Charming Holiday Destinations - 2006
by Mitch Kaplan
Want some other ideas? See:
Charming Destinations 2002
Charming Destinations 2003
Charming Destinations 2005
It’s a question we’re asked all the time: "What’s a good place to vacation for the holidays?"
Implied in the question—or specifically added to it—are the qualities that most folks expect will create a memorable holiday getaway: a Currier & Ives ambience, replete with quaint surroundings adorned by holiday lights, a local atmosphere of good cheer, special events that celebrate the season and, with help from Lady Luck, snow and plenty of it.
We can’t guarantee the snow, but we can point to a number of North American snowsliding destinations that are more than likely to fill the bill on ambience, decorations and events. Moving east to west, among our favorites are:
Bretton Woods, NH. We defy you to find a more fete-ful atmosphere than the Mt. Washington Hotel. Just looking at that huge white building with its gleaming red roof and endless wrap-around porch all aglitter with holiday lights is enough to create a vacation.
From Dec. 22-25, families can enjoy roasted chestnuts and mulled apple cider in the grand lobby, serenaded by strolling carolers and bell choirs. The entire hotel and the grounds surrounding it will be appropriately festooned to resemble a magical North Pole palace, with boughs of holiday greenery strung with twinkling lights, gorgeously decorated Christmas trees and enchanted scenes complete with playful plush bears and dutiful wooden soldiers. The weekend’s activities include gingerbread cookie decorating, holiday craft workshops, ornament decorating, a snow tubing party, snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, Elf Tuck-Ins at bedtime with a story and a teddy bear to ensure the sweetest dreams, and nightly musical performances and a Victorian Magic Lantern show.
On New Year’s Eve, a family party will be held in the grand dining room with DJ’s Tony Demers and Jody Houle, as well as a lavish buffet dinner and entertainment for all ages in the form of illusions, magic and face painting provided by Almodarr and Angellique Steelgrave. And, at the Bretton Woods Base Lodge there will be night skiing, a torchlight parade and a fantastic fireworks display.
Mount Snow, VT. Okay, we admit that you can’t consider Mount Snow a Currier & Ives setting, but it’s the event line-up that makes this destination both charming and compelling. In particular, the Nickelodeon & Mount Snow Kids’ Snow Fest, which runs from Dec. 22-25 and includes a ton of family fun activities, character events with SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer and a family concert by Hot Peas ‘N Butter. Ski/stay/play packages run from $604 for a family of four (2 adults and 2 children 6-12 years old) for two- or three-night stays including lift tickets for two or three days. Or, a "buy two nights of lodging, get a third free" promotion at participating properties, with a Friday, Dec. 22 arrival. Or, buy two-day lift tickets for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 23-24, and get a free ticket on Monday the 25th.
Vail/Beaver Creek CO. Between them Vail and Beaver Creek equal way more than the sum of their parts. Aside from miles of snowsliding, both base villages twinkle in the holiday season, and a sense of community comes to the fore.
In Beaver Creek, the events include Icing on the Lake at Nottingham Lake in Avon, an old-fashioned afternoon with the Dickens Carolers in song, ice sculptures on display, holiday crafts, skate rentals for $1, and activities, hot cocoa and goodies are free (Dec. 16); Snowshoe Adventure Series on Beaver Creek Mountain for beginner to pro, adults and kids, followed by a post-race celebration in the Village Plaza with camaraderie, food, awards and prizes.
At the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek: A Christmas Carol family musical performed by the critically acclaimed Nebraska Theatre Caravan (Dec. 23); Chinese Golden Dragon Acrobats thrill audiences of all ages with spellbinding feats that are physically daring, yet gracefully executed (Dec. 25-26); Peter and the Wolf performed by the Jim Gamble Puppets who perform interactive shows daily at Disneyland (Dec. 30).
Back in Vail, special annual events include two holiday tree lighting parties—one in LionsHead and one in Vail Village—caroling, a variety of choir and other music performances, and the must anticipated New Year’s Eve Torchlight Ski Down Spectacular at Golden Peak at 5:15 p.m. followed immediately by a bang-up fireworks show.
