Sep 182013

Back to SkiThe temperatures are cooling off and the teens and tweens are heading back to school.  Before we know it snow will be falling in the mountains of New England and the Rockies and ski resorts will be open for business.  Planning ahead is a great way to get the best deals.  When it comes to families with teens and tweens, blocking out time for family ski vacations is about the only way to make sure that these trips really happen at all.

We talk to many families who lament that once their kids hit high school and middle school, the demands of sports, part time jobs, school work, and college searches can really limit time for family fun.   Don’t give up! Family fun doesn’t have to take a back seat to all these other demands, but, it does require some careful planning and coordination.  Here are five things your family needs to be doing now to make sure you don’t miss out on some great family ski vacations this winter:

  1. Get some inspiration! If you are the one taking the lead on planning your next family ski vacation, get excited and get you family thinking.  Spend a little time reading up on what’s new at your favorite ski resort.  Better yet, expand your horizons and learn about some destinations your family has never visited before.    Mara Gorman’s  Back to Ski web site is a great source for researching all types of family friendly ski resorts and destinations.The Notch Squad take a break
  2. Call a family meeting and have everyone – mom, dad, teens, tweens, siblings, grandparents, etc. — bring their calendars  Discuss sports and school commitments, adult and teen work schedules and school vacation schedules – including weekends.  Agree on specific dates that work for everyone and block them on everyone’s calendars NOW!
  3. Discuss whether the teens and tweens, and younger siblings, can bring friends and what the ground rules will be.  Parents – be clear if you feel comfortable with teens bringing significant others or if you want to limit it to platonic friends.  Would you prefer family only?  Is the getaway focusing on time with extended family and cousins that might leave friends feeling a bit left out?  Be clear about who pays for what – will you pay for the lodging and the friend pay for lift tickets?  Also be clear about ground rules for behavior on and off the slopes.  And of course, make sure its ok with the friend’s family ASAP!
  4. Build a list of top priorities for things to do on and off the slopes. Depending on your family  you may need to balance all kinds of interests.  Does mom want to take an afternoon off the slopes and head to the spa?  Do the teens want night skiing so the action never stops?  Teens and tweens might surprise you with a request to go ice skating outside, visit a nearby college, or to take a dog sled ride or a zip-line winter canopy tour.  Tweens or younger siblings might think the option to play in an indoor water park would be fun.  There is so much to do at ski resorts now-a-days that even non-skiers can have a great time.  You might need to reserve a day for family activities off the slopes.
  5. Get a great deal on a destination that is right for your family. Once you know your headcount , travel dates, and priorities for activities on and off the slopes, start working on getting a great deal at a destination that will work for your family, including the teens and tweens.  We’ve found condos or hotel suites that allow a little extra elbow room usually work better than trying to crowd mom, dad and two teens into a single standard hotel room.  Ski-in and ski-out options can allow for more teen and tween independence.  If they want ski school or private lessons, look for resorts that offer teen-only classes or teen friendly instructors.   If you have boarders and skiers at different levels, look for a range of terrain that matches their skills and interests.  Check web sites for special deals – particularly early or late in the season.  Multi-day packages can often include solid savings or discounts.Snow mobile rides at Smugglers' Notch

Time together during a family ski vacation can create some great memories that will last a lifetime.  Planning ahead now helps ensure that your active family can really carve out the time to enjoy everything the mountains have to offer.

Disclosure:  This article was sponsored by Mara Gorman and Back to Ski but all opinions and advice are solely ours.

Jan 122013
The Omni Mt. Washington Hotel in New Hampshire's Mt. Washington Valley

The Omni Mt. Washington Hotel in New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley

The Omni Mount Washington Resort is a high-end 4-season resort located at the base of New Hampshire’s 6,000 foot tall Mount Washington in the midst of the White Mountain National Forest and the Mt. Washington Valley.  This area is one of our favorite family vacation destinations at any time of year.  Since Omni Hotels began managing this historic property in 2009 there have been an ongoing series of major updates to the hotel, the golf course, and the adjacent Bretton Woods ski area.

