Non-ski Activities That Make Ski Resorts Even More Fun Than They Already Are
by Mitch Kaplan
Here’s the problem. You bring your kids to the big ski resort, and enroll them in all-day kids’ ski/ride programs. Or, maybe they ski/ride with you all day. No matter, because after the kids slide all day on snow, you have a parent’s well-earned right to expect them to be so exhausted that they’ll have barely enough energy to swallow dinner and fall asleep while watching a DVD in the condo. After all, you’ve been snowsliding all day, and you’re exhausted.
Sorry. It just doesn’t work that way. No sooner have your urchins left the slopes and consumed a revivifying snack, than—boom!— they’re rarin’ to go again.
So, now what do you do with them?
The good news is this: ski resorts everywhere have understood that
a) because they exist in an environment that lends itself to myriad activities; and
b) because not everyone skis/rides; and, moreover
c) because many snowsliders, particularly kids, are far from finished being active at the ski day’s end; therefore
d) a serious demand exists for a variety of activity venues beyond the slopes.
Indeed, seemingly innumerable choices of non-ski activities are now found at major resorts—from trekking to shopping to live entertainment to creating your own crafts.
Now, we understand the need some have for shopping, and the popularity of same, but we’re partial to staying physically active. So, herein we list only dynamically physical off-slope pursuits that add fun, excitement and more activity to your ski resort visit.
Hopefully some of these activities will also tire your children to the point of allowing everyone a good night’s sleep.
Snow Tubing. This one’s pervasive. Nearly every major, and most minor, ski areas has a tubing hill. What’s cool about it is simply this: no skills are required and you can go fast, slow, in a twist while rotating or backwards.
Mountain Coaster. A kind of combination roller coaster/alpine slide, this joy ride can be experienced at Jiminy Peak on weekends/holidays, and at Wisp Resort on weekends.
Dogsledding. Yes, they say that the view changes only for the lead dog. But, when you’re safely perched high in the sled behind the pack, you’ve got a great overview. Few places will allow children to actually drive the sled, but the combination of experiencing these beautiful animals and the surprising speed that the sleds attain, makes this lots of fun.
Ziplines. You’ve spent all day sliding on the ground, now try flying above it. Ziplines aren’t as commonly found as tubing hills, say, but resorts that have them (Whistler, Heavenly, Jiminy Peak, Big White, among others) allow an aerial thrill second to none. What’s a zipline? Simply put, it’s a cable that runs high above the ground. You hook yourself to it while wearing a harness and then let fly, zipping from Point A to Point B as the hook runs along the cable.
Canopy Tours. Bretton Woods/Mt. Washington Resort has added this zipline variation, invented in the Costa Rican rain forests, for winter 2008-09. Comprised of ten zip lines, two suspension bridges, hiking and even rappelling deep in the forests, this is a high-in-the-air, treetop adventure. You can also do a variation of this in winter at Whistler-Blackcomb.
Snowshoeing. Another adventure that requires no skills. If you can walk, you can do snowshoe. The cool thing is that you can wander all over the place while doing so. Follow Nordic trails, head into the high country, take a guided tour and learn about flora and fauna, snowshoe beneath the full moon or, in many locales like Colorado’s Ski Cooper, snowshoe to/from a gourmet dinner. Heck, at Quebec’s Mont-Ste-Anne, you can ride the gondola at night to the top and admire the lights of Quebec City as you do a snowshoe-to-fondue.
Snowmobiling & Mini-Scoots. Most resorts offer everything from quick rides to all-day explorations. Kids, of course, may not drive, but they can usually ride with you. And, in places like Killington, Vermont, and Vail, Colorado, mini-machines allow youngsters to take the wheel, uh, handlebars. A true thrill for them.
Ice Skating. You can cut figures on the same rink as Sonja Henie did at Sun Valley, skate for miles along the Magog jogging path in the Eastern Townships, zip around at the top of Squaw Valley, race on the Olympic oval in Lake Placid, or pretend to be an NHL star at Keystone’s outdoor ice. This is the mountains. In winter. Most everyone has a place to skate.
