We're moving out west!
July 14, 2009 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Where can we live (in the US) that has both pleasant summers and awesome snowboarding?

My boyfriend and I plan to move in the next year or so, and we’re having lots of fun picking out potential dream cities to live in. My Metafilter searches have turned up some great options and several really helpful threads along similar lines, so I thought I’d throw our requirements into the mix.

My boyfriend’s goal in life is to have easy access to awesome snowboarding, and I’m cool with that as long as I can still have summer - I don’t want to be wading though snowdrifts year-round, and I want sunshine and milder temps for at least a couple months. I also want to be in a decent-sized city - nothing huge (or really expensive), but I like being near restaurants, concerts, art/culture, festivals, shopping, bike trails, and so forth. My boyfriend will be attending grad school down the road, so proximity to a university would be nice.

That’s our wish list. So far, we like Denver, Fort Collins, Seattle, and Portland (and we’re open to more suggestions). We also need some help narrowing our choices so we can plan a trip to visit some of these places, so I’m putting the gist of what we’ve found about each city below, and any comments from people who have actually lived there would be helpful.

Denver - Large city so better job prospects (I‘m a graphic designer), weather similar to where we are now (Wisconsin, which actually seems to have harsher winters). Right by Vail, Breckenridge, et al., so obviously the snowboarding would be great. What’s the downside? Is it expensive to live there? (We’ve already nixed Boulder because it seems pricey.)

Fort Collins - Sunny with mild winters, college town, smaller than Denver so less expensive and less traffic. Further from snowboarding - looks like 3-4 hours to the big resorts - but are there smaller hills nearby? Is it kind of sleepy and suburb-y there?

Seattle / Portland - Both look like awesome cities with great culture - what are the differences in size, cost of living, general feel, etc? Seattle has Mount Ranier and Olympic National Park, and Portland is right by Mount Hood - how does the snowboarding / skiing compare to the big Colorado resorts? I’ve read varying reports of the weather in this area, from “it’s always gray and rainy” to “it’s always gorgeous and mild” - what’s the truth?
posted by Fifi Firefox to Society & Culture (49 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just in case your title isn't totally serious, New Hampshire and Vermont have some decent mountains, all within about 2-3 hours from Boston. New England has very warm summers (something I'm sure you know, but which surprises a lot of people), and Boston has everything you're looking for. Not dirt-cheap, but you can live affordably if you do your research.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:13 PM on July 14, 2009

Sacramento? There's great snowboarding in the Sierras, but summers absolutely bake. San Francisco exceeds all of your cultural criteria, but the Bay Area as a whole fails the not-huge criterion.
posted by mdonley at 1:16 PM on July 14, 2009

Definitely consider New England. And is there a reason you haven't mentioned Southern California? Those two locales trump every place else in terms of culture and university density, and in SoCal (anywhere from Santa Barbara to San Diego) you get nice weather 12 months a year, although June can be a bit gloomy.
posted by billtron at 1:18 PM on July 14, 2009

Seattle (and the surrounding area including Olympia to the south and Bellingham to the north) has mild weather year-round, and easy access to snowboarding at Mount Baker and the Cascades.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:19 PM on July 14, 2009

I went to college in SoCal (Claremont) and was about an hour from the beach and an hour from snowboarding (maybe not "awesome," but my roommates went regularly).
posted by vilthuril at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2009

No downside to Denver. Move there. Not too pricey; you can get a nice 1 br within a mile from downtown for $500-ish. I'm about 10 blocks from Coors Field, in the Curtis Park District, in a divided victorian with ridiculous ceilings for $750.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2009

You might want to go back and read about what reporters and attendees thought of Denver during the DNC last year. I think that Denver should stay on the top of your list.
posted by Pants! at 1:20 PM on July 14, 2009

I would say the Bay Area, or Sacramento.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009

Have you considered Anchorage? My husband grew up there, and raves about the culture and amenities---and the mountains. There's good bike paths. I'm pretty sure (and googling supports) that there's really, really good snowboarding practically in the city. The summers are supposed to be utterly fabulous: it's light a really long time, it doesn't get too hot, but it does get warm, it's totally beautiful. Anchorage is not super small, and as the largest city in Alaska, it has more cultural amenities than other cities its size.

Ok, it gets cold in the winter, and the winter lasts longer than it does in the lower 48: as near as I can tell, there's likely to be snow on the ground until mid-April, and "snow flies" in early October. But that's not the same as "wading through snow drifts year round". But it honestly would be more pleasant than some cities in the lower 48 (Duluth and Fargo, and maybe Buffalo, spring immediately to mind. There's not much wind in the winter in Anchorage.)

