No question about it: Vail Resorts has stormed the entire East Coast ski market, just this season adding 17 resorts in one fell swoop with its acquisition of Peak Resorts, including such iconic destinations as Mount Snow in Vermont and Hunter Mountain in New York to a list that already included Stowe and Okemo Mountain in Vermont (and Okemo’s sister resorts, Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and Crested Butte in Colorado), Now add in Attitash Mountain Resort, Wildcat Mountain and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire and Liberty Mountain Resort, Roundtop Mountain Resort, Whitetail Resort, Jack Frost and Big Boulder in Pennsylvania plus seven more in the Midwest, all of which are included on this season’s Epic Pass.
Epic Pass already provides access to some of the biggest names in skiing – Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone in Colorado, and Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood, in Lake Tahoe, Calif., Park City, Utah, Whistler BC– as well as its partnerships with resorts in the Alps and Japan, even Perisher in Australia when it is summer in North America. The Epic Pass offers unlimited, unrestricted access to all of Vail Resorts’ owned and operated mountain resorts plus additional access to partner resorts around the world including Telluride, Sun Valley, Snowbasin, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, Hakuba Valley Japan, Verbier, Courchevel. (For more information: www.epicpass.com)
What is more, innovations in Epic Pass allow for more flexibility.
New Epic Day Pass Makes Skiing and Riding More Accessible and Affordable: New for the
2019-20 season, Vail Resorts launched the Epic Day Pass, which provides all skiers
and riders with the value and flexibility traditionally available only to
season pass holders. The Epic Day Pass is a first-of-its-kind customizable pass
for skiers and riders who may not need the unlimited access offered by
traditional season passes, with discounts up to 50% off of lift ticket window
prices and as low as $109 for one day of skiing at any of our North American
resorts. Guests can lower their cost per day by adding more days and selecting
the number of days they plan to ski or ride – from one day to seven days – and
whether or not to add holiday access.
A Digital Mountain Assistant at Your Fingertips. Last season Vail
Resorts introduced Emma, the Epic Mountain Assistant, to help guide guests
visiting select Vail Resorts destinations. Using artificial intelligence and
natural language processing, Emma has the ability to answer a wide range of
guests’ questions in real time through SMS text. She transforms the guest
experience by offering on-demand information on everything from grooming, lift
line wait times, and parking, to recommendations on rentals, lessons, and
dining options. Through machine learning and data analysis, Emma will be even
smarter for the 2019-20 season. She’s available at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge,
Keystone, Park City, Whistler Blackcomb, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. More
information can be found at www.EmmaIsEpic.com, or text 77477.
2017, Vail Resorts launched Commitment to Zero, the company’s
industry-leading sustainability goal. The company pledged to achieve a zero net
operating footprint by 2030 across all of its resorts through (1) zero
net emissions by 2030 with 50 percent progress toward this goal by 2025, (2)
zero waste to landfill by 2030 and increasing waste diversion to 50 percent by
the end of 2020, and (3) zero net operating impact to forests and habitat.
new developments at Vail Resorts:
upgrades at Vail Mountain that will allow for more diverse terrain to be
open earlier. This is the largest snowmaking expansion project in Vail
upgrades at Beaver Creek, which will ensure more reliable early-season
terrain in a key learning area of the upper mountain, with the goal of
top-to-bottom skiing on opening day. Additionally, a newly remodeled
village will welcome families for one-of-a-kind events and experiences
throughout the season.
of the Peak 8 base area at Breckenridge, which entails new escalators that will
connect the street and plaza levels; a new skier services headquarters
(pass/ticket sales, ski school, retail/rental, etc.), as well as an ice rink,
coffee shop and new town transit stop. And there’s more to come with a
four-star hotel under development. Also, Gravity Haus Breckenridge will
open this winter, replacing the Village Hotel at the base of Breckenridge’s
Peak 9. The appeals to outdoor enthusiasts through ongoing programming and
amenities that include Dryland Fitness, a sports recovery center,
four lanes of duckpin bowling, and a co-working space.
upgrades at Keystone Resort that will position the resort to be one of the
first in the country to open this season! Alongside neighboring Breckenridge,
the two Summit County resorts will offers guests one of the longest ski seasons
in the country, with skiing and riding operations planned to kick off at
Keystone in October and run through Memorial Day at Breck, as weather and
Teocalli Lift at Crested Butte, a fixed-grip quad lift, replacing a
fixed-grip double. The upper terminal will also be slightly realigned closer to
the top of the Red Lady Express Lift, improving egress to Uley’s Cabin and the
addition, Telluride has a
partnership arrangement to be on Vail’s Epic Pass, whereby those with a full
Epic Pass can get up to seven days, and those with a basic pass can ski four
days. Getting to Telluride from New York is easier with a new Saturday flight
on American from LaGuardia (Dec. 21-April 4) in addition to daily nonstops from
Newark on United (Dec
19-Jan 5, Feb 15-Apr 2).
new Over and Out Lift,
a fixed grip quad lift will transport guests from the bottom of the Tombstone
Express Lift to the top of Sunrise Lift on the front side of the mountain. As
the name suggests, this lift will provide a quicker, more direct route for
skiers and riders to access Canyons Village from the center of the resort. Steps
from the Tombstone Lift, the new on-mountain dining restaurant,
Tombstone BBQ, will replace the moveable food truck with a permanent
structure that includes seating for up to 50 guests, a beer bar and a full
kitchen to allow for the use of reusable serve ware.
is the only ski resort in North America to span across two states, allowing
skiers and riders to experience the best of both California and Nevada terrain,
all on one mountain. For guests who like to take enviable Instagram pictures,
they can do so next to on-mountain “Welcome to California” and “Welcome to
Nevada” signs, all while capturing the beauty of Lake Tahoe in the backdrop.
Meanwhile, off-mountain, you get to frolic in the yin-yang of Nevada casinos
and nightlife and the laid-back wholesomeness of California.
Northstar is partnering
with internationally acclaimed restaurateur, Michael Mina, to unveil the newBourbon
Pub Northstar, opening in winter 2019. Bourbon Pub Northstar will offer
upscale pub food to the après ski crowd with starters such as truffle tater
tots, mesquite grilled steaks, and fennel stuffed salmon.
37 miles of groomed trails at Kirkwood’s Cross Country and Snowshoe
Center on skis, snowshoes…and now fat bikes! Diverse terrain and modes
of exploring are available for all ability levels making Kirkwood’s Cross
Country and Snowshoe Center a perfect spot for winter family adventures that
can include everyone – even the dog.
