The timing of Old Westbury Gardens’ “Shimmering Solstice” debut could not be more perfect, as people craving holiday cheer in winter’s darkness are looking for outdoor experiences to share. Old Westbury Gardens’ first-ever light show walk, presented by Catholic Health, opened November 20 and runs through January 9, 2022.
Words like “magical” and “enchanting” are in oversupply during the holiday season, but are most apt in this case. Indeed, the effect is to feel a little like Alice discovering Wonderland, a dreamscape of beauty – there are even giant dandelions of light.
The walk-through, immersive experience was developed out of a desire to creatively adapt the land and gardens around Westbury House into a visitor location that can be enjoyed during the fall and winter holiday season and that would remain consistent with the mission of Old Westbury Gardens, on the famed Gold Coast of Long Island, New York.
In fact, the historic site – the stunning Gilded Age mansion and formal gardens of John S. Phipps and his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps, which was opened to the public in 1959 by their daughter, Peggie – has been looking to offer just such a winter experience for 10 years. Over that time, the technology has advanced – LED lights, computer-synchronization – to create the experience they wanted: one that enhances and celebrates the gardens and architecture, giving visitors a new way to appreciate them.
“This is a celebration of our space,” said Maura McGoldrick-Brush, Director of Horticulture at Old Westbury Gardens. “Instead of flowers, the gardens will be blooming with light. This is truly an enchanting combination of the beauty of the gardens and the magic of the season.”
Old Westbury Gardens worked with Lightswitch, a collective of internationally recognized lighting, media, and visual designers to create a show that would celebrate and cherish the Gardens’ history and environment during the fall and winter seasons.
“Shimmering Solstice” is a completely custom-built show that has been specifically designed to highlight the features of Old Westbury Gardens. Lightswitch’s assignment was to “truly embrace the gardens” and use the gardens and water features and architectural elements to stunning effect. It took a year and a half to plan “Shimmering Solstice.”
The formal Rose Garden and Walled Garden bloom with beautiful light and twinkle in lively rhythmic patterns, beautiful paths lead you through to the South Lawn and Allée. Giant dandelions line the edge of the pond and a Christmas tree made entirely of lit globes decorates the front of Westbury House.
There are interactive features as well, such as a “Simon” set up where you push buttons to alter the color patterns, a labyrinth and a maze of lights, and immersive features, where you walk amid the lights, even a “Ghost Walk”.
The grand finale is a sound and light show celebrating the seasons and holidays, in which the mansion itself is the canvas with musical accompaniment including Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and classical holiday music.
It is beautifully spaced and there are paths geared for strollers and wheelchairs. In all, you walk about a mile and visit at your own pace (typically 60-75 minutes to really enjoy).
“We are excited to offer this brand-new experience for our visitors to enjoy,” said Nancy Costopulos, President and CEO of Old Westbury Gardens. “This walk-through lightshow has been designed specifically for Old Westbury Gardens and offers a one-of-a-kind experience that we intend to become a new annual holiday tradition. We are also thrilled to have Catholic Health as our presenting sponsor for this inaugural event. Their commitment to the communities they serve mirrors our own, and we welcome their support as we bring this spectacular event to Long Island.”
A selection of hot foods, hot and cold beverages and snacks is available in a tent.
This is the first season, but there are already plans to expand in future years, said Paul Hunchak, Director of Visitor Services, Programs and Services. “We were looking for things to do in this season. We always wanted outdoor light show.”
The event is organized to be COVID19-safe – tickets must be purchased in advance online and they space admissions.
Tickets for Shimmering Soltice must be purchased online in advance; priced by peak and off peak, from $29.95-32.95/adult, $16.95-17.95/child. Senior Discounts on Off-Peak Mondays (ages 62+) $24.95; an Any time/Any Day Experience is $75. (closed Dec. 24-25, Jan. 4); Entry times are every 15 minutes, from 5:30-9:30 pm. (last entry is at 9:30 pm – great for a date!). Purchase at https://shimmeringsolstice.com/.
Old Westbury Gardens, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the former home of John S. Phipps, his wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children. Completed in 1906 by the English artist and designer, George A. Crawley, the magnificent Charles II-style mansion is nestled amid 200 acres of formal gardens, landscaped grounds, woodlands, ponds and lakes. Westbury House is furnished with fine English antiques and decorative arts from the more than 50 years of the family’s residence.
John S. Phipps was the son of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American entrepreneur and a partner with Andrew Carnegie (a childhood friend of Henry’s) in the Carnegie Steel Company. Henry was also a successful real estate investor (he invested heavily in Cape Cod and Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; his mansion in Lake Success has become the Great Neck Public Schools administration building and the grounds the South schools campus). After selling his stock in Carnegie Steel, Henry devoted time and money to philanthropic works.
After her parents, Margarita and John S. Phipps, passed away, their daughter Peggie inherited the Old Westbury estate and, in 1959, formed a nonprofit charity to open the grounds to the public to honor the memory of her mother and share the beauty of the 216 acres of gardens, fields and woodlands.
