Charming Holiday Destinations
by Mitch Kaplan
In the continuing search for the perennial question, "What's a good place to vacation for the holidays?" we continue our recommendations started last season (Charming Holiday Destinations). Remember the qualities that we're looking for: a Currier & Ives ambience, replete with quaint surroundings adorned by holiday lights, a local atmosphere of good cheer, special events that celebrate the season and, with help from Lady Luck, snow and plenty of it.
As always, we can't guarantee the snow. But, let's look at a few North American snowsliding destinations that are more than likely to fill the bill on ambience, decorations and events.
Rainbow Lodge, Royal Gorge Resort, CA ( royalgorge.com): History comes to life at the Rainbow Lodge. Nestled next to the Yuba River, this 1920's lodge is all stone, woodwork and charm. Bed & breakfast style,with a full breakfast, the rooms are small, but cozy. Best bet is the family suite, try midweek for best availability and deals.
Royal Gorge has a HUGE network of cross country trails. A wonderful ski school, combined with fun races (Candy Cane race, and Holiday Cookie race - the best "scrumpillicious" cookies on the planet) are but a few of the amenities. The best part of your Rainbow Lodge stay? The dining. Send the kids to the Sierra Lounge for pizza, while you dine at the rustically elegant Engadine Cafe, French cuisine ala Sierra.
The Balsams, Dixville Notch, NH (www.thebalsams.com): Talk about your classic family resort, the Balsams has it all. Set in the tiny town that has grown famous for being the "fist in the nation" to report results on election day, the resort prides itself on impeccable service and its dedication to quality. The ski area is admittedly tiny, but the Nordic skiing and snowshoeing are fine, and a vacation here is about everyone getting together to celebrate winter.
Breakfast, dinner and late-afternoon hor's d'oeuvres are always include. Come holiday season, a giant tree appears in the John Dix Social Room, a Christmas play is performed on Christmas Eve day and suddenly Santa arrives. There's tree decorating with make-your-own decorations and a Christmas Eve Mass. After Christmas, an after-dinner hayride to take you to the ski area for a Torchlight parade, S'mores, and clowns, a caricature artist, and a magician in action. There are family ski parties, comedians performing, storyelling, a kids' "coketail" party, snowshoe hikes, family broomball - well, you get the idea. Guests can enjoy two daily, free childcare at the ski area for ages 6 months – 5 years, and wine tastings, and culinary demos. For additional cost an in-room, table-top Christmas Tree can be ordered, and horse-drawn sleigh and dog sled rides are available.
Woodstock, VT (www.woodstockvt.com): Woodstock has been called on of the most picturesque towns in America by a variety of publications. In wintertime the words "charm" and "quaint" don't do it justice. This is vintage New England, with lots of small shops, restaurants and the Woostock Inn, one of New England's more atmospheric and enchanting hostelries. Skiing can be done locally at Suicide Six or, for downhilling on a larger scale, Killington/Pico are a twenty minute drive west, and Asctuney is somewhat closer to the east. There's plenty of Nordic skiing and snowshoeing to be done in the area, as well. And, visits to the Vermont Raptor Center, and The Billings Farm Museum are a must.
Among the seasonal events: Wasail Weekend features non-stop attractions, including "Holiday on Stage" a gala Holiday Revue of song, dance and theatre; a reading of "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas; "A Child's Magical Wonderland," a chance to work alongside the elves in Santa's workshop making gifts for the family and enjoying holiday treats; Christmas at Billings Farm, named a 'Top Ten Winter Event' by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce features late 19th century rural Christmas traditions in a restored farm house, special programs and activities, historic ornament making, and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec (www.tremblant.com): Although some complain that Tremblant's pedestrian base village is faux Quebecois architecture, there's no denying its charm. The shops, eateries and buildings themselves seduce you to the point of trying to speak French, no matter what your native tongue. And, snow-covered and twinkling with lights, the place just amuses all the more. The skiing is right there, and there's plenty of it, and the area's Nordic offerings are second to none. The, of course, there's the monetary exchange rate, which makes any Canadian vacation a bargain for Americans.
