Just in time for Valentine’s Day, New York State is permitting restaurants to reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, and as of March 15, will allow venues to host weddings at 50% capacity up to 150 guests. Governor Cuomo proposed that couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day and tie the knot on March 15.
Romance is by nature an intimate experience and even in a pandemic, it is possible to find romantic places and experiences. From glamping in nature, to boutique inns, to grand resorts offering specially planned, socially-distanced venues, and from romance to proposal to marriage vows, the coronavirus has certainly reshaped romance and love, but where there is a will, there is a way. Love conquers all.
Back to Nature
There is nothing more romantic than getting a camper van and following wanderlust, or renting a cabin or lodge or glamping on a lake or mountaintop, with that added spice of adventure and nature (as in, “let nature run its course” or “doing what comes naturally”). Glamping is also providing the setting for back-to-nature weddings and renewal of vows.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has a special section for glamping, cabins, and “unique camping options” (a teepee, a yurt, a train caboose, a Conestoga wagon, tree house, wall tent, a vintage airstream among them) that offer the atmosphere sure to get an “I will” or an “I do.” (See: https://koa.com/ways-to-stay/unique-accommodations/)
GlampingHub, launched in 2013 as a booking platform for distinctive accommodations, sustainable tourism and luxury camping, is where you can find glamping spots all over the world, ranging from pet-friendly hotels or eco-friendly hotels, glamping retreats & getaways. It devotes a portal to Romantic Glamping (https://glampinghub.com/portal/romantic-glamping/).
The Daniel Webster Inn in the historic village of Sandwich on Cape Cod is inviting couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a Feb. 13-15 package that includes champagne, chocolates, roses; $60 toward lunch or dinner and $15 toward breakfast, and a special gift to take home. Also, a suite-deal package is a one-night escape in an elegant suite with fireplace and oversized whirlpool tub, and chocolates and massages, plus $50 toward dinner. (Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa, 149 Main Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 800-444-3566, 833-361-4988, https://danlwebsterinn.com/)
Mountain Top Inn & Resort has all the charm, the warmth, the cozy, intimate hospitality of a country inn, and all the luxury, amenities, activities and quality dining of a resort. The setting is breathtaking – 700 acres surrounded by open fields, a 740-acre lake and mountains beyond, and the Green Mountain National Forest. In addition to a lodge, it offers separate cabins, and a barn/event space. It is no wonder Mountain Top is so popular for weddings (elopements too!) – it exudes romance. (Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com).
With a secluded island setting and the beauty of the Adirondacks as your backdrop, the grand, historic Sagamore Resort is an enchanting destination for a Lake George wedding, proposal or romantic getaway. Besides the hotel, there are separate villa-style lodges. The AAA Four-Diamond resort offers a world-class spa, a Donald Ross-designed championship golf course, swimming and tennis and the Adirondacks. (110 Sagamore Road, Bolton Landing, NY 12814, 518-644-9400, 866-384-1944, www.thesagamore.com)
Grand Historic Hotels Offer Special Ambiance
Historic Hotels offer ideal ambiance for a romantic proposal, a destination wedding, honeymoon, or special milestone.
The entire list of Historic Hotels of America members, in my book, are ideal for romantic getaways (historichotels.org), but here are a few of our favorites for your proposal:
Mohonk Mountain House (1869) New Paltz, New York: Mohonk Mountain House is an enchanting Victorian Castle perched at the top of a mountain with a private lake. The hotel has 120 “summerhouses” which are rustic gazebos designed for two people to share special moments together; taking in stunning views during or after a hike on 85 miles of trails- all of which provide the perfect romantic backdrop for someone to get down on bended knee. The Sky Top Tower is a hiking destination with panoramic views of the Shawangunk Cliffs and Catskill Mountains and a popular engagement site, along with the boat dock, which provides amazing views of serene Lake Mohonk. This is a full-service grand resort with world-class spa, indoor pool.
The Otesaga Hotel and Cooper Inn (1909) Cooperstown, New York: With its majestic views, The Otesaga Resort Hotel sits on the southern shore of Lake Otsego, known as Glimmerglass in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels, which makes the lake a popular place to pop the question. The lake dock, with its quaint stillness and breathtaking views surrounded by century old oak trees is a perfect place to get down on bended knee. There are some who would rather propose in an old-fashioned boat with the resort as a backdrop and others that would prefer to be on a horse drawn carriage pulling up to the resort’s front portico. Moreover, being the home of the national pastime makes Cooperstown and the Otesaga a unique venue for a baseball themed engagement.
