Category Archives: Resorts & Hotels

Vermont Mountain Resorts Gear Up to Enhance Guest Experience On and Off Slopes

 

Okemo’s innovative bubble chairs take away the chill from ascending the snowy slopes, even when the temps are single digits outside  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Okemo’s innovative bubble chairs take away the chill from ascending the snowy slopes, even when the temps are single digits outside © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even as Vermont’s major ski resorts add imaginative new experiences on and off the mountain to new heights, high speed six-pax and bubble chairs, other resorts are promoting their “pure Vermont” roots and authentic ski experience, touting old fashioned fixed grip chair lifts, proudly proclaiming themselves “throwbacks” in time.

Vermont, which will take center stage with the first World Cup events to be held here in 25 years, is distinguished not only for the sheer number of mountain resorts, but the differences in their character, personality and features.

This year, the resorts throughout the state have really focused on enhancing snowmaking and  rounding out off-mountain experiences, in light of the mischief Mother Nature can play. But good news! Accuweather is predicting a normal year for snow in the Northeast.

So what is new for the 2016-17 winter season? Quite a lot. Vermont’s resorts have had a busy summer full of lodging and restaurant renovations, lift and off-slope amenity improvements, and historic event announcements.  

Killington Resort 

Killington Resort is bringing Alpine World Cup skiing back to the eastern US for the first time in 25 years when the Audi FIS Ski World Cup takes place over Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-27. Giant Slalom and Slalom races will pit the best female technical alpine skiers from 26 countries against one another on Superstar trail, the infamous New England steep that is regularly the Eastern US’s last remaining open ski trail through late May or June. The general public is invited to view the women’s giant slalom and slalom races in a free general admission area at the base of the trail with a jumbo screen for watching the full race course, plus a weekend loaded with festivities including free live music, multiple movie premieres and additional surprises to be announced.

Skiing Pico, which together with Killington, affords six mountains to explore, the largest ski resort in the Northeast. Killington is hosting the Alpine World Cup © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing Pico, which together with Killington, affords six mountains to explore, the largest ski resort in the Northeast. Killington is hosting the Alpine World Cup © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington and Pico, with six mountains between them, is the largest ski area in the Northeast and open the longest, from mid-October (you can ski in costume on Halloween) sometimes as late as June. It also offers 15 km of groomed Nordic skiing; two golf courses. Also enjoy ziplines and a mountain coaster year round. (killington.com)

Magic Mountain

Magic is under new ownership in 2016-17 as SKI MAGIC LLC purchased the ski area with an initial 5-year plan to invest capital into lifts and snowmaking. With a robust operating budget and new snow guns, Magic will have more snow in 2016-17, made earlier than ever before to improve the consistency and reliability of skiing on both the easier East Side and more challenging West side trails. For the first time in years, both bottom-to-top summit lifts (1,600’ vertical) will be in full operation. There will also be new daycare facility for young parents and some refurbishing to the lodge and Black Line Tavern. It also offers ski school, rentals, tubing park (night), and a base lodge with restaurant and bar. There’s no lodging at the mountain, but plenty of quaint places nearby.

Located in Londonderry – south of Okemo, east of Bromley, north of Stratton- Magic Mountain is much like Mad River Glen, with terrain is its most distinguishing feature.

“Magic Mountain is for people whose #1 priority is skiing. It offers 43 trails, all running from top to bottom (the green trail is 1.2 miles from the top; the longest, Wizard, is 1.6 miles).

“Like Mad River Glen, Magic Mountain is a throwback – nothing fancy. We are ‘tree-mendous’ – lots of glades.” With the capital improvements, he says, Magic Mountain will “provide better ski experience – more lifts, snow making, more consistent product – but we’re not changing its character,” Geoff Hatheway, one of the new owners. In an industry which always changes – follow the leader – we’re counter-culture, a throwback, with a pace and style more like 1960s and 1970s. We’re old school – fixed grip chairs top and bottom – not high speed (no six-packs or detachable quads). It spreads people out. We have snowmaking on 50%.

“We want to sustain, preserve and enhance the ski experience. What differentiates us is the people, the friendly vibe, friendly. And value? We make skiing affordable – lift prices are lower even at ticket window.

Magic Mountain has joined the Freedom Pass program.

Magic Mountain is 2 hrs from Boston, 3 ½ hours from NYC, 90 minutes from Albany. (magicmtn.com).

Off-slope Activities Appeal to Everyone at Vermont Resorts

Stowe Mountain Resort

Brand new this winter at Stowe Mountain Resort is the opening of an $80 million Adventure Center. This state-of-the art facility sets a new standard in the industry for kids and family amenities, says Jeff Wise, Marketing & Communications Director. Located at Spruce Peak and adjacent to Stowe’s new outdoor Ice Skating Rink, Stowe’s Adventure Center is home to all Stowe’s children’s programs (3-12), with ski in/out convenience. From beautiful daycare facilities (largest in Vermont, accommodating 60) to ski and ride programs for kids 3 and up (accommodating 500 children a day), the new Adventure Center has significantly advanced and expanded family amenities and services at the resort.

“It sets a new standard – visionary – we can have 500-600 kids checking in within 30 minutes. It offers a seamless experience for the family,” Wise says.

After skiing (4 pm), the Adventure Center turns into a family recreation center, offering an Indoor Climbing Center (called Stowe Rocks), a movie theater, activity center, kids-specific restaurant ,The Canteen (after 4 pm is family friendly), and right outside the door, a new ice skating rink (free skating, but rentals available), lit til 9 pm. Also, an outdoor pool, heated year round (swim in/out of building, (there is also an indoor pool in lodge next door).

The new Adventure Center is the final piece of a 15-year, $500 million building program. “The big news is that it is finally finished.”

Part of that plan was the 312-room Stowe Mountain Lodge, built at a cost of $100 million, which opened 2008, offering ski in/out convenience and now recognized as one of Top 10 in the world.

Stowe is open longer than most, Nov 19-April 21 because of $30 million snowmaking system. “New technology can make more snow at higher temps than before (we start making snow on November 1), and in fewer than 20 days, we can get 20% of top to bottom done.”

Stowe has trails on Mt. Mansfield, part of Appalachian Trail and the highest point in Vermont, second highest in New England (after Mount Washington, where people ski Tuckerman’s Ravine).

Stowe (stowe.com) also offers 75 km of cross-country skiing that connects to the Trapp Family Lodge. (Trapp just opened a beer hall).

Always innovative, Stowe Mountain Lodge, which is managed by Destination Hotels, is celebrating the opening of the new adventure center with a “digital detox for the family” package, incentivizing people to give up their phone for a period of time in exchange for learning a new experience. There are 22 to choose from including “learn to” ski, snowboard, rock climb, fat-tire bike, try the spa (there is a kids spa, too). “We want ‘screenteens’ to turn back into regular teens,” says Leslie Kilgore, Director of Public Relations & Social Media. (www.stowemountainlodge.com)

Smugglers’ Notch Resort 

After investing $5 million in snowmaking enhancements over the last four winters, Smugglers’ Notch Resort is turning its attention to the resort village’s most popular amenity for families, the FunZone. The new 26,000 sq. ft. FunZone replaces a bubble with a multi-story, indoor steel structure opening in March (Smuggs is very much a 4-season resort).

One section of the new FunZone will feature inflatables, games and areas for imaginative play with primary appeal to families with kids ages 2 to 10. A second area will offer features with appeal to older children and adults such as a ninja warrior-type obstacle course, laser tag, a climbing wall, column walk, slot car racing, and arcade and redemption center. The new FunZone, a $4 million investment, is expected to open mid-winter 2016-17.

Skiing down Rumrunner trail at Smugglers’ Notch, a trailblazer in family programs  © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing down Rumrunner trail at Smugglers’ Notch, a trailblazer in family programs © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Smugglers Notch, now in its 60th season, has always been the trailblazer in family programs (Ski Magazine for 16th time voted Smuggs the #1 family friendly resort in eastern US), including innovative Mommy & Me, Daddy & Me ski/snowboard lessons where the parent tags along and learns the techniques to continue the child’s training.

Now, Smuggs has introduced Riglet Park, a special snowboard area for the smallest kids. “It’s hard to learn snowboarding so we build features out of snow and drag them around –they  don’t just take up the hill,” says Mike Chait, who prior to becoming Public Relations Manager headed the Ski & Ride school. The program was developed by Chait with Burton, and means that youngsters as young as 2 ½ can start learning snowboarding (indoors), and 3 years old (outside). The day-care facility also has its own 20-foot magic carpet which gives a fun introduction to non-skiing kids.

Smuggs also pioneered packages that included programming, and this year, is catering to the shift in how guests vacation – shorter periods, more time (Link: smuggs.com/winterbrochure).

A relatively new Winter Experience is designed for family members or individuals who don’t ski, but want to be on the mountain, so they get to pick from a menu of programs, such as snowshoeing, massage.

Smugglers Notch is a true, full-service resort, albeit overwhelmingly with families in mind, so it is like camp for everybody (the information guide is huge booklet, so it is worth your while to plan ahead).

Among the special activities you should pre-arrange: a Nighttime Cat Trax Tour, where you ride a snowcat up steep vertical pitch to the mountain top at night –it feels like riding a space rover – to a heated cabin from which on a clear night, you can see Montreal.

Also a Parents Night Out activity takes you up to the top of the Notch for a Snowshoe Dinner. (This is offered in conjunction with Kids Nite Out, when the kids get pizza, make your own sundae, movies and dance party). Parents ride the chair up to a catered candle-lit dinner catered by Hearth n Candle (Smuggs’ signature restaurant) in a heated building  (BYOB). Then, you take a guided snowshoe hike to Sterling Pond, the highest elevation trout pond. (Offered once/week ($75)  (4323 Vermont Rte 108 South, Smugglers’ Notch VT 05464, www.smuggs.com).

 Okemo Mountain Resort 

After several years of major snowmaking improvements totaling more than $1 million, Okemo is expanding its snowmaking system again. 18,000 feet of new pipe will introduce snowmaking capabilities on Catnap and Suncatcher in the South Face area. A Prinoth Bison X park cat, equipped with a Caterpillar 400 horsepower, tier 4 engine that meets all federal emission standards, is the newest addition to Okemo’s fleet of grooming machines as Okemo enters its third year of partnership with Snowpark Technologies. Rental equipment upgrades include 515 Volkl skis, 153 Burton snowboards and more than 1,000 pairs of boots.

Also, Okemo has joined the M.A.X Pass family of resorts this year. Okemo season passholders can take their pass on the road – up to 30 mountains (including Okemo’s sister mountain, Crested Butte in Colorado) with an Add-On upgrade.

Ski in/out convenience and a whole lot more at Jackson Gore Lodge at Okemo Mountain Resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ski in/out convenience and a whole lot more at Jackson Gore Lodge at Okemo Mountain Resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the many attractions at Okemo (including indoor and outdoor pools at Jackson Gore, the ski in/out lodge), is a year-round mountain coaster.

Okemo is now offering scenic train rides –a shuttle takes you to the Green Mountain Railroad station in Chester, 20 miles south, for its slow ride back to Okemo. It offers a dining car so you can do dinner on the train. It takes one hour each way. Okemo offers the ride twice, four days a week ($25, booked through Okemo). (okemo.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Stratton Mountain Resort announces an addition to the vibrant slope-side Village dining fleet– Karma: an Asian fusion experience. A menu inspired by the Asian travels of Karma’s chef will debut with traditional ramen bowls and dumplings fresh-made with local ingredients, imaginative entrees and craft cocktails with a twist like vodka filtered through Herkimer diamonds for a side of positive energy.