Roundhouse Umbrella Bar and new 60-seat patio offers a chance
to raise a glass among the clouds at the front of the Roundhouse Lodge
out the Cloudraker Suspension Bridge, the highest suspension bridge in North
the top of Whistler Mountain, 7,160 feet above sea level. Spanning 426.5 feet
from the Peak to West Ridge, the Cloudraker Suspension Bridge brings
sightseers, hikers and mountain bikers to the Peak for an unparalleled view of
the Whistler Valley and Black Tusk, in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Heli-Skiing is the pinnacle of Whistler’s skiing experience. For guests
looking to take their experience to the next level, Whistler Heli-Skiing has
what it takes to go the extra distance. With exclusive rights to 432,000 acres
of big mountain terrain that includes 173 glaciers and 475 trails, Whistler
Heli-Skiing offers a variety of packages for everyone, from strong intermediates
to seasoned experts. Whistler Blackcomb
offers some of best snow in North America. Last year, Vail invested $66 million
in upgrading lifts. A new activity is Vallea
Lumina, a nighttime interactive walk in the rainforest, which had been
offered only in summer, being offered in winter for the first time (www.whistlerblackcomb.com).
Improvements to Okemo’s on-mountain lodges, The
Sugar House Lodge and Summit Lodge will be completed in time for the
2019-20 season. Both lodges will receive upgrades including new
culinary concepts and menus, as well as a new interior look and feel.
is one of Vermont’s most celebrated locations for foodies – from farm
fresh meats, cheeses, produce, heirloom grains and local craftsmanship. Stowe’s
creative and eclectic collection of spots to eat span many cultures and dining
experiences, from breweries and restaurants like the new Von Trapp Bier
Hall, to on-mountain fine dining at the Cliff House, Stowe’s attention to
quality is exceptional.
for 2019-20 season, Mount Sunapee is launching EpicMix. Skiers and
riders can download the free EpicMix app to access a variety of features from
their mobile phones to check snow conditions, view webcams and trail maps, earn
pins and track their Ski & Snowboard School progress. After a great day on
the mountain, you can even share your achievements on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition operating 37 world-class mountain resorts and urban ski
areas Vail Resorts owns and/or manages a collection of casually elegant hotels
under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson
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).
Time is running out to purchase Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and for the first time, because of Vail’s acquisition of Stowe Mountain in Vermont – its first Eastern resort – it makes epic sense for Northeastern skiers. The deadline to purchase is November 19.
Considered one of the best values among ski passes, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass gives you full unlimited, unrestricted access to 15 resorts in three countries (just three weekend visits to Stowe pays for the Epic Pass) plus limited access to 30 European ski resorts.
New for the 2017-2018 season, the Epic Pass also provides unlimited, unrestricted access to its newest acquisitions, Whistler Blackcomb in Canada (the largest ski resort in North America) and Stowe Mountain in Vermont, as well as at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah (the largest ski resort in the US); Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps near Minneapolis, Mt. Brighton near Detroit, Wilmot Mountain near Chicago, and the 2018 Perisher season in Australia. Also, Epic Pass holders again enjoy limited access to 30 European ski resorts including Verbier and Les 4 Vallées in Switzerland, Les 3 Vallées in France; Arlberg in Austria; and Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy.
Season pass holders save more than 40 percent compared to lift ticket window prices.
2017-2018 Ski and Snowboard Season Pass Options
Epic Pass™: Ski unlimited and unrestricted from opening day to closing day for only $899. The Epic Pass pays for itself in just over four days of skiing or snowboarding. Enjoy full access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; and Perisher in Australia for the 2018 season. The Epic Pass grants limited access to Les 3 Vallées, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isere in France; 4 Vallées in Switzerland; Arlberg in Austria and Skirama Dolomiti in Italy. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $469.
Epic Local Pass™: For $679, receive unlimited and unrestricted skiing or riding at Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Wilmot, Afton Alps and Mt. Brighton with limited restrictions at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, plus a total of 10 days at Vail, Beaver Creek, Stowe, and Whistler Blackcomb with holiday restrictions. The Epic Local Pass pays for itself in just over three days. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $359.
Epic 4-Day™: A convenient option for a short ski trip. The pass pays for itself in just over two days andincludes a total of four unrestricted days valid at Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe and Arapahoe Basin, plus four additional free days at Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton or Wilmot Mountain. The Epic 4-Day Pass is $459 for adults and $249 for children (ages five to 12).
The deadline to purchase a 2017-2018 season pass is Sunday, Nov. 19. For additional information on season pass options and to purchase, visit EpicPass.com.
EpicMix Time Insights
New for 2017-18, Vail Resorts has launched EpicMix Time Insights, a website designed to help guests make the most of planning their ski day at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Park City by providing full visibility into lift line wait times. Vail Resorts is the first in the mountain resort industry to provide guests full transparency on historic lift line wait times, setting a new guest service standard for the industry. Guests can select a specific resort and date from last season to access resort trail maps that display individual lift line wait times for every lift collected by the EpicMix Time app during the 2016-17 season, sliding across the day in 15-minute increments from the time the lifts open until they close. Insights also highlights new lift upgrades for the 2017-18 winter season and provides mountain tips on how to best navigate each resort. Insights offers guests full visibility on actual lift line data from last ski season so they can maximize their day on the mountain during their next trip. To explore Insights, visit Time.EpicMix.com
Here are highlights of what is new for the 2017-18 season at Vail Resorts:
Stowe Mountain, Vermont
Stowe Adventure Center opens at Stowe Mountain. This $30 million, state-of-the art facility literally sets a new standard in the industry for kids and family amenities. Located at Spruce Peak, Stowe’s Adventure Center is home to all the children’s programs. From beautiful daycare facilities to ski and ride programs for kids 3 and up, the new Adventure Center has significantly advanced and expanded luxurious family amenities and services at the resort. The building also includes new shops, an Indoor Climbing Center (called Stowe Rocks) and family-friendly dining in The Canteen restaurant
Outdoor Ice Skating Rink. Also new for Stowe is the Spruce Peak outdoor Ice Skating rink, Ice skating is complimentary and open to the public daily from 11am to 9pm. Skate rentals are available.
New Spruce Peak Village Center Includes: Vermont crepe restaurant, Skinny Pancake, gourmet food and beverage markets, an artisan coffee shop and retail shopping. Spruce Peak is also home to the relatively new Stowe Mountain Lodge, one of the most awarded new ski-in ski-out luxury hotels & spas in the world.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Colombia
New this season is the WhistlerPeak Suspension Bridge and West Ridge Viewpoint. The Whistler Peak Suspension Bridge spans 426.5 ft from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge Viewpoint, a multi-tiered viewing platform with 360° views, offering guests a thrilling new way to experience this iconic spot. The cantilevered walkway extends 40.7 ft out from the West Ridge and an exhilarating 164 ft. above Whistler Bowl.