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire’s largest ski area with 434 acres of skiing and snowboarding, including 101 trails and glades and four terrain parks is always a family favorite with lots of options for all ability levels.  Off slope activities include sleigh rides, a winter canopy tour, ice skating, nordic skiing, snow tubing, dog sledding, an indoor pool, game room and spa.

Kids and tweens snowmobiling at the Omni Mt Washington Kids Snowmobile Park

Kids and tweens snowmobiling at the Omni Mt Washington Resort Kids Snowmobile Park

New this winter, the Resort launched a snowmobile park specifically designed for kids and tweens ages 4 to 13 (and under 135 pounds).  The resort partnered with with FB Spaulding and Polaris to offer state of the art equipment and a well maintained course complete with banked turns, straight stretches and wooded runs.  They provide full-face helmets and supervision before and during the ride including training on how to safely operate and shut-off the machine.

The Resort has one of the most extensive programs we have seen for kids and tweens — including day and evening kids club activities through age 12,  spa manicure and pedicure packages for kids and tweens and ski school options that include the Hobbits Ski & Snowboard School with skiing for ages 4-12 and snowboarding for ages 6-12.  Private lessons are always available as well.  For the most part, teens ages 13 and up are treated more as adults in terms of activities and lessons.

Check the Resort’s web site for the lastest deals and family discounts including free lift tickets with many overnight stays and the Family Interchangeable Ticket that lets Mom and Dad each go skiing for the price of one. This option lets Mom and Dad purchase two identical tickets at the single-ticket price. Only one may be used at any given time. Regular full-day daily ticket pricing applies. This is great option if one parent wants to stay with kids or tweens off the slopes.

Photos courtesy of the Omni Mt. Washington Resort

Jan 012013

With Boston and most of New England seeing its first solid snowfall and sustained cold weather in two years, we couldn’t pass up a last minute invite to welcome in the New Year by hitting the slopes at the Sugarbush Resort with our Vermont cousins.  With access to  two mountains (including 4,000 ft Mt Ellen), 3 terrain parks, tons of gladed areas and the 2,000 acre Slide Brook Wilderness area, Sugarbush offers incredible views of Vermont’s rustic Mad River Valley while providing all the creature comforts that family travelers love including over 50 miles of trails,  top of the line rentals, a great lodge, good food, on mountain hotels and condos with room for more than 2,000 guests, and well regarded ski and snowboard schools.

Enjoying a New Year's ski day at Vermont's Sugarbush Resort

Enjoying a New Year’s ski day at Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort

We arrived about 10:30 am on what was likely to be one of the Resort’s busiest days of the year.  We were in and out of the rental building in about 15 minutes.  Even at mid-morning on a crowded day they had plenty equipment available and the automated equipment management system sped us through the fitting process.  Out on the mountains, five high speed quads plus almost a dozen other lifts kept us moving all day.

Welcome to the bunny hill at Sugarbush Resort

Welcome to the bunny hill at Sugarbush Resort

We had a mixed group of skiers of all abilities and ages, including a couple of folks who preferred to spend most of the day in the lodge.  From the bunny hill at Lincoln Peak to the double black diamonds and moguls on Castlerock Peak, to the cozy fire in the main lodge, everyone had a great time.

The Timbers restaurant at the Sugarbush Resort

The Timbers restaurant at the Sugarbush Resort

Sugarbush is joining most of the other major Vermont ski resorts by celebrating January is Learn to Ski and Ride Month.  They will be offering a $29 lesson and rental package until the end of the month for first time skiers.

Sunset view of Vermont's Mad River Valley from the Sugarbush Resort

Sunset view of Vermont’s Mad River Valley from the Sugarbush Resort

Check the Resort’s web page for lodging and ticket discount packages.  Its looking like a snowy winter in New England so its time to get skiing.