I'm actually moving to Fairbanks next week, and in terms of it getting warmer in the summer and having access to graduate school, Fairbanks would be a better choice (between Anchorage and Fairbanks, that is), but in terms of the cultural amenities, Anchorage would be much better, and access to snowboarding is probably better too.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009

Sorry, didn't read the last part of your question.

I think you'll find there are more employment opportunities in the Seattle area compared to Portland (Oregon has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country). The winter weather in Seattle is gray and rainy, from mid-October to mid-February. It can get a little chilly and snowy in mid-winter, but it always warms up after a couple of days.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on July 14, 2009

Denver actually has very mild winters, by virtue of being east of the mountains. The rockies take the brunt of the weather, which is why they have such amazing snowboarding :)

Denver also has amazing summers.
posted by crickets at 1:24 PM on July 14, 2009

crickets: "Denver actually has very mild winters, by virtue of being east of the mountains. The rockies take the brunt of the weather, which is why they have such amazing snowboarding :)

Denver also has amazing summers.


I love living in Colorado.
posted by Gravitus at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend grew up in Tacoma/Seattle, and he swears that he'd never go back to live because of the high proportion of gloom and rain. (It's never been anything but sunny when I've visited, but then, we usually go up in the late summer.) I grew up in Laramie/Ft. Collins/Denver, and I can attest that there's plenty of sun year-round, even in winter.

SoCal does have access to good snowboarding -- Mt. Baldy, Big Bear, etc. -- but summer (and even early fall) can be a scorcher, particuarly depending on how far inland you get. It's almost always balmy by the beaches, but that puts you out a lot further from the mountains than if you're living in the San Gabriel valley (e.g. Pasadena or Altadena).

Based on what you're after, I'd lean toward Denver or Ft. Collins. (And can I just say: after having been on a race against the clock to get out of Colorado when I was growing up, I find it amusing that the older I get, the more I encourage people to move there.)
posted by scody at 1:29 PM on July 14, 2009

Albany, NY? (90k People in the City, just under 1million in the surrounding areas)

Tons of malls, you're close to several outlets, 3.5 hours away from NYC, Boston, Montreal.

We get a ton of major concerts because they stopover in between shows @ major cities. You're 45minutes away from Saratoga/the Adirondacks depending on where you setup shop. Couple hours for snowboarding options all around Massachusetts, VT and the Adirondacks. Summertime we top out at 100 or so and even that's a rarity. We've got tons of biking/hiking,etc. SUNY Albany, St. Rose and Siena are all great schools.

Our snowboarding won't be as amazing as out west so if you're already spoiled by those the mountains may not be as amazing but the Vermont Skiing/Snowboarding is still awesome.
posted by Sgt.Grumbless at 1:31 PM on July 14, 2009

Fort Collins isn't "suburby" at all; It has a very distinct character, with strong bicycle and beer brewery cultures. This said, it's better to live in Denver if you want to ski. The closest resort to FC is Eldora, and the next closest, I believe, is Steamboat Springs. Both make for a long day of drive out -- ski -- drive back.
posted by u2604ab at 1:33 PM on July 14, 2009

Eugene, Oregon is less than 90 minutes away from two good ski areas (Willamette and Hoodoo), and two hours away from a great one (Mt. Bachelor).

It's got a university, and probably more than its share of culture, including the Oregon Bach Festival, the Oregon Country Fair, a good symphony, and just two hours from all of Portland's culture.

Less hassle than Portland, in size and getting around.

Santa Fe might be worth looking into also.
posted by Danf at 1:44 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I agree with those recommending New England, and in particular the Upper Valley of NH and VT (which is west of me right now!). Summers are in the 70s and 80s generally, and there are lots of ski and snowboarding places within an hour or so of Hanover, NH, a small town with a big college population, and thus more than its share of arts events, restaurants, and heterogeneity for northern New England. You might look into the Burlington VT area, too, though I don't know much about it.
posted by mmw at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2009

after having been on a race against the clock to get out of Colorado when I was growing up, I find it amusing that the older I get, the more I encourage people to move there.

You and me both, scody.