Signature Experiences t Whistler Blackcomb include Ski With An Olympian. Ski with an Olympian is Snow School’s most exclusive program and allows guests to experience a full day private lesson with an Olympian, so you can follow in their tracks, copy their technique and hear neat stories.
Fresh Tracks Mountain-Top Breakfast, presented by The Globe and Mail, lets you board the Whistler Village Gondola at 7:15 am and head up to the Roundhouse Lodge for the ultimate mountain-sized breakfast buffet. Then, as an added bonus, you get to ski fresh powder or perfectly groomed corduroy on the upper mountain before the rest of world is even out of bed. This unique experience is not limited to skiers and boarders; sightseers can get an early jump on the day by enjoying a Fresh Tracks mountain top breakfast before setting out on the PEAK 2 PEAK.
Whistler Heli-Skiing is the pinnacle of Whistler’s skiing experience. With exclusive rights to 432,000 acres of big mountain terrain that includes 173 glaciers and 475 runs, Whistler Heli-Skiing offers a variety of packages for everyone, from strong intermediates to seasoned experts. All heli-adventures are lead by a professional, certified heli-ski guide and include the use of avalanche transceiver, on mountain lunch and return ground transportation from Whistler Village. The Guide will choose the best ski area for the day and will ski or board with the group.
Park City Utah
With acquisition and connection with Canyons, Park City is now the largest ski resort in the United States, and one of the easiest to reach, just about 45 minutes from Salt Lake City airport (so you can actually fly from New York and be on the slopes by noon).
$15 Million Grand Summit Hotel Renovation: Now a RockResorts Property: The Grand Summit Hotel, located in Canyons Village, opened for the season after an extensive $15 million renovation and has been branded as a RockResorts property. The renovation included a complete overhaul of all 212 suites, including new interior finishes, furnishings, soft goods, appliances, artwork and technology. The property’s communal spaces were also incorporated into the renovation, including the lobby and front desk, full remodel of the on-site spa, café and general store, and refresh of the meeting spaces. More information here.
New Signature Experience: Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour: New this season, Park City Mountain will debut the Silver to Slopes Historic Mining Tour. On this complimentary, guided ski tour, guests will explore the mountain with an expert guide and uncover the historic mining buildings and hidden relics scattered across the resort. They’ll learn how Park City Mountain evolved from a silver mining camp to an internationally recognized winter sports destination and hear the stories behind the authentic mining structures seen on the mountain. Tours are recommended for intermediate level skiers/riders and above and depart daily from the Park City Resort Mountain Village at 10 a.m. and at the Trail Map near the top of Bonanza lift at 1 p.m. After the tour, participants will receive a signature pin to commemorate their visit to Park City Mountain.
Special Events: Park City Mountain is making the holidays even more special for guests by hosting unforgettable holiday events this Christmas, New Years and Spring Break. The Holiday Season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 16 with Park City Mountain’s annual Snowfest Celebration, a 16-day festival including morning and après musical acts, village entertainers, annual torchlight parade, fireworks and a special visit from Santa on Town Lift. Park City Mountain’s annual Spring Grüv Celebration will return just in time for Spring Break this March with 16 days of free concerts and the famous Pond Skimming Contest. Beyond the holidays, Park City Mountain hosts free concerts, family activities and events all season long at both base areas including free s’mores on Saturdays and Sundays and an hour to meet the avalanche dogs on Fridays and Saturdays.
New Event: Seven Summits Challenge: Can you hit seven summits and cover 7,300 acres of terrain in one day? Brand new this season, Park City Mountain will host the inaugural Seven Summits Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 24. Participants will conquer a pre-set course that takes them on a journey across Park City Mountain’s seven peaks and 7,300 acres in one day. It’s the ultimate adventure at the largest ski resort in the United States. More details, including a course description, will be announced in January.
New Beginner Ski and Snowboard Area at the Park City Mountain Village: This summer, Park City Mountain installed a new, enclosed surface lift and a new designated beginner trail to serve entry-level skiers and snowboarders at the Park City Mountain Village. The new area will provide a comfortable and spacious learning area for those just starting to ski or ride.
Ski and Snowboard School: Your Personal Guide to 7,300 Acres of Terrain. Park City Mountain’s signature Peak-to-Peak Guided Mountain Tour pairs you up with an expert guide who will take you peak to peak uncovering the best runs and conditions on the mountain. And if you’re skiing with the whole family, a Private Family Lesson is a great way to learn and transform your day on the slopes into a real family adventure.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe & Kirkwood
The new Red Cliffs Family Lodge features family activities every weekend. Enjoy family movie night each Friday with popcorn, snacks, hot cocoa, beer, wine, s’mores. Themed nights throughout the season, events and parties such as family feud night, ski trivia night and holiday themed evenings. The Red Cliffs Family lodge also has board games, corn hole, foosball, air hockey, giant jenga and checkers.
Women’s Clinics and Camps for all ages and skill levels. This experience is about escaping, having fun, developing friendships, seeking adventure and doing something just for you. Throughout the day you tackle a variety of terrain and snow conditions while working on the terrain selection, tactical approach and off-piste skiing and riding technique.
New GoPro Ski and Ride School is an instructed lesson where you learn how to use a GoPro camera to capture first-person footage of Heavenly’s secret stashes and powder pockets. You get to keep your memory card full of the day’s footage and can purchase a GoPro at discount in the Heavenly Sports stores.
Expedition: Kirkwood combines Kirkwood Mountain Resort’s legendary terrain and secret powder pockets with qualified guides and expert coaches. Elevating safety and avalanche education will allow you to hone in on your skills while navigating Kirkwood’s signature chutes, cornices, and bowls led by our team.
Specialty Experiences, Instruction and Guiding. Northstar California’s new Platinum program allows skiers and snowboarders with Platinum Season or Day Passes gain access to the exclusive run offered on Saturdays, experiencing the best conditions throughout the day Platinum Season and Day Passes are perfect for skiers and snowboarders seeking solitude by unlocking private gates at the front of each lift line. Other experiences in the Platinum family include Platinum Lockers, featuring private boot warmers and house-made sweets, and Platinum tōst, a European-style lunch paired with Veuve Clicquot off East Ridge Run.
Northstar Traditions Every afternoon skiers and snowboarders gather off of East Ridge Run for a complimentary glass of champagne or sparkling cider and tōst to the mountains, Lake Tahoe, and friends and family. After ski school gets out each day, S’mores Ambassadors descend upon the Village carrying silver platters covered in ooey-gooey chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow treats.