Visitors today experience the grounds and gardens, which remain largely untouched from the Phipps era, with many English-style perennials and biennials preserved. There are rare plant species—including foxgloves, delphiniums – not usually found in public gardens. These plants have been well-maintained for decades by the dedicated horticulture staff, which grow many of the herbaceous plant material right on-site in the private greenhouse, preserving the original vision of John S. Phipps’ and George Crawley.
Holiday Lights festivals are back, rekindling holiday cheer. Here’s a taste of what this season offers, to help you plan especially since many require advance purchase tickets and have limited capacity.
Early Bird Pricing for Magic of Lights at Jones Beach
Early bird pricing has already opened for Magic of Lights, a family-friendly, drive-through holiday lights festival. The 2.5-mile drive-through experience of dazzling, sparkling, and twinkling series of magical light displays is taking place in two New York City-area locations: PNC Long Island’s Jones Beach State Park and Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, from Friday, November 19 through Sunday, January 2.
Magic of Lights features themed light displays using the latest LED technology and digital animations. It is highlighted by the Illuminating Mega Trees consisting of 120-feet of dancing, lights synchronized to holiday music. Other dazzling festive light displays include Winter Wonderland, The Night Before Christmas, Candyland, Toyland, Sports Row, 12 Days of Christmas, and the notorious Enhancing Tunnel of Lights. In addition, new to this year’s exhibit are the Prehistoric Christmas and Snow Flurry Tunnel.
Magic of Lights is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. (dusk) until 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. (dusk) until 11 p.m. (Magic of Lights will be closed on Friday, December 31). For dates, times, and ticket availability, visit magicoflights.com.
Admission is $25 in advance or $35 at the gate on weekdays and $30 in advance or $40 at the gate on weekends through November. Price is based per car and will change in December. Special pricing is available for limousines and buses. Group ticket rates are available. Tickets are available through TicketMaster.com.
Visitors can save $3 on weekday admission when they bring at least two non-perishable food items benefiting Long Island and New Jersey food banks. Other charity nights will be announced in the coming weeks. Last year Magic of Lights’ philanthropy made a meaningful impact in local communities by donating more than $150,000 in cash to local organizations in addition to collecting non-perishable food items, toys, books, coats and more for those who need it most. At Jones Beach, A portion of every entry ticket will support Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Foundation for Long Island State Parks Inc.
The Magic of Lights uses the latest CAD technology and is hand-crafted at the Magic of Lights warehouse in Medina, OH,. The displays combine for more than 10 miles of LED lighting across all presentations, in the trees, and on the buildings. There are 10 different colors of LED bulbs used. The highest scene is 32-feet tall, and the longest is several hundred feet long. The steel displays are designed, bent, cut, and welded into about 800 frames combined in different configurations to create each show’s giant winter holiday scenes.
The Magic of Lights is produced in partnership between Live Nation and FunGuys Events. In Long Island, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is a co-producer and the event is presented by New York Community Bank.
The Bronx Zoo’s family holiday lights festival returns for select dates from Nov. 19-Jan. 9. During the evenings, the park comes to life with holiday cheer as immersive light displays, custom-designed animal lanterns and animated light shows sparkle across the zoo. The outdoor celebration is complete with festive entertainment, seasonal treats and classic holiday music.
The walk-through experience features more than 260 lanterns representing almost 70 animal and plant species; 79 new lanterns representing 30 new animal species will make their debut at this year’s Holiday Lights. The family-favorite Holiday Train returns for 2021 (Astor Court; $3, $2 Members).
Entertainment includes family-friendly puppet adventures and test your wits in an animal trivia challenge (Wildlife Theater, Dancing Crane Pavilion); animal-themed stilt walkers at Astor Court; costumed wildlife characters you can take a photo with Santa at the Somba village; see nightly ice carving demonstrations as expert artists create wildlife art from giant ice blocks at Grizzly Corner and live Ice Carving Competitions on Fridays beginning Nov. 26 (except Dec. 31), when expert ice artists go head-to-head (Grizzly Corner).
Enjoy seasonal treats of hot cocoa, roasted marshmallows, ice cream, coffee, and gifts plus more s’mores than ever before, featuring creative toppings (throughout the Zoo).
Zoo Lights, presented by Chase, returns to The Maryland Zoo. From Friday, November 19 through Sunday, January 2, this seven-week seasonal after-hours event features more than 80 light displays with 150,000 environmentally friendly LED lights to transform the Zoo into a sparkling winter wonderland. Zoo Lights runs five nights a week, Wednesday-Sunday, from 5 pm to 8 pm.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, guests will be on foot walking along a beautifully lit path past dazzling displays including some favorite animals reimagined as light sculptures beginning at the Main Gate, heading down Buffalo Yard Road into Zoo Central and the Farmyard for carousel rides, hot cocoa and maybe a glimpse of Santa.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, experience Zoo Lights from the comfort of your vehicle (ideal for those who would prefer to stay socially separated or aren’t comfortable walking long distances).
Tickets are $33 per vehicle for the drive-thru experience and $28 per person for the walk-thru experience; advanced purchase is required. Members receive a $5 discount on each ticket purchased. (Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the event may be modified due to inclement weather.)
The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, One Safari Place, Baltimore, MD 21217, 410-396-7102, marylandzoo.org.
