Charming Holiday Destinations - 2005
by Mitch Kaplan
Want some other ideas? See:
Charming Destinations 2002
Charming Destinations 2003
Charming Destinations 2006
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. Here’s a mix of our past favorites and one or two new ones.
Aspen, CO. Aspen drips with ambience and atmosphere at any time of year, but it certainly shines during the holidays. Events includes Theatre Aspen’s production of It's A Wonderful Life at the historic Wheeler Opera House, now a holiday tradition here, the timeless story made famous by Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey of Bedford Falls. Santa's Village & Carolers takes place on December 213 and 24 in Snowmass Village. Santa’s magical village opens to hear the last minute requests of girls and boys, free photos with Santa are offered daily throughout the week, and each afternoon the Dickens Carolers stroll through the Mall singing favorite Christmas carols, while John Sommers and Twirp Anderson serenade guests in The Silvertree lobby with mountain favorites and seasonal songs. Moms, Dads and Kids ages 8 and older are invited to be part of the Holiday Torchlight Parade down Snowmass’ slopes. And, every Tuesday and Thursday in Snowmass Village sees creativity in action at Kids Krafts, while Storytelling by the Campfire takes place every Wednesday.
Come New Years Eve, Snowmass Village action ranges from fabulous gourmet feasts at local restaurants to live music and dancing into the wee hours. Celebrations include the Silvertree Hotel’s 17th Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration with a gourmet dinner, live music, dancing, a balloon drop and a special simultaneous children’s party. Info: www.aspensnowmass.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. Santa appears in the Village and on the mountain. There are performances by such groups as the SMART Violin Group, the Squaw Valley Choir, the Sierra Mountain Singers and the Truckee Community Choir. There’s children’s storytelling, movies, cookies and hot cocoa. A Candy Cane Fun Race is staged. Carolers stroll the Village Plaza. And, at New Year’s, there are activities for all ages including a DJ, dancing, torchlight and snow cat parade and an explosive fireworks show. Info: www.skinorthstar.com.
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. But, let’s talk special events, shall we? From Dec. 16-18, it’s A Victorian Holiday, a step back in time with old-fashioned carolers, bell ringers, sleigh rides, ice skating, the halls decked just as the Victorians did, and one-of-a-kind ornament and gift making; from Dec. 23-25, the Family Christmas Celebration includes caroling, storytelling, and Christmas Eve Dinner followed by holiday music and fireside winter-warmers with elf tuck-ins available for the youngsters; Dec. 26-30 are Family Fun Days filled with special programs for ages 5-12 and kids' apres ski parties; and Dec. 30-Jan. 1 is the New Year’s Gala Celebration, which includes a choice of an elegant, formal dinner in the lavish, award-winning Hotel Dining Room with dancing to the sounds of a live big band, or a fun, family-friendly celebration with a grand buffet in the Ballroom followed by an early countdown celebration, plus special children-only and teen parties and a fireworks show. Info: www.mtwashington.com or www.brettonwoods.com
Lake Placid, NY. Twice the site of the Olympic Games, Lake Placid remains an internationally-flavored American small town. Yet, the is in the celebration of winter. Smack off Main Street 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. 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 - the very same track where this dad took several headers within one lap! Events: Christmas Eve candlelight services, Christmas Day Dinner at 2 p.m., both at the Adirondack Community Church; Dec. 26-27, Olympic Center Holiday Hoopfest, an annual basketball tournament featuring 21 high school boys and girls teams; Dec. 28-29, Lake Placid High School Hockey Tournament; Dec. 23-29: An Adirondack Christmas Tradition at Whiteface Mountain with piano, bell choir, clowns and magic; Dec. 26-31, USA Hockey Women’s Holiday Tournament; Dec. 28, Annual Coronation Ice Show. Info: www.orda.org or www.whiteface.com
