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Family Resorts for Winter Adventure

By Jason Lathrop - October 4th, 2001

The snowshoeing boom is here. A low-cost, low-stress alternative to alpine skiing, snowshoeing is an activity everyone in the family can enjoy. Most destination resorts with a snowshoe program saw their rental and guided trip business double ever year through the late 1990s. As a result, facilities and offerings have expanded to include organized day hikes, groomed trails, and more ambitious guided overnight trips. Here's a list of destination resorts that cater to family winter adventures.

Grouse Mountain Resort: Vancouver, British Columbia

The Lowdown: For snowshoers, Grouse Mountain offers two major upsides: copious coastal snowfall and the weak Canadian dollar. Call it more snow for your buck, literally. About 15 minutes (in good traffic) north of Vancouver, Grouse Mountain has one of the most active snowshoeing programs in North America. More than 10 kilometers of groomed trails provide adequate terrain for beginners and an expansive backcountry area can keep experienced snowshoers interested.

Eccentricities: They call themselves the "winter wonderland" -- a claim pretty well supported, actually, considering the tram, sleigh rides, ice skating pond, and mountain-top dining restaurant. Also, look into the Dam Bigfoot Snowshoe Challenge, a foot race on snowshoes up nearby Mount Dam and back down again (held February 24).

Lodging: Grouse Mountain itself doesn't offer accommodations, but the area is close enough to civilization to find everything from a $60 motor inn to a $100 bed and breakfast to pricier five-star hotels in downtown Vancouver. Call for recommendations.

The Dump: Last year, Grouse Mountain received an epic nine meters of snow over the season. More typically they get about four meters. Needless to say, this is a resort for lovers of deep snow, not sunshine.

Phone Number: 604-984-0661
Directions: From downtown Vancouver, cross the Lions Gate Bridge, then take a right onto Capitolano Road. Follow Capitolano about 15 minutes to the resort.
Season: December to April

Sun Mountain Resort: Twisp, Washington

The Lowdown: If there's a Mecca for snowshoeing, this is it. Nestled gently in north-central Washington's Methow Valley, Twisp receives colossal dumps of snow from the wet Pacific weather patterns that douse the Puget Sound. But, sitting on the eastern side of the Cascades, just enough of that wet weather gets scraped off to ensure a fair number of sunny days. Combine this with abundant land and nearly, get this, 200 kilometers of groomed trail. Also, Sun Mountain has no lift-serviced skiing, so a calm permeates the entire resort.

Eccentricities: The nearest town, Twisp, still thinks it's a cowboy town, (they paved the roads in like the 1970s). While a bit on the touristy-side, Twisp has not gotten so bad as to be annoying. Decent restaurants and greasy spoons, kitsch, and antiques co-exist mercifully well.

Lodging: The best and only game in town is the Sun Mountain Lodge. Basic hotel-style rooms during high season cost $120 to $250. Deluxe rooms in the Mount Robinson building run closer to $250, but come with jetted Jacuzzis and wet bars. For a more isolated experience, rent a cabin on Patterson Lake (just down the hill from the main lodge). For about $280 you can have a loft, fireplace, firewood, and kitchenette.

The Dump: The region receives periodic massive dumps from the West, but with about 200 to 250 days of sunshine. While snowfall varies widely from year to year, the snow pack averages about three feet for most of high season.

Phone Number: 800-572-0493
Directions: Take 97 North out of Wenatchee. Turn onto 153 North and follow it into Twisp, leave Twisp on Highway 20. Turn up the mountain on Twin Lake road 5.5. miles north of Twisp. Follow signs.
Season: December to March.

Beaver Creek/Vail: Eagle, Colorado

The Lowdown: About a five-minute drive from each other, Beaver Creek and Vail offer two very different snowshoeing experiences. Vail caters to an upscale, more backcountry-oriented crowd with high-end hotels and 40 separate snowshoeing trailheads. Beaver Creek, while no slum, offers a somewhat more affordable and novice-accessible snowshoeing vacation. At Beaver Creek, you ride the regular chairlift up to the trailhead for McCoy Park, a 500-acre, undulating high-country bowl. Generally, flat and crossed with groomed trails, McCoy Park offers much more terrain than the average beginner could consume.

Eccentricities: The Snowshoe Shuffle in April draws a 1,200-person throng, respectable for a snowshoe race. Even better, all proceeds go to support breast cancer awareness programs, making it a race and party for good.

Lodging: Of course, both Vail and Beaver Creek offer excellent lodging and numerous rooms in the $150 to $200 range, as well as substantially more expensive. If cost is an issue, you can find more affordable, motor-inn style rooms in the town of Edwards, only 8 miles away.