Palm Beach Zoo’s “Zoo Lights”
While the animals slumber, Palm Beach Zoo is illuminated for the holidays with over one million eco-friendly lights. The “Zoo Lights “festival takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Nov. 19-Jan. 2, 2022. Each evening from 6-9 pm, the Zoo will be aglow with themed displays throughout its 23 acres. The festive holiday fun also features photos with Santa (until Dec. 23rd), a DJ holiday dance party, and seasonal treats. Nightly attendance is limited and timed tickets are required to be purchased in advance online.
Finger Lakes Festival of Lights, a new, world-class, attraction featuring thousands of dazzling lights is now open every evening through December. More than 1,000 illuminated silk, porcelain and steel larger-than-life Chinese lanterns draw visitors through a magical path of discovery with each turn providing beautiful and unexpected moments of excitement and awe.
Seneca Lake was carefully selected for this incredible show because of its natural, outdoor setting known for its unparalleled vistas, crystal clear water and majestic trees and foliage. The show brings this scenery to life after dark, creating an experience that celebrates and enhances the natural world at night through artistic fantasy and illumination.
Produced by American Lantern Festivals Inc., the Finger Lakes Festival of Lights illustrates the story of a brother and sister who visit their grandfather in the Finger Lakes. Grandpa spins tall tales and stories about Seneca Lake.
The Finger Lakes Festival of Lights is a one-mile, self-guided walk through the woods, on a highly manicured path that’s accessible for people of all ages and abilities. The Festival is located behind Grist Iron Brewing in Burdett. The experience is open seven days a week, opening at 7PM with last entry at 9:30PM. (Grist Iron Brewing Company, 4880 NYS Route 414, Burdett, NY 14818, 929-434-1342, http://gristironbrewing.com/)
Highlights of other holiday-themed events at New York State sites include a Gilded Age Christmas celebration at the decorated Staatsburgh State Historic Site in the Hudson Valley, a Black Friday hike through a rare Lake Erie sand dune environment at Woodlawn Beach State Park, a post-Thanksgiving “Turkey Trot” run at Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn, a visit by Santa Claus at the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, and the 47th annual Christmas Bird Count at Letchworth State Park in western New York. For a complete listing of holiday events, visit the NYS Parks calendar of events here. The list will be updated as further events are added. Some events may require pre-registration or an admission fee. More information at www.parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456.
The Second Annual 2021 Winter Lights on Cape Ann Display Celebration is beginning the day after Thanksgiving, November 26 and extending through January 2. More than 150 places are lit up throughout Cape Ann to celebrate the joys of the season. A custom-designed Google Drive Map has been produced and available at www.discovergloucester.com/winter-lights-cape-ann.- highlighting Rockport, Gloucester, Magnolia, Essex and Manchester’s participating locations.
Holidays at the Newport Mansions
There will be more lights, more trees and more festive outdoor decorations as Holidays at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, Marble House and the Elms, starting November 20 in Newport, Rhode Island.
For the second year in a row, “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers: An Outdoor Magical Wonderland” will illuminate the historic landscape with thousands of lights in a variety of colors. But this outdoor attraction has been significantly expanded to include the southern portion of the property, allowing visitors to stroll along a winding path while enjoying holiday music and displays like the Peppermint Woods, Gnome Knoll, Snow People Corner and Glowing Grove, among others.
Once again, the Children’s Cottage will be decorated and will include a selfie station. The northern portion of the winding path will feature a Tunnel of Light and other displays. A 16-foot Christmas tree-shaped light display will be set up on the porte-cochère above the main entrance to The Breakers.
A total of 28 Christmas trees will glow in various places throughout The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms, featuring ornate, themed decorations that reflect the room where they are located. As always, the 15-foot poinsettia tree in The Great Hall of The Breakers – made up of 150 poinsettia plants – will provide a perfect holiday photo opportunity for visitors. And at Marble House, a 20-foot Christmas tree will be positioned outdoors directly in front of the main entrance.
Poinsettias, flowers, evergreens, wreaths and floral arrangements will decorate the fireplace mantels, tabletops and staircases of these historic mansions throughout the holiday season. Many of the plants and flowers used have been grown by the Preservation Society’s Gardens and Landscapes Department, including more than 500 poinsettias and 1,200 lilies.
Beginning November 20, The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms will be decorated and open daily for the holidays, except for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. All properties will close at 3 p.m. on December 24.
The Breakers will open at 10 a.m. daily through January 9. Mondays through Wednesdays with the last admission at 4 p.m. with the house and grounds closing at 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, last admission at The Breakers will be 3 p.m. The house and grounds will close at 4 p.m. before reopening at 5 p.m. for “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers.”
A separate ticket is required for “Sparkling Lights at The Breakers,” scheduled for Thursdays through Sundays from 5-7 p.m. The house will also be open for tours during those times. On December 18, The Breakers will have last admission at 3 p.m., the house and grounds will close at 4 p.m. and there will be no “Sparkling Lights.”
