A family of avid skiers debates whether the eastern mountains or the western mountains should be their goal for the next perfect vacation.
Negotiating a steep drop into a powdery glade is nothing compared to our family discussions about ski vacation destinations. It is never simple to accommodate the range of age, skiing ability and, frankly speaking, even interest among various family members in a winter alpine destination.
My implacable, steel-willed desire to assure annual family time on the mountain and some creative planning, however, have established family ski holidays as a regular winter rite.
The first major hurdle we contend with is deciding between the hard scrabble conditions in the East or the sunny powdery slopes out West. This, at least, is how my 14-year-old daughter frames the question.
She has been spoiled by the festive spring skiing at numerous premier Western ski addresses, and can’t understand how others might be as happy cruising down fast terrain at Vermont’s Mount Snow (800/245-SNOW) or New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain (888/SKI-WILD), as she has been on the packed powder at Steamboat Springs (877/237-2628) in Colorado and Utah’s Deer Valley (800/424-DEER).
Sunny, Powdery Slopes Out West
Skiing out West has obvious attractions — weather and ski conditions prominent among them. A recent visit to Snowbird (800/232-9542) is Utah is a case in point. We visited late in the season, assuring ourselves of warm weather if not the optimal powder that Snowbird is famed for. I may have missed the absence of lots of fresh snow, but I was alone. My girls, aged 14 and 17, and my 6-year-old son found plenty of enjoyable yet challenging terrain, especially on Bassackwards and the kids funpark off of Bluebell.
This was a “dad” vacation. My wife stayed home. She couldn’t justify the time and expense involved in a western ski outing, no matter how comfortable the lodging or warm the fireplace.
There have been notable exceptions to her rule, however, which have convinced her to make the trek with the rest of us. The most recent was a vacation to Deer Valley and the nearby Homestead Resort. This is a great place learn how to ski — our oldest took her first runs there when she was 4 — or to gain confidence on well-groomed slopes and trails. There is none of the intimidating, larger than life terrain that I find so appealing at Park City or Snowbird, but which intimidates my wife and kids. The only thing you show off at Deer Valley is your outfit.
What sold my wife on a Utah ski holiday, however was our stay at the Homestead (888/327-7220), a four-season property a half-hour drive from Deer Valley. Great food and private, well-appointed if not luxurious accommodations, in a scenic valley more than compensated for the travel and expense. Better yet, I was able to satisfy my kids’ seemingly irreconcilable demands for both a ski and swimming holiday.
The skiing part in Utah is easy. And so is the scuba diving… at the Homestead, which features an 80-foot-deep hot spring entered through a tunnel carved out of a rock dome. The Homestead Crater is a 55-foot tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock that nature has hollowed out and filled with 90°F to 96°F water. You can go swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling or enjoy a therapeutic soak. The Homestead Crater attracts many diving enthusiasts and those wishing to get certified in a comfortable environment.
After a day on the slopes, my 6-year-old was able to paddle around with a small regulator and a life vest, which he tried mightily to overcome in his effort to follow us to the bottom.
Tough, Hardscrabble Conditions of the East
However as much the West snows beckon, there is something about a ski vacation in New England that cannot be found elsewhere. For Washingtonians there is the obvious cost and logistic advantage of getting in the car, or flying for 90 minutes on Southwest to the small, efficient airport in Manchester, New Hampshire.
In order to mobilize support for one trip, we arranged to share a condo outside North Conway, New Hampshire with family friends from Silver Spring.
The kids were able to ski together at Attitash (800/223-SNOW) and Black Mountain (800/698-4490) both of which are small enough to assuage parental concerns about letting kids loose on unfamiliar turf. They prized their time away from parents on the slopes and apres ski. My wife even donned skis with our friends for a couple of hours, and I enjoyed skiing the trails at Mt. Cranmore (800/SUN-N-SKI) where I spent much of my youth.
Last year we undertook a variation on this theme, renting a house down the road from Vermont’s Mt.Snow with Boston-area cousins. The kids were happy to spend time with family, both on the slopes and playing pool next to the incongruously placed hot tub in the basement. The snow last year was more in keeping with Colorado. We had mounds of new, powdery flakes, and as my 14-year-old will gladly attest, none of the hardpack or ice that she detests.
We’re still debating about our destination for this season. I, for one, am looking at the Laurentians!
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