Stratton Mountain Resort is offering jitney transportation from Manhattan to its slopes © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Stratton Mountain Resort is offering jitney transportation from Manhattan to its slopes © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Stratton’s snowmaking fleet gets a new computerized control system, allowing snowmakers to record real time energy use for increased snowmaking efficiency.

The Mountain Sports School welcomes Tim Massucco as its new Program Manager for the Stratton Winter Sports Club Freestyle. Massucco’s 16 years of coaching experience will enhance the training curriculums critical to the success of weekend and full-time competitive freestyle skiers.

The Stratton Jitney which began last year will again take skiers from Manhattan on Friday, returning Sunday afternoon (beginning December).

And in another incentive for millennials, its Stratitude Pass is now available for 18-32 year olds (instead of 1829) – $349 and no blackout days. (Stratton.com)

Mount Snow Resort

Winter 2016-2017 welcomes Mount Snow’s greatest season pass offering yet, the Peak Pass, which features a total of six pass options valid at seven different mountain locations across four states in the Northeast. And Mount Snow extended the period for millennials, 18-29, to purchase its pass for $399 through Dec. 15 (no blackouts).

With the success of the Grommet Jam Series, Mount Snow is increasing the uphill capacity in its beginner terrain park by 50 percent, by replacing our Ski Baba Lift with a 400’ SunKid conveyor called Grommet (Lift One).

Lastly, taking advantage of the dry spring this year Mount Snow increased trail and glades work. So far over 1600+ hours have been spent pruning, mowing and clearing new lines through tree skiing areas in preparation for powdery runs this winter.

Mount Snow’s terrain park has been voted #1 in the East and #6 in North America. “It’s not often an East Coast resort is in the top 10,” says Jamie Storrs, Communications Manager. “We are where the X Games started. Our lead pro, Devan Logan, is the most decorated Olympian, winning gold in the last Olympics, and the captain of team. He is the face of our professional team – we have 11 people on team – who are out there training most days.” Guests can watch.

Mount Snow is the most southerly of the major Vermont ski resorts. (West Dover, VT 05356, mountsnow.com).

Sugarbush Resort 

Sugarbush has invested $750,000 into capital improvements for the 2016-17 winter season which including lift improvements and improvements to the snowmaking pond, continuing to progress upon the on-slope experience. Skiers and riders don’t have to worry about crowded trails thanks to the Valley House Quad Sugarbush installed last season. With the new quad, Sugarbush’s uphill capacity is one of the largest in the northeast, while still managing to spread traffic across 16 lifts and two mountains. The resort has also completed Gadd Brook Residences, sixteen ski-in/ski-out condominiums at the base of Lincoln Peak available as two-, three-, and four-bedroom units.

Sugarbush, located in central Vermont, offers 139 trails on two mountains connected by the world’s longest detachable quad lift, and 2,000 acres of back-country skiing (there is a shuttle to take you back). (www.sugarbush.com)

Bolton Valley

One of the special features of Bolton Valley, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, is that it offers night skiing, and this year, night skiing hours are being expanded. Night skiing will be offered Tuesday through Saturday until 10 pm – that means you can ski Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 10 pm, and Saturdays from 9 am to 10 pm (the daily ticket is good for night skiing). “There are amazing sunsets from the mountain, overlooking Lake Champlain in the west,” says Josh Arneson, VP of sales and marketing.

Bolton Valley’s lodge, visited in summer, was one of the first ski in/out lodges in the East when the resort was founded 50 years ago, has been renovated; the resort’s expansive backcountry can be seen behind the lodge © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bolton Valley’s lodge, visited in summer, was one of the first ski in/out lodges in the East when the resort was founded 50 years ago, has been renovated; the resort’s expansive backcountry can be seen behind the lodge © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Bolton Valley is also renowned for their extensive 1,200-acre backcountry area, where they have two backcountry cabins– one from 1928 and the other from 1935 – which are available for winter stays (the cabins hadn’t been available for two years while they were being renovated by the Green Mountain Club). Rugged and rustic, you get up there with your own supplies (sleeping back, food) – firewoord is provided – and can stay over.

There are also 15 km of groomed x-country trails, but above that is backcountry skiing.

Skiers will enjoy the benefits of more snowmaking, so Bolton Valley can make snow earlier and get to more trails faster.

Bolton Valley’s hallmark is its rustic, unpretentious quality – a step up from Magic Mountain and Mad River Glen because it has ski in/out lodging and indoor pool (the cafe and bar have been renovated). But it also has some unique programs: artist Natasha Bogar, who did the art that is in the hotel rooms, offers Paint Nights, where you come to paint and have a beer.

Over the past year most suites and 25 hotel rooms at Bolton Valley have received major upgrades. The units have seen improvements such as new carpet, drapes, furniture, painting, renovated bathrooms, new mattresses and new artwork. The improvements greatly enhance guest comfort in the rooms that had become a bit dated. Indeed, the hotel was one of the first ski in/ski out lodgings in the east when it was built.

Bolton Valley, the popular playground for Burlington, is celebrating its 50th anniversary year. “We’re planning to paint the 50th chair on the three original lifts gold – and if you get the golden chair, you might win something,” Arneson says.

This year, Bolton Valley has eliminated the $50 upgrade for the Freedom Pass add-on to its seasonal pass, giving unlimited skiing at the home mountain plus three free days at each of the 12 other areas in the program, from Eagle Crest in Alaska to Lost Valley in Maine (www.boltonvalley.com/tickets-passes-rentals/seasons-passes/Freedom-Pass).

Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen’s goal is to maintain and preserve the experience rather than overhaul or upgrade it.

“We’re the food truck of ski areas – authenticity – only cooperatively owned, nonprofit.

2000 skier-owners are dedicated to keeping Mad River Glen the way it is – a time warp.”

“The ability of Mad River Glen to consistently reinvest in the mountain’s infrastructure is a testament to the success of the Cooperative. Both the skier-owners and the management understand that skiers come to Mad River for the unique combination of legendary terrain, sense of community, low skier density and intimate atmosphere. In 20 years of co-op ownership, Mad River Glen has invested over $5 million in capital improvements.

Mad River Glen is located five miles from Sugarbush (www.madriverglen.com)

Suicide Six Ski Area

Woodstock Inn & Resort’s Suicide Six Ski Area replaces chair #1 with a new quad chairlift that will double capacity, offering a more comfortable and rapid ascent to the summit. Leitner-Poma of America, Inc., installed the lift at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. Funding for the new chairlift is being provided through a grant from the Laurance S. Rockefeller Fund. Recognized as one of the oldest ski areas in the country, Suicide Six has a rich history. Today, Suicide Six is one of Vermont’s leading family-friendly ski resorts featuring more than 100 acres of skiing on 24 trails and slopes with terrain suitable for all abilities. (www.woodstockinn.com/ski-area)

Bromley Mountain Resort

Green Team Go! With a focus on both establishing new habits and reinforcing current good ones, Bromley rethinks trash, recycling and composting food waste to implement a “Go Green” initiative this winter season. The intent is to eliminate organic waste and all recyclables from the Bromley dumpsters containing refuse destined for the landfill. Recycling for bottles and cans has always been available around the resort, but not universally across the base area, and composting has never been an option. This season bring change and while Bromley works towards keeping the planet beautiful, they’re pleased to announce that base area buildings have also received a makeover. (bromley.com)

Jay Peak Resort

The folks at Jay Peak are still of the mind that the 5,000 acres between their borders represent one massive terrain park, but they understand the need for focus. So this season the resort is increasing the snowmaking capacity to its LZ and Jug Handle parks by 60%, running a new waterline up the Interstate trail and installing 20 new guns along the Interstate. The expansion will not only allow Jay Peak parks to open sooner, but will also  allow the resort to open learning terrain at its Tramside area earlier in the season. (jaypeakresort.com)

The Hermitage Club

The Hermitage Club, in Wilmington, has taken over Haystack Mountain as a private club, investing $125 million in the redevelopment, with $285 million more to go.

At its busiest, there would only be about 1100 people on the mountain at any one time. It offers fine restaurants and inns.

“The Hermitage Club is looking forward to providing one of the fastest and most efficient ski experiences in the northeast. Not only do our members enjoy the absence of lift lines, our high-speed summit lift is the only one of its kind in the U.S. – a six-person heated bubble lift by Doppelmayr, zipping our skiers to the top of the mountain in less than six minutes. And take a break and enjoy the beverages and views at our Mid-Mountain Cabin, which has become a veritable slope side oasis for our members.” (hermitageclub.com)

Quechee Club

The Quechee Club ushers in a new experience for its members, visitors and area guests this winter season with the completion of a newly constructed Aquatic Complex and fitness club expansion. The complex includes a new indoor pool area with an aerobics room, in addition to implementing a new retention pond. The indoor complex, approximately 10,000 square feet, is twice the size of its initial pool  and includes four lap lanes and an open concept design with natural post and beam architecture to complement the refined yet understated aesthetics of the Clubhouse.(www.quecheeclub.com)

Mountaintop Inn & Resort

Mountaintop Inn & Resort is a four-season resort that in winter, affords top-notch cross-country skiing on 60 km of trails.

It offers a 32-room lodge plus 4 cabins and 23 guest houses, literally set on the top of a mountain, with a 748-acre lake and spa (known for weddings and particularly winter weddings).

The inn is 15 miles from Killington, and it offers packages that include lift tickets, as well as shuttle service to the mountain. (195 Mountain top Road, Chittenden, VT 05737, www.mountaintopinn.com).

Burke Mountain Resort

The Lodge at Burke Mountain will finally open its doors on September 1st with introductory rates starting from $109/night during its first month of daily service.  The 116 room Hotel is situated mid-mountain and provides a true ski-in ski-out experience.  Suites range from a standard studio to three bedroom with onsite amenities including a pub, restaurant, heated pool & hot tub, fitness center, arcade, retail and repair shop for guests to enjoy.  Striking views of the Willoughby Gap and Burke Mountain can be seen from nearly every window in the Hotel. (skiburke.com, 866-966-4820).

For more information, visit Ski Vermont (Vermont Ski Areas Association), skivermont.com

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What’s Up on the Colorado Ski Country USA Slopes this Season

Copper Mountain, Colorado is one of the Colorado Ski Country USA resorts participating in The M.A.X. Pass program as well as the Rocky Mountain Super Pass © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Copper Mountain, Colorado is one of the Colorado Ski Country USA resorts participating in The M.A.X. Pass program as well as the Rocky Mountain Super Pass © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For the 2016/17 season, Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA) guests will find new dining options, new chairlifts and new terrain enhancements, expanded air service, as well as other improvements that elevate the premier skiing and snowboarding as well as the apres experience at CSCUSA resorts.

Many of the resorts can be experienced as part of Ski Pass programs (which typically pay for themselves in about five days), such as the M.A.X. Pass which, in addition to a full complement of Northeastern resorts features five CSCUSA members (and the five-days at each can be an added on for $299 to a local unlimited season pass): Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Steamboat, Crested Butte and Eldora, which gives visitors 5 days at each resort and The Rocky Mountain Super Pass that gives six days each at Steamboat, Crested Butte, Copper Mountain, Winter Park and Eldora.

Here’s a summary of the many upgrades, improvements and what makes CSCUSA resorts special that guests will enjoy during the 2016/17 ski season:

Copper Mountain

Copper Mountain is introducing an all-access Copper Pass that provides unlimited visits to the Woodward Barn, a unique indoor training facility where you can learn and practice freestyle techniques in a safe environment (for example, you go down an artificial slope into a pool of plastic balls). It’s just one of the reasons why Copper is such a special place for teens, particularly.