Basin Harbor (1886) Vergennes, Vermont: Basin Harbor is a grand yet rustic resort set on the stunning shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont. Steeped in tradition, this 700-acre resort has a variety of breathtaking settings that provide a perfect backdrop for engagements and weddings. From the Orchard Garden, filled with flowers and greenery to the Lodge Lawn with panoramic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, there are plenty of places for someone to get down on one knee. There’s just about every activity you could want, including golf course, boating, tennis. Besides hotel accommodations, there are charming cottages.
Jekyll Island Club Hotel (1887) Jekyll Island, Georgia: Built in the Queen Anne style, the Jekyll Island Club Resort is a castle surrounded by Southern charm. With sweeping Spanish moss and hundred years old live oaks, Jekyll Island is one of the most romantic spots in the South. The magic of the island will carry guests back in time to the grandeur of millionaires. From the top of the turret to quiet moments in Crane Garden, this little slice of heaven is perfect for any romantic proposal. Many couples who get engaged at the hotel have grown up coming to the Resort and wanted the destination to be a part of the proposal and eventually, the wedding. Besides the hotel accommodations, there are separate cottages. Jekyll Island also offers elopement packages.
Ledges Hotel (1890) Hawley, Pennsylvania: This hotel’s historic bluestone building and natural waterfall provide a dramatic backdrop for proposals. A life-long commitment made in the shadow of a historic landmark is symbolic of a relationship that will stand the test of time. The tiered decks overlooking Paupack High Falls are one of the most romantic spots to pop the question at Ledges Hotel. It’s a popular destination for engagements no matter the season. During winter, the frozen falls offer a stunning backdrop. Budding trees and rushing waters are a hallmark of spring. Summer by the waterfall is lush and cool, while fall foliage creates a vibrant landscape in autumn.
The Hotel Hershey (1933) Hershey, Pennsylvania: Known for its refined elegance, signature services and abundant amenities, The Hotel Hershey is a marvelous destination for a romantic getaway. The Hotel is rooted in its own romantic love story, between founder Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine, and couples can spend time together in the beautiful Fountain Lobby, which was inspired by the couple’s travels and designed to look like a Spanish-style courtyard with palm trees, a beautiful fountain and a painted sky on the ceiling. The Formal Gardens behind the hotel are a popular spot for proposals. There, guests can find a quiet, romantic, picturesque area with beautiful flower beds, pergolas, fountains and reflecting pools.
Micro weddings are all the rage. It’s all about keeping your special day small, but significant.
The courtyard of the historic St Francis Inn in the heart of historic St. Augustine, Florida, is a charming place for a small wedding. The couple can plan a private elopement for two or a micro-wedding in the four-season garden with up to 10 guests, flowers, champagne, house-made wedding cake and horse-drawn carriage ride (279 St. George St., St. Augustine FL, 800-824-6062, https://stfrancisinn.com/)
Southampton Inn on Long Island has more than 20-years tradition of hosting “micro-weddings” – or the “minimony”. The inn has 3 acres of landscaped grounds, 2,300 sq. ft indoor ballroom for intimate but well-spaced wedding celebrations in a romantic setting (91 Hill Street, Southampton, NY, 11968, 631-283-6500, southamptoninn.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)
What may be a renewed old trend: elopement – it is said to date back to the 14th century, taken on new meaning in the 17th century, and was revived in popularity during the Great Depression when resources and money was scarce. Today, elopement packages are seeing new popularity because they have the benefit of catering to small, intimate ceremonies (as few as just the couple and witnesses) and minimizing the stress that typically comes with prolonged wedding planning Hotels also let the couple take advantage of windows of opportunity, compressing the time between “I will” to “I do.”
Hyatt Carmel Highlands Inn offers special wedding and elopement packages that keep intimacy and romance in mind. Designed for 2 to 20 people, the Highlands Elopement Package allows couples to exchange vows on a romantic gazebo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hyatt Carmel Highlights 120 Highlands Drive, Carmel, California, 93923, events specialist, 831-622-5461, 831-620-1234, hyatt.com.
I love Ski Vermont’s slogan: “Winter in its Original State”. It captures perfectly Vermont’s heritage and character that make coming to ski, snowboard, cross-country and enjoy all the other winter pursuits amid these Green Mountains and rolling hills, so special.
