Candlelight Evening in Old Bethpage Village Restoration Warms the Heart, Soothes the Soul

Carolers sing holiday favorites at the bonfire in the middle of Old Bethpage Village © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music abounds throughout Old Bethpage Village Restoration, the evening warmed by the orange-red glow of candlelight, fireplace embers, a bonfire.   The annual Candlelight Evenings at Old Bethpage Restoration, a living history museum on Long Island, is one of my favorite holiday events.

The most wonderful thing about the candlelight evenings at Old Bethpage Village Restoration on Long Island, is yes, the sense of stepping back into time, into an idyllic peacefulness that makes you feel as if you have just fallen into a Christmas card. But what I love best are the serendipitous moments when you engage the reenactors in conversation- the questions that arise just because you are immersed in that experience.

Each year, I add to the stories, my understanding of history and our community’s heritage.

Just leaving the visitors center is an experience. Just before you exit the center, inside, a group of Santas in modern dress are singing but as you walk down the ramp into the darkness, leaving pavement and electric lights behind, carolers are singing in a shadow. I meet up with them again in the village.

The village is actually a created place, assembled from historic homes from across Nassau County (it was Queens County when they were built), except for the Powell Farm, which is the only original homestead here and dates from 1855. Many of the homes were built by people whose names are well known to Long Islanders: Hewlett, Searing, Schenck, Cooper (built in 1815 for the famous inventor, Peter Cooper, in Hempstead). Most were built in the 1800s, but the Schenck House, the oldest, was built around 1765 for a Dutch landowner, Minne Schenck, who had 300 acres in Manhasset (manpower was provided by African slaves and servants).

Walking along the pebbled path, lighted only with flames, I come upon a brass band outside the Conklin House, built in 1853 by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman, in the Village of the Branch.

Santa is making lists and checking twice, here in his workshop at the Layton House and General Store  during Candlelight Evening at Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The centerpiece of the Village is the Layton General Store and House, built by John M. Layton, a storekeeper, around 1866 in East Norwich. Though the house seems very fine – with large rooms and tall ceilings, I am told that he was middle class. Here, in the parlor, I meet Santa Claus who seems to be making out his list and checking it twice. In the next room is the Layton General Store – the Walmart of its day – where you can purchase candy and dolls that are made by one of the interpreters.

Max Rowland plays banjo at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The next important house is the Noon Inn is appropriately just across from the general store, where when you climb the stairs, you find Max L. Rowland regaling an audience with his banjo, reconstructed to its period of the early 19th century (no frets, gut strings, deeper tone), and a concertina. If you ask, he will tell you about the instruments: in the mid-1800s, the concertina was the most popular instrument around – because it was relatively inexpensive (costing less than a violin), and compact, easy to carry and capable of such rich sound and complexity.  It was extremely popular with sailors, who could tuck it away in their gear. Rowland can testify to it: this particular concertina has crossed the sea three times with Rowland, who lives on a boat.

Carolers at the Noon Inn © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Downstairs at the Noon Inn, which dates from 1850 and was owned John H. Noon, innkeeper, in East Meadow, you can get hot mulled cider and cookies, while outside, there are carolers singing beneath a lamplight. I catch up with them again later singing at the bonfire. It is magical.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional fiddle music, played on a period instrument, a 150-year old violin that had been made in Prague, that has no chin rest or frets. We learn about the Manhasset School house – children attended the one-room school house six days a week – attendance wasn’t compulsory and kids came sporadically. Music would have been widespread but there were no real professional musicians in Long Island. The school house would have been the venue for music, entertainment (like the Magic Lantern shows, the movies of their day), and various gatherings in the evening. He tells me that all of Nassau County used to be part of Queens County, until the residents wanted to separate from New York City. One of the songs he plays is the Fireman’s Quick Step, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser.

At Queens District No. 6 School House, which dates from c. 1845 in Manhasset, there is traditional music played on a 150-year old violin, such as the Fireman’s Quickstep, written in 1822 by Francis Frank Johnson, an African American composer, for the Philadelphia Fireman’s Cotillion fundraiser  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Music was so important to the people of the mid-19th century, the period which Old Bethpage reconstructs. When you think about it, people could only appreciate music live, in the moment.

At the Hewlett House, a grand home high on the hill, built by the founder for which the town of Hewlett is named, a fellow plays a series of flutes and a violin, while popcorn is popping in the kitchen fireplace in the next room (samples provided).

Traditional music and popcorn at the Hewlett House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the beautiful Manetto Hill Church, 1857, a Methodist church that originally was located in Plainview, there is singing and storytelling – the origin of holly (representing male), ivy (representing female), so the two entwined are a symbol of marriage; mistletoe (which, rather than a romantic prompt for kissing, was used to make peace between quarreling individuals) and poinsettias. We sing carols and learn that “Jingle Bells” was written by a Sunday School teacher for a Thanksgiving  pageant(New Englanders didn’t celebrate Christmas), and Silent Night was a poem written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria by  Father Joseph Mohr in 1818 (his organist Franz Xaver Gruber wrote the music), desperate for Christmas music when the church organ broke.

Singing holiday songs, learning about holiday traditions at the Manetto Hill Church © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Luyster Store, which dates from c. 1840 and was built by John B. Luyster, a storekeeper in East Norwich, you see the rare craft of broom making (and can purchase the brooms that are made here). Tim works on a machine from 1840 which was in the museum’s collection, and you can see how much physical effort goes into it. He says he and his brother, Chris, are two of only three broommakers left on Long Island (the third is their mentor). He explains that a home would have had 2 brooms per room, or 18-20 per household, so not to transfer dirt from one room to the next. Brooms were actually expensive: an ordinary broom might have cost 24 cents – but that was equivalent to half-day’s wages in the 1840s, when the Great Recession was worse than even the Great Depression and the average man took home 48 cents a day; that means a broom would cost about $50 today (so his price of $20 for a fancy broom decorated for the holidays with fancy ribbons, holly and weaving, is a bargain).

