In the United States, there are between 9 and 10 Million active skiers and snowboarders, according to the industry group National Ski Areas Association. No doubt a good portion of those are college-age people wondering if they can possibly pull off getting a great education while being able to hit the slopes regularly. We are here to tell them, yes you can.
There are three major ski regions in the US: The Northeast, which covers Northern New York and New England; The Mountain West, along the Rockies stretching from Montana and Idaho south to Colorado and New Mexico; and the Pacific Northwest, with skiable ranges from Northern California north to the Canadian border. Each region contains dozens of skiing and snowboarding areas — 470 operated in the 2014-15 season — and it might surprise you to learn that New York State is the leader with 51 ski areas.
So, with so many to choose from, which is right for you? Unlike many rankings, this list is not based on pure statistics. Is the resort with the most snow the best? Not necessarily, especially if it’s a six-hour drive away. Are you a competitive skier? Do you just love snow and want the opportunity to have some winter fun with good friends? This list tries to take all those factors into account, while maintaining a balanced look at the three major ski areas. If you live in Denver, you have six in-state schools on this list and you might rank them all in your Top Ten, and that would be cool. But if you want to know all your options, and be able to consider that you’ll be spending four winters on the slopes, then keep your mind open and enjoy the ride.
University of Utah
When you think of world-class skiing in America, you have to think Utah, with its acclaimed, beloved powder. Salt Lake City is within 100 miles of ten resorts, the closest being Snowbird, just 16 miles from campus. If you do a bit of creative scheduling, you can hit class and the slopes, and be back in time for dinner. Boasting both men’s alpine & nordic and women’s alpine & nordic teams, Utah is a standout school for committed athletic as well as casual skiers. With over 32,000 combined undergrad/grad students, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to join like-minded skiers and boarders.
University of Colorado - Boulder
Plenty of people would choose Boulder over Salt Lake City for its laid-back culture. If that’s more your style, the University of Colorado at Boulder is the place to be. The ski-loving state placed five schools in the Top 25, and Colorado, Boulder came out on top. Offering men’s alpine & nordic and women’s alpine & nordic teams as well as club teams, Colorado, Boulder is one of the most competitive schools. The closest resort, Eldora Mountain is just about 20 miles away, and there are eight ski areas within 100 miles. To top it off, Colorado, Boulder offers students a low-cost ski bus, which operates November-April.
University of Vermont
The Northeast offers excellent skiing, and Vermont placed highest among the seven schools in this region, just what you would expect from the Green Mountain State. The closest ski area to Burlington is Bolton Valley, but the school is close to Stowe, Killington and Sugarbush. Vermont is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts— in addition to the thousands of acres of alpine landscape, three-quarters of the state is forested. Throw in the craft breweries and the maple sugar producers and you’ve got a rugged, DIY ethos. The state claims over 4 Million skier and snowboarder tourists per year. Like to ski cross-country? The 300-mile Catamount Trail spans the state from Massachusetts to Canada.
Sierra Nevada College
Located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, NV, Sierra Nevada College boasts an acclaimed 4-year Ski Business and Resort Management program, where you can intern at local ski resorts. They boast on their website that US News & World Report called them “The best snow college in the country.” The school is just two miles from Diamond Peak resort and there are 13 more ski areas within 100 miles.
Montana State University
Montana State Bobcats Alpine and Nordic Ski teams compete in the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Skiing Association and the NCAA Western Region and has produced 13 national champions. The Bobcat Nordic and Alpine ski program venues at Bridger Bowl and Bohart Ranch have hosted six NCAA National Championships. Bozeman is an outdoorsy kind of town, with mountain biking, kayaking, and skiing minutes from campus.
Ivy League schools have a way of taking care of their own, and Dartmouth is no exception. The school-owned Dartmouth Skiway offers big-mountain challenges with more than 100 skiable acres spread over two mountains. The Skiway offers family-friendly accommodations and ski packages. Not looking for a ski weekend with the family? There’s a campus shuttle bus available too. Of course, as the northernmost Ivy, Dartmouth is close to many New England resorts, and it attracts world-class skiers. Dartmouth has had over 100 athletes compete in the Winter Olympic Games.
