Ski the Northeast – Five Great Family Ski Resorts

By Jeff and Stephanie Sylva

Are you as excited about the falling temperatures are we are? Sure, our family loves the warm summer months in the Northeast. But once we put away our bathing suits, we start getting excited about unpacking our ski equipment and taking a family ski vacation. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite family friendly Northeast ski resorts and some of their newest improvements:

  1. Okemo Mountain Resort, Ludlow, Vermont: With five distinct ski areas, eighteen lifts, and 118 trails, you can spend days at Okemo and hardly ever ski the same trails twice. The mountain is perfect for skiers who enjoy intermediate cruiser trails as well as less-challenging black diamonds. But Okemo also has some great glades, steeps and bumps that will challenge the experts in your family. In addition, the two trails that opened last year at Jackson Gore, one a black diamond and the other a double-black diamond, now have snowmaking so these trails should get a lot more use this year. If terrain parks are what you yearn for, Okemo has six of them loaded with options including the East’s longest halfpipe – the Sobe Superpipe – 500 feet long with 17-foot-tall walls. The mountain’s snowmaking and grooming are quite impressive – things for which the resort is known. The recently opened Jackson Gore base area has slopeside lodging, dining, rental and retail shops, and a Learning Center with children’s programs and day care. Two new amenities at Jackson Gore this year include the Okemo Fitness and Aquatic Center and a covered skating rink with ice resurfacing equipment. A great value is the Midweek Family Value Package, which includes a 5-day/5-night midweek stay with slopeside accommodations at the Jackson Gore Inn or in a mountainside condo. Rates start at $88.50 pp/day and include daily lift ticket. For more information on Okemo Mountain Resort visit www.okemo.com or call 1-800-78-OKEMO.
  2. Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont: This year Smugglers’ Notch is celebrating its 50th birthday – and for the eighth time, it has been selected by SKI Magazine as # 1 for Family Programs in North America. The state-of-the-art Treasures Child Care Center for infants and toddlers gives parents an opportunity to relax and enjoy their winter vacation, confident that their young ones are well cared for. Some of the unique features of Treasures include ski-in/ski-out convenience, one-way mirror viewing, giant fish tanks in every room, radiant floor heating, and heated snowmelt walkways. The staff at Treasures will even give those 2 ½ - 3 year-olds who are ready an introduction to the slopes with Little Rascals on Snow. Long recognized for its great ski school, Snow Sport University, Smuggs’ guarantees that each family member will learn to ski or snowboard or will improve his or her technique, regardless of ability level. Another great feature for families is the teen programs - not just the ski programs, but the hangout spots for the teens as well. Teen Alley for 13-15 year-olds and Outer Limits for 16 and older give teens a supervised place to hang with kids their own age. With Internet access, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, video games, music, and dancing, both centers have a “club” atmosphere that teens love – but they especially love the “no parents allowed” policy. In addition to the great ski programs, Smuggs’ offers a variety of winter activities to keep everyone in the family happy. For Adults, the winter Walking program gives parents the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors beyond the ski slopes. With traction oversoles and walking poles, hikers take off into the backwoods on a different two-hour trek each day. In addition to the many nighttime activities for families, such as Family Tubing Party, Bingo Blast, FunZone Hawaiian Hula Party, Family Dance Party, and Torchlight Parade & Fireworks Finale, guests can enjoy the outdoors at night as well. Nighttime snowshoeing can get the family to a better lookout spot for Thursday night’s fireworks show. Or, guests can try the candlelight dinner in the warming hut atop Sterling Mountain with a snowshoe trek to return to the base. Another exciting option is a snowmobile trip through Smugglers’ Notch Pass at night. Smuggs’ has planned a variety of celebrations for its 50th birthday, so log onto www.smuggs.com or call 800-451-8752 to order their free comprehensive Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Winter Vacation.
  3. Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: The Hobbits Children’s Ski School and Family Center building is getting a $500,000 upgrade and will be expanded by 33% to comfortably accommodate more children. Bretton Woods, New Hampshire’s largest ski area, has garnered a number of Ski Magazine awards including # 1 in New Hampshire, # 2 in the East and #4 in North America for its family programs. Another top priority for the resort is it service. The hospitality provided by the Mountain Hosts has become a much-appreciated service since the Hosts were first introduced to the mountain 7 years ago. Skiers are greeted with a warm smile and helpful hands as Hosts unload ski equipment from the car and give directions to the ticket windows and base lodge. The crackling fire in the fire gazebo is a perfect place for the family to stay warm while Mom or Dad parks the car. Once on the mountain, the Hosts continue their hospitality with directions, suggestions for some of the best trails and best-groomed areas, and even some complimentary warm cider. Hosts will also