The West’s Best Hostels For Winter Sports Enthusiasts

backcountry skiContrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be young, broke, or drunk to stay at a youth hostel. I’ll be the first to admit not all hostels are created equal, but as a perpetually cash-strapped journalist in her 40s, they’re often my only option for indulging in the snowy outdoor pursuits I love. Fortunately, there are clean, efficient, well-run hostels throughout the West that make a stay pleasurable, rather than painful.

There are other good reasons to bunk down at a hostel, whether it’s a dorm, private, or shared room. If you’re planning to play all day (and possibly night), who needs an expensive room? Hostels are also great places to meet like-minded people to hit the backcountry or slopes with – a huge advantage if you’re traveling solo.

Most hostels also possess a decidedly low-key, “local” atmosphere where you’ll get the inside scoop on where to cut loose (on the mountain or off). In many instances, hostels also offer tours or activities, or partner up with local outfitters, which make life easier if you don’t have a car or require rental equipment. Also…free coffee.

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Western hostels, based upon their proximity to snowy adventure:

St. Moritz Lodge
, Aspen, CO

I’ve been a regular at this place for a decade now, and I’m still smitten. Its groovy, ’70s-meets-Switzerland ambience; friendly, helpful staff; clean, well-lit rooms, and free mega-breakfast kick ass…what’s not to love? It’s just a few minutes walk from the slopes, and free parking is plentiful. A dorm bed is $44, and a private room/shared bath $95, high season.

The Abominable Snowmansion, Arroyo Seco, NM
Just outside of Taos is this classic, rambling old hostel with a communal feel. Arroyo Seco is an adorable mountain hamlet (all you need to know is that Abe’s Cantina gives great green chile). A private room/bath at this hostel is $59 in winter, and the region abounds with backcountry opps and natural hot springs.banff national park HI-Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel, Banff National Park, Alberta
The photo at right shows the sauna at this off-the-grid cabin near stunning Lake Louise. If you’re good with no shower and using an outhouse, this 20-bed spot will keep you cozy after a day ice-climbing, snow-shoeing, or skiing the backcountry.

Grand Canyon International Hostel
, Flagstaff, AZ

Owned by the same people who have the janky Du Beau hostel in town; I recommend this place instead, which is located in a historic, multi-story building minutes from downtown. “Flag” has loads of opportunities for outdoor buffs, from backcountry, to downhill skiing at Arizona Snowbowl, 20 minutes away. The hostel also offers year-round tours to the Grand Canyon, 80 minutes away. Flagstaff itself is a happening little college town; before heading out for the day fuel up on caffeine and divine, house-baked goods at Macy’s European Coffeehouse (I accept bribes in this form).

Alyeska Hostel, Girdwood, AK
Girdwood is pure Alaska-weird. Moose wander the main street, and quirky locals are just as likely to invite you to an all-night kegger in the snow as they are to take you cross-country skiing (the bonus of being female in Alaska, I discovered). This tidy hostel will set you back $20 for a bunk bed, making it the best deal in (a very, very small) town.

Hostel Tahoe, King’s Beach, CA
I’ll be honest; I’ve never bothered to stay in a hostel in Lake Tahoe for two reasons: dirt-cheap motels abound, and my brother lives there. But I came across this place researching this story, and it looks great. You’ll need to self-drive or shuttle to ski (it’s mid-way between South and North Shore, but right by a bus stop servicing Northstar, Squaw, and Alpine Meadows), and it looks infinitely more pleasant than some of the budget lodging I’ve enjoyed in Tahoe in the past. King’s Beach is old-school Tahoe at its best: funky, boozy, and a bit down-at-the-heels.

Crested Butte International Hostel, CO

Cheap lodging is tough to come by in Colorado ski towns, which is what makes this place such a find. Eighty dollars for a private queen with shared bath in downtown CB is a hell of a deal, and a $39 dorm bed can’t fail to make cash-strapped skiers and snowboarders happy. This is also the place to induct hostel-phobic friends or partners. I find it rather sterile, but it’s spotless, quiet, and kid-friendly. With two apartments for families ($184/night) and off-site condo rentals also available, CBIH makes family vacay do-able. Bonus: loads of free parking, and just 100 yards from the free mountain shuttle (Mt. Crested Butte is 3 miles away).

Fireside Inn Bed & Breakfast and Hostel
, Breckenridge, CO

This sprawling, historic old home converted into a warren of rooms is a treasure if you’re a lover of hostels. Friendly and walking distance to downtown (you can shuttle to the Breck Connect Gondola, Peak 7 and 8, and the Nordic Center), it’s got the patina of years on it, but it’s cozy, homey, and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. Love.

The Hostel, Jackson Hole, WY
In this spendy little ski town, affordable accommodations are rare as a ski bum with a Platinum card. Located at the base of Teton Village, The Hostel offers dorm beds and private rooms. Backcountry fans will love being just one mile away from the glory of Grand Teton National Park (be sure to check park website for information on restrictions or necessary permits)

[Photo credits: skier, Flickr user Andre Charland; hostel, Flickr user Mark Hill Photography]

Nordic Skiing Basics

Take a romantic vacation–alone

If you don’t have a person to cuddle up to for Valentine’s Day–that sweet, special someone to whisper endearments in your ear–the type of person you wrote about in your middle school diary who you envisioned going with to a romantic destination once you grew old enough–to heck with it. Go alone.

