December 24, 2015
At the Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado
By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Got your crampons?
No worries if you don’t. You can borrow what you need at the Appalachian Mountain Club Highland Center in New Hampshire, including snow pants and extra layers, snowshoes, hiking poles and waterproof pants, all at no charge.
It may be Christmas week, but we’re as far from a mall and city crowds as we can get. We’re hiking the Crawford Trail, the longest continually used trail in the country, snow crunching under our feet as we make our way past a frozen waterfall and snow-covered fir trees. The mini crampons on our feet make hiking over the icy snow a lot easier. When we get back, there’s hot chocolate by a blazing fire while the kids busy themselves by decorating Christmas cookies.
It’s no surprise that families make a holiday tradition — or a holiday gift — to visit here in winter. That you may need to share bathrooms and communal tables at meals seems to add to the fun.
“Like a college dorm for families,” said one mom I met.
We’ve taken our kids to play in the snow at ski resorts since they were preschoolers, often at the holidays, and still try to meet up somewhere during ski season. You can’t beat skiing with Santa, historic mountain towns like Stowe, Vermont and Park City, Utah, all decorated to the hilt, torchlight parades and fireworks over the mountains New Year’s Eve (like at Snowmass, Colo.) or a sleigh ride to a special dinner at a mountain cabin (like Uley’s Cabin mid-mountain at Crested Butte.)
These days, there are more opportunities than ever to have fun in the snow off the slopes, whether you are in New Hampshire, Maine or Vermont, Colorado or Utah, which is a good thing, given that you never know what conditions will be for skiing and snowboarding and you may not want to pay the expensive freight for daily lift tickets, which can be over $100 a day. (Check out our Fun in the Snow section.)
Whatever the conditions, there’s something to be said for getting away from the crowds for a few days where it’s beautiful and peaceful and the air is fresh. Let’s not forget the outdoor heated pools and hot tubs and the ever more expansive spas where you can get a massage after all that exercise!
We went horseback riding on packed-down trails in the snow at Vista Verde Guest Ranch outside of Steamboat Springs, Colo., where we also had plenty of options to snowshoe and cross-country ski, even go out on a big sleigh with the wranglers to feed the horses. I loved that the meals — for humans — were included, so I didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning up. Nice!
There are plenty of opportunities for fun in the snow for those with physical and mental challenges too. (Check out the National Ability Center in Park City, the National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park, Colo., and Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports.)
If you are an adrenaline junkie or just looking for an adventure to share with your tween or teen, how about zip-lining through the snow-covered trees 80 feet up in the air? We tried that the same holiday trip at the Bretton Woods Ski Area Canopy Tour, which offers nine zip lines, two hikes across suspension bridges in the trees and rappelling. You now can find winter zip line adventures across the country — from ArborTrek outside of Stowe in Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont, to Big Sky, Montana. There are plenty of opportunities for snowmobiling too.
Ziplining at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont
Quebec City hosts a big winter carnival (this year at the end of January) with huge ice sculptures.
Let’s not forget the chance to see wildlife — like on a horse-drawn sleigh tour into the heart of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a winter habitat and preserve for thousands of elk in the Jackson elk herd. You might also see bison, bighorn sheep, moose, bald eagles and more.
Or why not head out dogsledding over bumps and curbs trailing a team of huskies at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch near Estes Park, Colorado? At places like the YMCA of the Rockies you can enjoy winter sports, including free ice skating and tubing, without an expensive lift ticket. You’ve even got the chance to explore Rocky Mountain National Park with park rangers who offer free guided snowshoe hikes.
There’s nothing like tubing down a slick, snow-covered hill after the sun goes down. At Adventure Ridge at Vail, you can also play with ski bikes, race side-by-side down tubing lanes, watch the kids snowmobile on specially crafted mini-snowmobiles or head out on a guided snowshoe tour with a naturalist.
When was the last time you played in a giant snow fort? You’ll find the Kidtopia Snow Fort, complete with hidden tunnels and a snow maze, at the top of the gondola at Keystone Resort where you’ll find free Kidtopia events every week, from parades to fireworks. Every Friday night, Aspen Snowmass honors the Norse God of Snow Ullr with a big kid-friendly party atop Snowmass Mountain with ice skating, tubing, s’mores by a big bonfire and music.
I’ve snowshoed in blizzards and on one memorable bluebird day in the sunshine at nearly 12,000 feet above ski level at Keystone Resort, taking in amazing views of the Rockies. Once, we even snowshoed through a ghost town outside of Aspen where we finished with a gourmet lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse. It’s an easy — and inexpensive — way to get everyone outdoors together. Young kids can snowshoe; so can seniors. Parents snowshoe with babies in a back carrier. At Northstar in Lake Tahoe, there are special evening stargazing snowshoe treks.
Just make sure to pack your long johns!
(If you are heading to Colorado for some fun in the snow, check out Eileen’s Kid’s Guide to Denver, Boulder and Colorado Ski Country. Follow @TakingtheKids at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.)
© 2015 EILEEN OGINTZ
Backyard Vacations, Destinations, Families & Groups, Lodging, Snow Vacations, Weekly Column
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