Those lodging at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, find themselves happily neck-deep in events and holiday spirit. Start with a "Ski Free - Stay Free" offer from Dec. 16-22 in which you buy three days’ skiing and three nights’ lodging and get the fourth with Snow Daze starting at $398/pp.
The hotel halls are decked and the Cascade Christmas lasts 18 days filled with cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities, and visits with Santa Claus. Camp Cascade is a customized program that focuses on both active fun and learning. Family-friendly activities that focus on teamwork including basketball, ping-pong, tennis, swimming, snow play, and other games are just part of the Camp Cascade experience. For a focus on individual learning, your child can take part in nature walks and crafts.
Among the specific events: Hanukah Arts & Crafts; in-room Elf Tuck Ins; apres-ski magic shows; gingerbread house decorating; stocking and ornament decorating; pictures with Santa; dinner and a movie; complimentary family portraits; caricature artist in action; New Year's Eve Dinner; and New Year's Day Football.
Information: vail.snow.com, www.vailcascade.com, www.vilarcenter.org, and beavercreek.snow.com
Jackson Hole, WY. The town of Jackson is always rockin’ with good stuff. Sure, the “old west” ambience is a bit touristy, but there’s still enough down-home funkiness to make it all fun. The skiing here, of course is either at Jackson Hole or, right in town, at Snow King. We always recommend a side trip to Grand Targhee, about an hour away.
While you’re in town, definitely stop in to visit: the local history museum, it’s got lots of fascinating stuff (and, if your kids are up to it, take a walking tour); The National Museum of Wildlife Art, home to the nation’s premier public collection of fine art devoted to wildlife, is set in a world-class facility located on a butte overlooking the National Elk Refuge with wonderful view; and join one of the Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides, they depart throughout the day from the National Museum of Wildlife Art; snow tubing at Snow King.
Among the Jackson/Jackson Hole holiday events: Santa on the Square (Dec. 15-24) brings Santa to the Town Square from 5-7 p.m. each evening until Christmas Eve, and his elves provide homemade cookies, hot cider and coffee; How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dec. 15-16); A Christmas Carol on Ice (Dec. 15-16), a skating version of the traditional Charles Dickens story performed by the Jackson Hole Figure Skating Club.
On-mountain, there’s tree-lighting, Santa, crafts, and the annual Children's Torchlight Parade on New Year’s eve with Tommy Moe in which kids of all ages are invited to participate. And, over at Teton Mountain Lodge, guests will find In-room Christmas trees, Elf tuck-in with a story for the kids, and a lavish Christmas buffet at the Cascade Grill House & Spirits on Christmas Day.
Information: www.jacksonhole.com, www.jacksonholechamber.com and www.tetonlodge.com
Northstar-at-Tahoe, CA. Northstar is about as family-friendly a resort as they come. Why? They offer programs like: The Parent Predicament Ticket for parents with children too young for ski school that allows parents to share a lift ticket; Mommy, Daddy & Me for parents with children four and under, in which an instructor gives parents tips on teaching kids how to ski in a free 45-minute lesson; and conSKIerge, a ski equipment valet service that allows folks to drop off their skis upon arrival rather than drag them from the parking area.
Come holiday time, the resort bustles with special activities. From Dec. 23-25, holiday festivities include Santa’s appearance, caroling and live music in the Village. Noel Nights happen on December Tuesdays (Dec. 5, 12 and 19) with free ice skate rentals at the rink, free hot cocoa, shopping specials and a gift wrapping center, holiday caroling, s’mores, photos with Santa, and wine tasting for adults. On Christmas Day, it’s the Candy Cane Fun Race. And, come New Year’s, the Fire & Ice New Year’s Eve Party in the Village Center Plaza includes fireworks, live music, entertainment, food and drinks.
Santa Fe, NM. Santa Fe is one atmosphere-rich town at any time of year, but come holiday season, it gets even better. And, while the Ski Santa Fe doesn’t stage any holiday-specific events, it’s still our favorite New Mexico snowsliding spot because not only does it have all kinds of terrain, a local ski area ambience and spectacular views, but it’s affiliated with that wonderful little city.