Hot Air Ballooning. Now, be aware—to take to the skies this way, you must rise early in the morning. Because that’s when the thermals (upward hot air currents) do. But, oh my, what a view. And quiet? Plus, you’ll no doubt receive a lesson in the history of ballooning, which has many fine and quirky traditions.
Snow Biking. This one’s a bit more rare, but where it’s offered, it’s a complete hoot. In German-speaking lands they call this the velogemmel, but what it amounts to is a BMX-style bike that has mini-skis instead of wheels. And, no brakes. (That’s what your feet are for.) Point it downhill and go, go, go!
Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ridges. They love to offer these out west. Often (but not always), the rides lead to a meal, dinner or lunch. But, even if it’s just a cruise, kids love horses and the chance to glide over the snow behind a sturdy steed is a real treat. Better, and much more romantic, than a horse-and-buggy tour of Central Park.
Horseback Riding. To cantor off into the snow covered fields on horseback . . . does it get any more western romantic than that? Not to a horse-mad nine year-old girl, or a wanna-be cowboy.
Climbing Walls. When you’re done social climbing, this is the next best way up life’s ladder. Best thing about it in winter is that the walls are indoors, so when you’re in the mood for, or need of, something to get you out of the weather, climbing fills the need wonderfully. And, most all will have kid-friendly climbs.
Ice climbing. Whether it’s the frozen falls outside Quebec City, Banff, Telluride or high in the White Mountains, myriad places teach and guide ice climbing. Some advice? Don’t look down.
Swimming. A must. It’s as simple as that. We never book a vacation without a place to swim. Best if it’s right in the hotel or condo complex, but all swimming is good. We’ve splashed in the hot-springs/water play complex in Steamboat, the indoor but unheated pool at Smugglers’ Notch, the mini water park at Banff’s Douglas Fir Resort & Chalets, in hotel pools at Whistler and everywhere between. The ultimate, perhaps? The full-blown, indoor waterpark at Michigan’s Boyne Highlands—soon to be imitated in several other places. Kids love water and it keeps ‘em entertained for hours.
Indoor Activity Centers. At Smugglers’ Notch they call this kind of facility the FunZone Family Entertainment Center. It’s like a min- indoor amusement park, with inflatables on which to bounce and slide, and all kinds of games ranging from video to jousting.
Snow Groomer Rides. Boyne’s Michigan Resorts and other destinations let you ride along win a grooming machine, so you can see just how that corduroy you’re been skiing is created.
Indoor Golf Simulators. For those with junior golfers in their entourage, Okemo is one winter place where golf can be played—or at least simulated—year-round. Another is at the Inn at Essex outside Burlington, VT. You might be skeptical about hitting golf balls at a movie-type screen, but it’s amazingly realistic.
Train Rides. Alright, this one isn’t quite so active, but \kKids—especially young boys—love trains. You can ride the train from Denver to ski at Winter Park. Amtrak delivers skiers to Whitefish, MT, and Whitefish Mountain Resort (a.k.a. The Big Mountain) traveling west from Chicago or east from Seattle. Try the Mt. Washington Cog Railway’s coal-fired steam railroad. At Purgatory-Durango Mountain Resort, a day off spent riding the steam powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a grand treat. Kids love even the miniature Loon Mountain steam train that runs between base lodges.
Boat Rides. This one’s no so common, but in South Tahoe you can, even in mid-winter, cruise the lake on the Tahoe Queen or MS Dixie II out of Zephyr’s Cove.
Night Skiing/Riding. Okay, we realize this isn’t a ski/ride alternative. But, from Keystone to Stowe and places throughout the Midwest and out to the Pacific Coast, night skiing is part of the apres-scene. Mind you, it’s only for those who have energy to burn and just can’t get enough downhilling.
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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.