The Elms and Marble House will open daily at 10 a.m. through January 2. Last tour admission will be 4 p.m. The houses and grounds close at 5 p.m. On December 18, The Elms and Marble House will stay open for evening hours, with last admission at 6 p.m. Houses and grounds will close at 7 p.m.
The houses are in the care of The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization accredited by the American Alliance of Museums which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020. It is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes, decorative arts and social history. Its 11 historic properties – seven of them National Historic Landmarks – span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.
Take a winter holiday stroll through mid-town Manhattan. There are many changes this year – mostly the absence of thick crowds, circles delineating social distancing for queues into shops, outdoor dining constructions bathed in warm light. The animated shop windows New York is so famous for – Macy’s, Saks (masks on the figures), Bergdorf Goodman– are more low key this year, themed around thanking all those who are getting us through this darkness and cheering on New Yorkers. Bergdorf Goodman, for many years in a row, getting my award for best, wins again this year with its stunning windows with dramatic messages of Love, Hope, Goodness, Joy and Gratitude. And there are clever innovations to spread cheer: New York’s iconic symbols illuminated on the sidewalks, like a yellow cab. Saks still has its marvelous sound-and-light show illuminating its entire façade, just across the street from the Rockefeller Center tree, but it is pared down to just a few minutes so people don’t stand around too long. And there are security controls to minimize crowding and direct people to the entrance for ice skating or tree viewing. Even Atlas, the mighty ancient Greek Titan holding the heavens on his shoulders, is wearing a mask.
Three of the best ski areas in New York are actually owned by New York State and operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority – Whiteface and Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills. (Among the improvements ORDA has made is new RFID technology for direct-to-lift access and online purchasing so you can go directly from your car to the slopes; the ticket can be renewed online.)
Top of the list for ski areas with a world-class reputation is Whiteface, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, where in addition to skiing, you can visit Olympic venues and even participate (biathalon, anyone? skate on the Olympic Oval, drive a coaster down the bobsled track).
Whiteface offers the greatest vertical, 3430 ft. from the summit at 4867 ft, of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast. This is a serious mountain – actually three mountains, Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft. – with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail) in the East. It offers 300 skiable acres: 89 runs (24% beginner, 44% intermediate, 33% advanced) and 53 acres of glades and 5 terrain parks, serviced by 13 lifts, including the gorgeous Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride that cuts an aerial path through the Adirondack Mountains on its way to the peak of Little Whiteface.
Whiteface is my favorite ski destination in New York, largely because of Lake Placid, the ambiance and the extraordinary activities.
Experience the thrill of what it was like to be an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Winter Games on the new Cliffside Mountain Coaster at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which boasts being the longest year-round mountain coaster in the USA. You control the ride – you have the ability to go as slow or as fast as you’d like. Race your family & friends alongside the 1980 bobsled track to the bottom. During the scenic ride to the top of the Cliffside Coaster you learn about the inspiring Olympic history of the Lake Placid Sliding Center.
Other attractions and recent upgrades to the Olympic Sites include the new Sky Flyer Zipline at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, the new SkyRide Experience, an 8-person gondola that brings guests from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, a new glass-enclosed elevator ride to the top of the ski jumps for a panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!), new Nordic trails at Mt. Van Hovenberg (where you can try your hand at the biathalon).
In Lake Placid village, visit the Olympic Center, skate at the Herb Brooks Arena and on the Olympic oval, and visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa and Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).
Also High Peaks Resortwhich offers three unique lodging experiences overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondacks: The Resort, a traditional hotel featuring 105 guest rooms and suites (newly renovated in March 2020); the modern retro-vibe Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection, featuring 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the shores of Mirror Lake. Amenities available to all guests include the Spa & Salon at High Peaks Resort, two indoor and two outdoor heated pools, an indoor Jacuzzi, an on-site fully-equipped fitness center, and a full-service restaurant, Dancing Bears, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests also enjoy private access to Mirror Lake with complimentary use of skates, along with admission to Lake Placid’s full-service Nordic Center, Cascade Ski Center, with more than 12 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing (complimentary use of showshoes). Dogs are welcome, with special canine-friendly treats and amenities. (High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-4411, 800-755-5598, www.highpeaksresort.com)
The newest additions are The Lake Placid Inn (opened July 2020) and the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, an eco-luxe independent boutique hotel that opened Nov. 1, 2020.
As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.
Gore Mountain is New York State’s largest ski and ride resort with. 439 skiable acres, it spans four mountains, including Gore, Bear Mountain, Burnt Ridge Mountain and Little Gore Mountain, a vertical drop of 2,537 feet from the summit at 3,600 ft, 121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails (longest is 4.4 miles), with 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, all serviced by 14 lifts.
This season, Gore is unveiling two new lifts: a new quad replaces the High Peaks chair to deliver skiers toGore’s true summit, opening up fresh access to all four peaks and the entire Straight Brook Valley; and the Sunway Chair has been upgraded to a quad. The Cutoff trail in the Northwoods Area has been lengthened and redesigned to become an easier-rated trail. “Pete’s Paradise” now is an additional beginner option. There is also a significant increase in snowmaking capacity.