Want all the benefits that being in Salt Lake City, with its #1 ranking, but looking for a more intimate educational experience? Westminster is small, just over 3,100 undergrad/grad students combined, and an excellent 1:9 professor-to-student ratio. But the kicker is Winter at Westminster. With 14 world-class ski and snowboard resorts just minutes away and more than 38 undergraduate and 14 graduate programs to study, Westminster College offers 12-16 transferrable credits to enrolled full-time visiting students. Basically, it’s a “Ski Semester Abroad.”
Western Washington University
Mt. Baker and the North Cascades Mountain Range are an hour to the east of Bellingham, which itself is on the Puget Sound. You may have heard about Mt. Baker, the ski area is home to the world’s greatest recorded snowfall in one season, 1,140 inches during the Winter of 1998–99. This Pacific Northwest school practically defines what we think of when we picture “outdoor activity,” with sailing, skiing, hiking, biking, and outstanding views all easily accessible.
Plymouth State University
The Plymouth State men’s and women’s ski teams train and compete at Waterville Valley, just a 25-minute drive from campus. Waterville takes part in the White Mountain College Superpass, which offers skiing every day of the 2015/16 winter season at Waterville Valley Resort, Bretton Woods, Cannon, and Cranmore, offering the most skiing and boarding in New Hampshire. The mountains are less than 2.5 hours away from Boston and within 1 hour drive of each other.
University of Alaska Anchorage
When you picture Alaska, you may conjure up some extreme mountain conditions and you wouldn’t be wrong. Think heli-skiing, flying to some virgin mountain face and conducting your own private X-Games. Alyeska, the closest resort to Anchorage (just 42 miles), boasts of 650 inches of snowfall per year, 1,400 hundred skiable acres, and a season that can last 150 days. Don’t have the time or you’re just learning? Hilltop and Arctic Valley Ski Areas are both just minutes from downtown.
Middlebury, like several other schools on this list, owns its own ski area. But Middlebury’s might be the most well-known and tied into school culture. Day passes are inexpensive and espn.com says “the tree skiing is worth much more than that.” The school offers a free shuttle to the ski area. A small school with phenomenal academics, Middlebury offers a calendar where students take only one class in January— leaving plenty of time for the slopes.
University of Denver
Denver has all the amenities of the big city — culture, nightlife, professional sports — plus quick highway access to several major ski resorts. The University of Denver offers a ski bus so you don’t have to provide your own transportation. If college athletics is your thing, Denver won its 22nd NCAA Ski Championship at Park City, Utah in 2014.
University of New Hampshire
Durham, New Hampshire, is basically on the ocean, and so offers four-season outdoor fun. Located two hours from Loon Mountain, it’s not the closest school to the slopes, but it might have one of the most enthusiastic ski-oriented student bodies. The campus ski and board club is solid. It offers busses to Loon and Sunday River in Maine. Trips run every Saturday during the winter season while school is in session. Club dues are $60, which covers all transportation to and from the mountain (lift passes separate).
Like little Westminster is to Goliath University of Utah, so Colorado College is to Colorado-Boulder. This liberal arts college is the place for you if you want a small, laid-back college atmosphere (~2,000 students) and plenty of time to ski or board. Colorado Springs is close to Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail. There are club ski teams at Colorado College, and like many schools on this list, the school offers busses to the slopes.
Gonzaga University is a small, private Catholic school located in Spokane, Washington. While the city doesn’t get much snow, the nearby Mt. Spokane has plenty. Membership to the Gonzaga Ski Club is $40 and among the perks is a $50 discount on a season pass to nearby Schweitzer Ski Resort in Idaho. Other resorts within driving distance are Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain, and 49 Degrees North. Oh yeah, their men’s basketball team is a perennial NCAA contender.
University of Nevada - Reno
Nevada-Reno is close to Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, which receives 350 inches of snow per year and is home to Tahoe’s highest base elevation at 8,260 feet. Advanced skiers love the skiing zone called “The Chutes,” which you might recognize from YouTube. With a 1500 vertical feet and parts inclined at 55 degrees, this recently-opened area was off limits for decades. Reno bills itself as “The Biggest Little City in the World” and offers plenty of concerts and nightlife options.
