From East to West.
Given my preference, I’ll always choose a secluded ski resort, where the emphasis is strictly on skiing – really great skiing – and a few top-end restaurants. If I have that, and a nice hotel room (and, oh, maybe a hot tub), my family and I are going to be happy. But that’s because we’re enamored with the sport.
The reality, though, is that many families have a member or two (or more) who aren’t crazy about skiing, and that’s one of the biggest challenges when planning a ski vacation. Does your destination offer enough diversions away from the slopes? For example, while Solitude in Utah is one of my favorite resorts anywhere, its lack of off-hill options might drive the non-skier batty.
The solution is a ski resort that offers something more. That “more” could be at the resort itself, or the adjoining town (provided that the community is close by, and doesn’t require an extended drive). But it’s got to offer a variety of amenities that will keep even the most particular member of your family or posse happy. The basics include great restaurants, great shopping, and great features (like a really nice spa). Here are 10 favorites.
10. Jay Peak, Vermont
During the long drive to Jay Peak in Vermont’s glorious Northeast Kingdom, it’s understandable for visitors to think they’re heading to the edge of nowhere. After all, Jay is known best for it’s insane annual snowfall, the result of the legendary “Jay Cloud,” where weather patterns converge to produce plenty of fluff. But Jay Peak has added a number of really cool facilities, including fairly new NHL-size Ice Haus skating rink and the smile-inducing Pump House Indoor Water Park, featuring a spine-tingling 65-foot drop, La Chute. The Tiaga Spa and Carved Fitness Center provides more body treats. Plus you’ve got more than a dozen eateries – from Alice’s Table (named after longtime employee Alice Lewis) to The Foundry Pub & Grille – to choose from. Honorable mention: A similar resort, with a similar vibe, is Waterville Valley in New Hampshire.
9. Mont Tremblant, Quebec
I absolutely love the European ambiance at this fabulous Canadian resort, in the predominantly Freach-speaking province of Quebec. Roughly 80 miles northwest of Montreal, Mont Tremblant – voted Ski Magazine’s No. 1 resort in eastern North America – stands at 2,871 feet, but honestly feels bigger, rising up dramatically from Lake Tremblant. The resort, which first opened in 1939, boasts more than 662 acres of terrain on four distinct slopes and 2,116 feet of vertical. But Tremblant’s Pedestrian Village, at the foot of those slopes, is anything but pedestrian. Shop to you drop at more than three dozen high-end boutiques, from ski shops to fashion and knick knacks. There’s even great art galleries, like Galerie d’Art Pion and Galerie Soutana. Recover at a variety of restaurants, from juice bars to real bars to fine dining, and everything in between. Smoke’s Poutinerie Tremblant is a “must try.” Other activities include dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice climbing, and even falconry. Honorable mention: Bromont, also in Quebec.
8. Okemo, Vermont
Last winter, when my wife and I took the girls to our annual outing to this excellent little mid-Vermont resort, I saw a bunch of fat bikes. Guess how I spent my first afternoon, after I kicked off the skis? I went pedaling for hours before the sun set. Add the spine-tingling year-round Tipper Ripper Mountain Coaster, a snow tubing park and cool outdoor skating rink, and a very fun and funky town in Ludlow, and you’ve got plenty of ingredients for a rich ski country stew. Ludlow is a classic small Vermont town that has a number of hidden gems, from dining to boutique shops. Whether you’re a skier or not, you’ll love the resort’s hour-long Snowcat Excursions. Honorable mentions: Loon Mountain/Lincoln, and Cranmore/North Conway, both in New Hampshire.
7. Telluride, Colorado
Ah, Box Canyon, home of Rasta Stevie, who famously belabored the potential loss of the town’s “funky culture,” due to the influx of the wealthy elite, in Greg Stump’s cult ski classic, “The Blizzard of Aahhh’s.” True, Telluride isn’t cheap, but it has a wonderful array of diversions to keep your non-skier happy. Start with the Telluride Adventure Center, where top-notch guides can bring you into the San Juan backcountry for a snowshoe trek. There are also excellent dog sledding, snowmobile and ice climbing options, as well as fat bike and snowbike programs (not to mention exceptional backcountry, snowcat, and heli-skiing choices). The Alta Lakes Observatory Overnight is a special treat. The dining options are off the hook (with Allred’s Restaurant and Alteeza at the Peaks among the favorites), and you can shop in town for days on end. The Spa at the Peaks and the Himmel Pool and Spa Boutique are two terrific spa selections. Honorable mention: Keystone, Colorado.
6. Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Taos has flown under the radar for years, but those who know it love it. For good reason. Massive infrastructure and base village improvements have resulted in a spectacular on-mountain experience. The Strawberry Hill Tubing Park is a hoot. In addition to the great mix of Southwestern fare (like Rhoda’s Restaurant) at Taos Ski Valley and the historic town of Taos, you should also check out the Martini Tree Bar or the Bavarian Lodge and Restaurant. Less than 40 miles outside Taos, the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa has 11 sulfur-free mineral pools, private outdoor pools with kiva fireplaces, a full-service spa, and a restaurant and wine bar. Sound enticing? Big Al’s Snowmobile Tours offer guided treks to the peaks and ridges above Taos Ski Valley. The Enchanted Forest Cross Country Ski Area, a quick 45-minute drive fro Taos, offers 33 kilometers of trails for both classic and freestyle skiing, and 15 kilometers devoted to snowshoes. There’s even another 5 kilometers of trail dedicated to skiing with your dog, as well as to miles and miles of backcountry trails. Honorable mention: Northstar, California.