There is no on-mountain lodging, but there is the delightful Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com/) in nearby North Creek which we enjoyed one Christmas; for a grand, luxurious stay, The Sagamore, in Bolton Landing on Lake George is 45 minutes away (www.thesagamore.com).
In addition to skiing and snowboarding at Whiteface in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain in North Creek, there are plenty of other ways to embrace the cold in the Adirondacks: hiking (including five fire tower trails in Hamilton County that travelers can visit and climb even in the winter!), cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, pond hockey, ice skating and ice fishing.
Mirror Lake has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on the ice, including skating, cross country skiing, toboggan rides, dog sledding and skating on the Olympic Oval, just as the Olympians did. The Wild Center in Tupper Lake transforms into a winter playground once the snow hits – Winter Wild Walk, a learn-to ice-fish program, snowshoeing, and some other outdoor winter programming and activities. Oak Mountain (about 2 hours from Lake Placid) is a small family-friendly ski resort ideal for avoiding crowds and offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing along with disc golf and free snowshoeing. Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, offers winter tours of frozen waterfalls and spectacular sights, less than an hour from Lake Placid. And at the end of the day, Main Street Lake Placid has plenty of boutique shops and restaurants to welcome visitors in from the cold.
The Adirondack Wayfinder, a new virtual service that showcases the park through thematic road trip itineraries, takes the guesswork out of planning where to go by allowing users to search through a variety of curated itineraries that appeal to different interests, from outdoor recreation, wide-open spaces and family-friendly itineraries to dining, brewery tours, and more. (www.adirondackwayfinder.com)
New York State is not only home to the most ski areas of any state (50), but also some of the best, which makes them particularly desirable this year when being outdoors – skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing –are some of the most healthful activities you can do, are driving distance accessible, and because you are staying within New York State, you don’t have to quarantine for 14 days on returning.
New York has been intense about COVID-19 protections, and has instituted regulations governing reduced capacity to afford social-distancing, mask-wearing (except for actively skiing or eating), instituting such things as cashless transactions, rules for riding the lifts, and limiting time in lodges and restaurants, and in some instances advance ticketing and reservations. But it also has meant pleasant modifications – more outdoor dining with heat, for example, plus cashless transactions.
But with the great demand for New York skiing, Scott Brandi, president of the NY Ski Areas Association recommends “Know before you go.” Check the sites in advance to check conditions and availability and book lift tickets and rental equipment in advance – for example, most holidays and weekends as well as season passes are sold out for ORDA areas but there may be availability for midweek visits (ISkiNY.com).
In just a few hours, downstate New Yorkers can be on the slopes in the Catskill Mountains, where three of the state’s most popular ski resorts are located:
Windham Mountain Resort, which began as a private club and preserves much of that same feeling, is a year-round destination in the Great Northern Catskills of Greene County, NY, less than three hours north of New York City, and now is part of Alterra Mountain’s IKON Pass program, which means passholders get priority in reservations during this period of on-mountain capacity restrictions.
Windham offers 1,600 vertical feet from a summit of 3,100 feet. Its 54 trails and six terrain parks provide 285 skiable acres, accessed by 12 lifts including a new high speed six-passenger detachable lift and two high-speed quads. Windham also offers night skiing on six trails (45 acres). In the last 3 years, the resort has spent $12 million to improve the guest experience and offers beginner packages, lodging, dining options, an Adventure Park, and full-service Alpine Spa.
Among the improvements this season:
Lift capacity out of the base area continues to increase at Windham. C Lift, a fixed grip triple chair serving beginner and intermediate terrain on the lower half of the West Peak has been upgraded with the relocation of the high speed quad.
A portion of Wildcat, a trail in the Wilderness Bowl area added in 2015, has been widened.
Improved snowmaking and grooming
A new European-inspired “Umbrella Bar” with room for 125 guests in enclosed, heated comfort is the centerpiece of a reenergized patio area.
A new a ski and snowboard simulator that offers guests the chance to ski or ride downhill race venues from around the world virtually while supporting the Adaptive Sports Foundation. This building will also house a new equipment valet and quick tune up station.
An upgraded booking system with new software that will allow guests to bundle lodging stays with lift tickets, lessons and rentals in one easy transaction.
An expanded Guest Services department and on-site call center.
Accommodations are plentiful in the area: Windham has renovated rooms at The Winwood Inn, a quaint lodging property in the village of Windham owned and operated by the mountain. The restaurant, Tavern 23, has also been “renovated and reinvented” and features classic American comfort food.
New: Whisper Creek condominiums, high-end ski-in/ski-out lodging located steps away from Whisper Run on Windham Mountain. Building amenities include heated pool and hot tubs, club room and fitness center, ski locker-room with boot dryers and heated parking. Units comfortably accommodate 8 – 10 people and are perfect for extended family gatherings, wedding parties and special events. Whisper Creek is a short stroll away from the Alpine Spa and the Windham Mountain base lodge and within walking distance of the Mountain Bike Park and Scenic Skyride in the summer. (518-734-3000)
Also, the historic Thompson House, literally around the corner, where we enjoyed our stay, has the charm of an inn with amenities of a resort (The Thompson House, 19 Route 296, Windham NY 12496, 518-734-4510, info@ThompsonHouse, www.ThompsonHouse.com).
