Charming Holiday Destinations
by Mitch Kaplan
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Charming Destinations 2003
Charming Destinations 2005
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. 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. But, let's talk special events, shall we? On Nov. 30, Christmas with Dickens features presentations of "A Christmas Carol", "Tea with Scrooge" and "Dinner with Dickens", performed by Gerald Charles Dickens, Charles Dickens' great-great grandson; from Dec. 20-26, 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. 21's Holiday Follies go on all day - cookie decorating, ornament crafting, skiing with Santa and Christmas tree lighting; Dec. 26-28 are Family Fun Days filled with special programs for ages 5-12 and kids' apres ski parties. Info: mtwashington.com; or brettonwoods.com; 800-258-0330 or 603-278-1000 (in NH).
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: 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 New Year's Ski Jump Competition. Info: orda.org; or whiteface.com; 800-447-5224 or 518-523-1655.
Quebec City, Quebec. The Old City is always alluring, a touch of ancient Europe stuck north of New England; during Yuletide the place dazzles. The area is laden with lights, outdoor creche scenes and lit trees. Myriad shops and restaurants are all decked out for the season. With snow on the ground, there's no urban scene quite like it this side of the Atlantic. And, with alpine skiing as close as a half-hour away at Mont Ste. Anne or Stoneham, plus Nordic skiing right in town, you can have the best of all worlds there. Events: The Magic of a Traditional Christmas, a 19th century visit with Father Christmas, the British Santa Claus, an old-style Christmas decoration work-shop and games, and captivating kids activities in the Parc des Champs-de-Bataille; Festivités du Temps des Fêtes at Stoneham, Dec. 24-Jan.1; Crèches d'ici et d'ailleurs a fascinating display of creches of today and yesterday at the library Gabrielle-Roy; Mega Snowboarding Festival And World Cup Event, Dec. 19-22 at Mont-Sainte-Anne, including Santa's village at the top of the mountain. Info: quebecregion.com, 418-522-3511; ski-stoneham.com, 800-463-6888; mont-sainte-anne.com, 800-463-1568.
Stowe, VT. If this town wasn't invented by Currier & Ives, then it should have been. That classic winter image of a New England village originates from Stowe, church steeple and all. Places like the Trapp Family Lodge, with its classic Austrian, Nordic retreat ambience, and events like horse-drawn sleigh rides at Edson Hill Manor, Stowehof, Mountain View Equestrian or the Trapp Family Lodge, and the Helen Day Art Center Festival of Trees in which local businesses compete to create the most interesting Christmas tree, only reinforce the image. Info: stowe.com, 800-253-4754; or gostowe.com; 877-GOSTOWE.
Crested Butte, CO. The Butte has a reputation for extreme terrain, and the bad news is that often in December the snowpack lacks the depth to open that territory. But, for most, there's enough downhill sliding to be entertained, and you have an historic landmark town that will charm your pants off. You'll probably need new pants by the time you leave, anyway, because the eating in this village is something taking a gourmet tour of France, Italy, Mexico and other sites in one tiny southwestern spot. Sure, the on-slope development lacks character, but you can stay in slopeside digs and readily ride the free bus to town. Info: cbmr.com; 800-810-SNOW or 800-950-2133.
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: Bob Berky, Musical Clown, Dec. 21, a masterful holiday clown show for audiences of all ages; "A Scottish Christmas" (Dec. 22) a journey of lively Scottish carols, wassail tunes and traditional Highland dance and music; The BMW Thursday Night Lights, a hosted, weekly glow stick ski-down to music; daily kids' activities at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and elsewhere. Info: beavercreek.com; 888-830-7669.
Whitefish/The Big Mountain, MT. A friend has likened Whitefish to being the Greenwich Village of the Rockies. It's funky, down home, friendly and filled with hard corps snowsliders. The Big Mountain, twenty minutes up the hill from town, has all the terrain you'd ever want, and some excellent kids programming, too. They're building a new base village up there, but we like being in town, where the long freight trains still roll through (as does Amtrak, which you can ride to get here from east or west), you can buy your latté at the drive-through coffee joint, you can see live theater, and you can, of course, eat well and shop. Events: Dec. 24, Santa's Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade; Info: thebigmountain.com; 800-858-3930.
Sun Valley, ID. When Laina went to Sun Valley at age eleven, her dad required her to sit through Sun Valley Serenade at the Opera House, which sits between the Sun Valley Lodge and the Sun Valley Inn. Then he toured her through the Lodge's halls to peruse the antique celebrity photos. She thought it was all pretty silly, but he wanted her to sense the tradition. Ketchum/Sun Valley is yet another place that oozes charm year-round, and therefore is yet another site that makes the holidays extra special. Ice skate where Sonja Henie did; get there from L.A. on the new daily non-stop air service from Horizon Air. Events: "A Christmas Carol" performance and "Holiday Crafts for Kids" throughout the holidays; Dec. 28, Winter Animal Tracking for Kids. Info: sunvalley.com, or visitsunvalley.com; 800-635-4150.
Royal Gorge, CA. Any family can enjoy a winter getaway at Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort. Gather round the fireplace at the Rainbow Lodge for a game of Monopoly, or book your own private cabin at the Wilderness Lodge (access is via horse drawn sleigh). It's old fashioned fun, a variety of ski terrain, Sierra snow, plus some great gourmet California cuisine. See royalgorge.com or call 1-800-500-3871 for more information.
Squaw Valley, CA. A new Intrawest Village, awesome terrain, plus lots of kid's amenities, makes Squaw Valley a top spot for a holiday vacation. Definately stay slopeside (Village at Squaw Valley, Resort at Squaw Creek, Squaw Valley Lodge) to avoid traffic during the busy week. But you'll find uncrowded slopes, lots of holiday festivities (Christmas Eve torchlight parade, skiing Santa, Village fireside stories), plus lots of off-slope activities. Ice-skating, tubing, rock climbing, bungee jumping, and seasonal swimming at the resort's heated pool is but a taste of family fun. Nearby Lake Tahoe boasts five world class ski resorts, plus a variety of smaller resorts for those who want to explore. For more info see squaw.com .
Santa Fe, NM. If there's a rival city to Quebec City in North America, it's probably Santa Fe. Oh, yeah, it's a little pricey, and the New Agers might make you dizzier than the elevation, but three cultures meet here and they do it with style. Ski Santa Fe also happens to be one of the best "small" or "local" ski areas anywhere. Better for families than Taos, we think, if for no other reason than snowboarders are welcome. You must drive a half-hour up a wonderful road - watching the topography change from high desert to high mountain - to reach the snowfields, but once you're there you're rewarded with no extraneous development and a ten thousand square mile view. Events: A Christmas Carol at the Santa Fe Playhouse; Multiple Visions: A Common Bond a delightful display of toys, miniatures and folk art from more than 100 countries spanning six continents at the
Museum of International Folk Art Info: skisantafe.com, 800-776-7669 or 877-737-7366; santafe.org, 800-777-CITY.
Banff, Alberta. Banff is so pretty it's almost hokey. But, when you walk across the bridge at the far end of town, or travel above town to look out on the classic view of the Banff Springs Hotel, you'd have to be made of calluses not to be charmed. Be not fooled - it's a tourist town, but so warmly done we don't care. And, talk about terrific snowsliding: Lake Louise, Sunshine and Norquay make choosing a daily destination difficult. Events: Santa on Skis, Dec. 25; or, explore with an ice canyon walk, see the Columbia Icefields by snowcoach, or do the waterslides at Douglas Fir Resort & Chalets. Info: www.banfflakelouise.com; 403-762-8421.
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