The biggest change, though, is the entry by the industry powerhouses – Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Peak Resorts,Powdr), linking many of its major resorts through marketing, loyalty programs and seasonal passes (EpicPass, IkonPass, Mountain Collective, Peak Pass) to networks spanning the continent, even the globe that will inspire people to experience skiing in Vermont from all over the world. Importantly, though,their contribution has been to enhance facilities and guest experience while preserving the special personality of the resorts.
Here’s a taste of what Vermont-bound travelers will
New investments totaling $25 million revolutionize the
guest experience at Killington, including a new 6-person high
speed bubble chairlift, new lift service at South Ridge, significant upgrades
to the K-1 Express Gondola, additional availability and improvements of
intermediate trails and resort-wide infrastructure upgrades including the
addition of hands-free lift access validation with RFID technology at both
Killington and its sister resort, Pico.
Besides a jam-packed schedule of bands, festivals,and competitions such as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup (you can watch for free), Rails 2 Riches and the FOX US Open of Mountain Biking, there’s plenty to do including a mountain coaster, ski biking,tubing, snowmobile tours, sleighrides, snowshoeing, dinner excursions to the Ledgewood Yurt, spa treatments,shopping and more than 100 restaurants and bars in the region.
The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England and has the longest season. A Powdr resort, Killington and its sister resort Pico are both partnering in the IkonPass.
Killington is all about four seasons of beastly activities, and now the Beast 365 All-Seasons Pass gives guests access to everything at Killington, all year long. It starts in summer with unlimited lift and trail access for mountain biking, plus golf course greens fees and access to the Adventure Center including the new WreckTangle. And of course, unlimited winter access to the longest season in the East. (skivermont.com/killington-resort)
Pico has a very different feel from its sister resort, Killington, just next door. A self-contained resort with slopeside lodging, Pico has 57 trails serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Its more intimate scale, gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers and classically narrow New England steeps, that all that funnel to a single base make it ideal for families. Even the most selective skiers and riders will be impressed by Pico’s vertical drop of 1,967’ – taller than 80% of Vermont ski areas. (skivermont.com/pico-mountain)
Mount Snow has a new $22 million Carinthia Base Lodge that helps mark Carinthia’s 10-year anniversary of becoming a 100-acre all-terrain-park mountain face. Conveniently located right at the base of Carinthia Terrain Park, the new 42,000sq/ft lodge is five times the size of the old and features a coffee bar, sit-down restaurant, two bars, large multi-station cafeteria, along with retail, rentals, ski school, ski patrol. The resort had a major upgrade to its snowmaking system last year and has been voted “Best Snow in the East” by Ski Magazine.
There is also snow tubing and snowmobiling. You can book a leisurely sunset tour to the summit of Mount Snow, or a trek across Somerset Reservoir through Snowmobile Vermont (book in advance, mountsnow.com/snowmobile). Unwind at Mount Snow’s Naturespa, located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel,offering pure, natural and organic spa treatments, guided mountain treks,holistic health, and fitness specialties.
Mount Snow is part of Peak Resorts (Hunter Mountain in New York and Attitash in New Hampshire are others, and included in its PeakPass. (skivermont.com/mount-snow-resort)
Okemo Mountain Resort
Okemo is now an Epic resort. Vail Resorts, Inc. purchased Triple Peaks, LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, plus, in a separate transaction, Stevens Pass, in Washington. Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million, over the next two years,across the four resorts to continue to elevate the guest experience. But most immediately, Okemo is now part of the 2018-19 EpicPass (Vail is honoring previously sold 2018-19 season passes for Okemo.)
One of our favorite ski mountains with its long,scenic cruisers, Okemo also offers an assortment of alternative activities for families to enjoy together. For a thrill, try Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or go snow tubing down a specially groomed chute in the Jackson Gore courtyard; skate at Okemo’s ice skating pavilion; rent a fat bike for riding on snow; go snowshoeing; cross country skiing; work on your golf game at Okemo’s indoor golf facility. Chill out with an after-hours snowcat excursion to the top of the mountain, take a swim or soak in a hot tub at Okemo’s Spring House Pool & Fitness Center. Enjoy a massage or a facial at the spa.
The Adventure Zone located in Okemo’s Jackson Gore area offers year-round activities soar through the treetops on Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour or go off-roading on a Segway PT Tour; launch yourself into the Amp Energy Big Air Bag; climb the climbing wall; putt Cal’s Miniature Golf Course or challenge yourself on the 18-hole Disc Golf course.