Now part of Vail Resorts, Hunter Mountain, a legendary New York State ski resort and the closest major full-service resort to New York City, is also part of the EPIC pass, and among the COVID-19 precautions and protocols that limit capacity on the mountain, EPIC Pass holders get priority in making reservations.
Four separate mountain faces encompass a wide variety of terrain which caters to skiers and riders of all ability levels.
Hunter rises from 1600 ft base to 3200 summit, a 1600-ft vertical drop, 320 skiable acres (expanded from 240), 67 runs (up from 59; 25% beginner, 30% intermediate, 30% advanced and 15% expert) ) serviced by 13 lifts (increased from 12). It offers 4 gladed areas, 4 terrain parks.
Hunter also has a 1000-ft long tubing hill, one of the longest in NY, with its own Magic Carpet surface lift.
In response to COVID-19, Hunter has “reimagined” the resort experience, consistent with the policies and programs across the Vail Resorts brand.
Skiers are encouraged to use their own vehicles as their personal base lodge, since capacity is restricted. Transactions will be cashless; face coverings required at all times except when actively eating (EpicMix app makes it easier to manage Time to Dine). On-mountain restaurants are open but not bars. The equipment rental process has been streamlined, with seamless online booking, complimentary delivery service (so you skip the rental shop altogether).
On-mountain accommodations include The Kaatskill Mountain Club at Hunter Mountain (condos) and Liftside and Pinnacle condos in the village. There are many nearby bnbs, inns, lodges.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Fairlawn Inn, just a quarter-mile away from Hunter’s entrance. The historic, Victorian inn has been restored with modern amenities while keeping the charm and character of the original property. It is operating now with strict COVID-19 safety protocols. (7872 Main St (Hwy 23A), Hunter NY 12442, 518-263-5025, fairlawninn.com).
About three-hours drive from New York City, Belleayre Mountain is the nearest of three ski areas owned and operated by New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority, and included on ORDA’s pass programs. The ski area has been dramatically improved, turned into a four-season mountain destination. Among the improvements, the first gondola in the Catskills.
What I love best about Belleayre is its natural separation of beginners (from the mid-mountain to the base, with long beginner trails) and more advanced skiers. It affords a 1404 ft vertical drop from a 3429 ft summit, 51 runs on 175 skiable acres (longest is 2.2 miles; 22% beginner, 58% intermediate, 10% advanced, 10% expert), serviced by 8 lifts. Intermediates will enjoy Deer Run, which meanders through a beautiful part of the mountain. The ski resort also features five glades, one terrain park, one progression park and one X-course. Cross-country skiers can enjoy 9.2 kilometers of ungroomed, unpatrolled trails.
Skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing in the brisk fresh air of greater outdoors will be salvation to get through this dark winter of isolation. Fortunately, New York State, with 50 ski areas (more than any other state), is gearing up, putting in the protocols to keep everyone safe and healthy, doing what will be the safest and healthiest way to be active this winter. Just being outdoors will be a tonic for body and soul.
ISkiNY.com (Ski Areas of New York) is a sort of one-stop online place to learn about the various mountain resorts and ski areas and overall New York State policies to address (and contain) COVID-19. All areas are under capacity constraints (50% of their busiest day last season) and visitors must follow rules for wearing masks (an actual mask, not a gaiter) at all times except when actively skiing or eating. Most require or strongly recommend purchasing tickets online in advance (and are selling out because of limits) – even season pass holders, who have priority, may be required to make advance reservations. Also, areas are limiting time that can be spent indoors in the lodges (recommending using your own vehicle as a kind of base lodge), and with limited après-ski opportunities, are promoting day-trips to ski areas within driving distance. Fortunately, with 50 areas throughout the state, just about everyone lives within 2 ½ hours of a ski area and staying in-state means that New Yorkers won’t have to quarantine after returning from a long-haul ski trip. (See more at ISkiNY.com).
Because of reduced capacity and super-charged demand the best known, most popular full-service resorts like Whiteface (Lake Placid), Gore Mountain, Belleayre, Hunter (now part of Vail, on the Epic pass) and Windham (part of IKON pass), may well be at capacity especially for the holidays and weekends. So this will certainly be the season to explore some new ski destinations – areas, often that have been operating for decades, that are wildly popular with locals.
And with this incredible blizzard that dumped a huge base of snow, just about everywhere in the state has great conditions, in time for opening day.
All but the three ski resorts that are owned by New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority (Whiteface, Gore, Belleayre) and Hunter (now owned by Vail Resorts) are independently owned, many going back decades, and offer their own particular personality, character and sense of community. Most are ski areas, not full-service resorts, but that may be just the ticket this year, for a quick day’s getaway on the slopes, no need to hang around for après-ski.
All have made accommodations to keep as much outside as possible – ticketing (many are cashless, and require advance reservations), setting up outside warmers, limiting time inside for dining, encouraging people to use their own vehicles as their base lodge. But all of the areas have made marvelous accommodations and innovations to bring more activities outdoors, continue to offer ski school, snow tubing, added firepits and grab n’go food, to preserve the spirit and joy of schussing down the slopes.
