Family Vacation Value Destinations - Vol. 7
By Mitch Kaplan
Our ongoing search for resorts that offer the best value in a
family ski/ride vacation continues. How do we define best value?
The "value" of a winter family vacation lies in the quality of
the experience, the overall sense of satisfaction and the
creation of great shared memories. While price remains important
always, value is not all about price. In judging a potential
vacation for its value, we remind you to look at the big picture,
imagine yourself in that picture, and try to best evaluate the
Keep in mind the qualities that make a family-friendly resort:
ski terrain appropriate for everyone in the family; acceptable
lodging (both type and location); half- and full-day ski
programs; day care; and apres-ski opportunities. The destination
should fit your family.
And, remember, time of year directly affects cost and can affect
snow conditions. Skiing at Thanksgiving will be cheap, but
conditions might well be dicey. Skiing during Presidents' Week in
February will more likely mean great snow, but at peak cost. The
best value of all may be late-March and early April: the weather
warms, low season prices return and, because March is generally
the month that brings the most snow, there's plenty of white
In truth, most ski resorts of significant size now fill most
families' needs. We personally prefer less scale and more
content, but many folks want the size and variety that a Vail or
This year, we've added some new resorts to our list and revisited
some of our past favorites. Please bear in mind our past
Vacation Destinations Vol. 1, Value
Vacation Destinations Vol. 2 and
Value Vacation Destinations Vol. 3, and Value
Vacation Destinations Vol. 4 and Value
Vacation Destinations Vol. 5., Value Vacation Destinations Vol. 6.
Here are this season's recommendations divided geographically:
Smugglers' Notch, VT (www.smuggs.com): Year after year Smuggs
ranks among the best of the best. Their combination of
programming, pricing and service serves families more
comprehensively than most resorts. Example: The Club
Smugglers' Advantage Package includes condo lodging; daily
lift tickets; daily all-day kids' ski/snowboard camp for ages
3-5; daily group ski/snowboard lessons for ages 6-17; daily
learn-to-ski/snowboard group lessons for adult beginners; one
free adults ski/snowboard group lesson in levels 3-9 with
additional lessons at 50 percent off; a Winter Walking program;
unlimited use of 34 km of cross-country trails and 24 km of
snowshoe trails; unlimited use of the FunZone Family
Entertainment Center, indoor pool, hot tubs and teen centers; off
slope activities such as snow tubing and nightly entertainment;
and free lift tickets valid through December 19, 2010 to use on a
future return visit.
Downside: It's a long drive from many northeast population
centers, getting from the main base village to Madonna and
Sterling Mountains can be cumbersome, and ageing lifts might
Waterville Valley, NH(www.waterville.com): Waterville is snug
like a bug in a rug. On-slope, there's one base; nobody gets
lost. Their kids' programs emphasize fun, and uniquely reward
progress with special pins that kids are proud to wear. Off
slope, the base village contains full choice of lodging, several
dining options, and off-slope activities ranging from sleigh
rides and ice skating, to a full fitness center. A variety of
ski/stay deal are offered throughout the season, which now
includes a 3 p.m. Sunday checkout, a real logistic boon for
parents. The $12 kids' non-holiday Sunday lift ticket is a
financial boon, as well.
Downside: The base village is a few miles from the slopes, and
this isn't the biggest hill, which somewhat limits in the
Sunday River, ME (www.sundayrriver.com): The River handles
kids with, well, kid gloves, and does it very well. The Sunday
River's Children's Festival Week, taking place in mid-January, is
dedicated to families with activities like scavenger hunts, live
entertainment, movies and themed Perfect Turn ski and snowboard
lessons. Adult packages from $90/pp/per night including lift
tickets, slopeside lodging and Perfect Turn clinics. Kids aged 4-
12 ski, snowboard, stay, rent and learn for free with three-night
stay. There's also limited night skiing/riding.
Downside: The resort's a bit like a megalopolis, with eight
peaks, multiple base lodges and something of a confusing trail
layout. Be sure your kid(s) know where they're lodging and set up
specific meeting places with them.