Famously family-friendly (and now hyping that it also is still “family-owned, operated, focused”), Smuggs’ continues to grow in what appeals to families with the resort’s free Kids’ Club. whereby all kids 12 and under get a free “treasure chest” of goodies. During the weeks of 12/16-12/21, 1/13-1/18, 2/3-2/8, and 3/3-3/8, Smugglers’ will offer all guests staying on any Club Smugglers’ package free lessons and rentals for kids 12 and under. Smuggs’ banked slalom course on Madonna Mountain will open new doors for intermediates and experts both in and out of lessons and host various events this season. Fat Bikes give winter access to Smuggs’ expansive cross-country MTB terrain.
Smugglers’ claim to fame is the total experience the resort offers. There is probably no other ski resort that is so focused on family togetherness, with a vast array of activities families enjoy together as Smugglers Notch. Families can vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges,scavenger hunts, Snow Cat tours, story times, and pool games (included in their Smugglers’ vacation package). Among the most popular activities: weekly torchlight parade and fireworks, belting out tunes in family karaoke and building a sled to launch from a jump in I-Did-A-Sled. Smuggs has also introduced S.T.E.A.M. activities that bring fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
FunZone 2.0 offers 26,000 square feet of indoor fun: an adventure center (laser tag, climbing tower, giant slide), a café serving beer and wine, so parents can relax while kids play. Outdoor activities include snowmobile tours through the historic Smugglers’ Notch pass, and CatTrax heated-cabin snow cat rides to the summits of Smugglers’ most popular peaks.
There’s so much to do, this is the ski resort you want to stay longer at – not just ski and stay – 43 pages of activities in 7-day period. Everybody has something even if they don’t ski. There are even activity packages that don’t include skiing.
The condo-style accommodations provide plenty of space for families to spread out, have meals and snacks in the condo (every condo has a crock pot; there is a country store on the mountain with the essentials and a grocery store 15 minutes away that you can shop at on the drive up).
Apart from its reputation as the most family-friendly ski resort anywhere, there is serious skiing to be had on three mountains: Morse (all green, so there is a natural separation of ability) while Madonna and Sterling are big, steep and deep; Sterling has a great variety of cruisers (great for intermediates) to bump up skill on short black. Madonna is the toughest, with some of the steepest trails (even a double-black) in the East, but there are also a couple of blues from top (Chilcoot and Drifter). (skivermont.com/smugglers-notch-resort-vt)
Stowe Mountain Resort
Stowe has new on-mountain Kids AdventureZones, well signed areas that give kids and families the opportunity to easily access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. Stowe, which is now owned by Vail Resorts, now offers Epic Mix, which enables skiers and riders to track their days and vertical feet skied,earn digital pins, share photos, race against the pros and check real-time liftline wait time using their RFID chip-embedded season pass or lift ticket. As part of Vail Resorts, Stowe is also included on the EpicPass.
Stowe has an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting its two mountain peaks, Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. There are new high-speed lifts on Spruce, new base facilities, gourmet restaurants. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 312 room hotel and spa, is recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside lodgings anywhere.There’s also a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak. (www.stowe.com)
Stratton Mountain Resort
Stratton’s new Snow bowl high-speed quad,the major project in this year’s $10 million-capital plan, is positioned to minimize wind impact and, traveling at 1,000 ft./minute, reduce ride time from 14 to five minutes. Plus, the top ramp provides smoother access to Mike’s Way,a beginner run from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. Home of the great snow guarantee, Stratton offers 97 trails, 100+ acres of glades, 600+acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain including top ranked terrain parks,the fastest fleet of lifts in the East, convenient lodging, slopeside Village,Training & Fitness Center, Spa and a full slate of winter and summer events and activities.
There’s lift-served snow tubing, moonlight snowshoe tours, and 12 km of cross country trails for skiing and fat biking. Unwind with a massage from the Village Day Spa or enjoy a dog sled ride through Vermont’s wooded terrain. Stratton’s Training and Fitness Center offers Olympic-sized, salt-water swimming pool,cardio and weight room and the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. Stroll through the Village to enjoy cafes and shops or venture 20 minutes down Route 100 to Manchester for shopping at 40 designer outlets.
Stratton has a learn-to-ski package at $99. It also offers a Jitney from New York City. Another feature is the Winter Wondergrass, a blue grass festival. Now part of the Alterra Mountain Company, Stratton is included on its IkonPass, now offering access to nearly 82,000 acres at 38 premier mountain destinations across the globe. (Stratton.com)
In honor of its 60th anniversary since Damon and Sara Gadd and Jack Murphy opened the resort in 1958, Sugarbush is hosting anniversary celebrations throughout the season. Sugarbush has also joined the IkonPass, connecting some of the most iconic mountains in North America (Killington, Pico, Stratton in Vermont, Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Maine). On-mountain improvements this season include snowmaking upgrades, lift upgrades, and relocating the beginner First Time lift for more convenient access.