St Lawrence University
This small, private liberal arts school is known for its winter activities, including an outstanding men’s ice hockey program. Located in the small town of Canton on the northern edge of the Adirondack’s, St. Lawrence is within driving distance of Lake Placid, the legendary Winter Olympics facility. Every year, the Outing Club also holds Peak Weekend, which places an SLU student on the top of each of the Adirondack’s 46 High Peaks. At St. Lawrence, the entire 6.1 Million acre Adirondack Park, designated by New York State in 1894 to be forever kept as wild forest lands, is at your doorstep.
University of Montana
Like Montana State in Bozeman, the University of Montana is an outdoor-oriented school. It even has a Bike and Ski Shop, where you can do-it yourself or get expert assistance to maintain your gear. The Snowbowl Ski Area is just seven miles away, and Missoula is close to both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. The school is home to an outdoor program which has the gear to get you on the water, or rock-climbing in the mountains.
Western State Colorado University
A mecca for freeskiers, Western State is 30 minutes from Crested Butte and 50 minutes from Monarch Mountain. The culture of the school is based on skiing, with espn.com reporting that even professors sport “goggle tans.” The Mountain Sports coaches, staff and athletes ski with anyone interested during the “Mountain Sports Program Preview Day” at Crested Butte Resort. Whether you want to see the world class extreme terrain, the top-notch terrain park, or the excellent intermediate terrain- they have someone to take you there.
Colorado School of Mines
The Colorado School of Mines is close to Eldora Mountain Resort and Echo Mountain. They offer a coed ski club team and an on-campus Ski Services shop where you can drop your equipment off or rent a workbench for the DIY enthusiast. Eldora is the resort closest to several schools on this list, and is small compared to some of the bigger resorts in Colorado, but the terrain variety is well known and challenging.
Clarkson University is a private research university located in Potsdam, New York well-known for its engineering programs. The school sports men’s and women’s alpine and nordic skiing which are perennially competitive. The ski club organizes trips all around the Northeast, though the closest resort is Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, which bills itself as “the undisputed winter sports capital of the world.” The season at Whiteface starts right around Thanksgiving, so by time the fall semester is winding down, the snow is flying and stays deep into March or April.
The College of Idaho
The College of Idaho is a private, liberal arts college with about 1,100 students in Caldwell, Idaho. The school takes advantage of Idaho’s geography and outdoor activities include backpacking, hiking, fly fishing, camping, winter camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, and of course backcountry skiing. The Outdoor Program leads week-long trips during the breaks between terms and after midterms. The men’s and women’s ski teams have won 48 individual and team national championships.
Some schools might offer ski areas on campus, but Reed has its own Ski Cabin in Reed’s private retreat on Mt. Hood, located minutes from access to downhill and cross country skiing as well as trails for hiking, biking, and sledding. This legendary cabin used to be the place where people would just show up and stay, but recent security changes and renovations have turned it into a true Reed retreat. Mt. Hood Meadows resort is 67 miles from Portland.
Colorado Mesa University
If you want a unique, local ski experience, Colorado Mesa is for you. Just 45 minutes away, Powderhorn Mountain Resort offers a variety of ski terrain such as groomers, bumps, glades, and boulder fields. Powderhorn is unique among Colorado ski resorts because of its terrain — it sits on the side of one of the world’s largest flattop mountains (mesas) instead of in a mountain canyon, which allows for views extending more than 20 miles across the desert below. Think Coyote and Roadrunner on skis and there you go.
Babson College is a private business school in Wellesley, Massachusetts, known for producing entrepreneurs, but it also produces great skiers. The men’s and women’s alpine ski teams compete in the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association. If you’re looking for a serious business school with a great ski tradition, Babson is for you.
With almost 500 ski areas across the country, there are literally thousands of schools that are within reasonable driving distance for skiing or boarding. This list narrowed the focus to the three main regions listed above, and also focused on bigger, popular ski areas. This examination produced a list of 50 possible schools, which was narrowed by proximity to big cities like Boston, New York, Denver, and Seattle. But ultimately, the Northeast schools chosen are both better known for skiing and closer to the slopes. A meta-analysis of several other rankings was done to consider industry knowledge, and in the case of clusters of closely-ranked schools, they were separated by region, so that all the Colorado schools, for example, did not become lumped together.