Set at Zephyr Lodge, the Mountain Table Dinner Series marries food and wine for a private dinner culminating with a surprise transportation twist. This winter’s series features SIMI, Prisoner, Charles Krug and Rodney Strong Vineyards.
New: First Tracks, where Adventure Guiding and Learning Center mountain guides take two intimate groups on a tour of the mountain before lifts open to the public. This shamelessly indulgent experience gives private access to freshly groomed runs and sparkling powder across the entire mountain. Convenient and inviting, the Adventure Guiding and Learning Center welcomes guests into the lounge with fresh espresso and custom equipment fitting, prior to meeting a hand-picked mountain guide. Northstar mountain guides and instructors provide what you need – including tours to the most serene locations on the mountain. After a full day of skiing Northstar like a local, visitors return to the Village for a well-earned champagne toast. Next door at the exclusive Burton Snowboard Academy, snowboarders of all levels enter a realm of terrain-based learning. Leather-seated couches and a fireplace surrounded by top-of-the-line Burton equipment make for a cozy setting to lace up boots. On-mountain, little tykes learn the essentials in the Ripperoo Riglet Park, while more mature boarders progress on the trail, in one of the five nationally-renowned progression parks or off-piste. For breaks, the private Burton Academy Lounge at Mid-Mountain offers one-on-one time with Burton-certified instructors, hot cocoa and fire pits.
New:Six-Passenger Northwoods Express Lift (#11) marks the 10th lift replacement in the last 11 years at Vail. Northwoods Express is a primary lift on the front side of Vail Mountain, serving intermediate and advanced terrain. The new lift reduces wait times and increases capacity by 25%. The increase also improves the flow of skiers and snowboarders to the legendary Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin throughout the day, as well as creates a better flow of traffic exiting Blue Sky Basin and moving across the mountain at the end of the day.
The Arrabelle at Vail Square, A RockResort, celebrates 10 years in January 2018. A celebration of the anniversary will take place in December and special activities will be held in Vail Square including musicians and ice sculptures during the winter season.
New: Beaver Creek’s Red Buffalo Park Adventure 200-acre family learning area accessed by a new high-speed lift. Located at the mountain’s highest elevation, 11,440 feet, Red Buffalo Park provides 13 trails designated as a family adventure zone and features family-friendly amenities such as snow sculptures through the park, Kids Adventure Zones and a dedicated Ski School Skills Zone. Guests enrolled in Beaver Creek Ski School will have exclusive access to the Cookie Cabin, a mountaintop refuge serving up Beaver Creek’s famed, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies all-day long. At the heart of the experience, the new Red Buffalo Express Lift (#5), a high-speed quad, allows for easier access to the dedicated beginner terrain while decreasing lift lines and providing a shorter, 4.3-minute ride to the top of the mountain.
White Carpet Club is an exclusive, private retreat within the heart of Beaver Creek Village which you can join for the duration of your visit. Located steps from the escalator leading to Centennial Express Lift, the White Carpet Club hosts spacious lockers for storing apparel and accessories; boot dryers; a continental service offering coffees, teas, cocoa, and decadent morsels; private restroom facilities and an intimate lounge adorned with soft, cozy seating. The dedicated on-site concierge offers instant assistance with lift ticket and pass purchases, as well as dinner and activity guidance and reservations. Priority access to SaddleRidge Restaurant – renowned for ski-in fine dining during lunch and dinner – is also a distinct benefit. Other benefits include preferred parking and slope side equipment-check.
Beaver Creek’s First Tracks experience invites guests to cherish unrivaled scenic beauty at sunrise, delight over premier access to flawless snow surface conditions, and savor a five-star gourmet breakfast on the mountain at the exclusive Allie’s Cabin. Guests board the Centennial Express Lift at 7:30 a.m., enjoy a private, guided tour of the mountain’s flawlessly curated slopes and relax over breakfast – all before the resort opens for the day. (Reserve First Tracks by dialing +1-866.250.1679 or +1.970.754.5310.)
Allie’s CabinWine Dinners and Family Dinners via Open Sleigh. Allie’s Cabin, a fine dining retreat atop a peaceful aspen grove on Beaver Creek Mountain, features Wine Dinners with a celebrated group of wineries, accompanied by a stunning fireworks display over Beaver Creek Village. On select Thursday evenings December through March, guests arrive via open-air sleigh for a gourmet culinary experience in the cozy cabin. While savoring exquisite food and wine pairings, guests enjoy a warm fireplace and sweeping views of the Beaver Creek Village, illuminated by Thursday Night Lights Fireworks. Classic contemporary regional fare has been crafted to offer the perfect pairing for the featured wines of the evening. New this winter and offered during select weekends, Allie’s Cabin Family Dinners welcome guests to savor gourmet fare which caters exclusively to children and families.
Artisan Chocolates found pnly at Beaver Creek Candy Cabin Located at the top of Strawberry Park Express and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts, myriad palate-pleasing sweets are created locally by fifth-generation chocolatier, Michael Mootz, presented in a custom Beaver Creek gold box; individual chocolate snowflakes, snowmen or ski boots.
The Falcon SuperChair is being upgraded from a quad to a high-speed, six-passenger lift, offering an easier and faster ride up Peak 10. Breck’s Ten Mile Station is going a little “Willy Wonka” this winter season, adding an old fashioned sweet shop. It’s sure to guarantee you a sugar high as you ascend the Imperial Express, North America’s highest chairlift! The resort’s newest restaurant, Pioneer Crossing (opened December 2016), is also sweetening up its menu, adding sweet and savory crepes to its breakfast lineup this winter. Located just steps from the top of the Independence SuperChair on Peak 7 – one of the resort’s five iconic peaks on the north side of the mountain – the slope-side restaurant offers panoramic views of the mountain and Summit County. Also on the menu, a variety of house made options like fresh made salads to order, signature dishes like Pioneer Lamb Pie and a Mediterranean inspired station.
The Dew Tour returns to Breck for its 10th year, December 14-17, 2017 (presented by Mountain Dew® and TEN: The Enthusiast Network), as an Olympic qualifying event for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The four-day event kicks off the competition season, featuring individual superpipe and slopestyle competitions with the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, along with live concerts, the interactive Dew Tour Experience and in-town events. The Team Challenge is also back for another year and features invited teams of riders representing the biggest brands competing on a unique three-course layout.
