your alarm clock. Oh, and there’s so much on the mountain to explore that riding Fernie definitely won’t get old-befriend a local and get the knowledge passed on down to you.

Coordinates: Fernie is located just north of the border with western Montana. Calgary, Alberta is the closest major city-about a 3.5-hour drive east, but the town of Cranbrook, B.C. (a 1.25-hour drive) and Kalispell, Montana (a two-hour drive) both have small airports.

Shred economy: The resort of Fernie holds job fairs in the fall offering all sorts of different positions and claims to nurture an international workforce. It’s typically pretty easy to find work throughout the winter at the resort or in town. Rental housing can be hard to come by once the winter season gets started, so get on it early! A one-bedroom apartment averages between 600 and 800 dollars, and shared houses generally go for between 1,100 and 1,500 dollars.

Local shops: Commit, Board Stiff

Local Resort-Fernie

Average annual snowfall: 348 inches

Summit Elevation: 6,316 feet

Vertical drop: 2,816 feet

Shreddable acres: 2,504

Price of a season’s pass: $899

Other nearby mountains: Kimberly and Castle Mountain, both 1.5 hours from Fernie

Crested Butte, Colorado

Generally speaking, Southern Colorado has nothing to do with the typical stereotypes about Colorado. Flat expanses of tourist-filled groomers? Nope. The mountains down there are scary steep, and because of its remoteness, the resort and town of Crested Butte has remained pretty wild and crowd free. With a population around 1,500, The Butte is seriously picturesque-brightly colored Old West-style buildings surrounded by a bunch of 14,000-foot mountains. The snowboard scene is tight, and there’re open arms for anyone who wants a piece of true mountain living … but keep in mind that there’s a severely lopsided girl-to-guy ratio. The long, cold winters can be very lonely, know what I mean?
Riding-wise, the San Juan Mountains are steep and rocky. While they definitely need the good dumps to get filled in, riding that kind of terrain when it’s on is no joke. The backcountry is the spot for guaranteed pow, fresh lines, and big jumps. Irwin-about a ten-mile snowmobile ride up Kebler Pass-is a popular zone, and there’re plenty of other sled-in and skin-up spots for trees and steep powder. There’re even rails around town and in Gunnison, about a half-hour away-not to mention The Butte’s park and Superpipe.

Coordinates: Crested Butte is located deep in southwestern Colorado, 230 miles southwest of Denver. It’s 30 miles north of the college town of Gunnison and Crested Butte/Gunnison airport, and 96 miles from another small airport in Montrose.

Shred economy: Although Crested Butte is definitely a small mountain town, jobs and housing have really opened up over the last decade, meaning you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding either. Rent has definitely come down-you’re looking at about 400 bucks for a room. Ski-area jobs are generally lower pay, although they do usually get you a free pass. However, many in-town service jobs offer a pass option for working at least 30 hours a week. And of course, tip jobs are always nice.

Local shop: Colorado Boarder

Local Mountain-Crested Butte

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Summit elevation: 12,162 feet

Vertical drop: 2,775 feet

Shreddable acres: 1,167 acres

Price of a season’s pass: $1,349 ($1,124 if you buy before November 9). Oh, and riding between November 25 and December 15 is free!

Other nearby mountains: Monarch, 1.5 hours; Telluride and Silverton, both three hours.

Glacier, Washington

To be fair, Mt. Baker isn’t exactly a “hidden gem.” We’ve done countless features on Baker’s savage terrain over the years. However, I would argue that the town of Glacier remains a last bastion of true mountain isolation and thus an ideal place to leave it all behind in the name of shred. As counted at the last census in 2000, Glacier had a year-round population of 90. While that number has undoubtedly grown, there’re still very few residents making up the town and roughly five businesses-including Milano’s, the Debari family’s iconic family-style Italian restaurant, and the legendary Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop. Also, there’s no cell phone service in Glacier (gasp!) and very little Internet access.

While some might consider these dire circumstances, it’s the very fact that Glacier isn’t a resort town that makes it so extraordinary. You’ll find peace and quiet there, along with a tight-knit family of humble people who love the mountains. But be warned, the challenging nature of Baker’s terrain and the rugged flavor of remote mountain living requires a dedication to the institution of snow and a real hunger to ride things fast, big, and dangerous. The area is as epic as it is remote. Riders seem to always tell stories about their times at Baker, though, so may as well make a season out of it, right?