OP: Denver. Definitely. Something like 300 sunny days a year.
posted by nat at 1:48 PM on July 14, 2009

You might add Salt Lake City to the list. I'm not very familiar with the area, but there's even public transportation to the mountains.
posted by BlooPen at 1:52 PM on July 14, 2009

How about Reno/Tahoe? Snow + awesome summers. Can live relatively cheaply at any number of places in Nevada and play on the CA side to your heart's content.
posted by dzot at 2:02 PM on July 14, 2009

Skiing near Seattle is different than skiing in Colorado or Utah. The mountains are day destinations, not apre ski resorts (nearby Whistler being the big exception). We get lots of snow most winters, but seldom do we get champagne powder (big alert though, this winter is shaping up to be an el nino, so maybe very little snow).
Summers here are perfect. weather is dry, warm but not hot, no humidity, clear skies, light breezes. if you want hot, eastern washington is 90 minutes over the passes.
Depending on your flexibility, it is possible to live out here and have 300 sunny days, you just have to live in the rain shield of the Olympics. Sequim (pronounced skwim) gets half of the rain Seattle does.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:03 PM on July 14, 2009

When people say that Seattle, and to some extent all of western Washington and Oregon, have mild weather, they mean that it's gloomy and drab and there are no blizzards. The summers are absolutely sublime, but the other 9 months of the year are a dismal, overcast exercise in emotional endurance. I lived in Seattle for 6 years and eventually had to move away because of the 'mild weather' there.

Some people like that. Many do not.

If you are made of tougher stuff than I, Seattle is a pretty nice place. It's close to several decent ski areas, though the snow quality is not as great as it is in Colorado; Western Washington has its days, but it can be a little slushy and/or icy most of the year. Eugene is a pretty nice little place if you don't mind hippies. Portland's a pretty great little city. That whole area of Oregon is gorgeous.

Also, if your fella is going to be in grad school, shouldn't he apply first to see where he'll be accepted? That might help you whittle down your choice a little.
posted by Pecinpah at 2:06 PM on July 14, 2009

I've lived in both Seattle and Portland, and Portland summers are much less mild than Seattle summers - Seattle has the benefit of being on Puget Sound, which keeps it cooler (at night, especially) than further-inland Portland. Typical Seattle summer days are in the high 70's to mid 80's, and can spike as high as 90 every now and again. Portland is largely the same, but often when it's 85 in Seattle, it's around 95 in Portland. Which is hotter than I like. Seattle summers, as mentioned, are unmatched - but you have to slog through 8+ months of relentless gray skies to get to them.
posted by pdb at 2:11 PM on July 14, 2009

Here's what I wrote about Fort Collins in another recent where-should-we-live thread:

"I'm in Fort Collins, Colorado. It hits most of your recommendations - stunning nature access, 300+ days of sunshine, small-town but liberal, community-oriented vibe. Great farmer's markets and CSAs; very bike friendly. Thriving craft brew culture, if you're into that. The winters are milder than you would think - it gets fairly cold, but the state's got its act together pretty well about keeping things accessible even in biggish snow (and the snow is nothing like what you'd get in upstate New York or even out on the plains). I think you can still buy some pretty big parcels of land, too, for not-outrageous sums. Denver and Boulder are about an hour away.

It's a nice little town, full of aging hippies and first wave feminists and young families and college professors. Downsides: It's full of college kids. It's a little liberal enclave in the middle of conservative ranch and farm land. There are a lot of restaurants in the cute little old town area, but there are very few good ones. The growing season is fairly short, and you need to water a LOT because it's so dry. And you have to drive a long, long time to get anywhere else - I'm from DC, and the lack of light rail connecting the Front Range towns with Denver is completely baffling and infuriating to me. We've been talking about moving to Denver when our lease is up next year - but it might be just your speed. Come and visit!"

I'd add that it's not sleepy - there's a lot going on - but's not urban (or urbane) by any stretch of the imagination.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:23 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you choose Seattle, you've also got Whistler/Blackcomb within a day's drive (maybe 4-5 hours, plus border lineups), as well as the North Shore mountains (Grouse/Seymour/Cypress) just outside of Vancouver. All have very good skiing, Whistler/Blackcomb is apparently some of the best in the world (I don't ski; I've just heard. 2010 propaganda, perhaps :P)
posted by cgg at 2:33 PM on July 14, 2009

Denver .. weather similar to where we are now

My sister moved to Denver around 8 years ago and now regularly calls me in Chicago to brag about the weather. When I'm stuck shoveling snow she calls to say that she's snowboarding in short sleeves or something else ridiculous.

I have never lived there but from my perspective it has much better weather than WI/IL and seems great. However, it is a bit small for me, doesn't have my kind of music scene and lacks the diversity of Chicago and the large range of design jobs (I'm a graphic designer too) that I'd want. However, if you're looking for a non-huge city with nice weather I think you can't go wrong with Denver.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:37 PM on July 14, 2009

I've lived in a lot of places...but most of the last three decades in Denver. It's a great city. The weather is awesome: usually blue skies and mild winters. The occasional hot spells in the summers. Mild winters, with blizzards every two or three years. Best of all, as a former Midwesterner, I love the lack of humidity. Only downside, weatherwise: not much of a spring. It's officially in the high desert bioregion.