Tremblant events include: the Quebec Cup in which Quebec's best ski racers compete; Super Demo Days brings many of the industry's major names so you can try the latest equipment and get in on some promotions on purchases in Tremblant's village boutiques; the Holiday Season features multitude of family activities for the family, including a New Year's Eve show with performances starring the Snow School pros, fireworks and many surprises.
C Lazy U Ranch, Granby, CO (www.clazyu.com): For those who crave an old-fashioned, rural western adventure, this Mobil Four-Star, AAA Five-Diamond guest ranch is certainly worthy of consideration. Nordic skiing is on-site, and there's a complimentary shuttle to the downhill skiing at SolVista or Winter Park. Also on-site are ice skating, snow tubing, sledding, horse drawn sleigh rides, horseback riding and a supervised activity program for children 3-17. For the holidays C Lazy U provides each guest accommodation a Christmas tree for guests to decorate. Events include caroling, tree trimming and Santa arriving in a horse-drawn sleigh on Christmas Eve. Christmas day includes a wholesome holiday feast with all the trimmings. The family-oriented New Year s celebration includes traditional swing dancing and torchlit ice-skating on the pond. A five-night minimum stay is required during the holidays with pricing averaging $275 per person per night/double occupancy; children receive a 20% discount. Accommodations range from rooms with twin beds to multi-room suites, and the absence of telephones and televisions in the rooms guarantees that you'll truly be getting away from it all.
Taos, NM ( www.skitaos.org ): Understanding that you can't bring your snowboarder to Taos (they're still banned here, but that's a story for another time), if you're a family of skiers, te combination of Taos Ski Valley (the ski area) and the town of Taos brings a lot to the able. A mix of three cultures comes together here, and the plethora of art galleries, cultural sites and fantastic skiing makes this not only a unique destination, but an especially dynamic one at holiday time. As to the skiing, the hill at Taos Ski valley is second to none, and their ski school has always been among the best.
Among the events in the area: Tele Demo Day offers a chance to try the latest gear from Scarpa, K2, Black Diamond and more; Las Posadas a northern-New Mexican Christmas event at the Martinez Hacienda, one of the few remaining New Mexico Spanish Colonial haciendas open to the public; Procession of the Virgin, offers a chance to be a part of one of the spectacles of the Taos Pueblo - a must-see; Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at the ski area; Deer Dance or Matachines Dance presents some of the most beautiful native dances open to the public at Taos Pueblo; a New Year's Eve Celebration that includes a torchlight parade and fireworks display followed by festivities throughout the Taos Village.
Jackson Hole, WY (www.jacksonhole.com; www.jacksonholechamber.com): The town of Jackson is always rockin' with good stuff. Sure, the "old west" ambience is a bit touristy, but there's still enough down-home funkiness to make it all fun. The skiing here, of course is either at Jackson Hole or, right in town, at Snow King. We always recommend a side trip to Grand Targhee, about an hour away. While you're in town, definitely stop in to visit: the local history museum, it's got lots of fascinating stuff (and, if your kids are up to it, take a walking tour); The National Museum of Wildlife Art, home to the nation's premier public collection of fine art devoted to wildlife, is set in a world-class facility located on a butte overlooking the National Elk Refuge with wonderful view; and join one of the Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides, they depart throughout the day from the National Museum of Wildlife Art; snow tubing at Snow King.
Jackson/Jackson Hole holiday events: Santa on the Square brings Santa to the Town Square from 5-7 p.m. each evening until Christmas Eve, and his elves provide homemade cookies, hot cider and coffee; "A Christmas Carol on Ice" a skating version of the traditional Charles Dickens story performed by the Jackson Hole Figure Skating Club; Hit the Snow with a Pro a chance to join to, sponsored mountain athletes for a day of skiing and snowboarding, and kids join in at the end of the day for treats from Pepsi and Mountain Dew; Teton Village Christmas Tree Lighting Party; Children's Torchlight Parade at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in which kids of all ages are invited to participate.
...... Mitch Kaplan
is the author of The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids, The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach and The Golf Book of Lists. He is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York with Kids and to the annual guide Ski America & Canada.