Copper Mountain is introducing an all-access Copper Pass that provides unlimited visits to the Woodward Barn, a unique indoor training facility where you can learn and practice freestyle techniques in a safe environment (photo by Dave E. Leiberman)
Copper Mountain is introducing an all-access Copper Pass that provides unlimited visits to the Woodward Barn, a unique indoor training facility where you can learn and practice freestyle techniques in a safe environment (photo by Dave E. Leiberman)

Copper offers many distinctive features: a noon groom, where a trail is kept pristine until the afternoon; free snowcat rides up to Tucker Mountain for a backcountry-type advanced experience on weekends (first come, first-served, but you can take as many rides as you like); free snowshoe tours (fantastic),  One of the most convenient major Rocky Mountain ski resorts to reach from Denver International Airport, it’s just 75 miles and reached by a host of shuttles (about $40-60), and there’s no need for a car once you arrive at the resort, which is actually three pedestrian villages and three mountains (a naturally divided terrain, progressing in difficulty from the easiest terrain to the more difficult as you move east), linked by free, shuttle buses (frequent service).

Check the website for value packages, but one this year is “1-2 Free” (book 2 nights of lodging, and the third is free); also third day of rentals are free; third day of Youth or Group lessons are free. Also: free 1/2 day lift ticket to be used on day of arrival or departure per Adult Two Day Secret Pass purchased; kids 12 & younger ski FREE (Adult 2 day ticket required); -FREE Secret! Pass upgrade – early access / skip lines. Tubing: Purchase two or more sessions and save 33%.

And for those looking for luxury accommodations: White River Luxury Rentals will allow guests to book units through the White River Luxury Rentals website and coppercolorado.com.

For more information, visit www.coppercolorado.com.

Winter Park 

Children’s Ski program at Winter Park, Colorado © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Children’s Ski program at Winter Park, Colorado © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What’s special about Winter Park is that this is a world-class resort with fantastic skiing and non-skiing activities, a terrific base village, skating rink, and all the amenities, yet it is owned by the city of Denver (managed by Intrawest). And this year, The Winter Park Express ski train returns, restoring passenger rail service from Denver’s Union Station to the slopes of Winter Park (weekends and holiday Mondays beginning Saturday, January 7 through Sunday, March 26, leaving Denver 7 am), the only service of its kind in the United States. The train leaves Denver at 7 am, arriving at the slopes at 8:30; and you can buy a one-way ticket so you can overnight and return at 4:30 pm, to arrive back in Denver at 6 pm ($39/one way, kids half-price).

This is phenomenal for business travelers and visitors to Denver who want to extend their stay with a ski holiday; out-of-towners can use the light rail (Light rail $8) from Denver International Airport and overnight (and acclimate to altitude) in Denver; or, take a shuttle directly from DIA and the ski train back to Denver.

Ice skating at Winter Park, Colorado © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ice skating at Winter Park, Colorado © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are four new state-of-the-art snowcats that can be used year-round to trim trees and bushes in the summer that have a tendency to peek through the snow in the winter. At peak output the resort will be able to groom almost 1,000 acres, which is a lot of corduroy. This year, Winter Park is participating in the M.A.X. Pass program (www.themaxpass.com) as well as The Rocky Mountain Super Pass. (www.winterparkresort.com)

Steamboat

One of the special experiences at Steamboat, which claims more Olympians than any other resort, is the opportunity to take free lessons with one of the most famous American Olympians, Billy Kidd, the first American to win an Olympic medal; now in his 70s, he teaches intermediate and advanced skiers for free); another famous Olympian, also Nelson Carmichael, who medaled in moguls, teaches a free clinic in moguls (advanced). “Sometimes there are five in the group, sometimes 50.” More free: free guided snowshoeing (you pay for rentals), and free guided ski tours.

Famous for its Rocky Mountain cowboy feel, Steamboat is very family-focused – it was one of the first to offer kids ski free program (kids still ski free with adult for five days and rent free if adult rents), opens the season with a new high speed detachable quad (replaced old lift) which gets skiers up the mountain in less than half the time. What is more, this is the third season that Steamboat offers night skiing (Thursday to Monday, 5-8 pm, in spring, 5:30-8:30 pm’ 1000 vertical feet, beginner to advanced).

Steamboat’s new mountain coaster will operate year-round in the vicinity of Christie Peak Express lift. The mountain coaster will allow guests to ride a gravity driven sled up the mountain and then slide down the rails while controlling the sled.

For 2016/17 Steamboat is replacing its Elkhead fixed-grip quad with a Dopplemayr high-speed detachable quad, cutting ride times by more than half. Safety bars will also be added to the new lift. The increased speed and capacity of the new Elkhead lift is expected to substantially improve the guest experience in the popular Sunshine and Priest Creek areas of the mountain, especially at lunchtime and end-of-day egress. Skiers will also benefit from improvements to snowmaking include a new Leitwolf snowcat and an upgrade to the pumphouse to increase water capacity for snowmaking.

You can fly directly into Hayden Airport (30 minutes from the ski resort) from Newark and (new this year) from San Diego, and ski free that day with a boarding pass, just show your boarding pass at the ticket office. If you’re arriving on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you can ski free Thursday night. With an evening departure, Alaska Airlines passengers can ski for free that day before the flight (minimum two-day lift ticket).

Steamboat’s winter air program continues to grow with the addition of nonstop flights from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to Steamboat/Hayden Airport (HDN) on Alaska Airlines for the 2016/17 ski and snowboard season. The twice-weekly flight will operate Wednesdays and Saturdays from Dec. 17 to March 25 on a 76-seat E175 jet, operated by SkyWest Airlines. The 2016/17 air program increases nonstop markets served to 12 major cities in the fourth consecutive year of nonstop flight growth.

In addition to the new San Diego flight, the winter air program will provide larger aircraft flying into Steamboat/Hayden Airport and a focus on expanding service during popular travel periods. Alaska Airlines guests will enjoy nonstop flights on an E175 aircraft, which offers more capacity and amenities, including a first class cabin and Preferred Plus seating with extra leg room. United Airlines also will fly bigger jets this winter, including an upgrade to a 737-800 for nonstop Chicago Saturday flights that will increase seats from 70 to 166. Capacity on United flights from Newark will increase from 150 to 166 seats, and the Washington-Dulles flight will go from 128 to 150 seats. More nonstop access also will be available for guests flying from Dallas during the holidays with American Airlines adding 14 days of flights in addition to regularly scheduled daily service during that time.

Steamboat’s air program now provides nonstop access from 12 major airports on Alaska, American, Delta and United Airlines as well as convenient connections from more than 300 airports nationwide and worldwide, making Steamboat one of the most easily accessed resorts in the Rocky Mountains. Airfares and packages are currently available for purchase at Steamboat.com/flights or by calling Steamboat Central Reservations® at 1-800-922-2722.

A new flight will offer travelers a chance to experience Steamboat’s legendary Champagne Powder® with a direct flight from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to Steamboat/Hayden Airport (HDN). Alaska Airlines will fly routes twice a week from Dec. 17, 2016 to March 25, 2017.

Steamboat, which is owned by Intrawest (also owns Killington and Snowshoe and manages Winter Park) is part of the Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus.

SVIP package: Save up to 25% on lifts and lodging plus get complimentary VIP experiences: https://www.steamboat.com/plan-your-trip/deals-and-packages/svip

For more information, visit www.steamboat.com. 

Crested Butte 

Torchlight parade and fireworks at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Save up to $300 when you fly directly into Gunnison regional airport (photo supplied by CBMR)
Torchlight parade and fireworks at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Save up to $300 when you fly directly into Gunnison regional airport (photo supplied by CBMR)

Crested Butte has a split personality: the modern, self-contained ski resort on the mountain is a few miles away from a charming, historic coal mining town. It’s an authentic destination, without crowds, where festive community events are a priority, and genuine family adventure awaits. With wide open beginner and intermediate runs, great terrain parks and some of Colorado’s best in-bounds extreme terrain, the mountain has something for everyone.

An historic coal mining turned ski town; Crested Butte is a place that lives and breathes outdoor adventure where the only limits are your own. An authentic destination, where crowds don’t exist, zany, festive community events are a priority, and genuine family adventure awaits. With wide open beginner and intermediate runs, great terrain parks and some of Colorado’s best in-bounds extreme terrain, the mountain has something for everyone. Be sure to check out the town of Crested Butte: Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town, it’ll leave you wondering why you don’t call this place home.

A new program at the resort debuting this season, Women’s Tips on Tuesday’s, is a half-day women’s specific ski school led by Crested Butte’s top female pros that finishes with a glass of wine.

Receive up to a $300 airfare credit per person when you fly into the conveniently located Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) and stay at The Grand Lodge, Lodge at Mountaineer Square or most CBMR managed lodging properties. The offer is valid on nonstop flights from Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH) and Los Angeles (LAX) to the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport. (Restrictions apply. Subject to availability. Limited time offer.

Save up to $300 per airline ticket when traveling to Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) via Gunnison/Crested Butte airport (direct flights from Denver, Dulles, Houston, Los Angeles). Savings based upon originating city and travel dates; restrictions apply. More information at www.skicb.com/information/save-big-airfare (800-544-8448, snow report 970-349-2323, info@cbmr.com, skicb.com.

Book Early and Save BIG: Combine airfare offers with CBMR’s Book Early Save Big Promotion: : Get 25% off lodging when you book 4 nights or more by October 15; get 20% off lodging when you book by November 15 (based on availability; no blackout dates). Discount lift tickets are available with lodging reservation.

Crested Butte is the sister resort to the popular Okemo Resort in Vermont and Sunapee in new Hampshire, and all three pare part of the M.A.X. Pass, which means that season pass holders can, for $299 add on, get five days each at the other resorts (along with unlimited skiing at the home resort), or with just the pass ($599), have 5 days at each of 32 resort (the pass pays for itself in 6 days or less). Also, pass holders get 20% off lodging.

Aspen-Snowmass 

Aspen will host the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals March 15-17, 2017, marking the first time the event has been held in the U.S. in 20 years. The races will feature the best men’s and women’s alpine skiing athletes in the world competing in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and nation’s team event.

Aspen is excited to be hosting the World Cup Men’s and Women’s Finals, March 15-17, 2017  – marking the first time the event has been held in the U.S. in 20 years. The races will feature the best men’s and women’s alpine skiing athletes in the world competing in downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom and nation’s team event.

Visitors will be able to watch the events for free on the hill, but there is still plenty of skiing – Aspen-Snowmass is really four ski areas, each with a very distinct personality and ambiance: Aspen is a historic mining town with a hip vibe, the mountain itself is geared for intermediates and advanced; Snowmass is a complete, self-contained full-service ski resort with a full complement of ski terrain (a new lift was added to Gwyn’s High Alpine last year), lodgings styles, restaurants (Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant capacity is being increased from 350 to 800, and a new bar has a large wood-burning fire and big-screen televisions); Buttermilk is a great learning mountain; and Aspen Highlands (relatively secluded and challenging). (www.aspensnowmass.com)

Lodging Deal: Aspen’s The Little Nell  offers a “Ski Free in Aspen” package, which includes two complimentary ski passes to four incredible mountains – Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass – for each day you stay at The Little Nell, staying a minimum of three nights. Ski passes do not include guest arrival and departure days (as most prefer to acclimate to the altitude upon arrival and soak up town on departure). (Based on availability. black out dates. Not combinable with other offers (www.thelittlenell.com/offers).

For more information, visit www.aspensnowmass.com. 

Arapahoe Basin 

Arapahoe Basin March 19, 2016 - Bruce Ruff on East Wall 2016. (Photo by Dave Camara)
Arapahoe Basin March 19, 2016 – Bruce Ruff on East Wall 2016.
(Photo by Dave Camara)

Arapahoe Basin, a small (by Colorado standards), unpretentious, privately owned mountain, is just next door to Keystone, one of the Vail Resorts, and provides a totally different experience which you can enjoy either on its own (though Arapahoe Basin doesn’t have its own lodging), or free with your Keystone lift ticket or VailResorts EpicPass (a free shuttle between Keystone and A-Basin is provided by the county November through March).

