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Weekly Skiing Column: Best 2 U.S. ski towns are in Colorado

By Bob Cox, Columnist

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The gathering included individuals who market snow sports and tourism in Alaska, as well as individuals who write about skiing, snowboarding and related sports.

Having discussed the marvels of the 49th state for most of an exquisite meal at the Seven Crowns Restaurant atop the tram at Alyeska Resort, the group was doing what skiers often do - they were comparing notes.

"What is the best ski town in America?" asked a lady who has worked at resorts in Colorado, Idaho and California.

The group immediately went around the table, throwing out the names of hamlets, villages and towns, where skiing is the reason for being.

Nobody flinched at the first two names: Telluride and Crested Butte, both in Colorado.

A lady who previously worked in Utah tossed out Park City.

Ketchum (Idaho), Jackson (Wyoming) and South Lake Tahoe (California), were in the next wave. Then came Breckenridge (Colorado), and Mammoth Lakes. Colorado's Aspen got some support, although Vail was never mentioned, despite a mountain that often leads the world in ticket sales. Steamboat Springs got more support as a Colorado destination, although surprisingly, few in the industry group had been there in recent years.

There were also a few mentions of Eastern skiing towns, but since we were in the West - the wildest outpost of the West being Alaska - we never seriously considered anything east of the Rockies.

Whistler Village (Canada) and Banff (Canada) were nominated, but a few in the group protested the nominations. One writer explained: "I love them both, but they're just not ski towns."

That started the discussion on rules: What qualifies a village to be called a ski town? We never settled on that answer, but we did agree that a lot of great towns we all loved would be excluded in the Best Ski Towns conversation, including Bend (Oregon), Sandpoint (Idaho) and Truckee (California). Why? Because they were towns not specifically tied to the skiing industry or the mountains that are nearby.

So what did we come back to about the time the chefs were presenting desert? There was no vote, but here is one man's recollection of the conclusion:

The top two are the same two towns that started the conversation, Crested Butte and Telluride. Not surprisingly, similarities exist. Each is a former mining town and each has a slice of history that takes visitors back 100 years or more. Each also has a new sibling town located up the hill at the ski resort.

Telluride links the Mountain Village and the town itself with a free gondola that runs from daybreak to midnight every day. Crested Butte links the town of Mt. Crested Butte with the original by a free shuttle bus that makes its last run after the saloons finally shut down. Both of the mountain municipalities are newer and lack the charm of the historic towns. They provide the beds to attract the tourists.

Each of these ski towns offers visitors a chance to reflect on the Old West, with cowboy hats and boots among the biggest sellers in the shops.

Each has unique and charming restaurants and bars, enough to keep a visitor busy during a weeklong ski trip. Each also has challenging terrain on the hill, and enough skiing to keep the most discriminating visitor or local going day after day.

Not that any of the other towns didn't get support - this was a positive group that views most aspects of snow sports journalism from the half-full perspective, not the opposite.

A sampling of reasons the other top contenders should have been in the finals (or why they weren't):

Mammoth Lakes: Great skiing mountain and a town that's easy to love, if you have transportation. It's tough to get around if you are a destination visitor who flew in on Horizon Airlines.

Ketchum: Sun Valley's adjacent municipality has what it takes to make the finals in this type of discussion, but there was not as much support as for the popular Colorado towns.

Park City: Has it all, and has the best airport access in Ski Country. No major dings, other than traffic jams during the Sundance Film Festival.

Jackson: Another finalist, but a town that's tough to walk around and enjoy when the weather in the sub-zero range. Upgraded lodging options in recent years have seen increased traffic to this great Wyoming location.

Aspen: Great town with great access to the mountain, but perhaps a little too much focus on the celebrities who appear on a regular basis.

Any discussion of the Best Ski Towns is a conversation steeped in subjective thinking. The best one might well be the one you are visiting on your next trip. Any additions to our list?