Coordinates: Glacier is just inside northern Washington’s Mount Baker National Recreation Area and about 24 miles west of the Mount Baker Ski Area. It’s a 45-minute drive from Bellingham, 1.5 hours from Vancouver, B.C., and 2.5 hours from Seattle.

Shred economy: A town the size of Glacier dictates that the job market is obviously limited. There’re only a handful of businesses in Glacier proper, and each of these generally has a pretty loyal staff already. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Plus, Mt. Baker itself is always taking applications, and Maple Falls eight miles down the road is another employment option. Glacier’s cost of living is a little cheaper than Bellingham. Two- to three-bedrooms rental go for around 700-1,100 per month. You might find something cheaper in a trailer or in one of the condo/apartment complexes.

Local shop: Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop

Local Resort-Mt. Baker

Average annual snowfall: 647 inches

Summit elevation: 5,050 feet

Vertical drop: 1,500 feet

Shreddable acres: 1,000

Price of a season’s pass: $655 ($608 if you buy before October 31)

Other nearby mountains: Steven’s Pass, 2.5 hours

Whitefish, Montana

If it’s crowds you’re fleeing, Montana’s the spot. It’s a vast land home to big mountains, a rugged, sweeping beauty, and best of all, very few people. The town of Whitefish sits way up north near Montana’s northwestern border. Miles of empty planes suddenly erupt into giant craggy peaks-the edge of Glacier National Park, which extends deep into Canada. Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly known as Big Mountain) is home to tree-filled steeps, lurking cliffs, and tons of gullies and other fun terrain. Several easy backcountry hikes can be had right off the summit. And it’s not uncommon for temps to dip below zero in deep winter, which keeps the snow nice and fluffy.

As far as local flavor goes, Whitefish was a town before it was a shred resort, and you can definitely feel that the place has a soulks for a room. Ski-area jobs are generally lower pay, although they do usually get you a free pass. However, many in-town service jobs offer a pass option for working at least 30 hours a week. And of course, tip jobs are always nice.

Local shop: Colorado Boarder

Local Mountain-Crested Butte

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Summit elevation: 12,162 feet

Vertical drop: 2,775 feet

Shreddable acres: 1,167 acres

Price of a season’s pass: $1,349 ($1,124 if you buy before November 9). Oh, and riding between November 25 and December 15 is free!

Other nearby mountains: Monarch, 1.5 hours; Telluride and Silverton, both three hours.

Glacier, Washington

To be fair, Mt. Baker isn’t exactly a “hidden gem.” We’ve done countless features on Baker’s savage terrain over the years. However, I would argue that the town of Glacier remains a last bastion of true mountain isolation and thus an ideal place to leave it all behind in the name of shred. As counted at the last census in 2000, Glacier had a year-round population of 90. While that number has undoubtedly grown, there’re still very few residents making up the town and roughly five businesses-including Milano’s, the Debari family’s iconic family-style Italian restaurant, and the legendary Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop. Also, there’s no cell phone service in Glacier (gasp!) and very little Internet access.

While some might consider these dire circumstances, it’s the very fact that Glacier isn’t a resort town that makes it so extraordinary. You’ll find peace and quiet there, along with a tight-knit family of humble people who love the mountains. But be warned, the challenging nature of Baker’s terrain and the rugged flavor of remote mountain living requires a dedication to the institution of snow and a real hunger to ride things fast, big, and dangerous. The area is as epic as it is remote. Riders seem to always tell stories about their times at Baker, though, so may as well make a season out of it, right?

Coordinates: Glacier is just inside northern Washington’s Mount Baker National Recreation Area and about 24 miles west of the Mount Baker Ski Area. It’s a 45-minute drive from Bellingham, 1.5 hours from Vancouver, B.C., and 2.5 hours from Seattle.

