Top Teen Towns
by Mitch Kaplan
Few parenting challenges match that of traveling with teenagers. The kids don’t want to be seen with parents. They don’t want to talk to parents. They only want to hang with their pals. Aren’t they the perfect companions with whom to be cooped up in a car or an airplane for six or eight hours?
Fortunately, snowsliding offers teen-ridden families the opportunity to play together yet keep the necessary distance teens desire. Few other vacation pastimes allow the unique combination of autonomy and parental oversight that ski resorts do. And, if you add a top notch teen-friendly town to the mix, well, you’ve got an almost guaranteed winner.
What makes a top teen town? A full range of snowsliding challenge. A full mix of off-slope activities. Good (and hopefully free) transportation or easily accessible off-slope facilities. On- and off-slope programs that keep teens totally tickled.
North America is rife with fine teen ski/ride destinations, and exclusion from our list of Top Teen Towns is by no means a put-down or a negative inference. We can’t list ‘em all. But, still, here are some of our favorites.
Aspen, CO. www.aspensnowmass.com
There isn’t much that Aspen doesn’t offer, although sometimes we wonder about finding affordable lodging there. It’s one very cool town that combines history with various aspects of modern cool - like Hollywood stars, the latest in shopping, and, or course, being the current site of the X-Games.
On-slope, Snowmass offers the unique Too Cool for School program for ages 12-19 years. It operates daily for skiers and boarders. Teens can practice carving, bumps, steeps, terrain parks, freeskiing and freeriding and fun competitions. Participants are grouped by age and skill. On Aspen Mountain, you’ll find Othello's Rail Rider Clinics, teaching advanced snowboarding techniques and park skills. On Buttermilk, park and pipe classes are offered for beginners and intermediates daily.
Moving off-piste, those who have the skills can join guided out-of-bounds tours with Aspen Expeditions led by IFMGA/AMGA certified mountain guides. Action choices include backcountry skiing, ski touring, ice climbing and ski and winter mountaineering. Snowmass Snowshoe Tours offers guided touring. And, ACES mounts free guided skiing/riding nature tours with naturalists twice daily at Snowmass.
Off-slope, the action continues. Tube Town at Snowmass affords fun for all ages. Snowmass Mountain Outfitters has recently opened an indoor paintball facility. The Aspen Recreation Center (ARC) near Aspen Highlands, holds an NHL sized ice rink for public ice-skating, a six-lane, 25-yard competitive swimming pool, a leisure pool with interactive water features (including a two-story water slide) and a 32-foot climbing tower. And, there’s a free, municipal skate park on lower Mill Street.
Lake Placid, NY. www.orda.org
When you’ve hosted two Olympic Games and innumerable World Cup and world class competitions, you’re bound to have a few super things to do, on-mountain and off.
At the mountain, the Whiteface Teen Experience is offered to intermediate through advanced skiers and snowboarders ages 13 to 16. It’s an all-day program offered on weekends and during holiday periods that covers the full range of on-hill adventures and techniques.
Lake Placid itself remains an internationally-flavored American small town, and an inspirational celebration of winter. You can climb up an old-fashioned toboggan slide and skid across Mirror Lake in an activity that’s unchanged in more than a hundred years. (Try it riding backwards!) Downtown Lake Placid is downright cute, with a number of cool shops that’ll keep adolescents occupied. The ice arenas host a non-stop parade of regional and international competitions, and entertainment runs the gamut from ice shows to live performances. Main Street holds a movie theater. And, of course, there’s all that Olympic stuff to do - ride the bobsled, watch the lugers go and the ski jumpers fly, and skate in the schoolyard where Eric Heiden won five gold medals.
Whistler, BC. www.whistlerblackcomb.com
This destination, a perennial favorite among snowsliders of all ilks, is a teenage paradise. The good bus transportation, a lively base village that bustles at all times, and excellent on- and off-slope activities rank among the best.
On-hill, the Ride Tribe is built for ages 12 to 18 who are on five-day vacations. The same instructor leads each group all week and covers just about anything the mountain can offer. Resort spokespeople talk about the Tribe as being “not ordinary ski school, it’s a culture.” Pros reveal the behind-the-scenes nuances of the terrain. Apres, the action continues with indoor rock climbing and other activities. Two-day camps are offered on weekends.
Teens interested in terrain park or halfpipe skiing and riding can enroll in Park Freeride Groups.
Off-hill, there's snowmobiling, snowshoeing, indoor rock climbing, a pool and fitness center, ziptrek eco tours, snowbikes and bungee. Two movie theaters are found here, the single-screen Rainbow Theatre, and the eight-screen Village 8 Cinema. Great Wall Underground offers an indoor climbing wall. The Meadow Park Sports Centre has indoor skating, exercise rooms, a six-lane pool with hot tubs, steam room and children's wading pool.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the Whistler Youth Centre, a drop-in facility that hosts activities on- and off-site. Among the options: ping-pong, pool table, giant screen TV with 70-plus movies in stock, Playstation 2, Nintendo 64, Internet access, a food concession, a fully supplied art room and - so they tell us - funny looking staff members.
Steamboat, CO. www.steamboat.com
Here’s the thing: Steamboat is a real town with a ski resort. So, cool things are going on all the time. Best, free bus transportation allows teens to travel on their own. And, they’ll for sure want to take that ride into town to test the indoor hot springs and water park. For a more rustic hot springs experience, take them to Strawberry Park, set deep in the woods.