In town, the general scene is calm and relaxed compared to the popular summer season. Many buildings are outlined with farolitos—small bags filled with sand and lit from within by votive candles. Many of the restaurants will have holiday specials and hotels do Christmas events featuring music, storytelling, craft demonstrations, etc., all reflecting the region’s diverse cultures.
Consider: Farolitos all over town; Las Posadas a traditional Spanish outdoor play/procession that anyone can join, re-enacting Mary and Joseph's search for a room on Christmas Eve (Dec. 10); Native American dances at the Pueblos, including a "Turtle Dance" on Dec. 26 and "Holy Innocents" and children's dances on Dec. 28; the annual Winter Spanish Market, featuring traditional Spanish Colonial artwork such as tin work, straw appliqué and Santos carving, Dec. 2-3; Christmas at the Palace, with carols, story telling, Santa and his elves, music, Matachine dancers, cider and cookies (Dec. 6; Christmas Eve on the Plaza, with 1,000 farolitos, cider and caroling; and music throughout December from New Mexico Pro Coro, Musica da Camera, Sangre de Cristo Chorale, Santa Fe Concert Association, Santa Fe Symphony and many others.
Information: www.santafe.org and www.skisantafe.com
Steamboat Springs, CO: The place that invented Kids Ski Free remains a family Mecca, and the town is rife with performances during the hoiliday, including: the Dave Moran Rocky Mountain Campfire Show, an evening of Rocky Mountain music, Cowboy poetry and yarn spinnin' (Dec. 26); the Steamboat Springs Figure Skating Club’s Holiday Ice Show at the Howelsen Ice Arena with holiday characters such as Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus and Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer (Dec. 27-29); Strings in the Mountains Gala Holiday Concert, with complimentary champagne and hors d'oeurves followed by a classical concert performed by world-renowned musicians (Dec. 27); Strings in the Mountains Moguls to Mozart Youth Concert, featuring Peter and the Wolf (Dec. 28); We're Not Clowns, a light-hearted juggling show at the Steamboat Mountain Theater (Dec. 29-30); and the New Year’s Cross-Country Relays, three-person teams skiing 7.5 km. For all ages and abilities with random prize drawings for all participants (Dec. 30).
Information: www.steamboat.com and www.steamboatchamber.com
Crystal, MI. Savvy Midwesterners know that Crystal is all about families, and that’s even more true during the holidays. Among the happenings: Holiday Trim-a-Tree Party (Dec. 21) all-day the festivities with ornament making from all parts of the world, cookie decorating, homemade Wassail, live holiday music and treats; Tree Lighting Parade (Dec. 22), a special evening that begins with a candlelight parade, elves in action, St. Nick photo-taking, bonfire and carols; Santa NASTAR (Dec. 23)—beat Santa’s time and win a prize from his gift bag; Rossignol Race Camp (Dec. 27-28) for ages 7–12 (advance reservations required); New Year's Eve Celebration (Dec. 31), all-day events including a fireworks show over the mountain at midnight.
Boyne Resort, MI. Since the opening of Boyne’s Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, the entire nature of this resort has changed. We’re talking a unique summer/winter mix that’s probably found in no other place.
Boyne celebrates with its Super Five Ski Week that includes five nights’ lodging along with lift tickets, three meals daily for ages 9 and above (kids 8 and under ski/ride, stay, and get breakfast free) and a daily 2-hour group ski lesson with the same instructor for Ages 13-plus. On Dec. 15, you can gather six of your closest friends or family together and only pay the price of one lift ticket.
Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark rings in the New Year for kids with Kids Camp for ages 6-12, pictures & story time with Fritz, a kiddie cookout, ice cream social, mat racer competition, super-g snowball race, 3-on-3 basketball, boogie board competition, surfing demos, an arcade extravaganza, face painting, arts & crafts, movie mania, and the traditional New Year’s Eve torchlight parade and fireworks.
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...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate’s Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.