To celebrate A-Basin’s 70th Anniversary, the resort has made significant investments into improving the base area including renovating buildings, improving walkways and ramps, upgrading skier services, expanding Arapahoe Sports and providing better outdoor seating and viewing areas for the main stage.

This is a “confidence building” mountain offering amazing extreme terrain, and some groomed intermediate terrain but is mainly for more accomplished skiers. The views, Adrienne Saia Isaac, Marketing & Communications Manager, tells me, are “breathtaking, like no place else in Colorado.” This year, Dream, the Toronto-based real estate development company that owns the mountain, is investing $4 million in upgrades including an expansion of its intermediate terrain and glade skiing (most of the mountain is above the tree line), kids programs and restaurant.

“We’re turning 70 but keeping up with the times. We offer a different experience from resort – friendlier, more inclusive for families.”

A-Basin has recently updated all of its webcams, installing new ones last season in the base area and facing the Pali terrain and invested in a partnership with Prism for the Divide Cam, situated at the summit. (www.arapahoebasin.com)

Telluride 

The beloved Telluride Mountain Village Gondola system, which links the mountain village with the historic town, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in December. A celebration with a series of events and a festive gala will take place during the anniversary month while a number of events will take place to celebrate the Gondola and its contribution to the region throughout the season.

Telluride’s newest restaurant, Altezza at the Peaks, offers incredible views. Altezza, which means “height” in Italian, offers an Italian-inspired menu, with a variety of main courses such as traditional pastas and Colorado-inspired dishes. To broaden the overall resort experience, Telluride is adding a number of ongoing, free, family-friendly events to take place when the lifts stop turning for the day including a kids’ zone, a holiday prelude and movie series, other movie nights and live music in the mountain village.

New this year, Telluride, a charming historic town at the base of an incredible ski resort set in the San Juan Mountains, with dramatic peaks and stunning views, has joined The Mountain Collective – a collection of independent resorts, Aspen-Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Taos and Monarch –  which gives two free days each at  (additional days at 50% off the window ticket rate). Telluride is independently owned by Chuck Horning since 2004.

“We’re not a mega resort – part of the enchantment is that we are not close to other resorts or Denver International Airport. You feel like you have the place to yourself. The San Juan Mountains are spectacular – the Alps of Colorado. Stunning, dramatic,’ in your face’ mountains.”

The mountain offers all levels of abilities and terrain – 60 percent rated beginner and intermediate.

Last year, the resort took over the on-mountain luxury Peaks Resort & Spa, which boasts one of the largest spas in Colorado, at 42,000 sq. ft., indoor/outdoor pool.

This year, there is increased direct air access from the New York area (Newark), Saturday and Sunday  on United Airlines, direct into Montrose Airport, 1 hr, 15 min away, as well as a nonstop United Flight on Saturdays from LaGuardia.

Skiers and riders will also have new transportation options with Allegiant Airlines adding a flight between Montrose/Telluride and Denver. The seasonal flights will operate twice weekly and fly nonstop between Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ) and DIA (DEN) with one-way fares as low as $44.

Telluride continues to invest in its infrastructure by enhancing the snowmaking capabilities in the Meadows area that caters to Ski School and beginner skiers and snowboarders. (www.tellurideskiresort.com)

Purgatory

New this season guests will notice the Columbine beginner area has been expanded and re-graded to improve the area where beginners learn to ski and snowboard. Also, the Snow Coaster Tubing Hill has been relocated, redesigned, and enhanced for a better user experience and a hazard tree mitigation project will vastly improve the health of the forest and enhance tree skiing at the resort.

A modernized rope tow, the new T-3 surface lift, will transport skiers on the backside of the mountain heading west to the Legends Lift 8 high-speed detachable-quad chairlift, which debuted last winter. The T-3 lift will also connect a new trail to the Legends Lift 8. The Legends Bypass, which opened last winter as an alternative way down to Lift 8, will be widened and re-graded.

Additionally, the snowmaking system has been enhanced with additional snow guns and upgraded nozzles, making snowmaking efforts more productive and efficient allowing for snowmaking as early as October.

Purgatory installed a new point-of-sale software that will make it easier for consumers who are making purchases throughout the resort, providing them with faster transactions at the Ticket Office, Snow Sports School, rentals, retail, and restaurants.

This fall, Purgatory is opening a new convenient retail, rental and repair services shop in Durango at 2615 Main Ave. The remodel will provide a new storefront for outdoor recreation apparel, gear, rentals, repair services, ticket/pass purchases, as well as the resort’s reservation center. (www.skipurg.com)

Information about CSCUSA and its members can be found at www.ColoradoSki.com, on Twitter @ColoradoSkiUSA and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ColoradoSkiCountryUSA.

See also:

Hurry, Hurry, Get Your Ski Pass Deals; Take Advantage of Greater Flexibility, Options

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

$15 Million Renovation Transforms Sea Crest Beach Hotel into Major Cape Cod Resort

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Normally, it would be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s substantial private section of on Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay, wonderfully set with a west-ward facing view (perfect for watching the sunset). But on this day, unusually strong winds and chilly temps (but still clear, sunny skies) make it an ideal day to bike the Shining Sea Trail.

Taking advantage of Seacrest Beach Resort’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Taking advantage of Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Cape Cod is one of the best destinations anywhere to bike – there is the Cape Cod Rail Trail that goes for miles throughout the interior; the Cape Cod Canal trail that stretches more than six miles on both sides, and the Shining Sea Trail which for its variety and scenery and points of interest is my favorite of all.

Sea Crest now has a bike rental program (as well as a biking package, new this year), and is just about a half-mile from an entrance to the Shining Sea trail at the 9.5 mile mark – almost to the very end of the 10.1 mile long bikeway. The trail is named for Katharine Lee Bates, most famous for writing the lyrics to “America the Beautiful…. From Sea to Shining Sea” (whose home you can visit in Falmouth, along the way).

Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This is one of my favorite dedicated biking trails anywhere. The Shining Sea Bike Trail hugs the shoreline from Falmouth to Woods Hole.  It offers the best of Cape Cod: for a time you are in woods, but can see the charming Cape Cod homes; you ride past the historic Bourne Farm (stop to visit if you have time), passed cranberry bogs, through Falmouth Center (definitely visit Katharine Lee Bates’ house which is now a museum and learn more about this fascinating pioneering woman), and along the beach, into Woods Hole, where the trail ends at the ferry (if you have time, you can take your bike onto the ferry for a 45 minute trip (about $25 r/t) to Martha’s Vineyard, where there is a 25-mile bike loop.  On our return ride from Wood’s Hole, we take a slight detour in order to ride past the picturesque and historic Nobska Lighthouse.

Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It’s lunch time when we ride into Woods Hole, which is a charming seaside village that has become a research center, with the Marine Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where you can visit the Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), where you can tour a superb exhibit featuring ALVIN, the submersible that helped find and salvage the Titanic (as Eric was at the controls, pretending to captain ALVIN,

Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

a man looked on bemused, Barry Walden, turned out to be ALVIN’s actual expedition leader who spoke with us about how ALVIN was used in expeditions) and learn about ocean research.

(Starting at $174 per night (based on a two night minimum), the Shining Sea Bike Package includes an overnight stay for two at Sea Crest Beach Hotel, one day’s bike rental for two, bottled waters and a map of the Shining Sea Bike Trail. For reservations or for more information on Sea Crest Beach Hotel, visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.)

Colorful History

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Sea Crest Beach Resort has such a contemporary appearance and ambiance – owing to a recent $15 million renovation – I am surprised to learn that it has been a fixture on Cape Cod for generations.

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel has a colorful history, populated with fascinating people including Henry Fonda, Latin Quarter owner Lou Walters ((father of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters) and Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach.

Its story begins in 1927, when The University Players Guild (among them a young Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart and Barbara O’Neill), created a summer playhouse and tea room on Old Silver Beach, where the hotel stands today.  After the playhouse was damaged in a fire in1936, it was replaced and reopened as the Old Silver Beach Club, a Prohibition-era speakeasy. But this structure also was destroyed just two years later in the hurricane of 1938. The Latin Quarter, a club managed by Lou Walters, opened on the site in 1942. After a brief hiatus in World War II, the property reopened as a summer resort.

Red Auerbach, the famed Boston Celtics President, coach, and GM, along with partners Kenneth Battles and Steve Hill, purchased Sea Crest in 1963 and converted it from a summer destination to a multi-season hotel in 1971. After another change of ownership, Scout Hotels, which also owns or manages the Harborview and the Kelly House in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, the Harborview on Nantucket, and Plantation on Crystal River on Florida’s Nature Coast, as well as manages the Cape Wind (also in Falmouth on Cape Cod), acquired the Sea Crest  in February 2010, launching a new era for the family resort.

Seacrest Beach Resort on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Committed to preserving its heritage and appeal as a family-friendly destination resort while adding amenities and improvements ideal for contemporary guests, Scout Hotels invested $15 million in renovations. Completed in 2013, the renovations transformed the hotel into a full-fledged resort, including Red’s Restaurant and Lounge, the whimsical, nautical décor in the guestrooms and throughout the hotel, upgraded indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the largest meeting and events space on the Cape, the Nauset Center. 

A Full-Service Beach Resort

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies an expansive, 700-foot long private section of Old Silver Beach along Buzzards Bay in what is otherwise a residential neighborhood  distinguished by the shingle-styled architecture of traditional New England cottages

There are 264 guestrooms housed in eight low-rise buildings, each named for a winning boat from the Buzzard’s Bay Regatta. Woven sea-grass headboards and a color scheme of crisp whites and sea-glass blues and greens reflect the hotel’s beachfront setting, while thoughtfully placed sea shells and objects d’art add touches of whimsy.

The hotel’s 264 guest rooms and suites, some with fireplaces and many with water view private balconies, makes it appealing   for families who seek a beachfront setting, couples drawn by the romance of the Cape, and meeting or wedding planners seeking expansive function space combined with superb dining and warm, personalized service. And the resort’s proximity to Cape Cod’s attractions makes it a great hub for longer stays.

There is also a three-bedroom/three bathroom cottage that sleeps up to eight and provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space for entertaining. it features a spacious living room, open kitchenette, washer and dryer, expansive deck, and a private backyard.

The hotel is loaded with amenities –the 700-foot private, white-sand beach; outdoor saline pool shielded from the wind, with pool deck and poolside bar (live entertainment, too); beautiful indoor, heated saline pool, kiddie pool and indoor/outdoor Jacuzzis; fitness center and a Pilates/Yoga room; Tween Room; outdoor movies on the hotel’s 16-foot screen during the summer months; Windsurfing lessons and water sports rentals; Beach volleyball; Bike rentals; Video arcade. In addition, tee times can be arranged at five 18-hole nearby golf courses.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers a variety of new and renovated dining environments: Red’s Restaurant & Lounge, a casual eatery named for former Sea Crest Beach Hotel owner Red Auerbach, the legendary Boston Celtics president and coach, showcases fresh takes on American Cape cuisine in seven distinct indoor and outdoor dining spaces, ranging from a family-friendly Main Dining Room to RED’S Room, filled with Red Auerbach memorabilia, for private events. It also includes a breezy Three Seasons Porch with wicker seating; outdoor seating for beachwear-friendly dining; a New England neighborhood-style indoor bar with television screens; and an outdoor poolside bar. Red’s Take Out provides guests the option of ordering selections to enjoy in their guestrooms; Ocean View Room, a more formal room, takes full advantage of the spectacular views through its wraparound windows; I-Café serves up fresh-brewed coffee and treats along with wireless Internet access and cable news.