The resort offers 111 trails across two mountains – Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen—connected by a chairlift (so fun!) and shuttle bus. Mt.Ellen is the third-highest peak in Vermont, with steeps, wide-open cruisers and some great intermediate terrain, the Riemergasse Terrain Park designed with rails, tables, and jumps for all levels, and home to a series of events and competitions; and 28 marked areas for beginner to advanced tree skiing. The 2,000-acre Slide Brook Basin, tucked in between Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, is an adventurer’s paradise. Guided trips are available with the legendary skier John Egan and the staff of the Adventure Learning Center’s Ski & Ride School.
Sugarbush offers free uphill travel passes for skinning up designated routes at the resort before and after lift-served operating hours. The resort hosts Tour De Moon several times a season – a guided skin to Walt’s at the Glen House at Mt. Ellen and also offers an uphill travel option for Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining. There is also self-guided snowshoeing access and guided tours,including photography tours, twilight tours, and the more endurance-based outback tours in the Slide Brook Basin.
Cabin Cat Adventures also offer a great way to experience the mountain, whether it’s Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining at the top of Gadd Peak, Cabin Cat First Tracks on a powder day or Sunset Groomer Rides to the top of Lincoln Peak. Other activities available in Mad River Valley include ice-skating, an Icelandic horse farm, a locally owned movie theater and cross country skiing. (sugarbush.com)
What’s old is new again! Bolton Valley, a self-contained resort where you walk from slopeside lodging directly to the lifts, is once again owned by its original family founders, the DesLauriers who opened the resort in 1966.
Besides being one of the few places in New England offering night skiing, last year Bolton opened an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment. Building on its reputation for having some of the best and most accessible backcountry terrain in the Eastern U.S., this program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. Explore 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.
“It’s unique in the East for a back-country experience to be so accessible,” said Josh Arneson, V.P. of Sales and Marketing.
How good do you have to be? “At least strong intermediate –we take it slow. People are surprised when they can do it. It is scary to attempt if you do it alone, but a mind-opening experience when you realize you can do it.” A group lesson is $75 plus rental.
Bolton Valley also has back country huts which can be rented through the Green Mountain Club, the organization that runs the Long Trail,but accessed through Bolton. “It’s a unique camping experience, just one mile from the base. You wake up to fresh tracks, and get to do winter camping. It’s accessible, but feels like being deep in woods.”
Bolton Valley sits high in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The high mountain alpine village is surrounded by 5,000 acres of wilderness. Bolton Valley offers 71 trails and glades for Alpine skiing and riding and 100 km of Nordic and backcountry trails. Each year Bolton Valley receives an average of 312 inches of snow.
All the lodging, including hotel rooms, suites and condominiums are either ski in/ski out or within a short walking distance of the lifts. Two restaurants, a cafeteria, deli and general store are located within the village. After a day on the slopes, walk over to the Sports Center,where there is an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna, skateboard bowl and mini ramps, arcade games as well as an open floor for basketball and other games.The Indoor Amusement Center offers bouncy houses for kids who just want to keep moving. (skivermont.com/bolton-valley)
Jay Peak:Jay Peak expanded its off-slopes roster with the opening of the Ice Haus in 2010, offering offer public skating times, figure-skating lessons and stick-and-puck pick-up games, and in 2011, with the 60,000-square foot PumpHouse, an indoor waterpark; and last winter the opening of Clips & Reels, an entertainment center that features a 142-seat movie theater along with a Clip ‘n Climb facility. (skivermont.com/jay-peak-resort)
Ski Areas Are Proud ‘Throwback’ to ‘Pure Vermont’
Suicide Six Ski Area:DON’T LET THE NAME FOOL YOU! Suicide Sixis one of the most family-friendly ski areas in Vermont, with 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced slope ratings. New trails carved for mountain biking in summer offer skiers and snowboarders hidden stash lines to discover; snowmaking has been improved and the FIS certified slalom trail will now be fully automated. The downhill ski area is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn which also offers the Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center providing 30 kilometers of trails to explore via cross country skis, fat bikes or snowshoes;a 10,000 sq. ft Spa; and Woodstock Athletic Club, with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, a 30-by-60-foot heated indoor lap pool, a whirlpool, workout equipment and steam and sauna rooms. (skivermont.com/suicide-six-ski-area)
Mad River Glen, the only cooperatively owned mountain open to the public is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the “pure Vermont” ski experience. Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. It is one of the last bastions of natural snow skiing in New England and is one of only three areas in North America that still prohibit snowboarding. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. Skiers can descend the entire 2,037′ of vertical on true expert terrain with no run-outs. There is a special camaraderie among the skiing community, with its co-op ownership,non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff, and – of course-the Single Chair, America’s favorite ski lift. You can also experience the mountain on snowshoes: join one of MRG’s staff Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interest in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain (Naturalist Programs). (skivermont.com/mad-river-glen).
