[Cover: Squaw Valley founder Wayne Poulsen and family pose in front of their mountain]
Although most people focus on the skiing when they visit America’s many ski resorts, the towns that house these mountains are often chock full of interesting local lore and history.
Whether that’s having an olympic background, playing host to dignitaries/celebrities, or serving as the training ground for some of America’s most hardened soldiers– these are the most historic ski areas in America.
America’s 6 Most Historic Ski Areas
Stowe | Stowe, VT
- First ski patrol
- Home to Vermont’s highest mountain [Mt Mansfield]
- Town charter issued circa 1763
Established as a town in 1763, Stowe is America’s oldest ski town. Although Stowe residents started downhill skiing in the early 1900’s (*nordic in the 1800’s), the ski area wasn’t established until the great depression, when members of the Civilian Conservation Core began clearing ski trails on Mt Mansfield (*also the highest peak in Vermont). In addition to its age, Stowe served as the home of America’s first official ski patrol.
Whiteface | Lake Placid, NY
- Home to 2 winter olympics [1932, 1980]
- America’s first ‘Winter Resort’
Although many argue as to which town played host to America’s first ‘Winter Resort,’ Lake Placid has a more solid argument than anyone else. Local historians claim that Melvil Dewey (the same person who invented to Dewey Decimal system) founded the first winter resort during the 1904/1905 winter season. Following its early beginning, Lake Placid would later host two different winter Olympiads in 1932 and 1980.
Squaw Valley | Olympic Valley, CA
- Home to the 1960 winter olympics
- Home of Shane McConkey
- Birthplace of GNAR
While everyone knows that Harkin Banks won the famous 1984 Chinese Downhill, you may not know that Squaw was a dark horse candidate nobody thought would end up hosting 1960 olympics. Likely more important than its olympic history, Squaw also served as the proving ground for skiing’s late, great Shane McConkey.
Sun Valley | Ketchum, ID
- World’s first chairlift
- Celebrity hangout that’s included Ernest Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, and the Kennedy family
- Following WWII, Warren Miller moves to Sun Valley and begins creating what would become the basic formula for countless ski films.
In 1936 the world’s first chairlifts (*single seats) were installed on Dollar Mountain and nearby Proctor Mountain just outside of Sun Valley. Shortly after the lifts were installed, Ernest Hemingway completed what many refer to as his masterpiece in “For Whom The Bell Tolls” while staying at the Sun Valley Lodge in suite 206. Following WWII, Sun Valley blossomed into a hotspot for actors, artists, and international dignitaries. Sun Valley also served as Warren Miller’s first ski bum home. Miller and friend Ward Baker would ultimately spend a season sleeping in a teardrop trailer and skiing after receiving season passes in exchange for a six-pack of beer.
Howelson Hill | Steamboat Springs, CO
- Colorado’s oldest continually operating ski area
- Home to more winter Olympians than any other town in America
Howelson Hill, known mostly for its ski jumping arena and nearby nordic tracks, is the oldest operating ski area in Colorado and as such– it’s got quite the history. Founded in 1914 by Norwegian immigrant Carl Howelson, the ski area has produced some 79 Olympians. That’s more than any other town in America. Of those, 6 are currently enshrined in the National Ski Hall of Fame.
Ski Cooper | Leadville, CO
- Training grounds for the legendary 10th Mountain Division
- Colorado’s second oldest ski area
Opened just prior to WWII, Ski Cooper served as the initial training ground for America’s famed 10th Mountain Division. Based out of Camp Hale, soldiers learned how to ski and travel in snow. Many of those soldiers went on to found ski areas across the country, jumpstarting what would become America’s favorite winter pastime.