Sea Crest offers a festive Shore Dinner Series where hotel guests and local residents alike can dig into traditional Cape favorites Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. through Sept. 6. Priced at $65 per person, the Shore Dinner includes: a 1 ½ pound Maine lobster; ½ pound of local steamer clams; ½ pound of East Coast mussels; Chorizo sausage; and native sweet corn on the cob with poached baby potatoes served with drawn butter, lemon and hot sauce. For $45 per person and $25 for children ages 12 and under, the meal includes a menu option without lobster and shellfish and features fresh-baked corn bread, Cape clam chowder, Angus burgers and jumbo beef hot dogs with all the fixings, garden salads and BBQ-roasted free-range chicken. Sliced summer fruit platters and warm just-baked cookies will follow the meal, and iced tea and lemonade will be served throughout the evening. Guests can end the experience by watching the most spectacular sunset on Cape Cod.  A full bar is available at an additional cost. Prices include tax and gratuity. Reservations are required and include a full-day parking pass. Reservations are available at Shore Dinner Tickets online, by calling 508-356-2111 or via email at shoredinner@seacrestbeachotel.com.

This year, the Sea Crest debuted a new “toes-in-the-sand” dining experience, Jamaican BBQ Night, for guests looking for a Caribbean-inspired night out. Every Thursday from through Aug. 25, guests can dive into a Jamaican-inspired buffet accompanied by Caribbean-themed live music. Priced at $35 per person and $18 for children ages 12 and under, the buffet selections include Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish, as well as island slaw, jerk chicken, jerk pork and traditional red beans and rice. Ice-cold tropical fruit punch and ginger beer fried plantains, banana pudding and sweet potato pudding will be available for dessert. A full bar will be available at an additional cost. Prices include tax, gratuity and a full-day parking pass. (Reservations are required. Visit Jamaican Night Tickets online or call 508-540-9400.)

Both weekly events feature the Cape’s freshest finds prepared by Executive Chef Glenn MacNayr.

Cape Cod’s Largest Event Space

With more than 30,000 square feet of event space, Sea Crest Beach Hotel boasts the largest conference facilities under one roof on Cape Cod. All feature sophisticated audio-visual technology, high-speed Internet access, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a full range of business services. Function spaces include:

Nauset Conference Center, an 11,800-square-foot, newly renovated meeting space that accommodates up to 650 guests and divides into five flexible rooms. The space has been completely redesigned to incorporate its waterfront surroundings, including updated breakout rooms and bathrooms, earth-toned carpeting, wall coverings with driftwood accents and air walls, lighting including unique “wave” chandeliers, upgraded audio/visual capabilities, new banquet chairs and group check-in desk, and new catering and dining options for event participants.

Sea Crest Ballroom is a newly renovated, this 6,450-square-foot space that accommodates up to 800 guests. It can be divided into three separate rooms and connects to the adjacent Ocean View Room and its outdoor deck.

Courtyard accommodates al fresco meeting breaks and cocktail receptions, as well as banquets for up to 150.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers superb settings for weddings, from barefoot-on-the-beach affairs to more formal ceremonies in the Sea Crest Ballroom. There are indoor and outdoor venues ideal for receptions, rehearsal dinners and bridal luncheons. Menus range from gourmet fare to New England clambakes and barbeques.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel is within an easy drive of the region’s largest cities: New York, Boston, and Providence. Boston’s Logan International Airport and Providence’s T.F. Green International Airport are both just over an hour’s drive away.

Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

For more information or reservations visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.

For more information and trip planning, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce
20 Academy Lane, Falmouth, MA, 02540, 508-548-8500,
info@falmouthchamber.com, www.famouthchamber.com.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

Basin Harbor Club Marks 130 years as Luxury Summer Retreat on Lake Champlain, Vermont

 

Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years, offers a mixture of activity and tranquility © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

We come to the Basin Harbor Club by driving down a four-mile Vermont country road lined with classically picturesque farms. As we enter the grounds, we are overcome by the breath-taking beauty of the landscape and the surprising realization of just how enormous this place is – spanning 700 acres along Lake Champlain, with its own harbor and marina and beaches. Basin Harbor Club is more of a vacation village, a compound, than a mere resort.

Then there is the absolute sense of peace and serenity that rushes over us when we enter our very own cottage, Sunny Pines, which bears the date 1938 etched in stone, set in the woods on a cliff, from which we can gaze out over Lake Champlain from the balcony and through the French windows from the living room. A master bedroom and second room on the first floor, and a spiral staircase down to another sprawling room with two queen beds. Perfect for our multi-generational family.

Basin Harbor Club has been greeting guests for 130 years. A seasonal resort open from May through October, Basin Harbor Club offers 77 individual cottages and another 47 guest rooms in a gracious manor house – accommodations for about 350 people at one time.

Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sunny Pines, one of 77 unique cottages at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Each of the 77 cottages are different – built in the 1920s and 1930s according to the specifications provided by the original families who were invited to Basin Harbor Club by the Beach family and came back each summer to escape city heat.  In those early days, the first cottages were rustic – the equivalent of today’s glamping – wood with canvas roofs on a concrete slab. But today, the cottages are luxurious, each with its own history and sense of style, exuding grace and charm, most have fireplaces and decks or screened porches and are equipped with complimentary WiFi; refrigerators and coffeemakers (just don’t look for a TV).

I must confess that I had always imagined Basin Harbor Club, which is a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946), as more rustic – more like a camp than a resort village. Instead, Basin Harbor Club manifests gentility, refinement, class, yet it is relaxed, casual, comfortable and completely unstuffy. You instantly feel you belong here. For the precious time you are at Basin Harbor, you feel less like a guest and more like you are at your summer home. All the activities they offer may make you feel you are in an adult camp, but the service, facilities, dining experiences make you feel like a country squire.

Guests, many who come year after year, generation after generation, are treated to a first class experience from top to bottom – from the exquisite, immaculately maintained grounds, to the impeccable service, to the top quality equipment and facilities.

I can’t list all the instances where we were greeted so warmly – like Ryan Baker who helps us get sunfish and kayaks into the water and sets us up with bikes, and Jamie McCatherin who leads us on a 2-mile hike on the opposite shore in the Adirondack State Park, Glenn Spence of Vermont who greets us warmly as we are deciding what to take from the buffet for breakfast; and the fellow working to ready the pool who runs to the front desk when I  ask what time the Escape cruise departs.

The cheery attitude starts with Bob Beach who I chance to meet not long after we arrive, as I explore the property. He is walking along to the marina with his two golden retrievers and engages in pleasant conversation. I find him again chatting with my kids playing shuffleboard. Later he tells me this is one of the ways he constantly gauges what might need adjustment, improvement or what services to add.

It is hard to imagine anything that should be added – everything you could want for a vacation retreat is already here.

In addition to the big things – a wonderful, walkable 18-hole, par-72 golf course that is sufficiently challenging but not frustrating, where you actually feel good about your game after your round (“It’s one of the most enjoyable courses in the state,” Herb Kessel, a regular, tells me. “You don’t get beaten up. It’s one of my favorite courses in Vermont.”); driving range (PGA instructor as well as electric carts available); outdoor lap pool heated to a perfect temperature; tennis courts; a marina with kayaks, canoes, sunfishes, paddleboards, waterskiing and tubing; diving board and two trampolines in the lake; plus bikes (top quality mountain and hybrid), and the Escape which takes people out on hour-long narrated cruises as well as special sunset cruises for groups) – there are also the pleasant diversions you happen upon, such as disc golf, badminton, croquet, ping pong. And while there isn’t an elaborate full-service spa, there are massage services available.

And that’s not even half of it. Basin Harbor spans 700 acres along the shores of Lake Champlain – one of the largest lakes in the country, which, because of where Basin Harbor is positioned, only a ½ miles across at this point, utterly stunning views of the Adirondack State Park on the New York Side. Just as you come to the entrance, you see the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, founded by Bob Beach and is a substantial and important museum, with among other things, a perfect working replica of the 1776 gunboat Philadelphia (the original, razed from where it was sunk in Lake Champlain, is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC).

Basin Harbor even has its own air strip – people come in their private planes just for lunch or a round of golf, and one family used to fly in their DC-10. (New England Aero Club has a fly-in with 200 planes and do aerial acrobatics.)

Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hiking along the shore of Lake Champlain at Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vt., © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The resort abuts Button Bay State Park, adding a whole other dimension to the stay. You can connect with hiking trails or bike into the park (though you are supposed to go in through the entrance off the Basin Harbor Road and pay the entrance fee). Bob Beach suggests going there (about 2 miles from the resort) for the sunset.

The hiking along the lake is utterly gorgeous – especially when the weather turns stormy and we watch the rain descend from clouds at first far away, over the Adirondacks to the east and Green Mountains to the north, and then closer and closer until we are caught in quite a deluge. No matter. It is tremendous fun. We find the gravel road from the Nature Center, and soon are on a scenic country road made all the more dramatic because of the breaks in the rolling clouds, the brilliant colors of the wet grass and soil, the blue mountains in the distance. Once out on the Basin Harbor Road, there are classic looking farms making the scenes even more picturesque.

Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club offers a guided hike on the New York State side of Lake Champlain, in the Adirondack State Park © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

You can be even more ambitious: kayaking 1 1/2 miles across Lake Champlain to the New York State side where Basin Harbor owns a tiny portion of the Adirondack State Park, where you can beach the kayak while you hike to a wonderful rocky promontory (locals jump into the water from here, about 75 feet up, but it is really dangerous). Or, you can take advantage of the guided hike Basin Harbor offers, where they take you over by motorboat and you hike two miles through the woods to another cove (hiking a small spur to an overlook from which you can peer into an eagle’s nest).

As for biking, you can do a four-mile loop from Basin Harbor, or go out to the Champlain Bikeway – really a designated portion on the road (Basin Harbor has excellent hybrid and mountain bikes for rent).

Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Basin Harbor Club on Lake Champlain offers tranquil places just to be together © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Basin Harbor Club offers all of these wonderful activities and amusements, but what it is best at is simply offering the space, ambiance, not to mention time just to be together. There are quaint sitting areas positioned to take advantage of the best views –with colorful Adirondack chairs, including some giant ones that make you feel like a small child, and child-sized ones. There are gorgeous gardens and colorful, whimsical mobile art all around that makes you smile, makes you feel peaceful, and places where you can light a campfire.

Space, ambiance and time are a powerful formula for forging bonds of family and friendship. Many Basin Harbor guests are regulars who return year after year, same week, same cottage each year.

In fact, this September, a couple who met at Basin Harbor Club as 10 year olds – one family from Massachusetts and the other from New Jersey – and came back the same week each year, then came back as counselors and became engaged here last July 4, will be married here.

Weddings here are idyllic –the setting is absolute exquisite on a vast lawn with views of Lake Champlain, lovely gardens (there’s always an indoor site in case the weather doesn’t cooperate). A wedding coordinator is available who can arrange for florist, photographer and such, as well as organize special activities – like bringing the bride and groom into the wedding on vintage Chris Craft boats, the rehearsal dinner followed by a hayride and bonfire (a sample itinerary is on the website), and arrange such novel activities as hot air ballooning or even sky diving.. “Our wedding planner assists with all the wedding details, whether it’s a traditional ceremony, elopement or our shotgun wedding.”

The facilities, the space, the setting and activities make Basin Harbor ideal for multigenerational family getaways, reunions, executive retreats, team-building programs (they can arrange for a ropes course), for incentive programs and corporate meetings, and especially think tanks. Self-contained with lots of activities so never bored, but also not distracted. As much or as little, as busy or as lazy as you like. Indeed, Basin Harbor strikes you as an adult summer camp, but actually, children have their own camp.

