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The Best Colleges for Skiers

Yes, education is important, but powder days are known to help relieve stress and provide an excellent source of fresh air and exercise.

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Maybe skiing access shouldn’t be the first thing on your list when researching colleges. But then again, giving skiing up for four years when it’s part of your DNA doesn’t sound very appealing, either. The good news is, you don’t have to. There are many great colleges and universities in close proximity to ski country where you can have your fluffy white cake, and ski it too.

Related: These U.S. Ski Academies Are Grooming Future Olympians

This list is far from complete, and doesn’t touch alpine racing with a carbon fiber pole (you guys know who you are). Rather, this is a selection of schools within an hour or so of some great resorts, close to copious backcountry options, and home to an established community that brings skiers together for events and outings.

8 Great Colleges For Skiers

Montana State University, Bozeman, Mont.

  • Nearest Resort: Bridger Bowl, 25-minute drive.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: There are separate freeride, backcountry skiing, and ski mountaineering clubs at MSU.
  • Types of Skiing: Serious big mountain at Bridger, more big mountain and park skiing if you’re willing to make the trip up to Big Sky, about an hour from Bozeman. Keep in mind that Bridger’s terrain skews towards expert skiers and the snowfall can be inconsistent.
  • Best For: Skiers who like to go big and want the shortest resort commute possible.
Bridger Bowl
Gnarly lines and unlimited adventure is on tap for MSU students at nearby Bridger Bowl. (Photo: Getty Images)

Overview

Bridger Bowl, Bozeman’s local ski haunt, has developed a reputation for completely unhinged skiing. Whenever you see a clip of someone executing a hairpin turn out of a chute narrower than a Subaru Outback—all while going Mach 5—you can bet it was shot at Bridger. This resort facilitates these sorts of death-defying stunts via its host of tight couloirs, bowls, and gnarly drops. 

Hectic terrain makes for hectic skiers, an adage that applies to Bozeman’s outdoor community in spades. If the terms “loose” or “chucking meat” are already a part of your vocabulary, you’ll likely fit right in at MSU.

Easy mountain access and a notoriously sendy ski culture are enough to qualify a college for this list. However, MSU’s proximity to Big Sky, another heavy-hitting ski destination, puts it solidly at the top.  

The University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.

  • Nearest resort: Cochran’s Ski Area, 20-minute drive, although Cochran’s is more hill than mountain. The next-closest spot with more serious skiing is Bolton Valley, 20 miles from the university, and Stowe is around an hour away.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: UVM’s ski club is the biggest club at the school, participation-wise.
  • Types of Skiing: Mostly East Coast groomers, glades, and some backcountry.
  • Best For: Skiers who are down to get after it, regardless of conditions, and aren’t dissuaded by a little boilerplate or storm skiing.
"None"
Mad River Glen is 30 miles from campus and its Twixter season pass, for 19- to 29-year-olds, is one of the best deals around. (Photo: Courtesy of Mad River Glen)

Overview

Skiing culture runs deep on the East Coast. Variable snow conditions foster an enviable hardcore attitude amongst those who frequent Stowe, Mad River Glen, and Sugarbush. These resorts, all within 45 minutes of UVM’s campus, are among the East Coast’s best. 

The school’s ski club even has its own headquarters, called the Clubhaus, where it sells branded merch, hosts gatherings, and generally raises winter stoke. 

Don’t let your fears of not skiing endless powder throughout college dissuade you from attending UVM. Sure, the terrain back east is different from the west, but that doesn’t make it worse. You’ll meet many like-minded skiers along the way, whether that’s through outings with UVM’s ski club or meeting fellow rippers on the slopes. A good ski crew can make bulletproof turns feel even better than shredding pow.

The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Nearest Resort: Alta, 35-minute drive 
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: University of Utah’s One Love Ski and Snowboard Club is one of the largest clubs at the school. Membership fees start at only $5.
  • Types of Skiing: All of it—big mountain, park, groomers, glades, etc., are all within an hour’s drive of the campus. For those with the knowledge and equipment, backcountry access is endless.
  • Best For: Those who want to immerse themselves in one of North America’s skiing epicenters.
University of Utah has arguably the best ski access of any school in the country. Solitude is one of four resorts that are about 20 miles from campus. (Photo: Keri Bascetta)

Overview

The University of Utah is an excellent choice if you hope to live and breathe skiing between October and May. The Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts of Solitude, Brighton, Alta, and Snowbird are all within 40 minutes. Keep in mind, though, unrivaled access means serious crowds. No SLC resident would call its ski scene “low key.” Locals coined “the red snake” to describe the endless line of car tail lights that congest the canyons during busy weekends. Students who can arrange their schedules to avoid weekends would be wise to do so.

One Love Ski and Snowboard Club can hook full-time students up with discounted season passes and organizes tons of events and outings throughout the year, from ski flick screenings and ski swaps to ski days at the local resorts.

Quest University, Squamish, B.C. 

  • Nearest Resort: Whistler Blackcomb, 45-minute drive.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: There’s no formal ski club but the student body organizes group ski days.
  • Types of Skiing Nearby: Big mountain, park, and plenty of backcountry
  • Best For: Skiers who also like to climb or bike.
Whistler
The big mountain skiing at Whistler Blackcomb is 45 minutes from Quest. (Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts)

Overview

Squamish, B.C., is stacked in the skiing opportunity department. Whistler Blackcomb, home to endless terrain parks and epic big-mountain lines, is a 45-minute drive from Quest. Backcountry skiing options abound, too. Garibaldi National Park and nearby Pemberton provide a glut of terrain for those who like to earn their turns (or who have a sled).

In the warmer months, multisport athletes can take advantage of Squamish’s numerous sport climbing routes, boulders, and mountain biking trails.