Tim, the Broommaker at Luyster Store, one of only three broommakers left on Long Island, who demonstrate the craft © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This was an enterprise that farmers would do in winter to make extra money, and they would allocate an acre of land to cultivate the special wheat sorghum (called “corn” but not corn) for that purpose. A father would teach his child the craft. An interesting artifact in the store is the massive safe. The building itself was once a hardware store that was the only one within 10 miles of Theodore Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, so it may well be that Roosevelt would have stopped by. There is also an interesting Harrison for Reform banner, referring to William Henry Harrison, the shortest-lived president (he died of pneumonia after one month in office).

Traditional holiday music at Benjamin House © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Benjamin House, dating from 1829, was built for William Benjamin, a minister and farmer in Northville, where there a husband and wife play holiday melodies that would have been popular at the time on a gigantic bass fiddle (it seems to fill the room) and a violin, like “Deck the Halls,” which was a Welsh melody dating back to the 1600s. We discuss Christmas traditions of the time (gift-giving wasn’t yet a tradition, but Queen Victoria had popularized table-top Christmas trees as a loving gesture to Prince Albert).

I stop into the Conklin House, a house that dates from 1853 and was built by Joseph H. Conklin, a bayman in the village of Branch. Last year, there was a demonstration of spinning being done in front of the fireplace, but this year, two ladies relax over a cup of tea after demonstrating how they bake ginger snaps.

Ladies relax over a cup of tea after a busy evening baking © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tiny Searing House (this is the first time that I can remember it being open for Candlelight Evening), was Dr. James Searing’s office, a Hempstead physician, built in 1815 – where the doctor would have prepared his medicines  before going out by buggy to visit patients – and here, we are treated to freshly roasted chestnuts.

I usually save the Schenck House for last because each year, because it is here that I come upon the most unexpected encounters and find it the most illuminating. Instead of interpreting the holiday traditions of the mid 1800s, the Huntington Militia re-create a Colonial Christmas in the 18th century. The Schenck House dates from 1765, owned by a Dutch farmer. Here, our presenters speak in the style of the time, and celebrate Christmas of 1775, just two months after Martin Schenck, who inherited the house from his father,  had been one of the leaders of the committee of Patriots that decided to break from Loyalist Hempstead, and form North Hempstead. I learn that the south shore of Long Island was a occupied by the British from 1776-1783, the entire duration of the Revolutionary War, while the north shore was a stronghold for Patriots, many of them the Dutch families who had no great affinity for the British monarch. The Schencks came to the New World when New Amsterdam was a Dutch colony; the British took it over in 1754.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am swept into its history. I am transfixed talking with “Ambrose Everyman,” a fellow from 1775, an American of English descent really troubled by North Hempstead’s succession from the Town of Hempstead over the issue of rebellion against the King and Crown. His loyalties are clear. He raises the question over how the colonists are made so dissatisfied with the King – and questions the veracity of the crimes and accusations designed to foment rebellion. He notes that since the first Continental Congress, the Massachusetts faction of the Patriots have banned women from going to the tavern, banned theatrical entertainment – in effect, installed the Puritan societal structure on the colonies. And because of the “attack against one of the colonies is an attack against us all,” he questions whether the attacks in Lexington and Concord, portrayed as a British massacre, really happened that way.  “How do we really know?” he tells me (the original “fake news”?).  Mr. Everyman was upset with the upstarts in Massachusetts who caused so much trouble, who dared to pretend to be Indians and toss tea into the sea. He called them cowards for hiding behind their disguise. He said he knew war – had fought in the French and Indian War – but was too old to fight again. If there was a break with England, he says, his business of building and repairing houses, would be destroyed.

Schenck House, oldest in Old Bethpage Village, dating from 1765, where the Huntington Militia enacts a Christmas gathering in 1775 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But, he says, he cannot express his feelings: the local Committee is strictly enforcing its ban on English tea and though it had no force of law, someone who broke faith would be shamed in the Gazetteer as “an Enemy of American Liberty,” would no longer get business, and ultimately be forced out of the community. So he keeps his views to himself. Taxes? What difference does it make to pay taxes to England or taxes to the Congress, he says. And doesn’t England deserve to get repayment for the expense of fighting for the colonies? How would those who would break from England confront the greatest army on earth? Would they get aid from foreign powers like France, when France would want to take over the colonies for itself?

He gives me the sense of what a difficult dilemma this was – the prospect of confronting the most powerful nation the world had never known, the superpower of its time – and how while there had never been consensus (New York patriots fled to Philadelphia), the forcefulness with which the revolutionaries pressed their cause, the violence, a literal civil war within communities.

He goes on to show the group of Candlelight visitors that has gathered how the owner of the House, Martin Schenck, would have celebrated St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), when the children put out wooden shoes, filled with a carrot to draw the horse that St. Nicholas rides through the sky on, and leaves them treats – an orange that would have been an expensive treat having been imported from Jamaica, and  skates for the young girl, a pull-toy for the baby.

The Noon Inn, built around 1850 in East Meadow by John H. Noon, innkeeper, is the centerpiece of Old Bethpage Village Restoration © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then, at The Barn on the Long Island Fairgrounds- a reconstruction of the Queens county Agricultural Society Fairgrounds that was built in Mineola, 1866-1884, there is the model train show, crafts fair, contra dancing, a brass ensemble and a delightful performance of “Scrooge’s Dream” (a condensed version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”).

This year, the Old Bethpage Candlelight Evenings are only five nights, Dec. 22, 23, 27, 28 and 29, 5-9:30 pm. Old Bethpage Village Restoration, 1303 Round Swamp Road (Exit 48 of the Long Island Expressway), 516-572-8401; Adults/$10, children 5-12/$7 (under 5 are free); and $7 for seniors and volunteer firefighters.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holiday Lights in New York City: A Walk in Photos

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Crowds flock to Rockefeller Center for its traditional scene of angels lighting the way to the giant Christmas tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays in New York is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light and sound show that is projected onto Saks building, this year, a “There’s No Business Like Show Business” vibe) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman (still the most artful, creative windows of them all).  Returning along Sixth Avenue, stop in at the Rockefeller Center skating rink and then to Bryant Park with a fantastic skating rink and holiday market.

