PHOTO: University of Utah
PHOTO: University of Utah

The Best Colleges for Skiers in the Mountain West

How to ski while still earning your degree in Utah, Montana, Colorado, Nevada and Idaho

Oh, college. It's the best four, five, or eight years of your life as you gain the education and social skills necessary to become a functional, contributing member of society in the post-graduate world.

While your parents and professors might assume you're going to college to get a degree, chances are you're hoping to spend a least some of your time studying that sweet powder when you shipping off to school in the fall.

With that in mind, we here at POWDER have selected the best schools that find that perfect balance between getting to ski and earning your degree. We chose these schools based on a combination of culture, tuition, academics, and closeness to the slopes.

This is the second of three installments. Click here to check out the Best Colleges for Skiers on the East Coast.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane! No, it’s the University of Utah’s mascot Swoop dropping cliffs at Alta. PHOTO: University of Utah

University of Utah
Tuition: $7,956 in-state / $25,198 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 76.4%
Enrollment: 32,760
Where to Ski: Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Park City

When it comes to skiing your ass off for four-plus years while still maintaining a respectable GPA, there's really no better place to do it than at the U. Nestled in the heart of Salt Lake City, the University of Utah is less than 100 miles from a dozen of Utah's best resorts, giving you plenty of options for that sweet Utah powder.

"There are few places on earth where you can be up to your nipples in pow all morning and still have time to make it back to campus for that one damn bio lecture where attendance is mandatory," says student James Jones, president of the U's Freeskier Society. "Scheduling is important, and the U makes it easy to work skiing into your routine by offering several sections of pre-requisite classes throughout the day."

With easy access to all-time terrain at Alta and Snowbird with the comfort of not being way out in the boonies, it's hard to beat the University of Utah.

The U has a number of well-known skiing alumni, including the Wizard of the Wasatch.

Welcome to Montana State University, in the heart of Big Sky country. PHOTO: Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/MSU

Montana State University
Tuition: $7,080 in-state / $24,070 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 83.9%
Enrollment: 16,703
Where to Ski: Big Sky, Bridger Bowl

If you like your goggle tan with a side of cowboy boots, pack your bags for Bozeman, Montana. With easy access to Bridger Bowl and Big Sky, it's easy to see why many professors abide by the "10-inch rule," i.e. no class on a powder day.

That said, for those students that want to turn being in the snow into a career, MSU's snow science program is second to none. "I originally had no desire to go to college. I wanted to be outside skiing during the winter, not confined to a classroom. Then I found the snow science program at MSU," says current student McKinley Talty. "I never thought I’d be breaking in a skin track at 6 am for schoolwork."

Not your easy-A ski bum degree, MSU's snow science program dives heavily into the interactions between skiers and the snow they recreate in, focusing on backcountry education and avalanche research, perfect for those who want to replace their post-graduation cubicle with a massive expanse of backcountry terrain.

Montana State professor Jordy Hendrikx is on the front lines of avalanche research.

Western State’s Mad Jack stands tall over a fresh dusting of snow across campus. PHOTO: WSCU

Western State Colorado University
Tuition: $6,624 in-state / $18,096 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 97.4%
Enrollment: 2,495
Where to Ski: Crested Butte, Monarch

While other best college lists might include Colorado front range schools like University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado College, if you want a true college skiing experience in Colorado, consider Western State. Situated in one of the few Colorado mountain towns that isn't overridden by Californians or Texans, Gunnison provides the perfect home for Western State Colorado University.

“Simply put, Western has the best access to the highest quality skiing there is in Colorado, both resort and backcountry," says Ed Dujardin, who's been the freeride ski coach for the last five seasons. Just a 40-minute free bus ride from campus is the steep and deep mecca of Crested Butte, offering Western students some of the best skiing in the state.

The school is also ideal for those looking to turn being outdoors into a career. "Academically, Western has degrees and programs oriented towards preparing students for careers in the ski and outdoor industries, as well as the only MRA accredited collegiate Search and Rescue team in the country," says Dujardin.

So, if frat parties and sitting in traffic to ski an over-crowded Breckenridge are your thing, go to Boulder, but if you want to immerse yourself in the true spirit of Colorado mountain living, enroll at Western State.

Reno isn’t all casinos and all-you-can-eat sushi buffets. PHOTO: UNR

University of Nevada Reno
Tuition: $7,538 in-state / $21,726 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 83.9%
Enrollment: 20,194
Where to Ski: Squaw Valley, Northstar, Mount Rose

When most people think of The Biggest Little City in the World, the Nevada desert and all-you-can-eat casino sushi bars come to mind. While not entirely untrue, Reno's neighboring Lake Tahoe also makes Vegas' mini-me a growing hub for young skiers.

In just an hour's drive over beautiful Donner Pass, UNR skiers can find themselves at Northstar or Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows quickly. Indie ski area Mount Rose is only a 35-minute drive south, so students can easily stack their schedules to enter the white room all morning and still make it back for that lecture at 2 p.m.

“There is terrain ranging from the biggest hucks and technical lines to some of the best parks and groomers in the nation all within an hour’s drive,” says Ryan Hoben, President of the UNR Winter Sports Club. “UNR has an outstanding outdoor community and the Winter Sports Club has both freeride and alpine teams that compete and place nationally every season. On top of this, UNR is a Tier 1 university so you can get a quality education while still shredding pow five days a week.”

The University of Nevada also offers a strong Natural Resources and Environmental Science program, perfect for those students wishing to turn the "Keep Tahoe Blue" stickers on the back of their cars into a full-time job.

This list not enough? Here are some more reasons to move to Reno for skiing.

Would you like fries with that? Idaho State University serves up cheap skiing, great snow, and a whole lot of potatoes. PHOTO: Idaho State University

Idaho State University
Tuition: $7,420 in-state / $22,940 out-of-state
Acceptance Rate: 87%
Enrollment: 12,643
Where to Ski: Pebble Creek Ski Area, Grand Targhee (Jackson Hole and SLC aren't far either)

If you love potatoes, cheap skiing, and empty lift lines, pack your bags for Pocatello, Idaho. While housing a respectable 12,000 students, Idaho State University still holds tight to the feeling of mountain town living.

Its closest ski hill, Pebble Creek Ski Area, is less than 20 miles away, perfect for sneaking in some turns during the week. While its 1,000 acres of skiable terrain put it on the smaller side, 2,200 vertical feet of lift access and advanced terrain taking up half the ski area make it a proving ground for collegiate ski bums, and early bird season passes for less than $400 keep more money in your pocket for weekend trips to Grand Targhee and Jackson Hole, just two hours away.

Welcome to Idaho, where it’s still possible to ski for less than $50 a day.

The state of Idaho is also peppered with small resorts where you can still snag a lift ticket for less than $50, making lining up the perfect spring break ski trip a breeze on a college budget.

Lava Hot Springs is also just a half hour outside of town, a perfect spot to soak your weary ski legs or shake that hangover on Sunday morning. Lava Hot Springs is also the home of the infamous 1995 Ligertown incident, where a private collection of more than 40 lions and tigers--and yes, ligers-escaped from their enclosures and took over the town before being killed or captured. We're not kidding--look it up.