“While our number one goal is to run a safe operation this season, it is also our goal to ensure that our guests do not incur any additional stress or inconvenience when they visit West Mountain”, said Spencer Montgomery, Co-Owner and Managing Member of West Mountain in Queensbury.
“Sure, things will be a little different operationally this year, but our staff is here to provide an enjoyable and stress-free environment. People have already been through so much this year; skiing and riding is a chance to simply enjoy being outdoors with friends and family.”
“We are looking forward to welcoming our guests this winter to enjoy the outdoors”, said Sara Montgomery, General Manager of West Mountain. “With so many families at home doing virtual learning this year, getting on the mountain and getting exercise will be a much-needed activity and escape!”
“Know before you go,” Scott Brandi, President Ski Areas of New York, recommends. Check ahead for conditions and availability.
Here are just a few of the ski resorts and areas to explore:
The Greek Peak Ski Resort is a full-service, four-season resort and the largest ski area in Central New York. It has a 952 ft. vertical drop from a 2100 ft summit. It’s varied terrain (220 skiable acres) offers 56 runs (35% beginner, 29% intermediate, 27% advanced, 9% double-black diamond, 4 terrain parks and half pipe), serviced by six chair lifts and two carpet lifts; the longest run is 1.5 miles, plus night skiing. There’s also 8 km of Nordic terrain (natural, so depends on conditions) and snowshoeing.
The Adventure Center has a mountain coaster, guided zipline tours even in winter (by reservation), snowtubing (10-12 lanes).
Located in the Finger Lakes, Greek Peak offers an Adirondack-style lodge, Hope Lake Lodge (151 rooms, sleeping 4-10 people) as well as log home (sleeps 14, across from slopes), outdoor heated pool, indoor water park with wave pool (water slides and hot tubs are currently closed under COVID-19 regulations).
Open, all year, Greek Peak is already compliant with COVID-19 restrictions and made the adaptations.
Dining inside is limited to 50% capacity. Children’s programs are exclusively outside (no nursery); there are new family lessons
“We are already seeing new people, who want to get outside and want to learn to ski,” says Drew Broderick, VP of sales & marketing.
They’ve added food and beverage service outside, “fresh tracks” which is a ski in/out grab n go, adding menu items to the waffle shack and may add food carts.
Since being acquired in 2015 by John and Christine Meier, the resort has made more than $1.5 million improvements including adding a high-speed detachable quad, new groomers, snowmaking (78 guns added this year), the “Big Bear Activity Zone” at Cascades Indoor Waterpark, a 41,000 sq. ft. park with 500 ft. of slides, wavepool and hot tubs, open year round.
Privately owned and operated by the Vajtay family, Plattekill Mountain in the northwestern Catskills, with 38 trails and terrain, offers “authentic mountain experience.” Powder Magazine (Dec. 2018), described Plattekill as “The Alta of the Catskills.” It offers wide variety for skiers and snowboarders: 38 runs ranging from 2-mile long beginner cruisers to steep double black diamonds with 1100’ vertical from its 3500 ft. high summit, accessed by 4 lifts (20% easier, 40% intermediate, 20% black, 20% double black), a “natural terrain park” nestled in the woods between the Lower Face and Shredded Mozzarella trails. “Big mountain terrain, small mountain charm.”
New this season: widening, clearing beginner and intermediate trails; installation of new snowmaking pump to improve snowmaking; new wireless technology; new “Platty Shack” with outdoor deck for quick grab and go items; new ‘order online’ option in cafeteria; new online shopping for tickets and rentals eliminating lines at rental shop.
Catamount Mountain Resort is a four-season resort straddling the NY/Massachusetts border just about 2 hours from NYC. “With its sister resort, Berkshire East, Catamount is one fun mountain with some of the best steeps in southern New England and some of the best beginner and intermediate terrain.” Catamount has undergone a stunning transformation since the summer of 2018: new lift, new lodge, hundreds of new snow guns, four snow making ponds, miles of pipe, and countless other upgrades which make Catamount one of the best small ski areas on the East coast.
It has a 1,000 ft vertical from the 2000 ft summit, 38 runs on 133 skiable acres (40% beginner, 35% intermediate, 15% advanced, 10% expert); longest run is 2 miles, and intermediates get to ski 1.25 miles from summit to base on turnpike Upper and Lower Sidewinder; for advanced, the double black Catapult is the steepest trail in the Berkshires and its Upper/Lower Glade to Off Stage provides a half-mile of moguls; night skiing on 15 trails (more than 4 miles worth)
Catamount also boasts North America’s longest zip line, one of the largest aerial adventure parks on the East Coast.
Nestled at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, conveniently accessed just off I-87, West Mountain towers over Glens Falls in Albany’s backyard, and with night skiing, is popular with people getting in a few runs after work.
Family-owned and operated, West Mountain continues to evolve to meet the needs of families as well as skiing and riding loyalists and year-round outdoor enthusiasts.