I am lucky to live less than two miles from my workplace. I can drive downtown in ten minutes or so. I have a nice house and a garden. There is plenty to do, although it is not NYC or SF or LA as far as cultural wonderfulness goes. The people are pretty friendly and liberal and non-racist.

The downside to 'boarding and living in Denver is the traffic. There is basically one corridor (I-70) and the traffic is ridiculous on weekends. Some people will get there a little early and leave at 2:00-2:30 which is a pretty good solution.

Good luck to you. It's nice you are at a point in your lives where you can be flexible.
posted by kozad at 2:45 PM on July 14, 2009

...the Upper Valley of NH and VT...

Umm... blackflies! There's a period of anything from 6 to 10 weeks every summer in that part of New England when you don't go outdoors because of swarms of blood-sucking blackflies. We here in the PNW don't have anything like that!

A different point: there's plenty of skiing near Seattle but there's none on Mt. Rainier. That's entirely contained within a national park.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:00 PM on July 14, 2009

posted by pianomover at 3:03 PM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: Another question: for those who live near Fort Collins, what is the Loveland ski area like? (And, thanks everyone for the great responses so far, we have like five trips planned in our heads right now.)
posted by Fifi Firefox at 3:33 PM on July 14, 2009

I have lived in Portland, OR for the past 6 years. I lived and worked in Loveland/Fort Collins, CO from 1983-1992. I have spent a fair bit of time in Seattle (grandmother lives there) and Denver. Here's my $0.02 between the Pacific Northwest (Seattle/Portland) and the Front Range (Denver/Fort Collins). I've skiied both the PNW and Colorado Rockies.

Snow: Skiing is much better in Colorado. Powder versus slush/ice/wet snow. If my primary criteria were the snow, I would choose Colorado hands down.

Getting to the snow: I-70 can be a nightmare. From Fort Collins, it used to be around 3 hrs to Summit Co. I think that it is faster/easier to get up to Mt. Hood. There used to be some small ski areas (Eldora for instance) closer to Ft. Collins, but I think they closed.

Weather: Yes, it is cloudy in Portland. The number of days without some sort of cloud cover is close to zero. However, the cloud cover changes, sometimes quite rapidly, which makes for dramatic lighting during the day and at sunset. When I lived in CO, we would get either a big blizzard (1-3 ft of snow overnight) or a week of bitter cold (0F high, -10 to -20F low) or both each winter. The big blizzards can come late in the year also (such as April which is, IMHO, spring :)).

Driving in general: One of the best things about Portland, IMHO, is that it is a very compact city. I live on the west side of town, and it takes me 30 min to get to the airport on the east side of town almost no matter what time of day. This is due to very restrictive zoning laws which you may or may not like. Also, Oregon drivers are very mellow and courteous. Honking your horn, even a friendly "wake up beep" at a stoplight is almost unheard of. Colorado, on the other hand, is sprawled all over the place and putting your turn signal on is an invitation for the guy in the next lane to speed up so you can't move over.

Politics: I'm very liberal. Let's just say that in Fort Collins, my candidates never won, and in Portland, they almost always win. Boulder and Denver were more liberal than Fort Collins. I guess if you compare Ft. Collins to Greeley or Pueblo, it looks liberal :).

Portland also has good public transportation (light rail + bus).
Seattle traffic is the worst I've ever seen.
The Columbia Gorge is awesome -- beautiful any time of year.
You are close to the ocean in Portland and even more so in Seattle.
Rocky Mountain National Park is beautiful.

Personally, I like Portland a lot better than I liked Colorado.
posted by elmay at 3:35 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Loveland ski area is not anywhere near Loveland the town (which is 10 miles from Fort Collins). It is on the pass by Eisenhower tunnel. If I remember correctly it is a bit shorter (maybe 20-30 minutes less time) to get there, but also can be considerably colder (higher elevation).
posted by elmay at 3:38 PM on July 14, 2009

I have no idea what the snowboarding is like in the ski country to the south of here, but western NY has many of the other things you want. Some city stuff but not a megalopolis, reasonably good restaurants, decent access to cultural stuff and festivals and stuff, and between Buffalo and Rochester a few major universities around. For the really hardcore cultural stuff, Toronto is ~90 minutes away and gets, well, everything. Summers here are to my many-years-in-the-South eye extraordinarily pleasant -- it's about 70 and sunny now, there are only a few days that hit 90, and Buffalo is one of two American large cities that have never, ever had a recorded temperature over 100 (the other is either Miami or Honolulu).