Gore Mountain, NY(www.goremountain.com):
Gore just may be the most under-rated destination anywhere. And,
it's growing better by the season, thanks to new lifts, trails
and a new kids' center installed during the last few years. The
snowsliding covers the complete range, from as steep as steep can
be, to glades, bumps and easy-going trails. The nearby Ski Bowl
in North Creek has its own mild slopes, terrain park, half-pipe,
twilight skiing/riding, tubing park, and is the site of
family-oriented events. Holiday camps facilitate prime time
Downside: No slopeside lodging or dining means commuting to/from
North creek or other areas.
Jiminy Peak, MA (www.jiminypeak.com): Jiminy remains our
choice for the best of the smaller northeastern resorts. Jiminy
has nice slopeside lodging, a user-friendly single base area with
recently added retail, amenities and kids' center. They've
created superb intro to ski/ride programs, which is augmented by
a kids 12 and under stay free program, it's easily accessed from
major northeastern metro areas, and they've installed a "coaster"
ride to entertain non-skiers. And, now they have a wind turbine
at the top that supplies most of the resort's electricity; it
Downside: being more southerly, rain can be a factor, you must
travel a bit to shop, and it might not keep better sliders
occupied for more than a day or two.
Seven Springs, PA (www.7springs): Day sliding. Night sliding.
Reasonable ticket rates. Expansive terrain. Lodging galore. Off-
slope activities of all kinds (bowling, anyone? sporting clays,
perhaps?). Discounted Holiday Adventure Packages that start at
$189/pp for lodging, unlimited skiing/riding, overnight ski
check, breakfast buffet (Main Lodge guests), indoor pool and
exercise room access, multi-day ski and snowboard rental
discounts. This western Pennsylvania resort, which manages to be
simultaneously big and small, is amazing.
Downside: The Springs spreads out seemingly forever yet, being
the closest major destination to metro Pittsburgh, it can get
Crystal Mountain, MI (www.crystalmountain.com): Crystal must be
included in any listing of family-friendly Midwestern resorts.
Ski-stay packages galore are offered, with lodging of all kinds
slopeside; night skiing, including night Nordic; terrain parks
for all; excellent on-snow programs; ice skating with rinkside
bonfires; moonlight snowshoeing; indoor pool; fitness center; an
Art Park (now that's unique); face painting; and story time.
Downside: Just a 375-foot vertical (well, this is the Midwest).
Boyne Highlands, MI (www.boyne.com/BoyneHighlands): Highlands,
too, must remain on any listing like this, if for no other reason
than the water park. Called Avalanche Bay, it's replete with
slides, rides, kids' pools, climbing wall, lazy river, and a
surfing simulator all attached to a hotel. Oh yeah, you can go
snowsliding and do all the requisite winter activities like
snowshoeing, dogsledding, snowmobiling, tubing, etc.; but, we bet
getting those kids out of the water will be a challenge.
Downside: Limited vertical, kind of a long drive from Chicago and
Granite Peak, WI(www.skigranitepeak.com): During recent
years, Granite Peak's base village has become a comprehensive,,
small village with a full array of services. With 75 runs, it's
big enough to entertain everyone, and the town of Wassau holds
the complete lodging and dining range. Chain hotels like Holiday
Inn Suites and Best Western offer affordable packages, plus
facilities like swimming pools; non-chain lodgings, the Stony
Creek Inn, offer good values like kids-stay-free. Plus, it's a
genuine, small Midwestern city with all the lively dynamics that
Downside: No slopeside lodging.
Terry Peak, SD (www.terrypeak.com): If you're not from
around here, you might find the elevation stats hard to believe:
top-7,052 ft.; base-6,500 ft., vertical-1,100 ft. In the Midwest?
Yes. There's also 27 trails and five lifts, including two high-
speed chairs. There's slopeside lodging, and the famous
(infamous?) town of Deadwood is close by.
Downside: It's far away very far away for most of us.
Breckenridge, CO (Breckenridge Resort Managers):Excitement is in the air as snow covers the ground and activities have become available to keep the children entertained. Whether it is skiing, snowboard, or tubing that catches your attention, Breckenridge Lodging can provide you with the well needed rest that is required after a long day of play.
