Skiing on Credit: Telluride, CO
Where the dogs ski and skiers wash dishes
Upshot: It's the most idyllic ski town in America. OK, so you're more likely to see Oprah and Ralph Lauren than cowboys and coal miners, but Telluride still has that quaint, old-West charm. World-class film and bluegrass festivals heat up the off-season—and you can always grab cheap pitchers at The Last Dollar Saloon. Downer: Get used to selling hemp necklaces at Widespread Panic shows: The town is famous for attracting recent grads "finding themselves. Rents top those in Boston or Chicago, and flying in and out of Telluride is a privilege reserved mostly for celebs—and their pilots. Payoff: A direct fall-line: Traverses are practically forbidden here. Whether it's floating over car-size moguls on Spiral Stairs or dropping small cliffs off Gold Hill, there's enough terrain to keep you sore for days.
Skiing on Credit: Silverton, CO
Like The Shining—with a chairlift
Upshot: Silverton in winter is more alpine island than resort town. A few times each year, slides close the mountain passes, stranding residents with nothing to do but ski. Downer: This kind of isolation would make the Unabomber jealous. With a total workforce of 316 people, finding a job that impresses your date is difficult. Of course, finding someone to date is even harder. Payoff: The lift-serviced backcountry at Silverton Mountain, where every group of skiers is assigned a guide to navigate the steepest terrain in the state (the toughest lines are strung with fixed ropes). Last April 23, a storm brought 18 inches of dry flake on top of the three feet they'd gotten a few weeks prior—and the place, as always, was empty.
Skiing on Credit: Golden, B.C.
Where even the strippers can kick your ass
Upshot: All mountains, no pretension. Unassuming Golden sits in the middle of six national parks—Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke—and it's within driving distance of Lake Louise and Fernie. Don't want to deal with resorts? The snowmobile skiing is legendary: snow with an eight-percent water content, and no rules. Downer: Lots of unemployed (and pissed off) miners kicking around town. Raft-guiding is considered a career track. Payoff: At Kicking Horse, just eight miles away, a single gondola ride nets 4,133 feet of vertical. Three heli-skiing operations are based downtown.
Skiing on Credit: Taos, NM
The Toyota pickup and white-guy dreadlocks
capital of North AmericaUpshot: Taos attracts a mix of California millionaires, graying hippie artists, and crystal-peddling dream seekers. Ignore them: With its unique mix of Spanish and Native American culture, this pueblo town feels like a very cool foreign country that knows the value of green chiles and no-frills skiing. Downer: At 5.5 percent, the unemployment rate is higher than most ski towns, and the per capita income is $6,000 less than the U.S. average. Nightlife often involves a late-afternoon latte. Payoff: With an unaffected, laid-back vibe and 3,200-plus feet of skiable vert, Taos Ski Valley is a gem that's just 12 miles from downtown. You'll get fried working the fall lines of Corner Chute and Stauffenberg