Enchanted by Macy’s holiday windows with a whimsical snowy spaceman theme © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My walk this year led me to “The Lifespan of a Fact,” a new (and timely) play at the reincarnated Studio 54. The play, based on what is apparently true events turned into an Essay/Book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, stars Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones and Bobby Cannavale who play (respectively) Jim Fingal, an intern/copy editor, magazine publisher Emily, and prominent, respected writer John D’Agata.  I had been wanting to see it, intrigued by the subject (fact-checking an important essay) and the issues it raised (“What is truth?” “What is poetic (embellished) truth in the service of a greater good?” “What is truth and trust in the scheme of journalism business, liability and viability?”). And so took a chance, and walked up to the box office and bought a ticket. I was so delighted I did: it is smart, intelligent, extremely interesting and thought-provoking and oh-so relevant in light of truthiness, “fake news” and the Rolling Stone Magazine affair.

Seeing the play was a serendipitous and satisfying addition to my holiday stroll regimen, something that is oh so possible in New York.  Broadway and off-Broadway theaters add performances during the holidays, one of the most popular times of the year for theater.

Some of the best places to catch some discount tickets include Broadwaybox.com, Theatermania.com, Stubhub.com, and Tdf.org, and waiting on line at the TKTS counter at Duffy Plaza in Times Square (a happening in itself), with two other locations, at Lincoln Center and South Street Seaport. Some hard-to-get shows, like Aladdin (which we thoroughly enjoyed over Thanksgiving), offer daily lotteries for discounted tickets.

Here are highlights:

Macy’s “Believe” theme and Empire State Building, two iconic images of holidays in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Salvation Army guy, a familiar sight during the holidays, surprises with a spirited performance © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chestnuts roasting © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks Fifth Avenue’s façade becomes the canvas for a dazzling light and sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
One of the imaginative holiday windows at Bergdorf Goodman © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
57th Street, with its crystal snowflake and Tiffany’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

New York Ski Areas Greet Guests With $71 Million in Improvements for 2018-19 Season

Ski like an Olympian at Whiteface, Lake Placid © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York’s ski areas are greeting guests this season with an unprecedented $71 million in investments and improvements. More than 25 mountains and resorts have made enhancements in snowmaking, grooming, chair lift operations and guest/lodging services. Whether it is a seamless lift-ticket experience with RFID, opening new high-speed lifts, or doubling the size of the lodge/restaurant, New York ski areas have invested more capital into the 2018-19 season than any other state in the Northeast.

Most notably Windham, Hunter Mountain & Peak Resorts, Catamount and ORDA ski areas (The New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority which operate Whiteface, Gore Mountain and Belleayre) top the list with a collective $60 million invested. Energy efficiencies in power and snowmaking have been made possible by a $5,000,000 grant from NYSERDA which benefited Plattekill, Oak, Song,Thunder Ridge and Kissing Bridge

Windham Mountain Resort along with Catamount are the first resorts in New York State to implement RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology, providing guests with easy, simple lift access. ORDA property, Gore Mountain is opening a two-level addition to the Base Lodge, doubling the size of the Tannery Pub &Restaurant, seating up to 350 guests, while the lower level addition will house the new headquarters for their Mountain Adventure kids’ program, and more lockers. Resorts including Greek Peak (a self-contained resort notable for its indoor water park), Holiday Valley, Bristol, Titus and Peek n’ Peak have focused on infrastructure upgrades as well as optimizing their ski and stay offerings by expanding activities and creating lodging packages.

“New York ski areas have dug deep into their own pockets to make these improvements,which will allow us to expand our Learn to Ski programs- this is incredibly exciting,” said Scott Brandi, President of Ski Areas of New York, Inc. “Coupled with investments to increase efficiency in snow grooming, lodge hospitality and lift upgrades, we hope to create life-long ski enthusiasts and welcome future generations of winter sport advocates.” This is a state-wide effort with moxie and vision for a fantastic season around each bend, Brandi added. “With these expenditures, it is clear that New York ski areas and resorts are committed to being known as family-friendly accessible outdoor destinations, as well as offering a great experience to both the novice and advanced.”

New York State has 50 ski areas–more than any other state in the country—and will welcome nearly four million skiers, riders and winter enthusiasts this season, making it fourth in the country for skier visits; the ski industry has a $1 billion economic impact in the state.

Here are highlights of what’s in store for this season:

Gore Mountain Adds Snowmaking, Gets FIS Certification

Set in the Adirondacks, Gore is a big ski mountain – actually four linked mountains – with the most terrain (110) and lifts (14 including an eight-passenger Northwoods Gondola and two high-speed quads) in New York, the 6th longest vertical in the East, highest vertical drop within a four-hour drive of New York City and is closest big mountain (439 skiable acres) to New York City (a snow bus is available).

Skiing Gore Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Skiers have been coming to Gore to be challenged for more than 80 years. Beginning and expert skiers will appreciate the vast improvements this season, including a 42% increase in snowmaking with 400 new snow guns, 312 of them state-of-the-art with sensors that adjust to weather changes.  In addition, new grooming machines ensure a smooth experience on the nine sides of four peaks of alpine terrain. For those looking forward to après ski, the Tannery Pub and Restaurant doubled in size.

Gore offers night skiing in North Creek Ski Bowl, where  60% of the trails are intermediate; this is also where there is the Nordic skiing center and snowshoeing (also open at night).

Four of the Nordic courses at North Creek Ski Bowl have just won homologation certifications from the International Ski Federation (FIS), making Gore Mountain one of just 29 FIS venues in the United States and one of only two in New York State. The certifications are for the 2.5K Distance Course, the 3.3K Distance Course,the 1.2K Sprint Course, and the 1.6K Sprint Course. Gore Mountain recently increased its snowmaking capabilities at the Ski Bowl with the purchase of 20 HKD Phazer snow guns designed specifically for Nordic terrain.


The Gore Mountain Nordic Center is equipped with lights, snowmaking and grooming, and welcomes recreational users and athletes daily.  The amphitheater style of the landscape at the North Creek Ski Bowl provides an outstanding experience for spectators, and the facilities include a lodge with rentals, restrooms, and fireplace, a food truck, a yurt, a tuning pavilion, and bleachers.