Children’s Programs 

Lots of resorts say they have a “kids camp” but here at Basin Harbor, it quite literally is a camp – each of five age groups has its own bunkhouse or headquarters. The 3-5s have the larger playhouse and playground; the 9-12s (preteens) have a building away from the other siblings (near the Red Mill Restaurant). Teenagers have their own “den” but because they tend to be “unpredictable”, Basin Harbor hosts a mocktail reception on Sunday when counselors meet so the teens can plan their own activities for the week together – kayaking, hiking and such.

Kids Camp is available for five different age groups, from 9:30am-1:30pm and/or 5:00-9:00pm (so there is also time for families to be together). The program runs daily from mid-June through Labor Day and on select weekends in spring and fall. Activities include arts and crafts, fishing, sports, games and educational hikes. The program is included for guests on the FAP (Full American meal plan) and the MAP (breakfast and dinner plan).

Activities Galore 

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In classic resort style, there are all sorts of organized activities – bird-watching, geocaching, a ga-ga ball pit, night golf, barn dances, narrated lake cruises, art classes, wellness classes, property tours, history talks, dogs walks, and so much more.

Jamie McCatherin, whose title is Entertainment Ambassador, hosts guided hikes, special events, brewery tours, pool parties, arts and crafts programs and such.

“We tell the activities director not to take it personally if people don’t participate,” Beach says. That’s because there are so many things to do, to explore, to discover.”

Beach calls it “Active tranquility – do as much as you want to do. We offer a lot to do. It doesn’t matter if people don’t show up.”

Choices for Dining 

Basin Harbor is a classic resort where most guests still take advantage of a meal plan (MAP, which is breakfast and dinner, FAP, which is breakfast, lunch and dinner, or bed-and-breakfast). Led by Executive Chef Christian Kruse, the formal dining experience in the lakeside Main Dining Room has been enjoyed by generations.

During the summer months, the tradition of jacket and tie is maintained for gentleman over the age of 12. Outdoor dinners are enjoyed three times weekly and the Red Mill Restaurant offers casual, bistro style dining overlooking the grass airstrip.

Nearby Vergennes also offers several charming restaurants, cafes and eateries, including Antidote, Black Sheep Bistro and 3 Squares Café.

Five Generations of Beach Family History

Basin Harbor Club is celebrating its 130th anniversary this season – a mind-boggling reality. That puts Basin Harbor Club at the very beginning of tourism in America, coinciding with a rising middle class born of the Industrial Revolution and rise of American cities.

At a time when Gilded Age monied elites had their cottages in Newport and Bar Harbor, their “camps” in the Adirondacks and Cape Cod and private retreats on Jekyll Island, the first and second generation at Basin Harbor pioneered a new sort of tourism that catered to the rising middle class.

Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bob Beach is the 4th generation host at Basin Harbor Club, a luxury resort on Lake Champlain, Vt. that has been welcoming vacationers for 130 years © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The 4th and 5th generations run the Basin Harbor Club now –Bob Beach and sister Pennie Beech and her daughter, Sarah Morris, who is the director of sales. They can be seen about. During the course of our all-too brief stay, I meet Bob with his 2 golden retrievers, his wife and daughter. Indeed, some 120 of the 240 employees at Basin Harbor live on the grounds.

I sit down with Bob Beach who tells me the history of Basin Harbor Club, which is also his family history:

Basin Harbor was a working farm when Beach’s great great aunt Ardelia Beach purchased it in 1886. She began offering rooms to city folk looking to get away and experience farm work in exchange for food. Her nephew, Allen Penfield Beach, came to work in the 1920s and eventually took over. While attending the University of Vermont he implemented changes, including giving up farming altogether and transforming the property into a full service resort with stables, golf course, airstrip and cottages built from guest sketches.

The history of tourism is also manifested in Basin Harbor’s golf course: in 1916, Basin Harbor had 3 holes of golf on what was a sheep meadow; then in 1927, they built a nine-hole course; in 1955, they added the back nine. The course, 6,500 yards long, was redesigned by famed designer Jeffrey Cornish. Now, a new superintendent has been making changes to make Basin Harbor a “noteworthy” golf destination. Part of this involves making the course faster – making the greens putt at 11 mph (“people like fast greens”) and cutting the fairways to less than 3/8 inch for faster play. There are practice greens, PGA certified instructors and electric carts are available. The BHC Golf Program is ideal for all levels of play. Daily clinics are open to men, women and junior golfers.

Bob Beach speaks of the challenge of being 4th and 5th generation hosts, maintaining a 130-year old institution. “Travelers are different today. Each generation brings new things. We have never been opposed to making changes, but we don’t make changes just for the sake of change. We have a certain tradition we continue. It’s a sense of stewardship.”

There is history all around: one of the larger stone buildings was the oldest operating inn on Lake Champlain when Ardela bought her farm; and in a small garden just below the shuffleboard courts, there is a stone marker, ”Site of Naval Shipyard, 1804-1812. Erected 1938”

Beach tells me of a shipwreck right in the cove, and once a week (on Monday), the hour-long narrated cruise on the Escape, turns into an expedition, using a ROV camera to view the wreck.

Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Take a guided cruise on Basin Harbor Club’s Escape to really enjoy Lake Champlain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

That afternoon, we get to take the 1 ¼ hour narrated cruise on the Escape (daily at 2:30 pm) is not only really interesting but also wonderfully scenic, as we come close to the dramatic stone cliffs on the New York State side where the captain points out an eagles nest and where an eagle is sitting in a tree, pass small private islands, see the vast Swift Gilded-Age mansion and 450-acre estate, and get a view of the gunboat Philadelphia II docked at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The views are breathtaking.

Lake Champlain, we learn, is the largest lake in the US after the Finger Lakes and played an important role in colonial times, Revolutionary War period, and economic development of the region. Great steamships used to ply the waters, and even before the Erie Canal, a 60-mile long canal was built in 1823 to connect the Lake with the Hudson River, which created a waterway extending up to Canada.

Pet-Friendly: Basin Harbor Club is also the most pet-friendly place you can imagine. I meet a man walking his cat who comes every year – the cat is particular – it wants to stay in the room they had the year before.

For a daily fee of $15 per dog, BHC offers a resort vacation for your pets with activities and amenities including: biscuits made in Vermont, games of Pick Up Mitts, hundreds of acres available for playing and Fanny’s Beach — their own swimming area.  

Seasonal Events: Rocktoberfest (Bacon & Beer Festival), Festival of Fidos, Barbeque Bonanza, American Girl Teas, Harborween; and regular daily programming also offers guests a wide variety of entertainment.

Meeting Space: Over 9,000 square feet of meeting space provides an ideal setting for traditional board meetings, as well as multi-day retreats featuring activities like lake cruises and lobster bakes, team building, golf tournaments and banquets. You can arrange a small party or reserve the entire resort, with lakeside parties, beach bonfires and cocktail cruises. 

Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Come aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Len Ruth portrays the first officer of the Philadelphia © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

So much to do! In addition to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum right at Basin Harbor Club, nearby attractions include: Dar John Strong Mansion Museum; Crown Point State Historic Site; Fort Ticonderoga; Mount Defiance; Carillion Cruises; Mount Independence State Historic Site; Chimney Point State Historic Site. Other sightseeing attractions: the Shelburne Museum, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Basin Harbor also has created biking routes; wine & beer routes; local cheeses; and historic drives 

Access: Set on the shores of Lake Champlain, surrounding a private harbor, the resort is just 45-minutes from Burlington International (BTV), Vermont’s largest commercial airport. BTV serves major commuter airlines, with connections from most cities in the Northeast. The resort is also accessible by private aircraft — Basin Harbor’s own 3,200-foot grass airstrip is one of the best in New England — as well as by boat. Greyhound and Megabus lines serve the Vergennes/Burlington area; transportation to Basin Harbor is available at a nominal fee. Basin Harbor Club is five hours from New York City metro; and 2 ½ hours from the Albany area.

Basin Harbor is a place you don’t want to leave and can’t wait to return.

Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT 06490, 800.622.4000 or 802.475.2311, www.basinharbor.com

See next: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

Grand, Historic Loews Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach’s Famed ‘Pink Lady’, is Classic Beach Resort

Loews Don CeSar (the "Pink Lady") in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”) in the golden light of the setting sun on St. Pete Beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

In urgent need of some R&R? Cure it with a two-night/three day stay at Loews Don CeSar, not just a grand historic hotel, but a true beach resort with all the amenities and activities for a luxurious, pampered stay. Better yet, for a complete vacation, plan a seven-day stay and balance out days relaxing on white-powder sand beach and lounging around glorious pools, spa treatments and yoga, with visits to the myriad cultural and scenic attractions close by, in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa.

From the moment you cross the threshold, walk down the stairs into the lobby, a feeling of peace and tranquility sweeps over you.

The Don Cesar has been welcoming guests since 1927. But as in so many of these grand historic hotels, they are living links to the past, and are in essence timeless.

Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sophistication and casual elegance evoking the Gatsby Era at the Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It may seem cliché, but you step through the lobby and you are in the world of those who came before: F. Scott Fitzgerald (remembered with a nightly Fitzgerald Reception at the fine dining restaurant, when you can experience a cocktail and a nibble), Clarence Darrow, Lou Gehrig, even Al Capone.

You feel their presence. But the hotel has a unique personality, a character of its own – you can’t help but think of the stories these walls hold.

The Don CeSar exudes casual elegance and Southern Charm – ceiling fans, a beautiful courtyard garden that leads to the pool area and beyond, the white-sand beach and the Gulf of Mexico. Elegant, yet casual (not stuffy or stiff), comfortable, welcoming, and one of the most beautiful hotels anywhere.

Gracious, That’s the word to describe the experience.

Wendy Hessinger leads "Yoga on the Beach" © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Wendy Hessinger leads “Yoga on the Beach” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A classic beach resort with activities offered throughout the day. Checking in, I am given an “Activities” schedule with a long list, day by day, of activities, all included in the $25/day resort fee: Yoga on the beach (9am), kayaking and paddleboarding (8-10 am), aqua fitness, sunset yoga, daily history tour of the hotel, Sea Life tour, Kidding Around Yoga, Kidz Kraze, Restorative Yoga, Star Gazers (that’s just Monday’s Schedule). The activity schedule changes through the week: Body Toning Tuesday, Legs, Bums and Tums; Noodling Around (Kid and Parent Aqua Fitness), Zumba, Beach Yoga Sunset; Drive in Movie on the weekend.

There are activities for the children as well: included in the resort fee is a half-day at Camp CeSar activities program. There are also aqua fitness programs for kids and families, educational talks. Kids Night Out are also available Friday and Saturday nights (6-10 pm).

Some special activities are offered by reservation and for a fee, such as Culinary Kids, Pint Size Picasso, and Waterside Music Makers.

There is a free shuttle service (available 9-5) that takes you into downtown St. Petersburg (here’s where you can easily balance the beach with the extraordinary cultural attractions of St. Petersburg).

The concierge can arrange for golf or tennis at the nearby Isla del Sol country club.

Of course, there is the beach with the most beautiful white-powder sand, the texture of talc, and two pools, heated to a perfect temperature.

Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Tranquil setting at Loews Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The pool area is gorgeous – with lush tropical gardens, tall palm trees sheltering, opening up to the beach and Gulf beyond.

It is frankly hard to pull yourself away from the pool – two actually, both heated, both large enough for lap swimming. My favorite of the two is set off a little, tends to be quieter, and situated with the most magnificent view (I just get this wonderful feng shui feeling here). It is one of the prettiest pools anywhere, with the Pink Palace as a backdrop on one side, and palm trees and the Gulf on the other side.

There is iced, fruited water available and even magazines at the pool – plush robes in your room to wear to the pool.

This is in every way pampered luxury –you are quite literally fawned over by a genuinely friendly and helpful staff.