Spring Fever! Breck will be one of the last major resorts still open when the biggest spring skiing party in the Rocky Mountains returns March 17 through April 22, 2018. Breckenridge’s elevation – 9,600 feet in town – makes the snow last longer and the bluebird spring days even sweeter. To celebrate, Spring Fever brings a month-long lineup of activities for families, beer drinkers, music lovers, mountaineers and more. www.BreckSpringFever.com
Breck Into Epic Above Tree-Line Terrain and Bowls From Blues and Blacks to Double Diamonds, Breck’s 11 bowls truly offer some of the best above tree-line skiing and snowboarding in North America. Hop off the Imperial Express, North America’s highest chairlift, and it’s like being transported to a winter vacation in the Alps. On a clear day Peak 8’s treeless, powdery slopes offer views for miles, and a bird’s eye look at historic Breckenridge. For a snow-sensory overload drop in on E.S.P. on powder days. Sign up for a Breck Guide for the day, for the inside scoop on hidden powder stashes and top terrain.
Visitors will find The Montezuma Express Lift, a primary lift on Dercum Mountain serving popular intermediate and beginner ski terrain, has been replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chair that increases efficiency and capacity by up to 25 percent, while improving skier and snowboarder circulation on the mountain.
Kids Still Ski Free. Every day, all season long, kids 12 and younger ski for free at Keystone with no blackout dates when family’s book two or more nights in one of Keystone’s numerous accommodation options, which span from affordable hotel rooms to family-sized condominiums. (Keystone is one of the only Colorado ski resorts offering nighttime skiing; it also provides access on its ticket to ski Arapahoe Basin.)
Kidtopia: Free Family Programming Offered Every Day of the Season. The Kidtopia lineup includes activities such as the village parade and fireworks, snowball launches, ice cream parties and meeting Keystone’s Ski Patrol rescue dogs. All Kidtopia programs are free.
New for 2017-2018, the Kidtopia Signature Event Series will feature three distinct events throughout the winter to complement the family experience at Keystone. The Kidtopia Spectacular, Dec. 15-24, marks the first signature event of the winter and kicks off the holiday season with a bounce house party, a mountaintop celebration and lighting ceremony of the world’s largest snow fort, and an evening with Santa Claus himself. The first-ever Kidtopia Culinary Festival debuts for the 2017-2018 winter, Feb. 9-17, with a savory lineup tailored to the youngest of foodies with cooking demonstrations, chocolate fountains, bakery tours, dessert specials and a celebrity chef event. The Kidtopia Music Experience, March 2-10, is the last of the signature event series and kicks-off the spring skiing and snowboarding season with music-themed fun including rock ‘n’ roll themed parties and the Snow Pants Dance Party, featuring live outdoor music performances from popular kid-friendly acts.
The Inn at Keystone is being rebranded to Hyatt Place Keystone following a significant renovation of the property. The rebranding marks the first significant hotel brand in Keystone as well as the first Hyatt select service hotel to be announced for the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Guests of the hotel will also be able to enjoy a new fitness center, an alternative grab-and-go dining option and new outdoor communal spaces.
Like so many, we have come to Park City for its legendary powder snow and sprawling mountain peaks, home to two major ski resorts, Park City (which since Vail Resorts acquired and combined Park City and The Canyons has become the largest ski resort in the US), and the skiers-only, “retro” Deer Valley Resort.
And besides being one of the easiest world-class ski destinations to reach from every part of the country by air (I literally leave my home on Long Island in the morning and am skiing at Park City Mountain by the afternoon), it affords a perfectly delightful, charming historic town that rounds out the joyful experience.
Which is ideal because one of the major delights of a ski (or any outdoors) holiday is dining out. During our all-too brief stay in Park city, we get to sample the diverse venues.
Just a few blocks long, Park City’s historic Main Street really packs it in: one phenomenal gallery, boutique, superb restaurant after another. I visit on three evenings of our four-day stay and find new treasures to explore each time.
Park City was born in a silver mining boom of the 1880s. – today, it extracts a different kind of silver, from tourism – indeed, we are told that Park City has been ranked the most expensive small town in America (surpassing Aspen).
But the 19th century past is still very much on display – I love reading the historic markers outside some of the buildings which collectively tell the story of a town that survived explosions, flooded mineshafts, a town-wide fire in 1898 which burned 200 of the town’s 350 structures, snows heavy enough to collapse buildings, and a devastating downturn in silver prices that deflated the town’s economy in the mid-1900s, so that by 1951, it was officially named a ghost town. (There is quite a good Park City Museum, 528 Main Street, allocate about an hour.) Sixty-four of the Park City buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, there are more than 1,200 miles of tunnels that wind through the mountains (Park City Mountain Resort offers an on-mountain Historic Mountain Tour on skis that goes to some of the mine shafts.). There are other charming touches, like the free old-timey trolley, and the decorative lights that are strung across Main Street and around many of the buildings.
But out of a silver bust has come a new kind of cash boom: Park City today is considered the “most expensive small town” in America (actually surpassing Aspen) which you sense in the high-end galleries, shops and restaurants. Yet, the ambiance is not in the least snobby or elitist. We are struck by how very welcoming and friendly everybody is – from the shopkeepers to the visitors. The town is one perpetual smile.
There are a mind-boggling number of restaurants to choose from – nearly 150 in the area – from cozy bistros, casual eateries ideal for family gatherings, jazz and live-music venues, and fine dining establishments worthy of Michelin stars.
During our all-too brief stay, we get to sample Park City’s diverse dining options. After all, a ski holiday is one of the few times you can tell yourself, “I’m on vacation, AND I’ve spent the day outside burning up calories.”
The first place to replenish those calories is at Firewood on Main.
Firewood on Main should be a Park City institution. Though it only opened in December 2016, its chef/owner is John Murcko who is responsible for developing many of the fine dining restaurants throughout Park City (The Farm, in the Canyons village and was named one of “Utah’s 25 Best Restaurants” in 2015, is one) and Sun Valley. This is his first restaurant of his own, and you get the feeling it just gives him the freedom to express his passion for culinary creativity. What we love about it is that although the selections and taste combinations are as sophisticated as you might find in the major capital cities of the world, it still is absolutely true, in ingredients and selections (not to mention décor) to its local surroundings. So there are taste sensations that evoke South America (particularly Argentina’s penchant for grilling) and Asia, but that still feel right at home in Utah.
Chef Murcko has done some interesting things: like creating the Chef’s Library – a literal tiny, private and separated room connected to the kitchen with a pass-through for the dishes – where you get to create a menu in collaboration with the chef. There is also a second private dining room, and the Nickel Bar on the basement floor (named for the nickels that fill the bar tabletop) which is appropriately dark and woody.