Gore has a reciprocal pass with the other two NYS Olympic Regional Development Authority ski destinations, Whiteface and Belleayre. (www.GoreMountain.com, 518-251-2411)

Gore doesn’t have slopeside lodging (except for Gore Mountain Lodge which offers yurts on the access road). But the nearby village of North Creek is utterly charming (lovely shops and bistros) where we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com, 877-235-1466). The town offers a free shuttle to the mountain.

New in North Creek for summer and fall: Revolution Rail Experience: a fast-moving “rail bike” that you propel 6 miles, roundtrip, one of the many year-round activities being developed.

Whiteface Mountain Expands Snowmaking

Whiteface Mountain (Wilmington, Essex County) is home to the greatest vertical in the east (3,430’), and the east’s longest intermediate run (Wilmington Trail, 11,088 ft), with 86 trails stretching over 22 miles and encompassing three peaks, with an almost natural separation in skier ability. This season the Olympic mountain offers upgraded snowmaking capabilities on key trails while widening and expanding popular trails, and anew pump house, for a 25% increase in snowmaking capacity. The renovations to the Bear Den Base Lodge will be home to the facility’s ever-growing snowsports program.

Whiteface, Lake Placid, is where you can experience Olympic sports such as bobsled on an Olympic track © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues(you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers,cross-country). Even (and especially) if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try also to fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter). It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for off-hill activities. Purchase an Olympic Sites Passport for $40 for one-time admission to the venues any time through April 30, 2019 (ages 6 and under get free admission; online purchases must be made at least 24 hours in advance.) (www.whiteface.com, 518-946-2223).

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Belleayre Expands Areas 51, 15, Kidscamp

The third of New York State’s ski destinations under the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), Belleayre, in the Catskills, is one of the closest major ski areas to New York and one of the best for families and beginners. Located off of State Route 28 in Highmount, just a few hours from New York City, Belleayre is set in an area that was declared “Forever Wild” by the New York State Forest Preserve in 1885 and was one of the earliest pioneers of American skiing.

Belleayre is compact: 51 trails (the longest is 12,024’), 5 glades, one terrain park, one progression park, 175 skiable acres, a vertical drop of 1,404 feet, 8 lifts,with a natural separation between beginners in the lower part of the mountain,and intermediates and advanced above. The “Catskill Thunder” gondola located next to the Discovery Lodge which opened last year, services intermediate and expert terrain and “Super Chief” detachable high-speed quad services the Intermediate/Expert Area  and 4 lodges.

New for 2018-2019: Area 51 and Area 15 terrain parks are bigger and better, with new jumps, ramps, boxes, rails, pipes; expanded snowmaking capabilities with the addition of 50 low energy tower snowguns to the fleet and 4 new 1500 cfm compressors; expanded Kidscamp Learning Area with a longer 220′ magic carpet.  

Belleayre, an ORDA ski area, has an adaptive ski program.

Belleayre also offers 9.2 km of cross-country trails, which free to use and are only open with natural snow.

Belleayre has become a year-round destination. In summer into fall, Belleayre Beach swimming, picnicking, horseshoe pits, volleyball, basketball, boat rentals (pedal boats and kayaks), stand-on-top paddle board rentals, fishing, hiking and great relaxation; there’s mountain biking; hiking, scenic gondola rides, and festivals. (845-254-5600 or 800-942-6904, belleayre.com)

Belleayre doesn’t have its own lodging, but there is plenty in the vicinity. Years ago, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in an 1866 Queen Anne bnb with mountain views, the Margaretville Mountain Inn (845-586-3933, www.margaretvilleinn.com).

Hunter Mountain Opens Hunter North

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills is debuting five new trails, four new glades and high-speed six-person lift this season – adding nearly 80 acres (an increase in 33%) in skiable terrain, accessed with a new high-speed six-person lift.  Driven by a $9 million investment by its new owners, Peak Resorts (which also owns Mount Snow in Vermont), the opening of Hunter North is the largest expansion the Northeast U.S. has seen in 15 years.

“Hunter North is a game-changer for Hunter Mountain as it dramatically expands our winter offerings and adds variety to our terrain,” Russ Coloton, General Manager at Hunter Mountain, commented. “Featuring predominantly intermediate terrain serviced by the high-speed six-person chair lift, Hunter North will allow our resort to broaden its appeal and improve on-mountain traffic flows over the course of the winter season. Views from the additional terrain are spectacular.”

Hitting the park at Hunter Mountain, now owned by Peak Resorts. This season, the resort opened Hunter North, expanding skiable terrain by 80 acres.

With the addition of Hunter North, the resort offers 320 skiable acres; 67 trails, 7 gladed areas, 4 freestyle areas, 13 lifts and a vertical of 1600 ft.  There’s also snow tubing, cat tours, and a spa. (www.huntermtn.com, 800-486-8376)

Hunter Mountain has its own slopeside lodging with ski in/out convenience – the Kaatskill Mountain Club Lodge and condos – but the area also has most charming inns and bnbs. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Fairlawn Inn, an elegant Victorian bnb, just down the street from Hunter’s entrance (www.fairlawninn.com).

Windham Mountain Has New Lift, RFID

Windham Mountain (Windham, Greene County) is where small-town charm meets 21st century technology:  radio-frequency identification (RFID). This new feature eliminates paper lift tickets and allows skiers to reload online, meaning shorter lines, less waste and lower prices.

But the big news is the opening this season of Windham’s new high-speed six-pack detachable lift, Westside Six, which brings skiers up the mountain in less than 5 ½ minutes, for a total of 12 lifts accessing its 285 skiable acres and 54 trails, six terrain parks. The resort, which began as a private club and still has that intimate feeling,offers night-skiing, Terrain-Based Learning, beginner packages. It also offers lodging, dining options, an Adventure Park, and full-service Alpine Spa. 

Windham Mountain, which began as a private club and still has that intimate feeling, offers night-skiing, Terrain-Based Learning, and beginner packages.