Dec 262012
Escape to the trails on Mt Madonna and Mt Sterling at Smugglers' Notch

Escape to the trails on Mt Madonna and Mt Sterling at Smugglers’ Notch

Smugglers’ Notch, one of our favorite Vermont ski resorts, has added a new Winter Adventure program for teens ages 16-20.  The program mixes intermediate and advanced ski fun with the opportunity to explore a wide range of alternative winter sport options on and off the mountain. Thursday through Sunday, the morning starts at the teen friendly time of 10:00 am with an intermediate to advanced Snow Sense Session where the group skis and rides together focusing on exploring the mountain, reading terrain, and having fun — instead of focusing on formal technique. After lunch, the group heads back out with  instructors for specialty sessions such as ice climbing, backcountry snowshoeing, Ice Canyon Via Ferrata, and Winter survival skills.

Smuggs has always offered one of the most comprehensive on mountain ski and snowboard programs for tweens and teens including the Notch Squad all day camps for ages 11-15, private lessons, night time free style boarding lessons, and the Mountain Explorer half day group option for teens age 16 and 17 that want to work on ski and boarding skills.  The Winter Adventure program fills a real gap for families that want to take a winter holiday together but have older teens (including college students home on break) who might not want to ski all week but would welcome a break from non-stop family bonding as well as the chance to do something new and challenging.

The Notch Squad on the move

The Notch Squad on the move

Smuggs also offers full and half day Adaptive ski lessons and runs five-day Autism Snowman Camps  for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Campers  participate in a variety of winter activities including sleigh rides, alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, dog sledding, ice skating and swimming.

Combined with all the other off-mountain fun available for kids and adults of all abilities and ages – –  like cross country skiing, snowmobiles, zip-lines, tubing, outdoor ice skating, and a large indoor playspace — plus high quality day care and lessons for younger kids,  Smugglers’ Notch continues to be top of our list for resorts that can meet the needs for very diverse families and interests.

For the best deals, book the a Club Smugglers’ Classic or Summit Package that includes on-mountain lodging but always check to make sure the programs you want are included in the package you select since options vary.

Dec 182012
Vermont Ski and Snowboard Resorts are banding together to offer great "learn to" deals in January 2013

Vermont Ski and Snowboard Resorts are banding together to offer great “learn to” deals in January 2013

Thinking about taking the family on a ski trip but worried that not everyone knows how to ski or snowboard?  Don’t worry its never too late — our teens didn’t learn until they were in middle school.  This year, the major Vermont ski resorts are banding together to help make it more affordable that ever to learn to ski.

Specifically, January 2013 will find most of Vermont’s major mountains offering some of their best ever Learn to Ski and Snowboard promotions all month long.  Many resorts will be featuring  a  $29 non-holiday package that includes professional lessons, equipment rentals and a beginner lift ticket.   Registration for the $29 package at any of the participating mountains is available at .   Lessons are available non-holiday while supplies last.

Already know how to ski?  Then bring a friend (or sibling)! You can be entered to win a ski and stay package at Smugglers’ Notch Resort by participating in the nationwide Bring A Friend program.    Beyond the $29 package, most Vermont ski resorts are offering additional lesson and clinic options for those looking to expand their skills.  Here some examples that will work for teens and tweens from across the state:

Bolton Valley Resort

Bolton Valley Resort offers a special Learn to Love It at Bolton Valley Package for first-time adult and teen skiers or riders. The three-day Learn To Love It Program provides three days of beginner lessons. After completing the third day, the new skier or snowboard will receive a Learn To Love It card, entitling the cardholder to 50 percent off of lift tickets, lessons and rentals for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season. The three-day program is $149/person and includes a 90 minute lesson and a full-day limited access lift ticket plus rentals each day.

The Burton Learn To Ride program at Bolton Valley combines advanced equipment, teaching techniques and learning environments for first-timer riders, using Burton-specific learn to ride snowboards.  The Burton Progression Park  is designed to take the park newbie and introduce them to standard park features in a progressive format.

Bromley Mountain

Bromley has redesigned its beginner area and offers a covered carpet lift on sunny south facing terrain known as Sun Mountain.  Bromley is offering its best deals online for both kids and adults this season.   Book your reservation online for the Kidsrule Mountain Camps and save $20! (non-holiday, 48 hour advance booking)  This is a limited offer. You must be within the first 25 bookings for that day to receive discount.