The main dining room features a set of windows that let you see through to the sprawling kitchen (I like that better than when the kitchen is just open to the dining room). You get to see the activity, as well as marvel at the room-length long open grill, that was custom-built, “the Mazzerati of grills,” our server, Sean, notes.
Just about everything is grilled or seared or fired or smoked in some fashion – even the lemon garnish on the cocktail, to enhance its flavor (more about that in a bit).
I love the décor, which I dub “Mountain Moderne.” It has a quasi-agricultural/industrial heritage motif – clean lines but woodsy – that summons Utah heritage with windmill fans that are used as ceiling fans and black-and-white photos that decorate the room. Chef Murcko even crafted the tables himself.
We start off with a batch of appetizers that we share:
Grilled Oysters with spinach, wood roasted bacon and beet pickled shallot – the oysters are palm-sized huge and are brought in from Washington and Applewood Smoked Burrata with ash roasted beets and herbed pesto; pork belly (for which Firewood is known) prepared with honey wine apple vinegar, red pear and frisee; and fire-braised seasonal wild mushrooms (wood beech, royal trumpets, chanterelles) served with grilled bread. Delectable.
For our mains, we savor Port Short Rib, so succulent and perfectly prepared over creamy polenta, warm dried stone fruit chutney, and heirloom carrots fired on the grill; Rack of Lamb, with black lentil ragu, cipollini onion, eggplant and red chimichurri, had some wonderful Argentinian influences and it too was prepared and presented to perfection; and American Kobe New York (the best of both cultures!) showed off Murcko’s penchant for grilling, was sensational, served with rosemary pave, baby shiitakes and duxelle jus.
That being said, the menu (which basically touches all cylinders of offerings) shifts nightly to incorporate the freshest seasonal ingredients, locally sourced wherever possible. But the one constant is that everything is cooked over a wood fire. “Chef John Murcko’s vision blends the most primitive of cooking methods—open wood flame—with an innovative menu.” (Firewood On Main, 306 Main Street, Park City UT 84060, 435-252-9900, firewoodonmain.com).
High West Saloon and Distillery
One of the most popular places to be in Park City is High West Saloon and Distillery. It has the look of being around a century but was opened in 2006 by David Perkins and his wife, Jane. David, a former biochemist, was inspired to open his own distillery after seeing the parallels between the fermentation and distilling process and his own work in biochemistry during a trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. The old-timey look comes from the fact that Perkins opened with just a small, 250-gallon still and Saloon in an historic livery stable and garage.
The Saloon features alpine-inspired western fare alongside the original still (you can see it) and the Nelson Cottage offering whiskey-paired dinners. It’s lots of fun and draws huge crowds willing to wait 2 ½ hours for a table (they don’t mind sampling the product in the meantime and looking at the traditional 1,600 gallon copper pot still, or perusing the small “general store”. Notably, High West was named 2016 Distiller of the Year by Whisky Advocate.
We had a fantastically fresh chicken noodle soup and amazing High West Burger 18, made with a bison and beef blend (wonderfully moist), “proprietary seasoning”, broiled aged gruyere, blue cheese, BBQ glazed sweet onion, crispy fried shallots, served with fries. The Distillery also offers tours, which you can book in advance.
The new High West Distillery and tasting room is located “high in the Wasatch-Uinta Mountains,” in Wanship, Utah, 25 minutes outside Park City and 40 minutes from Salt Lake City, and is open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm).
(High West Saloon and Distillery, 703 Park Ave Park City, UT 84060, 435-649-8300, www.highwest.com).
Silver Star Café
We also got to sample Silver Star Café, which is located at one of the bases to Park City Mountain, one of the venues that regularly features live music.
Here, we enjoyed live jazz by the John Flanders Jazz Trio in a most comfortable dining room that made you feel more like being in a living room than a restaurant, with long banquettes and loads of pillows that is clearly a favorite with regulars and locals.
We thoroughly enjoyed the freshness and flavor combinations of the appetizers and salad: General Tso’s Pork Belly Wrap prepared with Butter lettuce, pickled chilies, toasted peanuts; Warm Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with pomegranate seeds, toasted hazelnuts, pickled onion, pomegranate-balsamic dressing; Winter Greens & Apple with radicchio, arugula, endive, candied pecans, grapefruit vinaigrette.
The mains offered wonderful choices:
Pork Osso Bucco (a house specialty), featured Niman Ranch pork shank, fresh tomatillo salsa, coconut creamed corn, Queso Fresco, pork jus; Boneless Buttermilk Fried Half Chicken is prepared in a distinctive way and served with Red beans & rice, braised greens, Carolina BBQ; Seared Elk Burger, 8 oz. of our signature elk-bacon blend, fig-cherry mostarda, bacon burger sauce, served with hand-cut fries on a toasted Ciabatta bun.
James Root, the manager who is an award-winning mixologist, let’s us sample a cocktail he had only just devised: “Lost at Sea” contains Beehive Gin, Absinthe, lime and crème de violette with a cherry set at the base of the glass. It is built about Absinthe, a spirit with a colorful reputation of having been banned and therefore embraced by Parisian artists, bohemians and literati like Hemingway (it was falsely accused of having hallucinogenic properties). What I love about it is that it isn’t too sweet but has an air of intrigue. (Silver Star Cafe. 1825 Three Kings DrivePark City, UT 84060. 435-655-3456. [email protected], www.thesilverstarcafe.com)
The art galleries are simply breathtaking. The last Friday of each month is a free Park City Gallery Stroll that lets visitors and locals alike the opportunity to enjoy light refreshments while discovering what’s on in the galleries; from 6-9 pm, members of the Park city Gallery Association offer a showcase highlighting artists, special exhibits and art events.
At Burns Cowboy Shop on historic Main Street, family owned since 1876, one of oldest family owned western shops in US (the boots just take your breath away), I meet Jake Quarnberg, the hat shaper, who is steaming a hat and patiently explaining the process to two girls who listen completely enthralled. Quarnberg who used to be a cattle rancher in Utah, grew up with the 6th generation Burns.
Park City is very much a year-round destination – after the snow melts, the mountain bikers and hikers take over.
Park City offers festivities and festivals year-round, the most famous being the Sundance Film Festival when as many as 40,000 come to town each January (remarkably, few actually ski so the slopes are relatively empty). But the whole calendar is chock-a-block with special events: beginning in June, the Park silly Summer Market festival, each Sunday, showcasing local produce and artisan crafts; in July, Independence Day parade, and Park City Food & Wine Festival; in September, Autumn Aloft hot air balloon festival; in October, the Howl-O-Ween dog parade, to list just a few that have built the town’s reputation as the “Festival City of the Rocky Mountains.” There is also the Park City Institute’s concert series; performances at the picturesque Egyptian Theater (“Annie the Musical” was being performed during our visit).