This year, Windham Mountain Resort and the Adaptive Sports Foundation have joined forces with the Capital Region Nordic Alliance, Inc. to offer Nordic and ParaNordic activities at Windham Country Club including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering, and biathlon (light-based and paintball). Trail fees will be $10 for adults and $8 for youth (children ages six and under are free). An additional fee of $10 for adults and $5 for youth will be charged for orienteering or biathlon activities.  Rental equipment and PSIA certified Nordic lessons are also available.  Capital Region Nordic Alliance, Inc. plans to work closely with The Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham, making these services available to children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities and chronic illnesses.
 
“Last year, we offered cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at the Country Club but it was contingent on natural snow, making operations difficult. This is an exciting expansion because the orienteering and biathlon activities will be available whether there is snow on the ground or not,” says Kristen Garraghan, Director of Operations at Windham Country Club.  “I had the pleasure of managing Nordic operations at Windham Country Club toward the end of last winter and I’m thrilled about this new partnership,” adds Russ Myer, Executive Director of the Capital Region Nordic Alliance (capitalregionnordicalliance.org).
 
Windham Mountain Resort is a year-round destination in the Great Northern Catskills of Greene County, in the Hudson River Valley, about two and a half hours north of New York City. In the summer months, Windham Mountain Bike Park is famous for its World Cup course, but also features a three-mile-long beginner trail. Windham Mountain Country Club is an 18-hole public golf course with a private club atmosphere. (windhammountain.com, 800-754-9463)

Windham has its own lodging but there are also several delightful inns in the vicinity.We enjoyed our stay at the Thompson House Family Resort, a six-generation historic inn, just around the corner (actually abuts Windham’s golf course), thompsonhouse.com, 518-734-4510.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort

Greek Peak Mountain Resort (Cortland, Cortland County in the Finger Lakes) continues to invest in the mountain with more than $1.5 million in improvements. Under new ownership, the resort, which was founded in 1958, has added a new quad chairlift, new PB 600 groomer with Zaag attachment, new ski and board equipment in the rental shop and state of the art ski & board tuning facility and added snowmaking machines with 1,000 gallons per minute capacity. Improvements to the lodge include a gazebo, a mountain-top deck, a wedding-tent venue with new flooring, and a new ‘Big Bear Activity Zone’ at Cascades Indoor Waterpark, a 41,000 sq. ft. park featuring 500 ft. of slides, wavepool and hot tubs open to the public year-round.

Mountain coaster at Greek Peak is a year-round attraction.

Greek Peak Mountain Resort is the largest ski resort in central New York with 33 trails, six aerial lifts, two surface lifts, beginners’ slope, and terrain parks. The four-season resort is located in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes region, just off Interstate I-81.

Its “green” hotel, Hope LakeLodge, affording ski in/out convenience, features 106 luxury condominium-style suites. Arcadia Village, located next to the hotel, offers additional lodging in units that are spacious with all the comforts of home.

Amenities at the resort include three restaurants, a world-class customized spa, a fitness center, and a 41,000-square-foot indoor water park. The Resort is set within 7,000 acres of state-protected land that is accessible by all residents and guests for cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and horseback riding.Additionally, Greek Peak Mountain Resort operates an Adventure Center in New York State with a Mountain Coaster and 4 tandem zip lines operating year-round and a ten-lane winter snow-tubing center and the Cascades Indoor Waterpark  (greekpeak.net, 888-353-5707).

Hop Metro North to Thunder Ridge

Closest and most convenient to New York (actually, just a hop off Metro North) an hour north of New York City, Thunder Ridge Ski Area, Patterson, NY, is an ideal area for families and beginners. The ski area offers a convenient shuttle service form the train, a “Take the Rails to the Trails” package and is open for night skiing until 9 pm (Sunday until 5 pm). Ski and snowboard lessons are available for all ages and ability levels. There are ski and stay packages, and seasonal passes are based on age (https://thunderridgeski.com/, 845-878-4100).

Located just an hour by Metro North railroad from New York City, Thunder Ridge, which offers night skiing,has been a popular place for families to learn how to ski.

January is Learn to Ski Month

Events and discounted programs for skiers and riders of all skill levels are planned for this season, including:

         January 11, 2019: National Learn to Ski or Snowboard Day Celebration – Part of a national month-long initiative that encourages skiing and snowboarding with professional lessons offered by many ski areas  
         January 17, 2019: Discover NY Ski Day – Special deals and discounts by various ski areas  
         January 26, 2019: Central Park Winter Jam – Annual event hosted by the Ski Areas of NY, NYC Parks and the Olympic Regional Development Association that brings free skiing and snowboarding to New York City’s Central Park  
         All season: Kids Passport Program – Third and fourth grad students learn to ski for free with a paying adult  
         Various dates: Ski & Stay Weekends – Deals includes ski and stay for two nights and get the third night free  

For more information on these and other winter experiences in New York State, visit iloveny.com/winter.

Connect with ISKINY online at www.iskiny.comwww.facebook.com/ISKINY,and www.instagram.com/i_ski_ny/

New York State features 11 vacation regions. Attractions encompass landmarks such as Niagara Falls, the largest park in the continental U.S. in the Adirondacks and treasures such as the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, the Strong Museum of Play (with its Toy Hall of Fame) in Rochester, National Comedy Center in Jamestown, Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, and the Erie Canal stretching across the state’s mid-section. New York State offers diverse activities for all seasons, from fishing, hiking, biking and boating to year-round festivals and exploring the rich history and culture of one of the 13 original colonies. Throughout the state, visitors enjoy fine cuisine, beverage trails and farm-to-table fresh foods. Visit iloveny.com for more information.

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© 2018Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved.Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet@TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Skiers Converge on Vermont to Experience ‘Winter in its Original State’

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Riding the bubble chair up Okemo Mountain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I love Ski Vermont’s slogan: “Winter in its Original State”. It captures perfectly Vermont’s heritage and character that make coming to ski, snowboard, cross-country and enjoy all the other winter pursuits amid these Green Mountains and rolling hills, so special. 