New this season, Bromley’s GET skiing and riding programs for adults and older teens includes  a 90 minute lesson in the learning zone, equipment specially designed for beginner’s success, and a limited lift ticket for easy-to-ride lifts!  Book online and save $10!   Complete a GET lesson and receive a GET Recognition Card for these great incentives:  $25 off Lift Tickets, $15 off Rentals, and $15 off Group Lessons for the remainder of the season!

Killington Resort

Killington Resort provides a great option for getting some individual attentions with its  Max 3 / Max 5 Learn To Ski & Ride programs which guarantees groups of no more than three to five students per class and includes a lesson, rental equipment and a learning area lift ticket. Book a 2-day Learn To package and get a third day free.

Magic Mountain

Magic’s  Learn to Ski and Ride programs for first-timer adults and older teens feature dedicated morning and afternoon instruction for just $129 including the lift ticket.  For the younger set children’s group lessons are $120 all day with ticket.  A full-season “Devo” program is $575.   Magic has many options for adults and children that can all be found at

Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Smugglers’ Notch Resort is offering novice skiers and riders visiting on the Base Package January 6-13, 2013 free daily beginner ski or snowboard two-hour group lessons and rental equipment for their entire stay. Package pricing is $115 per adult and $85 per youth per night.   Throughout the winter Smugglers’ programs for beginning skiers and riders include all-day camps for ages 3-15, two-hour group lessons for ages 6 to adult, private lessons, and parent/child lessons. A Burton Riglet Park with treehouse and mini terrain park features is a fun learning area for snowboarding novices 6 and younger. For those older than 6, Night School for Snowboarding under the lights on the learning slope teaches basic snowboarding skills in a group lesson followed by a practice session with instructors’ support.  All winter, Smugglers’ offers a guarantee that each family member will learn to ski or snowboard or improve their ability level, or the lesson portion of that person’s package will be refunded. (, 855-814-7325)

Stowe Mountain Resort

For the month of January the Big Easy and Stowe for Starters afternoon lesson products will be priced at $29.00 (not including $5 ESC fee) These packages include a 2 hour beginner children’s lesson or 1.5 hour adult beginner lesson, rental package and limited access to lifts (Alpine, Easy Street, Adventure lift). The offer will run Monday 1/07/13 – Thursday 1/31/13 – not including MLK Weekend.

Ski Vermont in 2013

Vermont continues to be one of our favorite winter destinations.  Be sure to bookmark the Ski Vermont site and check often for info on current conditions and deals across the state.

Photo Courtesy Ski Vermont

Dec 042012
Middlebury College Le Chateau classroom and residential building in the snow

Middlebury College Le Chateau classroom and residential building in the snow

Internationally recognized Middlebury College, located in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, is well known for its challenging liberal arts curriculum and its excellence in foreign language studies.  Founded in 1800, the college is home to 2,500 undergraduates from 50 states and dozens of foreign countries.

Many of its students choose Middlebury for the excellent academics combined with the opportunity to spend four years living at a historic  New England campus surrounded by beautiful views of the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks plus unlimited access to all variety of outdoor adventures in any season.  According to Wikipedia, “The campus is known as “Club Midd” because of its bucolic setting and the quality of its recreational and residential facilities.”

If your family vacation or college visit plans bring you to this part of New England during the winter, be sure to save some time to explore the on campus ski options.  Middlebury is one of only a few colleges to own and operate its own nordic and downhill ski areas.  Specifically, the Rikert Nordic Center and the Snow Bowl downhill ski area.   The Middlebury College Snow Bowl has two triple chair lifts and one double and serves 17 trails, plus several gladed areas for skiing and riding in the trees. The mountain’s historic lodge, with a cafeteria and rentals available, was expanded and remodeled in 2003.  Snowmaking makes up for mother nature if needed.