Monarch Mountain, CO (www.skimonarch.com): Call this "the little-
big mountain that can." Monarch, set 20 minutes' drive outside
Salida, CO, is uncrowded and rife with spectacular expert
snowsliding, including a cat operation. At the same time, their
dedication to kids' programs is admirable. The childcare (for
ages 2-6) is among the most caring we've seen; the kids' novice
learning area is secluded from the main slopes and filled with
entertaining elements to make things interesting; and the half-
and all-day programs for older kids rock. Crowds are never a
problem, and the powder comes in buckets. Salida is an
interesting town, with an historical district, as well as a
typical highway commercial strip, plus a terrific indoor swimming
facility. Local hotels and inns offer ski/stay packages.
Downside: We're fairly remote here, and there's no slopeside
lodging or infant daycare.
Downside: the ski area is a ways from town; the lifts are old and
slow (which may bother some, but not us); the pool is popular
enough that it can be crowded at times.
The Big Mountain, MT ((www.bigmtn.com): Whitefish is a downright
folksy town with a healthy dash of sophistication. The Big
Mountain, a twenty-minute drive above town, has been, for the
past few years in the process of building its own base village.
The combination is unbeatable, offering the best of both worlds
in-town or slopeside. But, in the tradition of many resorts that
started out as small town ski areas, this remains very much a
locally-oriented hill, very friendly, where families have been
playing for generations. As with any major destination, all the
terrain you can want is here, as are the programs. But, it's
small-town the ambience we love.
Downside: it's a far piece from most anywhere (although if you've
got oodles of time, you can arrive by train from either the
Midwest or the Pacific Northwest); and ,if it's important to you,
it lacks the glitz of the high-end resorts.
Sun Peaks, BC (www.sunpeaksresort.com): For one thing, the
Canadian dollar exchange rate is favorable again, which makes
most Canadian skiing a relative bargain for Americans. Sun Peaks
is often lost in the glitz of other, more glamorous British
Columbia resorts, but with nearly 3,000 feet of vertical and
3,600-plus acres of skiable terrain, this place is not to be
ignored. And, it's family-friendly, with a comprehensive base
village, an Adventure Center that offers activities like bungee
trampoline and mini snowmobiles, and packages like their four-
night Super Saver that starts at C$89/pp/per night.
Downside: For folks coming from the U.S., this can be somewhat
remote and lacking in the big-time amenities and distractions of,
say, a Whistler or Banff.
Brundage, ID (www.brundage.com): This is a community-
owned and community-oriented ski area that minimizes the frills
and maximizes service and fun. And, they get a ton of snow. It's
also about the only place we know of that has drive-up drop-off
at their Kids' Center. Plus, the Bear Chair connects the Kids'
Center to beginner and advanced beginner terrain, making things
easy for the whole family. There's a decent terrain park, a
remarkable range of terrain for a rather diminutive area and, for
those who can, 19,000 acres of cat skiing. The town of McCall is
small and friendly.
Downside: the ski areas is eight miles from McCall, and there's
no ski in/out lodging.
Powder Mountain, UT (www.powdermountain.com): If you like
unadorned and a bit funky, but overflowing with uncrowded slopes
and truly friendly local atmosphere, this place is a gem. Set 19
miles northeast of Ogden, Powder has 2,800 skiable acres
inbounds, 7,000 if you count their out-of-bounds terrain. But,
it's not all killer terrain there's even some delightful green-
rated glade skiing. The resort holds a limited amount of
slopeside lodging (four-wheel drive vehicle recommended);
otherwise, it's down-valley or into Ogeden for the night. The Ogden Valley Business
Association offers an array of ski/stay packages. And,
there's night sliding.
Downside: Powder is remote. It's also simple no fancy base
village, or myriad other distractions.