I’m a firm believer that, although going somewhere with someone else can be superb–awfully romantic, one doesn’t need to wait for the right person to come along for the best time.

One Valentine’s weekend, I headed off to the Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico for an overnight cross-country skiing vacation by myself. After a particularly difficult break-up with a boyfriend that had left me deflated, I thought the best thing for puffing wind back into my sails was a solo adventure. I picked Red River, New Mexico because of a few of points:

  • it didn’t take a lot of planning–being broken hearted, I didn’t have a lot of umph for complicated decisions.
  • It wasn’t that far from Albuquerque where I lived, so it felt adventurous enough, but close enough to return home if I couldn’t handle it.
  • I always wanted to go to the Enchanted Forest and figured that a cross-country ski area where others would be would be safe.

Here’s what I found out:

  • When going alone, it helps to know where you want to stop. When I swung into town, I didn’t know what hotel I should check into. I drove through town from end to end twice before I became so disgusted with my indecision, that I finally pulled into the parking lot of one of them.
  • After checking into a hotel room with two double beds, it does feel good to throw oneself down on each of them a few times while feeling sorry for oneself, but after wards, it’s much better to go out for dinner and get over oneself.
  • When going out for dinner, a writing pad and pen works wonders for keeping people at bay, particularly a guy named Randy who wants one to go two-stepping at a country-western bar until dawn.

Most importantly, cross-country skiing alone on trails called names like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee is cathartic, fun and a wonderful Valentine’s Day weekend activity. I couldn’t have asked for better company.

The following year, I returned with a male friend, and the year after that, I returned with two women friends. Of the three visits to Red River, the one by myself resonates the most. The other two times, however were also superb in their own way.

If you are going to be on your own tomorrow, here are suggestions for enjoying your own company.

  • Pick a place you haven’t been before that’s close by and go there. While there, think about all the things you like about it and why it was such a grand decision to pick this place above all others. Take notes. Note-taking looks important. You can write about the experience later. If you don’t like to write, draw sketches.
  • When you go to this place, take your favorite snack. Eating your favorite snack creates a sense of celebration, particularly if you eat slowly.
  • While you’re traveling to this place, listen to your favorite music. That also adds to a sense of adventure and celebration.
  • Tell yourself what wonderful company you are.
  • Thank yourself afterwards for taking you somewhere you’ve always wanted to go.

Try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing for free on Winter Trails Day

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to learn a snow sport?

You might get encouragement from friends who are whizzes on the trails, but the thought of keeping up with them can be intimidating. Start thinking about all of the fees, and you might not get much farther than that fireside couch in the lodge.

Winter Trails Day makes it easy to follow through on those resolutions. The one-day event on January 10th lets you try out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing for free. Resorts across the US are waiving the costs for newbies–on everything from equipment rentals to trail passes. Depending on which of the 100 locations in 22 states you go to, you could also hit up mini-lessons and product demos to make the transition a bit easier.

It’s true that cross-country skiing is just like walking (but even better because you get to glide!). Give those skinny skis a whirl, and see what you think. I just might have to test-run some snowshoes, myself. See ya out on the white stuff?

For Fitness, Albuquerque, New Mexico is Number One.

Albuquerque, New Mexico has hit number one in Men’s Fitness magazine’s top 10 list for the city where the people are the fittest. I’m not surprised. I used to live there and it seemed every weekend there was some charity race, bicycle ride, swimming event or another enticement to get one’s body in motion. This Sunday is the Sweetheart Run to benefit Big Brothers/Big Sisters, for example.If you go to the Albuquerque Roadrunners website you’ll find a calendar that lists each month’s local, area and national runs.

One organized cycling race I found is the Lobo Classic, March 3-4. For other cycling events, check out New Mexico Cycling. There are also mountain-biking trails a-plenty.

With the Sandia Mountains to the east and the mesa to the west, in the winter it is often possible to go cross-country or downhill skiing and golfing on the same day. The east side of the mountains stays snowy at the top often well into March while down in the city, the temperatures are generally warm enough to comfortably run and bike ride year-round.

Hiking in the Sandias is as easy as grabbing a water bottle and a snack and driving to the edge of Albuquerque where some of the trail heads are. Try the Pino Trail. In minutes, after a couple of switchbacks, the rush of life is left behind. I seem to remember that this trail will link with another one that heads to the top, and once there—what a view! For a list of Sandias hikes try this link from the Great Outdoors.

One of my friends suggested one summer that we hike up the mountain before dark and hike down by the full moon. Neat idea but we didn’t take into account that the moon has to crest the mountain before it lights up the trail. We had to wait at the top until well after midnight before it was light enough to see to hike down. Luckily, the guy who managed the gift shop let us hang out there after we bought T-shirts since the ones we had on were soaked with perspiration. After dark the temperature does a nosedive-another small factor we forgot.

If you are in Albuquerque and want to get fit, be warned, the city is a mile high and the top of the Sandias is a mile more. Drink plenty of water and take time to get acclimated to the altitude.

Here’s a guide to more outdoor activities that Albuquerque has to offer.