The biggest change, though, is the entry by the industry powerhouses – Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Peak Resorts,Powdr), linking many of its major resorts through marketing, loyalty programs and seasonal passes (EpicPass, IkonPass, Mountain Collective, Peak Pass) to networks spanning the continent, even the globe that will inspire people to experience skiing in Vermont from all over the world. Importantly, though,their contribution has been to enhance facilities and guest experience while preserving the special personality of the resorts.

Here’s a taste of what Vermont-bound travelers will experience:

Killington Resort 

New investments totaling $25 million revolutionize the guest experience at Killington, including a new 6-person high speed bubble chairlift, new lift service at South Ridge, significant upgrades to the K-1 Express Gondola, additional availability and improvements of intermediate trails and resort-wide infrastructure upgrades including the addition of hands-free lift access validation with RFID technology at both Killington and its sister resort, Pico.

Besides a jam-packed schedule of bands, festivals,and competitions such as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup (you can watch for free), Rails 2 Riches and the FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, there’s plenty to do including a mountain coaster, ski biking,tubing,  snowmobile tours, sleighrides, snowshoeing, dinner excursions to the Ledgewood Yurt, spa treatments,shopping and more than 100 restaurants and bars in the region.

The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England and has the longest season. A Powdr resort, Killington and its sister resort Pico are both partnering in the IkonPass.

Killington, Vermont, “The Beast of the East” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington is all about four seasons of beastly activities, and now the Beast 365 All-Seasons Pass gives guests access to everything at Killington, all year long. It starts in summer with unlimited lift and trail access for mountain biking, plus golf course greens fees and access to the Adventure Center including the new WreckTangle. And of course, unlimited winter access to the longest season in the East. (skivermont.com/killington-resort)

Pico has a very different feel from its sister resort, Killington, just next door. A self-contained resort with slopeside lodging, Pico has 57 trails serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Its more intimate scale, gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers and classically narrow New England steeps, that all that funnel to a single base make it ideal for families. Even the most selective skiers and riders will be impressed by Pico’s vertical drop of 1,967’ – taller than 80% of Vermont ski areas. (skivermont.com/pico-mountain)

Skiing at Pico © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Snow

Mount Snow  has a new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge that helps mark Carinthia’s 10-year anniversary of becoming a 100-acre all-terrain-park mountain face.  Conveniently located right at the base of Carinthia Terrain Park, the new 42,000sq/ft lodge is five times the size of the old and features a coffee bar, sit-down restaurant, two bars, large multi-station cafeteria, along with retail, rentals, ski school, ski patrol. The resort had a major upgrade to its snowmaking system last year and has been voted “Best Snow in the East” by Ski Magazine.

There is also snow tubing and snowmobiling. You can book a leisurely sunset tour to the summit of Mount Snow, or a trek across Somerset Reservoir through Snowmobile Vermont (book in advance, mountsnow.com/snowmobile). Unwind at Mount Snow’s Naturespa, located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel,offering pure, natural and organic spa treatments, guided mountain treks,holistic health, and fitness specialties.

Mount Snow is part of Peak Resorts (Hunter Mountain in New York and Attitash in New Hampshire are others, and included in its PeakPass. (skivermont.com/mount-snow-resort)

Okemo Mountain Resort

Okemo is now an Epic resort. Vail Resorts, Inc. purchased Triple Peaks, LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, plus, in a separate transaction, Stevens Pass, in Washington. Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million, over the next two years,across the four resorts to continue to elevate the guest experience. But most immediately, Okemo is now part of the 2018-19 EpicPass (Vail is honoring previously sold 2018-19 season passes for Okemo.)

One of our favorite ski mountains with its long,scenic cruisers, Okemo also offers an assortment of alternative activities for families to enjoy together. For a thrill, try Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or go snow tubing down a specially groomed chute in the Jackson Gore courtyard; skate at Okemo’s ice skating pavilion; rent a fat bike for riding on snow; go snowshoeing; cross country skiing; work on your golf game at Okemo’s indoor golf facility. Chill out with an after-hours snowcat excursion to the top of the mountain, take a swim or soak in a hot tub at Okemo’s Spring House Pool & Fitness Center. Enjoy a massage or a facial at the spa.

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont

The Adventure Zone located in Okemo’s Jackson Gore area offers year-round activities soar through the treetops on Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour or go off-roading on a Segway PT Tour; launch yourself into the Amp Energy Big Air Bag; climb the climbing wall; putt Cal’s Miniature Golf Course or challenge yourself on the 18-hole Disc Golf course.

A wide variety of trailside and mountainside lodging options provide great ski-in/ski-out convenience, but our favorite is Jackson Gore. (skivermont.com/okemo-mountain-resort)

Smugglers’ Notch

Famously family-friendly (and now hyping that it also is still “family-owned, operated, focused”), Smuggs’ continues to grow in what appeals to families with the resort’s free Kids’ Club. whereby all kids 12 and under get a free “treasure chest” of goodies. During the weeks of 12/16-12/21, 1/13-1/18, 2/3-2/8, and 3/3-3/8, Smugglers’ will offer all guests staying on any Club Smugglers’ package free lessons and rentals for kids 12 and under. Smuggs’ banked slalom course on Madonna Mountain will open new doors for intermediates and experts both in and out of lessons and host various events this season. Fat Bikes give winter access to Smuggs’ expansive cross-country MTB terrain.

Smugglers’Notch is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the country but alsooffers expert trails © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smugglers’ claim to fame is  the total experience the resort offers. There is probably no other ski resort that is so focused on family togetherness, with a vast array of activities families enjoy together as Smugglers Notch. Families can vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges,scavenger hunts, Snow Cat tours, story times, and pool games (included in their Smugglers’ vacation package). Among the most popular activities: weekly torchlight parade and fireworks, belting out tunes in family karaoke and building a sled to launch from a jump in I-Did-A-Sled. Smuggs has also introduced S.T.E.A.M. activities that bring fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

FunZone 2.0 offers 26,000 square feet of indoor fun:  an adventure center (laser tag, climbing tower, giant slide), a café serving beer and wine, so parents can relax while kids play. Outdoor activities include snowmobile tours through the historic Smugglers’ Notch pass, and CatTrax heated-cabin snow cat rides to the summits of Smugglers’ most popular peaks.