Angel Fire, NM (www.angelfireresort.com): Angel Fire is
another place that gets a bit lost in the glamor of a neighbor,
Taos. But, this is a truly family-friendly resort where kids 12
and under ski, eat and stay free when overnighting with an
accompanying paying parent at the Lodge at Angel Fire Resort. New
Mexico's first night skiing/riding will be introduced for winter
09-10, 50 acres of it, and the alternative activities list
includes tubing, ice skating ice fishing, horseback riding and
Downside: You're a three-hour drive from the nearest major
airport (Albuquerque), and you won't find the seriously
challenging terrain of Taos.
Beaver Creek, CO (beavercreek.com): Pre-Christmas or late
season. They'll spoil you rotten; the expert terrain holds
wonderful surprises; superb on-slope programming and day care;
its own performing arts center; tons of off-slope/apres-ski
offerings; just one main base area; super grooming; fantastic
shopping and dining (albeit expensive).
Downside: way too expensive for most mere mortals during high
season, although money can be saved by lodging in nearby Avon.
Mt. Hood Ski Bowl, OR (www.skibowl.com): Ski Bowl another locals'
treasure. Here, there's more night sliding terrain than anywhere
in the U.S., tickets are affordable ($44/adult/weekend), and the
terrain is dynamic. You'll have to lodge down the road, but the
value is in its simplicity and night riding.
Downside: No slopeside lodging, somewhat short runs, and old,
Northstar-at-Tahoe (www.skinorthstar.com): Families love
Northstar. Good terrain and parks, excellent service, quaint
village, and good deals on vacation packages during low season.
The small customer service touches like ferrying you and your
gear from parking lot to slopes can't be beat, the ski school
offers creative options like parent-and-child classes and a
family terrain park, and the freestyle/park/pipe scene is
vibrant. Add to that a new base village with an ice rink, and a
variety of lodging near the slopes, and the value becomes even
Downside: Can be very crowded on weekends.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort, CA (www.kirkwood.com): Not far from South
Tahoe's blazing neon lights, but a quiet retreat unto itself,
Kirkwood holds huge amounts of skiing and terrain for everyone, a
pleasant self-contained base village of approachable size,
excellent slopeside accommodations and good daycare, but only
from age two up. There's also a nice non-ski activities
selection, including tubing, skating, a snowskate park and
snowshoeing; and an excellent commitment to parks/pipes. The
Expedition Kirkwood program offers unique opportunities for
backcountry and adventure experiences for adults and kids.
Downside: no daycare for infants; limited (albeit improving
slowly) dining/apres-ski options.
Stevens Pass, WA (www.stevenspass.com): Sizeable enough to
keep everyone happy (10 lifts, 1,125-plus acres skiable terrain,
37 runs, and an small base village with three day lodges), but
small-resort friendly. The Adventure Package provides affordable
lift/lesson/lunch for ages 5-12; Kids Club is for ages 3-4. Night
skiing/riding. Lodging is found a bit down the road in
Leavenworth's Bavarian Village and other locations, many with
kids stay free offers.
Downside: No slopeside lodging; no day care; limited "big resort"
amenities like shopping and dining options.
Homewood, CA (www.skihomewood.com): Here's a place where
you can truly say "what you see is not what you get." From the
road, you can see but a small fraction of Homewood's 100 runs.
From the top, you see dramatic Lake Tahoe views. This is kind of
a "local's hill," something of a well-kept secret. Children 10
and younger ski free when accompanied by an adult. Adults 62 and
above ski as low as $10 a day. A full menu of kids' lessons is
Downside: no on-site day care; a bit off the Tahoe beaten path
(but that means less crowding, too).
North Tahoe, CA (www.tahoefun.org): There are so many resorts
in the area it will be tough to get to one every day for two
weeks! Count 'em: Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Boreal, Soda
Springs, Tahoe Donner, Northstar, on the Truckee Side; and Squaw
Valley, Alpine Meadows, Homewood, Diamond Peak - on the North
Tahoe side. Add in South Shore resorts, Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe
and Kirkwood and there's just too much to cover for any normal
family. Upside: tons of world-class terrain. Multi-day
interchangeable tickets to northshore resorts. Downside: Tahoe is
busy on weekends. Plan on visiting the smaller resorts during
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