West Mountain offers a 1010 vertical drop from the 1470 ft. summit, 31 trails on 124 skiable acres (36% beginner, 55% intermediate, 9% advanced, one terrain park), accessed by four lifts, with night skiing on 105 acres. Also a tubing park with 10 lanes of tubing for all ages and abilities. 6-packs are for sale now that provide 6 tubing tickets, lift tickets or aerial treetop adventure tickets for the price of 5.
The mountain staff has been focused on creating new, safe and innovative operations and programs to run this season including: a new Freestyle Development Program; a new Alpine Racing Academy for U12+ athletes; Learn to Ski and Snowboard packages for youth and adult first-time beginners. During non-holiday periods, West Mountain will offer popular ticket promotions such as Monday and Tuesday 4-hour ticket specials and breakfast or lunch plus lift ticket specials.
The resort has been open throughout COVID-19 pandemic offering safe, outdoor and socially distanced activities. For this season, there are additional outdoor eating and seating areas, warming tents, grab-n-go food and beverage windows, additional outdoor restrooms and controlled capacity at the two separate base-lodge areas (Main Base Lodge and Northwest Base Lodge).
West Mountain, 59 West Mountain Road, Queensbury, NY 12804, 518.636.3699, WestMountain.com
Mount Peter, set in picturesque Warwick Valley, is the oldest operating ski area in New York State, and one of only a few remaining family-operated ski areas in America. For more than 80 years, Mount Peter has been a wintertime destination for skiing or snowboarding on 14 expertly groomed trails, 600-foot tubing run (separate Little Tikes tubing for kids under 42”), and night skiing.
Bristol Mountain, in Canandaigua, opened for their 56th season of operation. Located in the Western Finger Lakes Region, it offers 38 trails on 138 acres of skiable terrain and a 1200’ vertical drop from a 2200 ft. summit, accessed by six lifts including two high-speed quads. The terrain accommodates all ages and ability levels with 32% reserved for beginner, 50% intermediate and 18% advanced, including 97% lighted for night skiing terrain and 97% snowmaking coverage; the longest run is 2 miles.
Bristol Mountain has a top notch learning center, as well as two terrain parks that cater to all ability levels and 3 km of Nordic trails.
Bristol Mountain’s North Star Village Townhouses offer affordable ski-in/ski-out lodging with built in deals with their Ski & Stay programs.
Capacity at the mountain will be monitored and limited on busy days or when the mountain has limited terrain (i.e. early season). Reservations will be required for card products and lift ticket sales but currently will not be required for season pass products that allow direct- to-lift access (picture passes).
Lodge capacity will be limited this winter. Guests are asked to limit their time in the lodges to 15-30 minutes to warm up and use the restrooms. The mountain requests that guests arrive prepared and use their vehicle as their base lodge.
Thunder Ridge Ski Area, located in Patterson, NY, may be the closest and easiest ski areas to reach from NYC, just 60 minutes drive from and accessible on Metro North (shuttle from Patterson train station). Thunder Ridge offers 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its 22 trails on 100 acres (40% beginner, 40% intermediate, 20% advanced, the longest run is 0.4 miles). A gentle mountain, it has a 500 ft drop from the summit at 1270 ft. Night skiing.
Holiday Valley, Ellicottville, NY (50 miles south of Buffalo) is Western New York’s largest year ‘round resort featuring 60 slopes and trails, 13 lifts, 3 base lodges, slope side lodging and dining, conference facilities, a tree top aerial adventure park and a mountain coaster, and 18 hole golf course.
Holiday Valley is in compliance with New York State’s COVID restrictions on operating the ski terrain and indoor services. Masks are required at all times except when skiing down the slope or while seated to eat or drink. Reduced capacity in the lodges and eating areas, as well as spacing in the lift lines and on the chairlifts will allow for proper social distancing. Advanced purchase of lift tickets online is encouraged, especially on holidays and busy weekends. Cleaning and sanitizing practices have been stepped up in the lodges, in the food service areas and in the restrooms. Guests are encouraged to limit their time spent indoors.
Holimont, nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, is a private ski area with member families from the United States and Canada. Non-members may use the facilities on non-holiday weekdays, and new members are welcome. It offers a 700 ft. drop from 2260 ft. summit, 55 trails on 135 skiable acres (25% beginner, 31% intermediate, 44% advanced, ), 3 terrain parks, longest run is 1.5 miles, (100% snowmaking)
Located near Naples, New York (near Rochester), Hunt Hollow Ski Club offers 400 acres of accessible winter recreation space. With an 825-foot vertical drop from a 2030 ft. summit, it offers 19 trails over 400 skiable acres (32% beginner, 21% intermediate, 37% advanced, 11% expert), accessed by a triple-chair, double-chair, T-bar and a surface lift service (100% snowmaking). There is night skiing. Also, 2.5 miles of Nordic trails and a terrain park.
There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:
Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.
The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com, 866.384.1944)
Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)
Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)
Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character! The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).
We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).
A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.
Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays
Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.
Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)
The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).
Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter). It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.
We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)
Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)
Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com); Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.
Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites
St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)
Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools, it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).
One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.” Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool). (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)
Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).
Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.
TheBroadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)
More Holiday Travel Ideas
Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.
Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).
Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine RidgeDude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful. It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, [email protected], www.pineridgeduderanch.com.
Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).