serve as on-mountain guides for groups. Some of the other improvements for this season include new lights, a flagging and sound system for the Lumber Yard Terrain Park; and, back by popular demand, the Children’s Apres-Ski Parties. On Saturdays starting January 6 and continuing until March 10, kids ages 4-12 can join in this fully supervised activity, which includes entertainment, games, and refreshments. This allows parents the chance to relax and enjoy their own Apres-Ski fun. Also new this year is the family interchangeable ticket, which allows parents to share babysitting duties and still hit the slopes. Either parent can ski or ride without the cost of purchasing two separate tickets. Finally, one of the best things about skiing Bretton Woods is the opportunity to stay at the Northeast’s Grand Dame resort, the Mount Washington Hotel. This is a very special place. For more information About Bretton Woods call (800) 314-1752 or visit www.brettonwoods.com. And be sure to check out the Mount Washington Hotel at www.mtwashington.com.
  4. Sugarloaf/USA, Carrabassett Valley, Maine: In addition to some very challenging terrain, a major attraction of Sugarloaf/USA is Sugarloaf Village. The first of two phases to beautify the Village is underway this year. Visitors to the Village will notice one of the shuttle buses is unofficially nicknamed the French Fry Express. This is not because French fries will be served, but because of the use of environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel produced on-site from vegetable oil collected from mountain restaurants. One change at the base lodge that parents and kids should appreciate is the moving of the Mountain Adventure program from the top floor to the ground floor of the base lodge, thus consolidating all children’s programs on one level. This will streamline the check-in process and make it more convenient for parents who have children of different ages in learning programs. This change also means that the rental shop now offers slopeside access, which eliminates the need to navigate stairs in ski boots to return equipment. Also new this year is an unnamed terrain park. This new trail is up to 400 feet wide and nearly a half-mile long and accommodates a series of jumps, features, and rails. Park rangers will staff this new park seven days a week to ensure the features are in pristine and safe condition. The park is yet unnamed because the name will be decided through an online contest. The winner will have their name posted at the entrance of the park and will become a part of Sugarloaf history. The winning name will be selected in December from entries submitted online at www.sugarloaf.com. Sugarloaf/USA has a number of ways to save on ski vacations. January 22-26 is White White World Week with ski and stay packages starting at $69/pp/night, or daily lift tickets at $39. Check out the Classic Ski Weeks where packages start at $299/pp for five midweek days of skiing and riding, lodging, access to Sugarloaf Sports & Fitness Club and Perfect Turn adult clinics. Families that stay three midweek nights during Children’s Festival Week, Jan. 8-12, receive free lift tickets, rentals and Perfect Kids lessons for children 4-12 years old. Children 18 and under also ski free during Kids & Teens Week, Feb. 5-10, when families stay three midweek nights. Other saving features can be found with Sugarloaf’s mEtickets, eTickets and The Edge Card. For more information on Sugarloaf/USA call (800) THE-LOAF or visit www.sugarloaf.com.
  5. Windham Mountain, New York: Windham Mountain has completed the largest single year of capital improvements in its 46-year history. The resort is located in the northern Catskills, just a little more than a two hours’ drive from the New York City metropolitan area. The first area of these improvements includes three new trails. The longest of the new trails is a classic New England intermediate (blue square) off the summit of the East Peak (one of two trail areas) that winds its way down the forest and into the greater trail system, allowing skiers to reach any lift in the base area. The two other trails, while a bit shorter, have the same characteristics and will greatly improve circulation to and from the East Peak. The second area of improvements is in the lifts, with three new ones greatly improving on-slope time. The best addition is the new high-speed quad at East Peak, which replaces the 9-minute slow triple that used to service this peak. With just a 4-minute ride to the summit and the new trails, East Peak will see a lot more skiers this season. The other two lifts include an upgrade for the C lift and a new magic carpet lift. The C lift is now a triple and covers a longer distance in less time. The base terminal for the C lift is also much closer the lodge and the unloading terminal is now higher up the mountain. It has also been moved so that Warmup and Wonderama can be reached without hiking. The magic carpet will allow residents of the on-mountain Enclave condos to use the lift to access the base area, lodge and main lifts. The final improvement is a new skating rink for the Mountain Top Adventure Park to complement the snow tubing. The new 120’ by 60’ rink will have a skate rental and warming center as well as an outdoor fire pit. For more information on Windham Mountain call (800) 734-4300 or visit www.windhammountain.com.

Jeff and Stephanie Sylva are retired high school teachers and have been professional travel writers for 18 years. Their daughter Jennifer, who is currently in college, often travels with them.

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