Winters are... well. 100 inches. But ho-lee shit are they on top of the snow here (except in parts of the City of Buffalo). Out here in Amherst, about the only time you'll see snow on a road is, quite literally, while it's snowing.

The cost of living here is dirt cheap. Like, the tony suburbs here have median prices of ~$150K.

Employment prospects are the deal-breaker here, and most of the reason for the cost of living.

I haven't been, but you could probably also write the same comment about Rochester or Syracuse (except Syracuse is even snowier, but has actual topography nearby).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:45 PM on July 14, 2009

Other places you might look into:

Charlottesville VA
Roanoke VA
Richmond VA (nothing right there, but it's a bigger city an hour to C'ville)
Asheville NC
Knoxville TN
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:50 PM on July 14, 2009

By the way, I don't think anyone has mentioned yet that there's year-round skiing at Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. The Palmer Glacier offers skiing even in August. (It's not great skiing, of course.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:20 PM on July 14, 2009

You forgot Boise and Salt Lake City.
Bend, Missoula, Coeur d'Alene and Flagstaff are probably a bit smaller than what you had in mind, but they're worth a look. Finding work will be trickier there than in the bigger cities, though.
Don't forget that southern California has some very good skiing, too.
posted by willpie at 4:31 PM on July 14, 2009

Wait, where is your boyfriend going to grad school? Or has he not applied yet?
posted by Casuistry at 4:44 PM on July 14, 2009

SoCal also has blazingly hot summers, violating one of the required criteria given by the OP.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:45 PM on July 14, 2009

Houghton, Michigan, close to the Porcupine Mountains, Mount Bohemia, and the three Big Snow hills near Ironwood, Michigan. Absolutely beautiful, cool summers.
posted by yclipse at 6:26 PM on July 14, 2009

Several people I knew in grad school at the University of Washington would get season tickets and then go skiing regularly during the week, when it was least crowded. They'd go early in the morning and be at work after lunch. Whistler requires a weekend.
posted by pizzazz at 6:27 PM on July 14, 2009

Response by poster: I also should have clarified - he's not going to grad school right away, and probably not for a few years at least. A university nearby would be a plus because there'd be a local option when he does go, but it wouldn't be a deciding factor or something we'd be counting on.
posted by Fifi Firefox at 8:43 PM on July 14, 2009

I live in Flagstaff. I live less than 20 mins to skiing with ZERO stop lights between me and the hill. And I live just off downtown.

Its not cheap here. But the weather CANNOT BE BEAT.

Close to skiing is not a relative term. An hour (DENVER) is not close. A few hours (Portland) is not close.

Baring the art/culture bit, SLC is unbeatable for access to snow and trails.

Boise and Missoula would be pretty stellar too, but COOOOooolllldddddd....
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 8:46 PM on July 14, 2009

Aspen/Snowmass/Woody Creek, CO. * **.

Find a property caretaker's position in someone's primary or second home there. Enjoy the summer and winter "rent-free" in exchange for watching the property when the family is not present, but "available" when there. Great culture, arts, fitness, etc. all year long.
posted by ericb at 11:21 PM on July 14, 2009

My boyfriend’s goal in life is to have easy access to awesome snowboarding, and I’m cool with that as long as I can still have summer ...

You, as a couple, define the caretakers of my brother/sister-in-law in Aspen.
posted by ericb at 11:23 PM on July 14, 2009

I'd suggest checking out Reno/Tahoe.

Reno is a growing community in the middle of a downtown transformation. The proximity to great snowboarding can't be beat with the closest mountain ~20 minutes away. It has four distinct seasons, summer definitely included. We are currently in the middle of Artown, a month long art festival that has been drawing great crowds.

Lake Tahoe has world class snowboarding in the winter, and is fantastic for beach goers, mountain bikers, and concerts in the summer, not to mention a number of great restaurants. I spent yesterday on a floaty with a beer at Sand Harbor yesterday (where they also have a Shakespeare Festival on the beach every summer) and was pretty much in heaven.
posted by clearly at 1:16 AM on July 15, 2009

I grew up in Denver and it is the best. Also check out Golden, Colorado (home of Coors Beer). It is close enough to Denver to commute but is more rugged and closer to the ski slopes. Plus, the downtown smells like hops. Really!
posted by jrichards at 12:32 PM on July 15, 2009

OT filter: ...the Upper Valley of NH and VT... Umm... blackflies! There's a period of anything from 6 to 10 weeks every summer in that part of New England when you don't go outdoors because of swarms of blood-sucking blackflies.

I've lived in Maine for 15 years and haven't had a problem with blackflies. Mosquitoes sometimes, though.
posted by mmw at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2009

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