There is a game area with billiards, ping pong tables, chess, and other games – under shelter in case of a rain shower, you can still be outside.

Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Loews Don CeSar pool © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are a variety of shops to take care of immediate needs – a small general/convenience store, an Ice Cream shop (actually where the original entrance to the hotel was located, which still has the original flooring) where you can also get a bagel, muffin or cereal for breakfast, lovely clothes shops and sports stuff in case you forgot something.

In the evening, there is nightly live music in the lobby lounge/bar, laid out to be extremely comfortable and casual. (We are told that the Don CeSar has a signature drink, Old Smokey: take old cigar box and barrel-aged bourbon that spends two weeks behind the bar; then hose in cherry wood smoke, let it sit so the Bourbon is infused with cherry smoke, then the open box and chill with a snowball ice cube.)

After being awed watching the sunset from the beach, I stroll into the Maritana Grille for the Gatsby Reception. The bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger and a nibble (seared pork belly with maple and sherry vinegrette).  The Harvey Walbanger is a classic cocktail consisting of Vodka Galliano, orange juice that goes back to the 1950s; concocted by Donato “Duke” Antone who owned Duke’s Backwatch Bar in Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. Duke, who also invented the Rusty Nail and the White Russian, named it after a surfer named Tom Harvey.

The fine-dining restaurant – a beautiful seaside motif with large fish aquarium – has a varied American menu. On this evening, it was featuring  Venison, Long Island Duckling, Snapper, and offered a wine tasting menu ($65, $95 with wine pairing).

A Grand Hotel With History

A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A couple enjoys the nightly Gatsby Reception at the Maritana Grille where the bartender this evening is serving a Harvey Wallbanger © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Don CeSar was a founding member of Historic Hotels of America in 1989, which began with just 32 members and now has 260 members in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (HistoricHotels.org).

HHA hotels are invariably my favorite places to stay anywhere I go. They tend to manifest the charm and high standard of hospitality (an old fashioned sensibility and refinement) of bygone days, as well as a deep connection and sense of place. Each of the HHA members has its unique personality and character.

The Don CeSar was awarded HHA’s “Historic Hotel of the Year” in 2015 in the 201-400 room category

This largely reflects the acquisition and management of the Don since 2003 by Loews Hotels, which owns the Don with Prudential Insurance. The new owners invested millions in renovations and new facilities – opening the stunning 11,000 square foot Spa Oceania in 2008, the only beachfront luxury spa on the Gold Coast of Florida. Multi-million dollar investments included the meeting spaces, the Maritana Grille, its fine-dining restaurant, the Lobby, Lobby Bar and Sea Porch restaurant, and guestroom redesign.

The sense of responsibility to care for these entities is powerful – you can’t rest on laurels or prior reputation and the fact of the matter is that age does take its toll, as does the need to cater to new generations of guests. There is the constant push-pull of progress and preservation. As is the protectiveness of patrons. When they renovated the lobby, changing out dark wood colors and carpets and bronze-and-crystal chandeliers for a white wood paneling reminiscent of Southern plantation-style cool elegance, light floors, brighter colors and modern blue-and-clear glass chandeliers people were up in arms that they were disposing of “history” – except that the bronze chandeliers only dated back to the 1986 renovation.

“People were upset because they felt they were discarding history,” said Jeffrey Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations. “We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

It exposes the special challenge of caretaking for a historic hotel, especially one that means that much and has been so much a part of a local community.

That is the balance that modern hoteliers have to strike but there is the clear recognition of their responsibility as caretakers and their respect for these unique entities.

“We have to give much more attention to preserving the charm and character of hotel.”

Historic hotels like The Don CeSar typically have their tales of survival – dramatic snatches from the wrecking ball (indeed, the Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg, which opened in 1927, also became a VA hospital and has a similar tale of being saved just moments from being demolished, in 1972).

This is the case of the Don CeSar – long known locally as “The Don” and “The Pink Palace.” It surprised me to learn how in its 80 year history, it only spent about half of that as a hotel, and from the beginning, struggled to survive – the Great Depression, World War II, economic recessions.

You speak of these kinds of properties as “The” – as in “The Don” – and as if they are people, with their own biography, rather than structures or institutions. They have personality and character. Unique. Authentic. They are closely connected to their community, which in fact, rallied to “Save the Don” from the wrecking ball in the 1970s, after being shuttered and closed for four years, a blight on the neighborhood.

The Don’s struggles began not long after coming into being, the fruition of a dream of its founder, Thomas Rowe, I learn from Susan Quinn, a long-time concierge at The Don CeSar who conducts history tours of the hotel.

Born in Boston in 1872 and orphaned at age 4, Rowe was sent to live with grandparents in Ireland, returning to the United States to become a real estate speculator in Florida, during the early boom of the 1920-6 years. Partnering with a local attorney, Walter Fuller, e turned a $21,000 investment into $1,050,000, and then sought to fulfill a longtime dream in building a lavish hotel.

Tthe Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Loews Don CeSar, a historic resort © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He patterned his “Pink Lady” (as “The Don” continues to be known) after the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach, styled as a kind of Mediterranean palace. An opera lover, he named the Don CeSar after a character in one of his favorite operas, “Maritana,” written by a Scottsman (today, its fine-dining restaurant is named the Maritana Grill). He planned for construction costs to be $450,000, but instead, the hotel cost $1.2 million to build – wiping out his resources, so that he had to mortgage to raise the $250,000 needed to furnish the property so it could open.

He devised an ingenious system though, because he had spent $100,000 to buy 80 acres surrounding the hotel, and turned to developing small Mediterranean-style homes on property just south – you could buy the lot for $5000 and build the house on it for $5000 more.

A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A view of the Loews Don CeSar pool and grounds © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

He opened The Don CeSar in 1928, immediately drawing an “A” List of celebrities and important people: F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda (today, the Maritana offers a 5:30 pm Fitzgerald Reception, featuring a cocktail and nibble), famed attorney Clarence Darrow, baseball great Lou Gehrig and Al Capone.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Rowe devised an ingenious method of staying afloat: he offered for the home owners who had taken mortgages from him to cash out at a fraction of the amount owed in order to accumulate the cash he needed to make it through the Depression. And another thing: when the hotel would otherwise be low-occupancy in spring, he leased it out to the New York Yankees for spring training, at $8/day including breakfast.

Rowe, who came to St. Petersburg for his health and to speculate when he was in his 40s, lived in the hotel (his wife, a university-educated woman, stayed in Virginia, because she didn’t want to live in a backwater). In May 1940, he suffered a heart attack and insisted on staying in the hotel. Legend has it he intended to will the hotel to his employees, and he wrote a new will, but it was not witnessed, so his wife inherited the property. She appointed her lawyer to take charge of the corporation, who brought in his own management team. Then Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, and World War II hit.

Instead of the hotel’s 300 rooms being totally occupied for the season, all but 100 room reservations canceled, and the government went after her for taxes stemming from her husband’s refinancing scheme. Her attorney sought to negotiate a deal with the Navy to take the Don CeSar for officer’s housing, but the Army wanted it for a hospital, and used eminent domain to take it over, purchasing the building for the assessed value of $450,000. The army disposed of everything, even the hotel register with its famous signatures. The property later became an Air Force Convalescent Center (actually becoming a model for dealing with the condition now known as PTSD), and then a Veterans Administration regional office, from 1945 to 1969.

By 1969, the VA abandoned the hotel – set up a chain-link fence around and a guard – and it deteriorated terribly, a blight on the community.

In 1971, local residents and former employees formed a “Save the Don” committee to prevent the hotel from being demolished. June Hurley Young, realizing that locals had never known the Don as a fine hotel, wrote an article that was finally published in a paper under the headline, “Pink Elephant or Sleeping Beauty”. It  came to the attention of  William Bowman, a Flying Tiger during war, who was building new hotels in the area. He purchased the decrepit property in 1972, just two weeks before the hotel had a date with the wrecking ball.

“It cost $3.5 million to fix up –he  replaced every window, waterproofed, added air conditioning so the hotel could stay open year round,” Owen said.

The Don CeSar reopened on November 24, 1973. The following year, the Pink Palace was admitted to the National Register of Historic American Places.

1973 was the year of the Oil Embargo and a recession. It wasn’t long before the Don CeSar was foreclosed but continued to operate. It changed hands several times until in 2000, it was taken over by Prudential Insurance.

Finally, in 2003, the Don CeSar became a Loews Hotel, which owns 15% and manages the luxury property, and brought it up to the standards of today’s luxury travelers.

(Both Rowe and Bowman are honored in a display case that has their picture and their history with the hotel. A new eatery, the Rowe Bar, is an indoor/outdoor bar which will serve different Juleps, different nonalcoholic “-ades” (lemonade, etc), communal bowls of cocktails, have fire pits and overlook the sand dune.

Don CeSar has 277 rooms. They may be a tad smaller than we have become accustomed to (because people didn’t come to a resort to spend time in their hotel room), but have every amenity imaginable – plus robes, mini-bar, Keurig coffee maker, safe, ironing board, a flashlight, lush mattress and bed linens, flat screen TV and free WiFi, even the shampoo has the perfect scent.

The Don CeSar is pet-friendly and offers pet menus (Bow Wow beef; Chow chow mein),  pet room service and pet massage, in room.

The Don CeSar now has a second property, the Loews Beachhouse Suites, located just about a quarter mile up from the Don CeSar (finishing up a renovation by mid-February), which is also a pink building on the beach. A free shuttle van is offered between the two Loews properties, so Beachhouse guests have the use of the Don CeSar’s facilities.

An Idyllic Place for Destination Weddings 

The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The sun seems to melt into a space beyond the water © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The ambiance, services and facilities at the Don CeSar are so magical, it is no wonder how popular the luxury resort has been for destination weddings. The hotel hosts some 425 wedding-related events a year, and accommodates weddings as large as 300. There are four people on staff just to help coordinate destination weddings, and an event company, Cheers, on call to handle elaborate events.

The planners can organize everything from releasing doves to special transportation.

“What’s popular lately are Indian weddings – people arrive by horse, do henna. We just hired an executive chef from India (most recently he was at The Breakers) so we can provide authentic Indian food,” Jeff said.

The fifth floor, with its enormous picture windows that look out to St. Petersburg and down the St. Pete Beach coast, and which once was a massive open dining room that could sit 1400 at a time for dinner, has been turned into a series of meeting and function rooms ideal for weddings, conferences and events (38,000 square feet of function space). Indeed, during our stay there were wedding and conferences underway.

A Complete Vacation 

Each morning of my stay, I go down to the beach for 9 am beach yoga with Wendy Hessinger, and then aqua fitness which Wendy also conducts (an interesting routine using noodles). She also conducts sunset yoga on some days.

But there is so much going on in the area to round out your stay: take advantage of the free ride into St. Petersburg (about 20 minutes)  which goes to the Sundial, a centrally located entertainment center with movies, excellent restaurants, and walkable to just about anything you want to get to (or you can hop on the Downtown Looper trolley, to take around the downtown)  and enjoy an enormous selection of cultural attractions  (Dali Museum, Chihuly Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg Museum of History, Florida Holocaust Museum, emerging arts districts, among the highlights. They are currently rebuilding the famous Pier, which is due to reopen in 2018.)

Or just hop a delightful trolley-style bus to Passa-Grill, a tiny charming village with a block-long “downtown” at Historic 8th Street ” (truly “Old Florida”) where the locals go to the beach, fish, look out to see dolphins and manatees, watch the sunset and hang out at waterside watering holes like the Paradise Grill. At Passa-Grill you can go out for deep sea fishing or take a tour boat to Shell Island. Or continue on to Fort de Soto where you can visit a Civil War-era fort.