Beaver Creek, CO. We’re going to go out on a limb here and say money may not buy you happiness but it will buy you holidays with pizzazz at Beaver Creek. This is not for the slight of wallet, but if high-class amenities and all the fixin’s is your cup of tea, this is the answer. The base village has it all - shops, spas, fine restaurants, a world-class, performing arts center, skating rink, heated sidewalks - you name it. And, they do the holidays just like they do everything else - first class. Events: Dec. 22, A Christmas Carol at the Vilar Center performed by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan; Dec. 26, Michael Cooper - Masked Marvels & Wondertales, a one-man extravaganza at the Vilar Center featuring breathtaking handcrafted masks, original family stories of courage and wonder, outlandish stilt-dancing and more, and an Ice Skating Show on the Beaver Creek Village rink; Dec 27, A Very ABBA Christmas, with ABBA’s famous costumes, dance moves Swedish banter, holiday favorites and ABBA hits; Dec. 30, The Nutcracker by Jim Gamble Puppets; daily kids’ activities at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and elsewhere. Info: www.beavercreek.com
The Balsams, Dixville Notch, NH. Talk about your classic family resort, the Balsams has it all. Set in the tiny town that has grown famous for being the "first in the nation" to report results on election day, the resort prides itself on impeccable service and its dedication to quality. The ski area is admittedly tiny, but the Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are fine, and a vacation here is about everyone getting together to celebrate winter. Breakfast, dinner and late-afternoon hor’s d’oeuvres are always included. Come holiday season, a giant tree appears in the John Dix Social Room, a Christmas play is performed on Christmas Eve day and suddenly Santa arrives. There’s tree decorating with make-your-own decorations and a Christmas Eve Mass. Events run throughout the holiday week. An after-dinner hayride to take you to the ski area for a Torchlight parade, S’mores, and clowns, a caricature artist, and a magician in action. There are family ski parties, comedians performing, storyelling, a kids’ “coketail” party, snowshoe hikes, family broomball - well, you get the idea. Guests can enjoy two daily, free childcare at the ski area for ages 6 months – 5 years, and wine tastings, and culinary demos. For additional cost an in-room, table-top Christmas Tree can be ordered, and horse-drawn sleigh and dog sled rides are available. Info: www.thebalsams.com
Taos, NM. Understanding that you can’t bring your snowboarder to Taos (they’re still banned here, but that’s a story for another time), if you’re a family of skiers, te combination of Taos Ski Valley (the ski area) and the town of Taos brings a lot to the able. A mix of three cultures comes together here, and the plethora of art galleries, cultural sites and fantastic skiing makes this not only a unique destination, but an especially dynamic one at holiday time. As to the skiing, the hill at Taos Ski valley is second to none, and their ski school has always been among the best. Among the area’s events: Procession of the Virgin (Dec. 24), offers a chance to be a part of one of the spectacles of the Taos Pueblo - a must-see; Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at the ski area; Deer Dance or Matachines Dance (Dec. 25) presents some of the most beautiful native dances open to the public at Taos Pueblo; a New Year's Eve Celebration that includes a torchlight parade and fireworks display followed by festivities throughout the Taos Village; Turtle Dance (Jan 1) at the Taos Pueblo. Info: www.skitaos.org or www.taoswebb.com
Ski Silver Star Mountain Resort, BC. Silver Star’s purpose-built base is done in Victorian-era old-west style, and it can seem a bit kitschy. But, with lights a-glitter and snow up to your chin, it somehow works. Almost every night of the week features a special activity: Monday, movie night; Tuesday, family night at the Adventure Park with free hot dogs and marshmallows around the bonfire and discounts on Mini-Z snowmobiling; Wednesday, family bingo and movies; Thursday, the Snow Show, a live musical comedy performed by the ski school staff; Friday nights feature fireworks; and Saturday is Family Carnival night. During the holidays, performances are offered by the Vernon Figure Skating Club and the Vernon Community Singers carol through the village, and finish with a free concert. Santa makes a special stop arriving on Christmas Eve with a glo-stick and torchlight parade and fireworks. The Banff Mountain Film Festival comes here on Dec. 28-29. On New Year’s, there’s another torchlight parade and plenty of parties. Info: www.skisilverstar.com.
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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.