Shred economy: A town the size of Glacier dictates that the job market is obviously limited. There’re only a handful of businesses in Glacier proper, and each of these generally has a pretty loyal staff already. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Plus, Mt. Baker itself is always taking applications, and Maple Falls eight miles down the road is another employment option. Glacier’s cost of living is a little cheaper than Bellingham. Two- to three-bedrooms rental go for around 700-1,100 per month. You might find something cheaper in a trailer or in one of the condo/apartment complexes.

Local shop: Mt. Baker Snowboard Shop

Local Resort-Mt. Baker

Average annual snowfall: 647 inches

Summit elevation: 5,050 feet

Vertical drop: 1,500 feet

Shreddable acres: 1,000

Price of a season’s pass: $655 ($608 if you buy before October 31)

Other nearby mountains: Steven’s Pass, 2.5 hours

Whitefish, Montana

If it’s crowds you’re fleeing, Montana’s the spot. It’s a vast land home to big mountains, a rugged, sweeping beauty, and best of all, very few people. The town of Whitefish sits way up north near Montana’s northwestern border. Miles of empty planes suddenly erupt into giant craggy peaks-the edge of Glacier National Park, which extends deep into Canada. Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly known as Big Mountain) is home to tree-filled steeps, lurking cliffs, and tons of gullies and other fun terrain. Several easy backcountry hikes can be had right off the summit. And it’s not uncommon for temps to dip below zero in deep winter, which keeps the snow nice and fluffy.

As far as local flavor goes, Whitefish was a town before it was a shred resort, and you can definitely feel that the place has a soul. It really is the Old West out there, with that awesome balance of hippie and hick that always makes for a weird and wonderful vibe. You can drink gourmet coffee, eat awesome vegetarian food, gamble, buy guns and knives, and scarf down a luscious steak all in a several block radius. What more could you ask for, really?
Coordinates: Missoula is the closest city at 140 miles away, with Coeur D’Alene, Idaho coming in second at a distance 220 miles. The closest airport is the fairly tiny Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, about twenty miles away.

Shred economy: The unemployment rate in Whitefish is currently 2.5 percent-lower than economists say should even be possible. And last time anyone counted, there were 650 jobs being advertised in the valley. In other words, it’s a good place to be if you’re looking for a job, especially a non-skilled/service-industry one. Also, the cost of living in Montana is fairly cheap. The average rental goes for about 300 bucks per person, give or take a few. If you want to live by your lonesome, finding a studio for less than $600 is definitely doable. We heard that there’re lots of rentals to be had around Whitefish because there’re so many absentee property owners just sitting on old houses waiting for them to be worth selling.

Local shop: Stumptown Snowboards

Local Resort-Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly Big Mountain)

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Summit elevation: 6,817 feet

Vertical drop: 2,353 feet

Shreddable acres: 3,000

Price of a season’s pass: $969 ($499 if you buy before September 30)

Other nearby mountains: Blacktail Mountain, one hour; and Snowbowl, 2.5 hours

soul. It really is the Old West out there, with that awesome balance of hippie and hick that always makes for a weird and wonderful vibe. You can drink gourmet coffee, eat awesome vegetarian food, gamble, buy guns and knives, and scarf down a luscious steak all in a several block radius. What more could you ask for, really?
Coordinates: Missoula is the closest city at 140 miles away, with Coeur D’Alene, Idaho coming in second at a distance 220 miles. The closest airport is the fairly tiny Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, about twenty miles away.

Shred economy: The unemployment rate in Whitefish is currently 2.5 percent-lower than economists say should even be possible. And last time anyone counted, there were 650 jobs being advertised in the valley. In other words, it’s a good place to be if you’re looking for a job, especially a non-skilled/service-industry one. Also, the cost of living in Montana is fairly cheap. The average rental goes for about 300 bucks per person, give or take a few. If you want to live by your lonesome, finding a studio for less than $600 is definitely doable. We heard that there’re lots of rentals to be had around Whitefish because there’re so many absentee property owners just sitting on old houses waiting for them to be worth selling.

Local shop: Stumptown Snowboards

Local Resort-Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly Big Mountain)

Average annual snowfall: 300 inches

Summit elevation: 6,817 feet

Vertical drop: 2,353 feet

Shreddable acres: 3,000

Price of a season’s pass: $969 ($499 if you buy before September 30)

Other nearby mountains: Blacktail Mountain, one hour; and Snowbowl, 2.5 hours