The Dump: The valley receives about 250 to 300 inches of snow a year. Note this is light Rocky Mountain snow, as close to idealized powder as you'll find anywhere. The term "blue bird" had to get invented in the Rockies.

Phone Number: 907-845-5313
Directions: Fly into Denver or Eagle (30 miles away) and take a shuttle, operated every half hour by the ski area to both resorts.
Season: December through late March

Spring Creek Ranch: Jackson, Wyoming

The Lowdown: You've heard of Jackson Hole's notoriously steep Teton ski area. Just up the valley from the town of Jackson you'll find Spring Creek, a Western-style ranch with snowshoes instead of horses. With 10K of snowshoeing trails, the area provides adequate challenge for most beginners. The word here, ultimately, is comfort, with a four-star restaurant on site and lavish, Western-style rooms. You won't find solitude in short supply either, since Spring Creek sits a good 20-minute drive from the adrenaline-charged crowds of Jackson Hole.

Eccentricities: It looks like a dude ranch, but don't plan on anything more cowboy than a horse-drawn sleigh ride and maybe a nice slab of rib eye.

Lodging: Rooms at Spring Creek run $150 to $250, but right next door you can check into a ludicrously upscale lodge called Amangani for a cool $600 to $700 per night. Lots of nice furniture in there, we'd be willing to wager.

The Dump: Go during high season and a lack of snow won't pose a problem. However, Spring Creek sits down in the valley and does receive less snow than Jackson Hole, about 100 to 150 inches in most season.

Phone Number: 307-733-8833
Directions: Fly into Jackson, and then take highway 22 for five miles out of town. Turn onto Spring Creek Road and follow signs.
Season: December to April

Bretton Woods Resort: Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The Lowdown: Tucked away across the valley from Mount Washington, Bretton Woods hosts about as much Northeastern gentility and ferocious winter weather as you could ever want. Smack in the middle of the White Mountain National Forest, there's plenty of space to stretch your legs, should the 100 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski and snowshoe trails prove insufficient.

Eccentricities: The Mount Washington Hotel, build originally in the 19th century, has been winterized and opened again to skiers and snowshoers, for the first time since 1902. No exaggeration the place is a marvel, one of the last great hotels from the era before Florida became Manhattan's favorite vacation spot.

Lodging: Of course you'll pay for the privilege of staying in one the nation's last great hotels, up to $700 for a suite. If you go at the right time and dicker, some rooms will go for as little as $90. Fear not, though, plenty of motor inns and other budget options abound in the area if cost is an issue.

The Dump: When snow comes to cold New Hampshire, it tends to stay. The sad part is it doesn't always come in especially large amounts. The region gets between 150 and 200 inches of snow, most of which packs quickly.

Phone Number: 603-278-5000
Directions: From Manchester or Boston, take I93 north for about three hours. Take Route 3 to Route 302, turn onto 302 and proceed seven miles. There's no public transportation.
Season: December to February

Okemo Resort: Ludlow, Vermont

The Lowdown: Vermont, of course, gets points among snowshoers for its pastoral countryside and resistance to billboards. For an aesthetically pure experience in the northeast, Vermont remains the state to beat. Okemo, a lift-serviced ski area, with a strong emphasis on Nordic and snowshoeing maintains about 10K of groomed, dedicated snowshoe trails. However, these trails link into the Vermont Area Snow Travelers network of trails (yes, that's V.A.S.T.), which links into the Catamount Trail, which connects to the Longs TrailÉ you get the point, if you're not careful, you'll end up snowshoeing back to New York.

Eccentricities: A few times a year, Okemo hosts a fireworks and hot chocolate snowshoeing evening. Join groups of up to a 100 people (usually the rental shop sells out) for an evening hike up to a nearby hill and watch a full-scale fireworks display while sipping free hot chocolate.

Lodging: Okemo visitors can stay in the full range of typical ski resort accommodations, everything from $60 motor lodges a few miles away to $150 slope-side hotel rooms to $600 a night condominiums for 8.

The Dump: In a typical season, Okemo gets about 150 inches of snow. We're not talking North Cascades scale snowpacks here, but enough to snowshoe. It tends to linger given the wickedly cold Vermont winters.

Phone Number: 800-786-5366
Directions: Fly into Hartford, take I91 north to Route 103. Take 103 24 miles to Ludlow, Okemo is right outside of town.
Season: December to February

Boyne Highlands Resort: Harbour Springs, Michigan

The Lowdown: With hardwood and deciduous trees, slate gray skies, a rolling horizon, Boyne Highlands offers classic Midwestern snowshoeing. What it lacks in vast tracks of craggy public land and mountainous terrain, it makes up for in classic winter country feel. Throw in some friendly locals, and you've got the perennial northern experience.