World-class mountain access tends to attract serious skiers. While the university’s ski club isn’t currently active, it’s unlikely that you’ll struggle to build a ski posse if you attend Quest.

Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Nearest resort: Alta, a 35-minute drive
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: Westminster’s ski club organizes trips to all of the local hills throughout the winter, and its Ski and Snowboard Collective provides skier services including waxing and tuning.
  • Types of Skiing: Park, backcountry, and big mountain. 
  • Best For: Those who want to attend a smaller school with the same ski access as the University of Utah.
"None"
Options, options: Alta is the closest, but Park City is less than 30 miles from Westminster’s campus. Photo: Courtesy of Vail Resorts

Overview

Westminster College shares the University of Utah’s ski access, as it’s also in SLC. The primary distinction between these two schools is class size. The University of Utah hosts about 32,000 students annually, whereas Westminster’s average population clocks in at about 1,500. A lower population translates to smaller class sizes and more face time with professors if that’s what you’re into.

Westminster supports a slew of programs that benefit skiers. There’s the Ski and Snowboard Collective, which helps students tune and wax their skis free of charge.

The University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colo.

  • Nearest Resort: Eldora Mountain Resort, 35-minute drive. You’re looking at a longer trip if you want some more serious skiing or a manicured terrain park. Most notable resorts near Boulder are around an hour and a half away.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: Boulder Freeride is the main ski club and it’s been around since 1933. There’s also a freeskiing club team that competes in big mountain, park and pipe, ski cross, and moguls.
  • Types of Skiing: A bit of everything, depending on your chosen resort. Eldora is smaller with a more community feel. Winter Park is the next-closest big mountain resort with bowls, trees, and the best bumps in the region.
  • Best For: Those who want to participate in a well-established ski club.
"Skiers hopping off the bus at Eldora Mountain Resort."
RTD’s ski bus runs all winter between Boulder and Eldora. (Photo: Emy Reznik)

Overview

CU Boulder is perfect for skiers who want all the trappings of the classic college experience. The college has an expansive campus that educates roughly 30,000 undergrads each year; this student density means there’s a plethora of clubs and groups to choose from. 

Joining Boulder Freeride, a student-run organization, is a quick way to meet like-minded skiers. The club organizes several yearly trips and encourages members to carpool to nearby resorts as well as trips to spots like Jackson Hole, Whistler, and even the Alps. What’s more, there’s even a ski bus that picks up weekly from different areas on campus for trips to the Front Range resorts, including Vail, Arapahoe Basin, Copper, and Breckenridge.

The town of Boulder is no slouch, either, supporting several shoulder-season outdoor sports. The Flatirons, an armada of slabby peaks visible from town, set the stage for countless climbing routes. Boulder’s selection of bike trails confers additional options to those who prefer to maintain some downhill momentum when the snow gives way to mud.

Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash.

  • Nearest Resort: Mt. Baker, one hour and 15-minute drive.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: The WWU Snowboard & Ski Club hosts regular trips to Baker.
  • Types of Skiing: Resort big mountain and unprecedented backcountry access, provided you’re willing to drive an hour or more. If you’re hoping to ski park, look elsewhere. Mt. Baker’s park offerings are slim.
  • Best For: Those who want to explore the crown jewel of Wash.’s Cascade Range.
Mt. Baker
Western Washington University students can take advantage of Mt Baker’s excellent backcountry access. (Photo: Getty Images)

Overview

WWU is located in the laid-back town of Bellingham, Wash. Bham doesn’t fit the standard mountain town mold, as the nearest resort, Mt. Baker Ski Area, is just over an hour away by car. However, this titular resort isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill locale; it’s one of Washington’s best-kept secrets.

Baker, perhaps by the will of tight-lipped locals, has maintained a low profile even as conglomerate pass-holders have overrun Washington. It’s only a matter of time before this resort draws more attention, though, as it holds one of the highest snowfall averages in the U.S. Check out Level 1 Production’s short film “Nothing,” which features shots from Baker, to see what you’ve been missing.

And a feast of backcountry options awaits those down to head outside Baker’s controlled terrain. Hop on the lift at the resort, skin a little further, and pick your line—it’s that easy. Just don’t forget to take an avalanche training course beforehand.

The WWU Snowboard & Ski Club organizes trips to Baker and also holds on-campus events so like-minded skier types can connect.

Reed College, Portland, Ore.

  • Nearest Resort: Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, one hour and 20 minute drive.
  • Ski-Related Clubs and Extracurriculars: No formal ski club, but there’s an outdoors club that offers skiing opportunities alongside a PE course that entails heading to the slopes once a week.
  • Types of Skiing: Park, backcountry, and mellow pillowy terrain are all accessible from Reed.
  • Best For: Those who want to ski and live in a thriving West Coast population center.
Mt. Hood Ski Bowl night skiing
Reed College maintains a ski cabin near Mt. Hood Ski Bowl that’s open to students. (Photo: Courtesy of Mt. Hood Ski Bowl)

Overview

Reed College, like WWU, is a bit of a sleeper hit on this list. The college sits in Portland, Ore., a city that doesn’t find its way into many ski-trip itineraries. However, those willing to stomach a slightly lower bar for accessibility will be rewarded with unique terrain and rich ski culture. Mt. Hood National Forest, the nearest mountainous area to Portland, is considered hallowed ground by many dedicated skiers.

Reed makes traveling to the slopes a little easier by providing student access to a cabin in Government Camp, an excellent launch pad for skiing adventures that’s within a 20-minute drive of Mt. Hood Meadows, Ski Bowl, and Timberline. Spinning a few night laps at Skibowl before poaching a hot tub can’t be beaten.