5. Mount Washington Hotel/Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Luxury, thy name is the Mount Washington Hotel. A friend once described this magnificent resort as a wedding cake on a grand scale, and the Mount Washington’s opulence, superb dining options, and peerless service creates an unmistakable Great Gatsby atmosphere. The neighboring Bretton Woods ski area won’t win many superlative contests, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying hill for everyone but perhaps the most hard-core skier. For non-skiers, the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour is a year-round zip-line course with two sky bridges offering brilliant views of the White Mountains. The resort’s slopeslide climbing wall boasts more than 600-square-feet of vertical fun, and welcomes climbers of all skill levels. There’s also snowshoeing, ice skating, snow tubing, and guided adventure tours. For a romantic journey through the woods, opt for Mount Washington’s sleigh rides, with horses pulling a vintage carriage through the wooded mountainside. The hotel spa and fitness center are first-class. Honorable mention: Until The Balsams in Dixville Notch, NH, reopens, we’ll go with Killington, Vermont.
4. Breckenridge, Colorado
Breckenridge is one of a number of outstanding Colorado resorts that have transformed from their mining origins – embodied by the Briar Rose Restaurant & Bar (named named after the old Briar Rose Silver Mine located on top of Peak 10) – to full-blown resort status. In that regard, it’s the archetypal Western ski town, home to the largest historic district in Colorado. In fact, it’s all but impossible to separate the ski resort from the town, and part of me believes that’s how it should be. There are so many dining options, from dive bar to five-star, of every ethnicity imaginable, that you could eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a week, and visit the same place twice. There are even more shops. And the nightlife rocks. Honorable mention. Aspen, and the four resorts of Aspen/Snowmass, are exceptional if outrageously expensive. Be sure to visit the new AAM, or Aspen Art Museum.
3. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Welcome to the resort were the nightlife rivals the world-class skiing. Considering that Whistler had some of the best terrain anywhere on God’s good earth, that’s quite a standard. While I still mourn the loss fo the legendary Savage Beagle (oh, the stories that place could tell!), there are still a number of great après ski spots, including GLC and Merlin’s Bar & Grill which are a testament to Whistler’s epic reputation. Dining … There are also tons of retail outlets, with uber winter brands like Patagonia, Columbia, Quicksilver, Showcase and Can-Ski, which helps avoid any sense that you’re a captive audience. I particularly like the stores that cater specifically to kids, including The North Face and Burton Boys and Girls outlets. Bring the pooch as well, since Whistler has myriad grooming, boarding, and walking services. Honorable mention: Banff, Alberta.
2. Stowe, Vermont
All you need to know about Stowe is this: When the von Trapps of “Sound of Music” fame fled Austria and settled in the United States, they came here. This quaint village, including the iconic Trapp Family Lodge, is the quintessential New England ski town. Which means there’s plenty to do away from the slopes in additional to the requisite dining and shopping selections (though the ski/snowboard experience is outstanding). At the resort itself, the Spruce Peak Village Center has a brand new skating rink. There’s also indoor climbing at Stowe Rocks, part of the Stowe Adventure Center. Speaking of adventure, the Stowe Mountain Resort Snowshoe Guides lead treks along woodland trails, frozen waterfalls and open meadows that rim the town, including twilight tours. The Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center hosts a wide spectrum of events, such as live music and concerts, theatre, dance, comedy, film, lectures and multimedia events, in a state-of-the-art facility. Honorable mention: Down the road you can find a great experience at Sugarbush in Waitsfield, VT.
1. Deer Valley/Park City, Utah
If you can’t find plenty of non-skiing diversions in Park City, or nearby Salt Lake City, you’re simply not trying. First, start with a pair of world-class resorts that have revived this old mining camp, making it one of the most desirable winter destinations in the world. Then consider the robust town of Park City that has evolved, with art galleries, theaters, top-flight restaurants, and even a superior whisky facility, High West Distillery. Want more? Choose from horse-drawn sleigh rides, Nordic skiing ranging from groomed tracks to backcountry tours, snowshoeing in the dramatic outback of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountain Ranges, snowmobiling, an alpine coaster, and hot-air ballooning. Park City’s cat-drawn sleigh ride to the Viking Yurt provides stunning night-time views and an elegant five-course meal. The resorts also offer bowling, billiards, and arcade games. Finally, toss in the Olympic Park, with its museum, luge and bobsled runs, ski jumps, and an aerial zip line guaranteed to produce howls. Whew! Honorable mention: Nope. It doesn’t get better than Park City.
Photo: Brian Nevins