They can night ski, if they really want to, at Howlsen Hill. Or, better still, they can go tubing or watch the ski jumpers in action there. Or, among the other activities designed to wear them out, they can ice climb, horseback ride, snowshoe and do all the other expected winter activities. But, check this out—two miles outside town is something called the Heavy Equipment Play Arena. Yes, it’s expensive, but how often does a 16 year-old get to drive a bulldozer or an excavator. How cool is that.
And, speaking of driving, if you’ve got a newly licensed driver on your hands, enroll them for a day in the Bridgestone Winter Driving School. They’ll learn lessons in controlling an automobile in winter conditions that will serve the mall their driving lives.
During peak holiday periods, the snowsports school runs the Steamboat Teen Challenge in which intermediate to advanced skiers/riders ages 13-17 get it on with cool instructors and their peers.
Park City, UT. www.parkcityinfo.com
Sometimes we’re turned off by Park City’s suburban-like sprawl. But, when it comes to activities, excellent free transportation and variety of diversions, the town and its three ski resorts must be counted among the most teen-friendly spots.
At Deer Valley Resort, the on-snow program is called Teen Escape. Available for skiers only (three’s no riding at Deer Valley) ages 13-18 of all abilities, Escape is an all-day affair in which teens learn ski dynamics as they explore the mountain with pro coaches. During non-holiday, non-peak periods, 13 and 14 year-old skiers may participate in the resort’s regular Adventure Club.
The Canyons Resort stages special seasonal teen clinics for ages 13-17 during holiday periods. Teens ski or ride all day with a coach and improve their techniques by exploring vast amounts of terrain. Park rats and wannabe’s ages nine and up can hook into the Sobe Terrain Park Clinics where they learn the latest terrain park tricks, jumps and techniques with an expert instructor. Although no prior terrain park is required, participants must ski or ride at expert level.
Off the hill, the Park City Transit is terrific. Free busses run almost anywhere in the area from 7:30 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. daily. The Main Street Trolley Service operates daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., serving as a connection between Old Town Transit Center and Main Street along a route through the heart of the Historic District.
Myriad activities can keep adolescents well entertained, some involving snow, others not. For snow-based challenges and fun, the Utah Olympic Park offers public bobsled rides, and introductory camps in ski jumping (very cool), skeleton or luge. Advanced skiers can hook up with the Ski Utah Interconnect Adventure Tour that hits five ski resorts in a single day via the backcountry. Beyond Limits mounts privately guided snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter camping or multi-sport tours.
Non-snow action can be found in a variety of venues. At the Olympic Park, the Alf Engen Ski Museum features interactive exhibits depicting the history of skiing in the Wasatch, and a virtual-reality ski theater. The Heber Valley Railroad offers a ride on a 100-year old train to the tubing hill at Soldier Hollow, a 2002 Winter Olympic venue. The Eccles Center presents an array of nationally and internationally renowned performers in a 1,300-seat theater. The Egyptian Theatre Company presents professional live theater, ranging from musicals, comedies and dramas to special events, stand-up comedy and cowboy nights. And, there’s ice skating at the Resort Center on an open rink.
Smugglers’ Notch, VT. www.smuggs.com
Okay, this is not a “town,” per se. But, few (if any) snowsliding resorts can match Smuggs for handling all aspects of family vacationing. And, when it comes to teenagers, well, Smuggs may just lead the pack.
On-hill, the Mountain Explorers program offers 1.5-hour sessions for skiers and riders (sessions that start at late, teen-friendly times of day), then adds off-hill activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, swimming, basketball, Night School for Boarding under the lights, and organized evening activities, too. Smuggs’ All Mountain All Terrain Camp three-day camp creates better skiers and riders by letting 'em rip into all the terrain Smuggs offers - glades, natural hits, powder, cruisers, Superpipe, big air and slalom course.
Off the hill, the FunZone has an indoor obstacle course, mini-golf and a jousting arena. The FunZone has music and dj's for a weekly SnowVibe teen dance party. Other diversions include NightSpiker volleyball, arcades, movies, basketball and tubing.
Nearby there’s an indoor heated pool and hot tubs and an ice skating rink, and the nordic and snowshoe center.
Smugglers' has two supervised teen centers. Outer Limits is located within SmuggsCentral and is for ages 16 & older. Teen Alley, for ages 13-15, is centrally located in The Village. Both Internet access, PlayStation 2, X Box, video games, music and dancing and a cool club ambience.
Vail, CO. www.vail.com
Vail, of course, has spread down its valley like melted butter over the table. But, within its seven mile-wide expanse, it offers a playground for everyone. And that includes teenagers.
The activity highlight is found at Adventure Ridge, where the choices run from ski biking and mini-scoot driving, to snowtubing and ice skating. the "Nature at Night" program there entertains and educates—never a bad combination. And, for entertainment without the education, there are Streetbeat concerts in Vail Village every Wednesday.
The shopping goes on non-stop here, too. As do the off-slope activities, which range from guided bike tours down Vail Pass and winter fishing to snowmobiling and ice climbing. Educate your adolescents, too, by enrolling them in an avalanche safety course and giving them a sense of ski/ride history at the Colorado Ski History Museum.
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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.