There’s so much to do, this is the ski resort you want to stay longer at – not just ski and stay – 43 pages of activities in 7-day period.  Everybody has something even if they don’t ski. There are even activity packages that don’t include skiing.

The condo-style accommodations provide plenty of space for families to spread out, have meals and snacks in the condo (every condo has a crock pot; there is a country store on the mountain with the essentials and a grocery store 15 minutes away that you can shop at on the drive up).

Apart from its reputation as the most family-friendly ski resort anywhere, there is serious skiing to be had on three mountains: Morse (all green, so there is a natural separation of ability) while Madonna and Sterling are big, steep and deep; Sterling has a great variety of cruisers (great for intermediates) to bump up skill on short black. Madonna is the toughest, with some of the steepest trails (even a double-black) in the East, but there are also a couple of blues from top (Chilcoot and Drifter). (skivermont.com/smugglers-notch-resort-vt)

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe has new on-mountain Kids AdventureZones, well signed areas that give kids and families the opportunity to easily access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. Stowe, which is now owned by Vail Resorts, now offers Epic Mix, which enables skiers and riders to track their days and vertical feet skied,earn digital pins, share photos, race against the pros and check real-time liftline wait time using their RFID chip-embedded season pass or lift ticket. As part of Vail Resorts, Stowe is also included on the EpicPass.

Stowe has an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting its two mountain peaks, Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. There are new high-speed lifts on Spruce, new base facilities, gourmet restaurants. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 312 room hotel and spa, is recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside lodgings anywhere.There’s also a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak. (www.stowe.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton’s new Snow bowl high-speed quad,the major project in this year’s $10 million-capital plan, is positioned to minimize wind impact and, traveling at 1,000 ft./minute, reduce ride time from 14 to five minutes. Plus, the top ramp provides smoother access to Mike’s Way,a beginner run from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. Home of the great snow guarantee, Stratton offers 97 trails, 100+ acres of glades, 600+acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain including top ranked terrain parks,the fastest fleet of lifts in the East, convenient lodging, slopeside Village,Training & Fitness Center, Spa and a full slate of winter and summer events and activities.

Skiing Stratton Mountain, Vt. (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s lift-served snow tubing, moonlight snowshoe tours, and 12 km of cross country trails for skiing and fat biking. Unwind with a massage from the Village Day Spa or enjoy a dog sled ride through Vermont’s wooded terrain. Stratton’s Training and Fitness Center offers Olympic-sized, salt-water swimming pool,cardio and weight room and the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. Stroll through the Village to enjoy cafes and shops or venture 20 minutes down Route 100 to Manchester for shopping at 40 designer outlets.

Stratton has a learn-to-ski package at $99. It also offers a Jitney from New York City. Another feature is the Winter Wondergrass, a blue grass festival. Now part of the Alterra Mountain Company, Stratton is included on its IkonPass, now offering access to nearly 82,000 acres at 38 premier mountain destinations across the globe. (Stratton.com)

Sugarbush Resort

In honor of its 60th anniversary since Damon and Sara Gadd and Jack Murphy opened the resort in 1958, Sugarbush is hosting anniversary celebrations throughout the season. Sugarbush has also joined the IkonPass, connecting some of the most iconic mountains in North America (Killington, Pico, Stratton in Vermont, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine). On-mountain improvements this season include snowmaking upgrades, lift upgrades, and relocating the beginner First Time lift for more convenient access.

The resort offers 111 trails across two mountains – Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen—connected by  a chairlift (so fun!) and shuttle bus. Mt.Ellen is the third-highest peak in Vermont, with steeps, wide-open cruisers and some great intermediate terrain, the Riemergasse Terrain Park designed with rails, tables, and jumps for all levels, and home to a series of events and competitions; and 28 marked areas for beginner to advanced tree skiing. The 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, tucked in between Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, is an adventurer’s paradise. Guided trips are available with the legendary skier John Egan and the staff of the Adventure Learning Center’s Ski & Ride School.

Sugarbush offers free uphill travel passes for skinning up designated routes at the resort before and after lift-served operating hours. The resort hosts Tour De Moon several times a season – a guided skin to Walt’s at the Glen House at Mt. Ellen and also offers an uphill travel option for Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining. There is also self-guided snowshoeing access and guided tours,including photography tours, twilight tours, and the more endurance-based outback tours in the Slide Brook Basin.

Cabin Cat Adventures also offer a great way to experience the mountain, whether it’s Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining at the top of Gadd Peak, Cabin Cat First Tracks on a powder day or Sunset Groomer Rides to the top of Lincoln Peak. Other activities available in Mad River Valley include ice-skating, an Icelandic horse farm, a locally owned movie theater and cross country skiing. (sugarbush.com)

Bolton Valley

What’s old is new again! Bolton Valley, a self-contained resort where you walk from slopeside lodging directly to the lifts, is once again owned by its original family founders, the DesLauriers who opened the resort in 1966.  

Besides being one of the few places in New England offering night skiing, last year Bolton opened an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment. Building on its reputation for having some of the best and most accessible backcountry terrain in the Eastern U.S., this program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. Explore 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.

“It’s unique in the East for a back-country experience to be so accessible,” said Josh Arneson, V.P. of Sales and Marketing.

How good do you have to be? “At least strong intermediate –we take it slow. People are surprised when they can do it. It is scary to attempt if you do it alone, but a mind-opening experience when you realize you can do it.” A group lesson is $75 plus rental.

Bolton Valley also has back country huts which can be rented through the Green Mountain Club, the organization that runs the Long Trail,but accessed through Bolton. “It’s a unique camping experience, just one mile from the base. You wake up to fresh tracks, and get to do winter camping. It’s accessible, but feels like being deep in woods.”

Bolton Valley sits high in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The high mountain alpine village is surrounded by 5,000 acres of wilderness. Bolton Valley offers 71 trails and glades for Alpine skiing and riding and 100 km of Nordic and backcountry trails. Each year Bolton Valley receives an average of 312 inches of snow.