Eccentricities: Boyne has a specialized "tubing area" where kids can slide down hill on inner tubes. If snowshoeing is your low-impact family activity for a mixed group of kids, tubing might make for a fun afternoon of slightly elevated heart rates.

Lodging: The Boyne company has resorts in more than one state, emphasizing wilderness areas. You'll find their services professional and courteous, if a bit, well, big. The Boyne Highlands Resort has 1,000 rooms ranging in price from $150 to $450 a night.

The Dump: For low country, the Midwest gets a tremendous amount of snow, good news for snowshoers. The quality varies and a warm snap can lower the pack quickly, but you won't go without.

Phone Number: 800-GO-BOYNE
Directions: From Detroit, drive to Traver City, then take Route 31 north for an hour to Harbour Springs.
Season: November to March

Grand Geneva Resort: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

The Lowdown: The snow at Grand Geneva can be a little hit or miss (last year they barely had any). But when it does dump solidly, the area provides civilized Midwestern snowshoeing at its best. You won't find a backcountry experience or deep wilderness awaiting, instead the rolling, open slopes of the golf course and a nearby state park.

Eccentricities: Kettle Moraine, a state park formed by the deposition of glaciers during the last ice age, hosts a slightly more wild snowshoeing experience, but still mellow -- the sort of refined day of snowshoeing ideal before evening drinks.

Lodging: Grand Geneva is a landlocked, self-contained cruise-ship, with 355 guest rooms ranging from standard to suites and villa units. Prices range from $149 to $179 for a standard double; and on up to $329 for a suite or villa.

The Dump: Snow is a crapshoot at Geneva -- you might see none, you might need snowshoes to get back out to your car. But when the snow's good, it's cold, fluffy Midwestern good stuff.

Phone Number: 800-558-3417
Directions: Fly into Milwaukee and take about a 50 minute drive to the resort. Follow I-90 to I-43, then exit at to Route 12. Follow 12 into the resort.
Season: January

Alpine Meadows: Tahoe City, California

The Lowdown: The folks at Alpine Meadows aren't really even sure how many miles of snowshoeing trail they have. Suffice it to say, it's a lot -- about 100 different, marked and groomed trails. For beginners, an area called the Lower 40 makes a mellow venue for off-trail, but safely contained backcountry snowshoeing. It's walking distance from the slope-side lodge.

Eccentricities: A particularly shy species of Pine Martens, once thought to have vanished from the area, has recently been rediscovered. You might spot one on a moonlight snowshoe if you move quietly.

Lodging: Locals go to the Stanford Alpine Chalet right at the base for apres snowshoeing cocktails. It's intimate (that is to say, small) and very hospitable. Rooms go for as low as $50, but more typically closer to $75.

The Dump: There's a reason you've heard of Tahoe, and it isn't the gambling. The snow here comes in fluffy, powdery buckets, about 450 inches each season.

Phone Number: 800-441-4423 or 800-949-3296
Directions: Fly into Reno Airport. Go west on 80 for 40 miles, and take the Alpine Meadows turn off just shy of Donner Pass. Sacramento is an hour and half West of Alpine Meadows, also along 80.
Season: December-March

Mammoth Mountain: Mammoth lakes, California

The Lowdown: With about 10 miles of groomed snowshoeing trails, five on the hill and five down at the Nordic center, Mammoth can keep most beginning snowshoers interested. Advanced snowshoers and backcountry fiends, however, could pretty much entertain themselves forever among the craggy peaks, Jeffrey Pines, and White Fir of the Inyo National Forest sprawling off behind the resort.

Eccentricities: With about half of the lift-served areas runs above tree line, snowshoers can get a quick and easy hit of high-country snowshoeing in the margins of the main area. Experience the altitude, cold, and unchecked winds of the upper reaches of the mountain without so much risk.

Lodging: Slope-side lodging tend to run midscale $129 or so for a standard hotel room. Also available is a wider range of alpine-style condominiums and suites running up to as much as $400 for a two bedroom that sleeps thirteen. The town of Mammoth Lakes is only four miles from the main lodge, however, and has the usual gamut of traveler hotels and motor in.

The Dump: A full 383 inches of light Sierra powder (well, mostly powder) falls annually on average, more snow than anyone really deserves, probably.

Phone Number: 800-MAMMOTH
Directions: Fly into the Reno airport, and drive180 miles south on Highway 395. Take the Route 203/Mammoth Lakes exit, and proceed north on 203 about five miles to Mammoth Lakes.
Season: January through March


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