Magic Mountain: After winning Liftopia’s award for best ski area in North America for the second year in a row, Ski Magic LLC, the new ownership of Magic Mountain, continues to invest in its counter-cultural ski and ride experience. Magic has 50 trails including glades; 1,500 vertical feet, “some of the steepest,most challenging terrain in the East, certainly in southern Vermont.” This year, there is a new base-to-mid-mountain double chair (the “Green Lift”) which makes Magic’s classic terrain accessible to novice and intermediate level skiers. In combination with more snowmaking, this new lift allows Magic to open far earlier in the season. Last year, Magic opened a new beginner area accessed with a magic carpet.
Magic has introduced one of the first alpine touring centers in partnership with Salomon with ATrental gear for first-timers, along with lessons and tours. New gear will be added this year. Long known for its extensive and challenging lift-served tree skiing, Magic will have guided backcountry tours this coming season with shuttle van pick-ups, which must be reserved in advance through the Snowsports Learning Center. Snowshoeing trails have also been marked this season (rentals available). (skivermont.com/magic-mountain)
Bromley Mountain:Bromley has announced a new partnership with Arena Snowparks to collaborate on a family-friendly progression park for all skill levels, green to black, with all new features and a wicked mid-season rebuild. For après-ski entertainment, enjoy Bromley’s Wild Boar Tavern (located at the base of the mountain) as well as expanded events calendar with more free, family-friendly entertainment for everyone. Top off your ski days with a scenic sleigh ride at beautiful Taylor Farm, take a stroll through the sculpture garden at the Vermont Art Center, treat yourself to a fabulous shopping experience at the Manchester Shopping Outlet center, and much more, all within a 10-mile radius. (skivermont.com/bromley-mountain-resort)
Nordic Skiing Favorites
More famous for Nordic skiing, but providing a uniquely cozy country atmosphere as well as nearby access to major downhill ski areas:
Situated on 2,500 acres in Stowe, Vermont, Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp Family of “Sound of Music fame”) is a mountain resort that combines Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations with the best of Vermont. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views, old-world comforts, and impeccable service, along with activities for every season, but it boasts being one of the first American resorts built around cross-country skiing. Its cross-country center celebrated its 50th anniversary last winter and offers one of the most extensive trail systems – a whopping 160 km of terrain. (The Trapp Family Lodge is hosting the NCAA Nordic championships, March 6-9.) Snowshoeing is also popular (equipment rentals available). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the meadows with stunning views into the valley. Enjoy any number of tours to learn about the history of the von Trapp family and lodge; how maple sugar is made; tour the von Trapp Brewing’s state-of-the-art brewery on site; dine in the Bierhall to sample the lagers and enjoy the authentic Austrian experience and cuisine. There’s also ice/rock climbing, spa, pool, hot tub and three restaurants. When you get the urge for downhill skiing, Stowe is nearby.(www.trappfamily.com)
Mountain Top Inn & Resort, set on 350 acres ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, is breathtakingly enchanting, offers 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails(snowmaking on a 2 km loop insuring optimal conditions); horse-drawn sleighrides; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). The most charming of inns offers 32 rooms plus 23 individual guest houses; dining at The Mountain Top Tavern (with 12 Vermont Craft Brews on tap) and fireside dining in the dining room.Downhill skiing at Killington and Pico is a short drive away. www.MountainTopInn.com.
Ski Vermontoffers a Take 3 Pass program whereby beginner skiers and riders can take three lessons for a package price of $129 and choose to redeem all three lessons at the same participating resort or at a different participating resort for each lesson. Each pass will include rental equipment for the day plus a group lesson with a professional instructor and a lift ticket to access beginner terrain.Visit skivermont.com for more information.
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@example.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.
Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).