All the lodging, including hotel rooms, suites and condominiums are either ski in/ski out or within a short walking distance of the lifts. Two restaurants, a cafeteria, deli and general store are located within the village. After a day on the slopes, walk over to the Sports Center,where there is an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna, skateboard bowl and mini ramps, arcade games as well as an open floor for basketball and other games.The Indoor Amusement Center offers bouncy houses for kids who just want to keep moving. (skivermont.com/bolton-valley)

Jay Peak:  Jay Peak expanded its off-slopes roster with the opening of the Ice Haus in 2010, offering  offer public skating times, figure-skating lessons and stick-and-puck pick-up games, and in 2011,  with the 60,000-square foot PumpHouse, an indoor waterpark; and last winter the opening of Clips & Reels, an entertainment center that features a 142-seat movie theater along with a Clip ‘n Climb facility. (skivermont.com/jay-peak-resort)

Ski Areas Are Proud ‘Throwback’ to ‘Pure Vermont’

Suicide Six Ski Area: DON’T LET THE NAME FOOL YOU! Suicide Six is one of the most family-friendly ski areas in Vermont, with 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced slope ratings. New trails carved for mountain biking in summer offer skiers and snowboarders hidden stash lines to discover; snowmaking has been improved and the FIS certified slalom trail will now be fully automated. The downhill ski area is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn which also offers the Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center providing 30 kilometers of trails to explore via cross country skis, fat bikes or snowshoes;a 10,000 sq. ft Spa; and Woodstock Athletic Club, with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, a 30-by-60-foot heated indoor lap pool, a whirlpool, workout equipment and steam and sauna rooms. (skivermont.com/suicide-six-ski-area)

Mad River Glen, the only cooperatively owned mountain open to the public is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the “pure Vermont” ski experience. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. It is one of the last bastions of natural snow skiing in New England and is one of only three areas in North America that still prohibit snowboarding. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. Skiers can descend the entire 2,037′ of vertical on true expert terrain with no run-outs. There is a special camaraderie among the skiing community, with its co-op ownership,non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff, and – of course-the Single Chair, America’s favorite ski lift. You can also experience the mountain on snowshoes: join one of MRG’s staff Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interest in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain (Naturalist Programs). (skivermont.com/mad-river-glen).

Magic Mountain: After winning Liftopia’s award for best ski area in North America for the second year in a row, Ski Magic LLC, the new ownership of Magic Mountain, continues to invest in its counter-cultural ski and ride experience. Magic has 50 trails including glades; 1,500 vertical feet, “some of the steepest,most challenging terrain in the East, certainly in southern Vermont.” This year, there is a new base-to-mid-mountain double chair (the “Green Lift”) which makes Magic’s classic terrain accessible to novice and intermediate level skiers. In combination with more snowmaking, this new lift allows Magic to open far earlier in the season. Last year, Magic opened a new beginner area accessed with a magic carpet.

Magic has introduced one of the first alpine touring centers in partnership with Salomon with ATrental gear for first-timers, along with lessons and tours. New gear will be added this year. Long known for its extensive and challenging lift-served tree skiing, Magic will have guided backcountry tours this coming season with shuttle van pick-ups, which must be reserved in advance through the Snowsports Learning Center. Snowshoeing trails have also been marked this season (rentals available). (skivermont.com/magic-mountain)

Bromley Mountain: Bromley has announced a new partnership with Arena Snowparks to collaborate on a family-friendly progression park for all skill levels, green to black, with all new features and a wicked mid-season rebuild. For après-ski entertainment, enjoy Bromley’s Wild Boar Tavern (located at the base of the mountain) as well as expanded events calendar with more free, family-friendly entertainment for everyone. Top off your ski days with a scenic sleigh ride at beautiful Taylor Farm, take a stroll through the sculpture garden at the Vermont Art Center, treat yourself to a fabulous shopping experience at the Manchester Shopping Outlet center, and much more, all within a 10-mile radius. (skivermont.com/bromley-mountain-resort)

Nordic Skiing Favorites

More famous for Nordic skiing, but providing a uniquely cozy country atmosphere as well as nearby access to major downhill ski areas:

Situated on 2,500 acres in Stowe, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp Family of “Sound of Music fame”) is a mountain resort that combines Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations with the best of Vermont. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views, old-world comforts, and impeccable service, along with activities for every season, but it boasts being one of the first American resorts built around cross-country skiing. Its cross-country center celebrated its 50th anniversary last winter and offers one of the most extensive trail systems – a whopping 160 km of terrain. (The Trapp Family Lodge is hosting the NCAA Nordic championships, March 6-9.) Snowshoeing is also popular (equipment rentals available). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the meadows with stunning views into the valley.  Enjoy any number of tours to learn about the history of the von Trapp family and lodge; how maple sugar is made; tour the von Trapp Brewing’s state-of-the-art brewery on site; dine in the Bierhall to sample the lagers and enjoy the authentic Austrian experience and cuisine. There’s also ice/rock climbing, spa, pool, hot tub and three restaurants. When you get the urge for downhill skiing, Stowe is nearby.(www.trappfamily.com)


A horse-drawn sleigh ride, a signature experience at the Mountain Top Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, set on 350 acres ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, is breathtakingly enchanting, offers 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails(snowmaking on a 2 km loop insuring optimal conditions); horse-drawn sleighrides; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). The most charming of inns offers 32 rooms plus 23 individual guest houses; dining at The Mountain Top Tavern (with 12 Vermont Craft Brews on tap) and fireside dining in the dining room.Downhill skiing at Killington and Pico is a short drive away. www.MountainTopInn.com.

Ski Vermontoffers a Take 3 Pass program whereby beginner skiers and riders can take three lessons for a package price of $129 and choose to redeem all three lessons at the same participating resort or at a different participating resort for each lesson. Each pass will include rental equipment for the day plus a group lesson with a professional instructor and a lift ticket to access beginner terrain.Visit skivermont.com for more information.

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©2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet@TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun. Has great decorations, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers  scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation) through Dec. 30.Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter. 

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

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