There are more than 100 lodging properties to choose, from on-mountain hotels, condos and full-service luxury hotels with ski-in/out convenience, to multi-family private homes, bed and breakfast inns, downtown properties (you can hop on the Town Lift to the Park City Mountain base).
Park City, Utah is arguably North America’s most accessible mountain recreation destination, just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport with convenient service from everywhere. Park City – home to Deer Valley Resort and Park City Mountain Resort and the Utah Olympic Park – affords more than 400 miles of public trails offering year-round outdoor recreation.
Excellent travel planning assistance is provided by the Park City Chamber of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-453-1360, www.visitparkcity.com.
I set out for Park City Mountain in Utah to see if it could really be true: you could leave your house on Long Island in the morning and be skiing the Rockies, or more precisely, the Wasatch Range, by noon.
The combination of great nonstop airline service into Salt Lake City and the remarkably close proximity of the international airport to Park City- just 35 minutes drive, literally as far from the airport as my house to JFK, the “suburbs” of the city – makes this all possible. Not to mention the choice of condo-style lodgings right at the Canyons base, the efficient ski rental process.
Sure enough, I was greeted at the airport and whisked away by Park City Transportation car service, checked into the Hyatt Centric Park City Hotel at Park City Mountain’s Canyons village base, picked up my pre-ordered skis through RentSkis.com (the fellow assisting me took the extra time to wax the skis to give me a better experience on the spring slush at the lower sections), used my Epic Pass, Vail Resort’s seasonal pass, which speeds you through the lift access with a point of a laser gun, and hopped the Red Pine Gondola to mid-mountain.
There I warmed up and got comfortable in my equipment on the couple of green runs, then found a gentle blue trail, Snow Dancer, off the Saddleback Express lift, to warm up my legs as I regaled in the view, and was happy as a clam.
(There is a caveat, though: by skiing immediately and not taking time to acclimate, you can avoid altitude sickness by drinking lots of water beginning the day before and throughout the day, and avoiding alcohol the first day. If you do feel the effects of altitude sickness, take Tylenol and drink water and if necessary, come down to lower altitude.)
We Northeastern skiers will revel in actual snow, Park City’s legendary powder – even in spring conditions. You don’t just ski Park City – which with Vail’s acquisition and unification with The Canyons is now the largest ski resort in the US – you explore it. It is so vast, it becomes a game for the first-time visitor to get from Canyons – where the trails tend to be tougher (only a couple of greens), but less crowded, more sun, and more snow – to Park City.
I only ski a couple of times a season so I am still tentative though I can handle just about any blue (intermediate) trail provided there is snow and not sheer ice (as we New England skiers are more familiar with). But I lack confidence.
Joined by Eric and Sarah who arrive late Thursday from San Francisco, Sarah and I spend our first morning together taking a half-day private lesson with Alex Fleet, one of the top instructors at Park City with nearly two decades of experience who is originally from Great Britain (you pay one price for up to 6 people).
Lessons are not just for beginners and certainly not just for kids. Skiing is a skill that you acquire in layers (and with practice). A lesson helps you acquire the proper form and technique so you can handle any terrain. But the most important ingredient is feeling relaxed and confident so you get a better flow and can use your proper technique.
Our goal is to feel comfortable when challenged, and for me, not to be so skittish at taking on new trails, but to have the confidence that I could do it.
Secondly, I want to see how to get over from Canyons to Park City (there are no green trails to get you there – it is a series of blues or blacks to a half-dozen lifts). I had been told the “trip” could take as much as two hours from Canyons to Park City (about 45 minutes to get back). So Alex, starting us on the green trail (stopping to take in the incredible view) to check us out, progresses swiftly to Snow Dancer (a stunning blue), and then moves us over, peak by peak, to Park City.
Alex gets us over to the Park City area (about one-third the size of the Canyons) in much less time than the two hours, where we find a blue heaven, and where there is vastly more green terrain (the longest trail is 3.5 miles), not to mention the blacks and the glades (we can look forward to that another time). He takes us around a few of the peaks on blue trails before starting back to the Canyons, enough to get a feel for Park City. Throughout, Alex is refining our technique – weighting skis, turning, edging – and building confidence for the climatic challenge: Sidewinder.
He takes us back to the Canyons side, finishing our lesson off the Tombstone lift on Sidewinder (Alex says the popular name is “Slidewinder”), a double-blue square trail, where I take note of an actual sign that warns off all but advanced skiers. Alex says he knows we can do it, “Just follow me!” (and don’t look down because it basically goes straight down without flattening out.)
Alex has made sure to take us here at the best possible condition of the day – not icy or fast in the morning, nor too slushy in the afternoon’s spring heat (the temperature has gone as high as 60 degrees during our stay). Conditions are just right as the noon hour approaches.
It is the confidence builder we have asked Alex for at the start (Sarah had said she wanted to feel challenged), because if you can do the toughest blue on the mountain, you feel you can do anything (assuming the conditions are decent).
While we are at our lesson, Eric, who is an advanced snowboarder, has been tearing up the slopes.
Eric takes the Ninety Nine 90 chairlift, hiking 10 minutes to an “out-of-bounds” bowl, “where there were endless spots to drop in from to have your own fresh lines; then you go from the steep fresh powder bowl to glades and moguls; a beautiful 10-minute trail, even for the speediest of skiers, made the 10-minute hike at the top of the lift well worth it.” (By midday when we meet up at the bottom of the Tombstone lift, his Epic Pass, the seasonal pass to Vail Resorts which is also plugged into tracking where you’ve been and your accumulated altitude, showed he had already done 17,000 ft of elevation.)
Armed with my confidence, on my last full day at Park City, I set out to get from Canyons to Park City on my own, which necessitates handling new trails each time. I start out at Guest Services and ask the kindly attendant to recommend an itinerary, so I don’t have to think about which blues to take. Based on the map of what has been groomed, she uses a yellow marker to map my day. And what a day!
Indeed, when Vail Resorts acquired Park City Mountain Resort and then Canyons Resort, combining them in the summer of 2015, it created the largest single ski and snowboard resort in the United States. Vail immediately invested $50 million, building a spectacular new 8 passenger Quicksilver Gondola to connect the two areas (breathtaking ride!), along with the new King Con Express six-pack and Motherlode Express Quad among the improvements. The combined One Park City offers more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, more than 300 trails (and they don’t count tiny spurs as named trails like they do in New England), 41 lifts, 8 terrain parks, one super pipe and one mini pipe.