Tweens check out the conditions at the Middlebury College Rikert Nordic Center

Tweens check out the conditions at the Middlebury College Rikert Nordic Center

Just a mile and a half away at the College’s Bread Loaf Campus in Ripton, VT, the Rikert Nordic Center offers 42 KM of trails on unspoiled land in the Green Mountain National Forest  and operates in partnership with the USDA-Forest Service

The Rikert Center has been recently upgraded with the addition of a new internationally recognized 5 KM championship level trail that has been certified for competition at the highest level by skiing’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Ski (FIS).  The center  has completely renovated the lodge  and offers hearty food and first quality rental skis and snowshoes.

The Rikert Center is open for recreational as well as competitive cross country skiers and serves as the base of operations for the college’s Nordic Ski team.  It will also host a number of special events this winter including the Middlebury College winter carnival ski race in February, Adaptive Ski days, half marathon ski races and snowshoe races.

Both the Rikert Center and the Snow Bowl are in first rate condition and offer family friendly on campus skiing, snowboarding and even snowshoe adventures at affordable prices.  Any wintertime visit to Middlebury College and the surrounding area requires at least a half day of skiing to really understand what makes this such a special area all year round.

Rikert Center photo courtesy the Rikert Center, used with permission, copyright 2012, Brett Simison

Middlebury College photo courtesy Wikimedia

Nov 252012

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, New Hampshire’s Cranmore Mountain Resort is continuing to invest in many on and off mountain upgrades that we think will be a big hit with many families, particularly those with tweens and younger teens.  Since 2010, the Resort has seen its new owners invest more than $8 million dollars to create a state-of-the-art New England family ski and summer vacation destination.

New high efficiency snow guns will help Cranmore Mountain Resort open more trails and terrain earlier than ever in 2012

New high efficiency snow guns will help Cranmore Mountain Resort open more trails and terrain earlier than ever in 2012

This year, Cranmore Mountain opened for Thanksgiving, thanks to 60 new high efficiency snow guns that bring the mountain’s total of high-efficiency snow guns to 378, serving 163 acres and 16 miles of terrain. That number is up over 350% since 2008.   The resort has also replaced its 1950s vintage East Double Chairlift with a $1 million, re-positioned triple chair designed to open up much better access to several intermediate and advanced trails and provide additional access to the summit on the east side of the mountain.

Cranmore Mountain Resort started making snow in mid-November 2012

Cranmore Mountain Resort started making snow in mid-November 2012

Simultaneously, the resort is in the final stages of a total makeover of its snowboard terrain parks with a major emphasis on making them more accessible and family friendly. Recognizing that the majority of people who are coming to the mountain to ride are beginners or intermediates, the plan is to transition snowboard park features to be 80 percent beginner-to-intermediate friendly and 20% advanced.  Combined with ongoing investment in the family friendly KidsRule Mountain Camp programs targeting kids 14 and younger, Cranmore Mountain is looking like a great destination for families with tweens that want to learn how to snowboard or ski.

Off the slopes, the Resort has continued to expand its Mountain Adventure Park.  In addition to tubing, the Giant Mountain Swing, the indoor adventure park and the Mountain Coaster, the Resort will be offering winter access to its 700 foot zipline this season.  Combination tickets are available to provide discounted access to all the activities.

The Cranmore Mountain Adventure Park expands with the addition of winter ziplining

The Cranmore Mountain Adventure Park expands with the addition of winter ziplining

Although there is no on-mountain lodging, Cranmore Mountain Resort is located in North Conway, NH in the heart of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley.  This area is one of the best New England family vacation destinations at any time of the year.  The area offers all types of lodging and restaurants to suit  any taste and a variety of Ski and Stay discount packages are available on the Resort’s web site.  The outlet malls and downtown boutiques are a lot of fun too.  If you haven’t visited the area previously, the updates at the Cranmore Mountain Resort are a great excuse to get to know this delightful corner of New Hampshire.   If you haven’t been to visit in a while, its probably time you came back – particularly if you have tweens or younger teens looking to get out on family friendly mountain just 3 hours from Boston.

Photos courtesy of Cranmore Mountain Resort