Another popular activity is taking a sailing cruise to see dolphins or the sunset cruise. The Don CeSar has an arrangement with Dolphin Landings which offers two-hour cruises.

Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of "Dolphin Tale" with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don Cesar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Winter, the plucky dolphin and star of “Dolphin Tale” with her prosthetic tail at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, one of the major attractions near the Don CeSar © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is just about 30 minutes away to the north, in Clearwater Beach (you can take the trolley bus to get there, switching at 75th Avenue). For shopping, go to John’s Pass (150 shops and restaurants in a small area), reached by the trolley bus, midway between St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach.

Or plan a day trip to the Ringling Museum and historic mansion in Sarasota nearby.

Busch Gardens Tampa theme park (one of the best zoos with great roller coasters and entertainment) is less than an hour away (The Don CeSar has a partnership with Busch Gardens and offers a package that includes tickets, but you need a car or the hotel can arrange transportation).

Another idea is to split your stay between a beach holiday here at the Don CeSar and a theme park holiday in Orlando, staying at the Loews Portofino at Universal Orlando, another favorite hotel (which manages to create a resort atmosphere in Universal Studios theme park with sensational pool that creates a beach effect).

(For more vacation planning information, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 8200 Bryan Dairy Road, Suite 200, Largo, FL 33777, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224 www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.) 

But frankly, it is hard to pull yourself away from the Don CeSar

The St. Pete beach is absolutely magnificent – and one thing I notice is that the buildings are set well back from the beach and are low level for the most part, not blocking – peaceful. One day as I walk, I come upon a beach-volleyball regional tournament.

A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don Cesar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Great Blue Heron appreciating the sunset on Don CeSar’s beach © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The beach is also the place to go for the sunset – get out there 20 minutes before because you would be amazed at how fast the most brilliant colors come and go as the sun seems to dash to the horizon, seeming to melt into a slot just beyond the water’s edge.

The Loews Don CeSar is ideal for couples, gal getaways, destination weddings, honeymoons, family getaways, family reunions, any special occasion, pre-baby getaway, or just about any excuse to have a holiday.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel, 3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach, Florida, 33706, 727-360-1881, reservations, 800-282-1116, www.loewshotels.com/don-CeSar.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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

 

Bubble Chairs, Great Snowmaking Give Okemo Mountain Resort an Edge

It's 3 degrees but we're happy as clams inside the Quantum Four bubble chair on Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
It’s 3 degrees but we’re happy as clams inside the Quantum Four bubble chair on Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin

I always bump up my skiing at Okemo Mountain Resort, in southern Vermont. This time was the first time I really felt “the flow” – the fluid motion of putting the various elements of skiing together – the bicycle pedal motion of weighting and unweighting, the pushing knees together, shoulders square, standing up.

Okemo Mountain Resort's bubble chairs are a fabulous feature © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Okemo Mountain Resort’s bubble chairs are a fabulous feature © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It has a lot to do with the quality of snowmaking and grooming – an art as much as a science, with a dollop of luck because of weather conditions. But it also has to do with the design of the trails, scenic to be sure with gorgeous views, but also wide enough to be forgiving, long enough to get some really good practice in before you have to get back on the lift, and relatively few crosses so you’re not overwhelmed by advanced skiers and snowboarders barreling past. Also, the excellent signage and superb trail maintenance eliminate as much as possible the anxieties that accompany you as you are trying to progress in your technique. And everything is done to make skiers and snowboarders as comfortable as possible – excellent lift system, detachables (best invention in skiing, followed by shaped skis), and now, two of the major chair lifts to the top (Quantum Four, new this year, and Sunburst Six) have bubbles – an innovation that turns your chair into a capsule against the cold and precipitation (including snowmaking).

This was particularly appreciated (a godsend, really), on the day it was 3 degrees (before the wind chill factored in, making it feel like sub-zero). When we left, the temperature rose to a balmy 15 degrees (really, it felt wonderful), under Blue Bird cloudless skies. The feeling of good cheer and utter euphoria made it feel downright balmy.

Remarkably, the Okemo snowmakers opened 20 trails in just 8 days time and by the time we left, 42 trails of its 121 (18 miles worth) were open, offering amazingly great conditions.

Great trails and snowmaking enable you to bump up your skiing at Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Great trails and snowmaking enable you to bump up your skiing at Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We love the trails here – especially Sapphire, a wide, scenic, well-groomed blue trail that starts from the top of Sunburst Six (a six-pack bubble chair!), linking to Upper and Lower Arrow so the trail is long enough to really practice your skiing by the time you get back to the Sunburst Six.

We also love Blue Moon, an intermediate trail which connects to Lower Limelight and into the Jackson Gore area to the Quantum Four detachable quad bubble chair.

The design of the trails affords excellent movement around the three summits. Getting back to our comfy condo at the Adams House at Jackson Gore, we took the breathtakingly beautiful (but still a green and aptly named) Sweet Solitude into Roundhouse Run to Blue Moon.

Everything at Okemo, on the mountain and off, is really guest-oriented. This is not something to be taken for granted. The experience of really being cared for starts in the rental shop – the fellows (like elves) actually measured our feet before they gave us our boots (Diabello brand is absolutely my favorite, and I have never skied so well as when the boot fits properly), and were so helpful. and if you found your boot or skis or boards not the best fit, they happily exchanged them.

This warm and welcoming atmosphere continues with the lift operators who are invariably cheery and helpful. Bubbly, even (appropriate for the bubble chairs).

Stopping off for some sustenance at the Waffle Cabin on the trail at Okemo © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Stopping off for some sustenance at the Waffle Cabin on the trail at Okemo © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The on-mountain amenities – the lodges and eateries – are also absolutely marvelous. We love the Waffle Cabin that you come upon as you ski down Lower Arrow (there’s another near the base of the Coleman Brook Express Quad chair) – Dave couldn’t resist even in frigid weather. The Sugar House Lodge has an amazing Thai noodle station as well as Smokey Jo’s Grille (BBQ) and more traditional fare at a cafe. Up at the top of the Sunburst Six bubble chair, we sought comfort from the frigid temperature at the Summit Lodge.

The Epic restaurant at the Solitude base is an attraction itself: on Saturday nights, they arrange to bring diners up by snowcat for a five-course gourmet dinner (there is very limited seating, at 7 and 7:30 pm, and you need to make advanced reservations, 800-228-1600

For guests at Jackson Gore Inn – a luxury ski in/out resort within the resort – the pampering goes even further – you can check your skis right at the base, or in lockers (verboten to bring them into the guest rooms).

There is every amenity imaginable at Jackson Gore, including indoor pools, fitness center and classes, hot tubs, racquetball court, children’s splash features, and spa services  in the Spring House;  ice skating rink pavilion at the Ice House, fine-dining restaurant at Coleman Tavern and Siena, casual dining, indoor/outdoor pool and indoor and outdoor hot tubs and fitness center.

It's 3 degrees but enjoying the hot tub at Adams House condo at Jackson Gore, Okemo Mountain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
It’s 3 degrees but enjoying the hot tub at Adams House condo at Jackson Gore, Okemo Mountain © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There we were on our first night (when it was single digits temp), in the indoor/outdoor pool (that means you enter the pool from inside, but swim outside in a really gigantic pool kept to 80 degrees; and enjoyed the steaming hot tubs. The next day, we took advantage of the hot tubs right outside our condo at Adams House at Jackson Gore, where we had a superb two-bedroom condo with completely outfitted kitchen, dining area and living room (fireplace too), massive bathrooms (3 altogether), laundry machines, three flatscreen TVs, WiFi. Simply heavenly.

And the newest attraction at Okemo, the four-season Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster – a scenic and exhilarating ride through forest and along the contours of the mountain at Jackson Gore. You ride over 4,800 feet of rollers, banking loops and a twister section at speeds up to 25 mph. It looks like a combination of theme-park roller coaster and bobsled run. Really formidable!

There is also snow tubing in a four-lane park located just off the Stargazer carpet in the courtyard of Jackson Gore, and snowcat excursions (Tuesday,Saturday and Holidays at 5 and 7 pm, $40 or $50 to ride “shotgun”). and kids’ 20-minute snowmobile tours ($39).

Each year, the experience at Okemo, known for being one of the friendliest, most welcoming ski destinations anywhere, gets better and better. This year, they have introduced RFID card, replacing a lift ticket, so you just keep the card in your pocket and stand in front of the reader which opens the gate. It really moves the lift line faster. You can pre-purchase the card and keep adding to it.

This year, Okemo has also expanded SouthFace Village, its newest on-mountain community. The Sunshine Quad, a new fixed-grip Leitner-Poma chairlift, connects the Village Center at SouthFace Village to the South Face Express Quad and provides access to the new Suncatcher trail.

Jackson Gore Inn is a luxury resort-within-the-resort with ski in/out convenience © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Jackson Gore Inn is a luxury resort-within-the-resort with ski in/out convenience © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Snowmaking also gets better and better (and has been crucial this season). This year, Okemo expanded snowmaking on White Lightning and Rolling Thunder at Jackson Gore, increasing  coverage to 98 percent of its trails. Okemo also added a new Prinoth 500 horsepower grooming machine to its fleet (you can really feel the difference!). And, in partnership with Snow Park Technologies, enhanced the Tomahawk trail “for more flow and originality” with jumps and hits.

Okemo also has a variety of terrain parks. The Homeward Bound terrain park was renamed Robbins’ Nest, with jumps, hips and features to recognize the contributions of Okemo’s first Snowboarding Program Director Gordon Robbins.

Okemo’s Penguin Playground Day Care accommodates kids from six months to four years old, and also offers Kids Night Out and Kids Night out with evening child care. Okemo, which was one of the early pioneers of cleverly themed children’s learning and activity programs (Snow Stars!), accommodates children as young as 3.

Sweet Solitude, Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sweet Solitude, Okemo Mountain, Vermont © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Okemo is as big as you would want a mountain to be – 667 skiable acres (46 miles worth) across five mountain areas, a vertical drop of 2,200 feet (the highest in Southern Vermont), plenty terrain parks scattered around the mountains, accommodating all levels of ability, a learning area served by magic carpet and superb ski and ride schools – and yet feels so homey. Okemo skiers are passionate about the place.

It also offers the Okemo Valley Nordic Center on its golf course, with 22 km of Nordic track and skating lanes, plus 13 km of dedicated snowshoe trails, plus tree skiing and terrain that winds through meadows and hillsides, rental equipment and lessons (802-228-1396 for info).

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont
Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont

The town of Ludlow, while remaining sweetly unpretentious, now has several wonderful restaurants: Harry’s Cafe, an Okemo tradition for 27 years (but recently relocated just across Rte 103 from the Jackson Gore access road), boasts “everything from scratch – handcut and homemade” and a “fusion” menu of various ethnic culinary traditions, and one of the few restaurants serving until 10 pm (reservations recommended, 802-228-2996, 68 Rte 100 North, www.harryscafe.com); The Downtown Grocery, for “casual fine dining” housed in a repurposed Victorian house and serving eclectic (even eccentric) creations (the Bangs Island Mussels and Baby Arugula salad were outstanding) by Chef Rogan Lechthaler “as creative in the kitchen as he is adept on skis”, who prides himself on homemade pastas (even ketchup), fresh sourced and sustainable seafood and cures (41 South Depot, 802-228-7566, www.thedowntowngrocery.com); and MoJo Cafe, a combination Tex-Mex-New Orleans hip cafe with a distinct “Austin weird” vibe (106 Main Street, 802-228-6656, www.mojocafevt.com).

Okemo Mountain Resort, 77 Okemo Ridge Road, Ludlow, VT 05149, 800-78-OKEMO, 24-Hour SnowPhone, 802-228-5222, www.okemo.com (see deals, like 4th Night Free).

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com , www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/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