We’re talking 17 mountain peaks! 14 bowls! A vertical of 3200 feet from the base at 6,800 feet to the summit at 10,000 feet! And even though it is just two weeks before the mid-April close of the season, and the springtime temperatures have soared, Park City averages 370 inches of snow a year, so still has an amazing base of actual snow to ski on. (This makes for a wonderful incentive for people to come out for the these last days of the season, to apply the day’s lift ticket to the cost of a discounted Epic Pass for next season that much more valuable; indeed, a woman from St. Louis said she bought next year’s Epic Local Pass, which is expected to also include Stowe Mountain Vermont, for just over $500.)
It’s a “blue-bird” day – when the sun is brilliant and the sky the deep blue color of a blue bird’s belly. It is just perfection.
I take my time, and have a thrilling experience really exploring and discovering the mountain, enjoying my skiing and literally accumulating the mileage which is the only way to really bump up your skills. Skiing with confidence is key because when you are tense, your muscles tense, you don’t get that nice flow and balance and you use more energy than necessary.
The scenery is intoxicating – not just the sparkling pure air and the altitude that gets your heart racing, but the stunning glades of Aspen trees, pine trees sprinkled in, the peaks and canyons, and the perspective, as well as the ride the chairlifts give you.
It takes me 2 hours (savoring the stunning scenery, stopping for photos, checking the map and enjoying making turns) and I get to the Park City side. I take the SilverLode Express to the top, do Parley’s Park trail, and after a chat on the lift with a Park City regular, go back up for a run on Assessment before starting back to the Canyons.
Everyone we meet – and during the course of the day, I meet people from all over the country – and especially the Ambassadors and lift operators – are incredibly nice. When I seem a little confused about how to get to the Timberline lift, a woman from St. Louis I meet on the gondola waits for me where the trails split, to make sure I take the right trail.
I make my way back to Tombstone, and take the Red Pine Road trail back to the mid-mountain base, but I am feeling so good, I pass up going back down on the Red Pine Gondola, and ski down Boomer to the Canyons base (the big issue was the amount of slushy snow because of the warm conditions), feeling very satisfied with myself for being adventurous. I achieved my goal: skiing new trails.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to take in one of the experiences that are unique to Park City skiing: the Historic Mountain Tour. You need to be intermediate or above to take this free, two-hour skiing adventure to the various mining shafts from Park City’s silver days.
The Historic Mountain tours depart daily from the Park City resort base area by the Eagle Statue at 10 am and again at the Trail Map near the top of Bonanza lift at 1 pm. During the course of the tour, you get to appreciate how the mountain developed from a mining camp in the 1880s to an internationally recognized winter sports destination. The guides relate the stories behind the authentic structures you see on the mountain (there are some 1,200 miles of tunnels that wind through the mountains and you get to see some of the mine shafts), how Park City emerged as a ski jump arena, its World Cup Racing heritage and how it came to international prominence with the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. You get to experience some of the same runs that the Olympians did and ski or ride past some of Park City’s historic mining buildings with an expert tour guide. We have it on the list for our return visit.
Park City Mountain’s trails are wonderfully carved, superbly maintained and groomed (500 acres of the 7300 have snowmaking) – unless the appeal are the trails and glades that they are not. I appreciate the great signage (otherwise, you could easily get lost or waste time constantly opening up the humongous map).
(Eric saw the best sign, on Nine-Nine 90, named for the elevation of the peak, 9990 ft.: “You are Leaving the Ski Resort. You Can Die. This is Your Decision” with skull and bones to emphasize the point.)
Sure enough, I was able to ski a full day on the last day – leaving the Hyatt Centric Park City Hotel at 9:30 pm for the 11:50 pm Delta nonstop flight back to JFK.
So, my four-days in Park City afforded four full days of skiing. Mission accomplished.
Hyatt Centric Park City
TheHyatt Centric Park City 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).
It also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (on the hour from 5 pm; last one returning at 10:30 pm), and on my last evening, instead of waiting in the lobby, I hopped a ride for a final visit, stopping in at more of the gorgeous galleries that line Main Street. I returned with plenty of time to relax in the Hyatt Centric lounge before the car service picked me up to get to the airport.
Park City is very much a year-round adventure destination, and the Hyatt Centric also offers an in-house activities company, Wasatch Adventure Guides, offering fly fishing, heli skiing, hiking (Hyatt Centric Park City, 3551 North Escala Court, Park City, Utah, USA, 84098, 435 940 1234, parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).
So Much More to Do at Park City Mountain
We were so enthralled with skiing, we didn’t have time to take in the many other adventures and experiences of the area. But there is plenty to do, especially for regulars:
Alpine Coaster: Climb into toboggan-style cars for a special way of experiencing the magnificent Wasatch mountain scenery. The automated lift system whisks you to the top of the track and you fly down the mountain on nearly 4,000 feet of curves, bends and loops. It is one of the longest slides in the world.
Guided Snowshoe Tours: Park City offers a network of snowshoe trails hidden among the spectacular skiing. Guided tours are created with a unique destination, experience or adventure in mind.
Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides: Snuggle in for a scenic 30-minute horse drawn sleigh ride through Willow Draw showcasing a night-time winter wonderland after the lifts have closed.
Additional winter experiences include Dog Sledding, Snowmobile Tours and Cross Country Ski Tours.
Also, the Utah Olympic Park where you can take a guided tour, take a thrilling ride on the Winter Comet Bobsled on the Olympic track, experiencing 3+ Gs and hitting speeds of 60 mph (open year round); the Extreme Zipline replicates flying off the K120 Nordic ski jump, propelling you to up to 50 mph. There’s also an adventure course, scenic chairlifts, and the George Eccles 2002 Olympic Games Museum (look for Great Neck’s own figure skating gold medalist Sarah Hughes). Still a year-round US Olympic training site, you also get to watch athletes of all ages training for Nordic Ski Jumping (in summer, they jump into a pool), Freestyle skiing, bobsled, skeleton and luge. (Open year-round, free admission to the park, www.uolf.com).
But we have time each day to enjoy discovering historic Park City, with its astonishingly fine galleries and shops and fine-dining venues (more to come).
Park City Mountain (www.parkcitymountain.com) is part of Vail Resorts, Inc., which through its subsidiaries, is a leading global mountain resort operator of 10 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, which in addition to Park City in Utah includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Perisher in Australia; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; Afton Alps in Minnesota, Mt. Brighton in Michigan and Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin. Vail Resorts also owns and/or manages a collection of casually elegant hotels under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo.