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Advice Wanted: Our First Family Ski Trip? (Northeast) [from 2011-12]

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 

I'm trying to decide whether to spend the $$$ this winter on a family ski trip.  Background:  three kids, ages 12, 10 and 7.5.  Older two have been skiing for a few years, but still rely mostly on the wedge to get down the mountain -- not confident on aggressive blues.  Youngest has been on bunny hill a couple of times.  I have to rely on getting them out to Catamount on the weekends (an hour from our house in the Hudson Valley), and last season was mostly a bust due to other weekend activities, colds and church commitments -- oldest only got out twice, middle one three times.  I didn't ski at all since I was with the little one on the bunny slope.  (wife does not ski)


I want this season to be different, and in addition to getting out on more weekends, I am thinking of laying down some cash to do a weekend at a resort over one of the long holiday weekends -- most likely Presidents' Day.  I want something with a lot of other activities in case the kids get bored (e.g. tubing, sleigh rides), that my wife might do (e.g., snowshoeing) or that my wife might take the kids to do so I could get out on the slopes alone. 


At first I was thinking of Okemo, but worry that that the mountain is too big for what we need and that the crowds from Boston and NYC would be unbearable.  Maybe Gore Moutnain?  But I worry not enough activities and not a real resort feel.  Then I cam across Holiday Valley, which seemed nice and more like a traditional "ski village" type resort.  Then I go back and think that the $$$ might be better spent on private lessons at a local mountain. 


Any opinions or suggestions?  Anyone face this conundrum before?  Is the cash worth it for the convenience of being next to the slopes?  After all, I am only an hour from Catamount, and not much further to Hunter, Wyndham or Bellayre.


Thanks for any advice.

post #2 of 45

Go to Quebec. It's a whole different country. They even speak funny. And you can drive there. It will truly feel like a vacation to an exotic locale. But they'll understand your language and they'll feed you Poutine. I'm being serious, but trying to be funny.

post #3 of 45


Originally Posted by Sinecure View Post

Go to Quebec. It's a whole different country. They even speak funny. And you can drive there. It will truly feel like a vacation to an exotic locale. But they'll understand your language and they'll feed you Poutine. I'm being serious, but trying to be funny.

Jay Peak?  They'll have the new water park open by then.  If my 6y/o is any indication: waterpark > skiing...even on a "ski vacation."


Plus, everyone there is from a whole different country...a country that likes Poutine.  I'm also being serious, but trying to be funny. 



post #4 of 45

I've never been to Holiday Valley, everybody seems to like it, but is as farther than northern VT.  It might be as crowded as Okemo on holiday weekends. Gore and Jay Peak are both skiing only kind of places.  There's much going on in terms of other activities and nightlife.  Canada has different holidays so it should be less crowded, and POUTINE.



post #5 of 45

just reading the first few lines I was thinking holiday valley would be perfect but that is quite a drive from where you are.  I ski there a few times a week and is a nice hill and is laid out extremely well.  Ellicotville is quite nice in the winter time and less than 2 hours from Niagara Falls.  They do have a tube run about 10 minutes away from the resort.  I am not sure about sleigh rides or snow shoeing though.

post #6 of 45

Smuggler's Notch in Vermont is always highly touted for Family vacations. Lots to do on and off hill.

post #7 of 45

If you have to go President's week or any other standard Mass/NY school vacation time, then you might want to avoid places like Okemo or Smuggs - the crowds and expense could kill an otherwise good time.  Quebec is a great alternative.  I've driven the family all the way to Quebec City on Pres week vacations but that's a long haul and there are other hills just over the border when you go up 91 in VT that could be good for a long weekend - Owls Head and Sutton have been recommended but I've never been there.  Or "second tier" VT resorts like Burke or Pico that will still blow Catamount away.  Also Whiteface could be a good spot for a holiday weekend - they seem to never get the same level of insane crowds that you'd find at Okemo/Smuggs/Stratton, and there's plenty of non-ski alternatives in Lake Placid or outdoors (snowshoeing or XC ).


post #8 of 45

Weekends at any of the NE resorts will be very busy/crowded.  I understand your thought of looking for a "smaller feel", but I would suggest that you toss that idea out the window -- any of the resorts that are "family oriented" are trying to cater to people in your demographic.  Many places will have plenty of activities in and around the resort to keep everyone happy -- once you pick a place, I recommend doing some homework, so you can plan to take advantage of these activities. I have never skied in Quebec, but I have heard a lot of good things about the vibe and pro-family aspect.  I have been to most of the ski areas in New England, and most will satisfy your needs.  Smugglers Notch is great for families, but I have not been there in several years.  For holiday weekends, I have usually taken my family to Sunday River and stayed in one of the ski in/ski out condos -- not cheap, but gives everybody in the family a ton of flexibility.

post #9 of 45
Thread Starter 

Thanks everybody -- this has been helpful.  I researched Lake Placid and some of the others today.  Based on another thread, I also looked at Stowe (seems really expensive), and Sugarloaf (seems ideal, but pretty far).  And despite the allure of poutine (which my kids can't have due to allergies) I think we'll hold off on Quebec for now.


Lake Placid is looking better -- some relatively inexpensive places to stay (we need a kitchen due to the kids' allergies) and lots of extracurriculars.


Thanks again!

post #10 of 45


Originally Posted by Daveski7 View Post

Smuggler's Notch in Vermont is always highly touted for Family vacations. Lots to do on and off hill.

I concur. Smugg's has great terrain, good atmosphere, and is usually over looked to neighboring Stowe (read less crowded). The down side is the lifts are notoriously slow. Smugg's offers a three mountain setup and one of those is primarily a beginner's mountain. There rates are usually pretty good as compared to the more popular resort destinations. Lastly there is a ton of off hill stuff to do, cross country skiing, hockey/skating, pool, an indoor kid zone, and a teen zone where teenagers meet up and I guess play video games. To me this sounds just like what you are looking for.

post #11 of 45

when researching places to stay check out www.tripadvisor.com


you can also search wilmington, ny which is close to the ski resort, far enough out of town to be cheaper



being more of a lodgey feel they may give you access to the kitchen area.  great people!


Lake placid is nice but conditions are spotty.  The last 2x I went it wasn't the best while VT was gettting hammered with snow.  Try to avoid Gore which is strictly a ski place with not much to do afterwards.  Lake George turns into a ghost town in the winter time.




post #12 of 45

I would think that programs for the kids are going to be more important to your enjoyment than who has the best conditions. I have never taken kids to Smugglers Notch but YOU are the person for whom they have built their specialty. I would look into the programs there. In addition, Smugglers had a surprising range and diversity of terrain up to very high quality areas to keep experts challenged.


I have been to Whiteface and Lake Placid many times - I had a season pass there for 2 years as I had regular business trips to the area. Except for the tops of the mountains where you get wind effects blowing off the snow and giving "iceface" its nick name, conditions are usually quite good throughout the winter. I have seen some all day and half day kids programs but never looked into the details. They have a big beginner area with several trails and some easier terrain when the older kids "graduate" to the big hills. The main advantage is the town which is great for kids, and non-skiers (and skiers too). It is very interesting, nice, and has a ton of choices of activities.

post #13 of 45

Get the kids some ski lessons. A great way for them to meet other kids their age/ability and they will also enjoy the extra confidence their improved technique will give them.

post #14 of 45

I agree with vsirin and Dano.  What fun is a big mountain if the kids can't really enjoy it?  The key to improvement is signing your kids up for regular weekly lessons, so skiing becomes a regularly scheduled activity (just like soccer and piano and...).  I've only skied Catamount once, so I don't know much about their lesson plans.  However, the Sunday 3:30 p.m. group lessons at Jiminy Peak are a great deal.  In my experience, there are never more than 4 kids in a group, and the groups are usually only 2-3 kids--it's almost a private lesson.  Get a Jiminy value card for each child, go ski every Sunday afternoon and have the kids take a lesson. 


The Sunday afternoon group lessons at Jiminy would also be a great option for your wife.  That's where my wife learned to ski.  She did the Sunday group lessons for an entire season.  My wife had her own (private) instructor all but once or twice for the price of a group lesson.


The Jiminy value card isn't a big investment, so you could still ski at Catamount as well.


After one year with season passes at Jiminy, we were ready to move on to Gore, which is where we've had our season passes for the past 4 years (including this year).


Also, FYI, Gore offers "camps" for kids during winter break and Presidents Day week.  Check it out on their web site, it's usually 2-3 consecutive days of lessons/skiing with a group + instructor (so you will get an opportunity to do some skiing w/o the little one).  Throw in a couple of nights at the Great Escape Lodge (Northway exit 20--about 45 min from Gore door-to-door) and you've got a fun winter vacation.  Spend the remaining 2-3 nights someplace cheaper.  Other options to pair with Gore for the holiday week might be:








However, if you're willing to spend the $, it's hard to beat the kids programs (including after-ski activities) they have at Smugglers Notch.  My only warning to you is that a holiday week at smugs can be pricy.


Good luck deciding.



post #15 of 45

Not much to add, except Easter comes relatively early in 2012, on Apr 8.  Do your kids have a long weekend then? 

You might still find decent skiing then to the far north such as Jay, Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, Stowe, Bretton Woods, etc.  Search this website for best eastern spring skiing areas.

In early April many northeastern ski areas will be closed, but those die-hard places still open will have low crowds, low prices, and kid-friendly weather.  You could pick destination at last minute for best conditions and deals.

I took a family trip to Quebec a few years ago at Easter time and had a great vacation:




post #16 of 45

I've done Whiteface on holiday weekends several times. Lake Placid is fun. It will likely be cold, windy and icy unless it is snowing, in which case it will be awesome. I've never really had in between. I would say its pretty good for beginners, since they have a nice area by the ski school and a small area at the main base that are pretty well segregated with dedicated lifts. I've skied them many times at the end of the day and when there are wind holds, which are not infrequent, and they are fun to lap if you have an instructor and don't have to wait in line. Last time we were there they had a ski cross run set up at the base and the kids loved it. The top of the mountain blues and blacks and the Wilmington Trail on Lookout Mountain are not for the faint of heart, especially if the snow isn't soft. On icy days the intermediate trails get pretty crowded because the blacks are hard and a lot of the nicer blues are relatively narrow. They do have a problem with coverage on the blue trails, even when they are making snow, because its fairly unprotected and there is always some kind of wind and the lower intermediate trails are kind of superhighways to the base lifts. They get skied off really fast if it isn't snowing. The base is often real ice because they do get rain cycles there, so the coverage can sometimes just slide right off after the first runs of the day. Don't be fooled by the Wilmington Trail blue designation. It is a long, beautiful trail but it is composed of flats and steeps with a nice drop off the left side, and it isn't particularly wide. Don't get me wrong, I really like it, but I figure they get the blue designation from averaging green and black. 


Bottom line, its a cool place and its awesome when the snow is dumping, its pretty good for beginners, but its not a gentle intermediate ski mountain and the conditions are pretty variable but tending toward icy and hard with a bit of a wind problem for accessing the upper mountain. Doesn't mean you shouldn't go, but you should be aware. One of the reasons I started my family skiing there was that I figured if they could handle that place they could handle anywhere. Last Christmas at Solitude they had had a short spell without snow before we arrived. Our instructor kept apologizing for the "icy" patches. My kids just kept laughing. "You call THAT ice?"

post #17 of 45

Definitely do whiteface. It has a great beginners area for your younger one down at the bottom of the mountain. It has excellent glades and the slides are unbelievable if you like those kinds of things. The slides are quite steep and I would only do it if you are mid to high advanced. It`s also extremely cheap to go if you go on a ski and stay plan. I know the crown plaza in Lake Placid has a 109$ deal midweek and 149$ deal weekends in season if you plan to go before christmas or in and after spring break it`s 89$ midweek and 129$ weekend. These are per night per person but at 76$ a lift ticket it`s actually quite a good deal. The crown plaza is my favorite hotel in Lake Placid but the Golden Arrow is quite good as well. The town of Lake placid is amazing for kids though it has all the olympic sites. As well if you want a one and a life time experience they have the original bobsled track which you can go on with a pro bobsled racer. Haven`t done it but it`s should be amazing. There`s also a sledding hill that goes on to the lake and skating on the lake. Back to whiteface though it is an amazing hill and the ice is there but not even as close as bad as people say it is. I went in March and had a couple of inches every day and one day with 5. There are amazing cruisers , glades, and some steeps but nothing like out west but probably some of the best in the east. Overall it`s my favorite mountain in the East. Sorry it`s so long I can go on and on about it.

post #18 of 45

I've been skiing at Whiteface since I was about 14, coming up from Virginia for a week every Spring.  My wife likes Whiteface because she is more or less a beginner, but there is plenty of terrain for her.  My mother is a terrible skier but there are tons of greens for her as well.  I can bomb for a bit while they cruise then we all meet up.  I thought crowds got bad until I tried Stowe and Hunter.  I will not return to those.  Let me know if you are curious about places.  I've stayed almost everywhere in LP, have eaten everywhere, and like the place so much that we're moving back.

post #19 of 45

I'm going to put another word in for Smugglers Notch.  My wife and I went there last January and there are a lot of activities to do.  While we don't have kids, I could see that the resort really catered to families and has a lot for kids (and parents) to do.  The skiing is also excellent, with everything from long intermediate cruisers to tree skiing, to some of the nastiest looking trails I've ever seen.  All the units at Smugglers Notch have kitchens and you may be able to find a good deal on a site like Redweek.com since many of the units are timeshares.  

post #20 of 45

I know you already said no to it, but I want to add another recommendation for Quebec - specifically, Mont Tremblant.  90 minutes North of Montreal, so not *that* far from you.

My wife and I took a sleigh ride and went dogsledding while there.

Tubing, ice skating, snowshoeing?  I would presume so.  The activities office had a long list of choices.  There is a spa, if your wife is into that.

Some (like my wife and I) would call the village charming.  Admittedly, others would call it "fake" or "Disneyfied".

Anyway, I'm just saying, there's a reason why Ski magazine ranks it #1 in the East every single year.  (Speaking of which, the resort rankings issue should be out sometime around now - grab a copy and it will probably help with your decision.)

Downsides to Tremblant:  The exchange rate isn't as good now as in years past, and when we were there (January, about 5 or so years ago) the temps at night were downright brutal.


post #21 of 45
Thread Starter 

Thanks again everyone, all this info is very helpful -- this is a great forum board.  I appreciate everyone taking the time to respond.




post #22 of 45

We looked into a similar trip with our 2 kids (ages 5 and 7) and decided on Smuggs after a great deal of research.  Ski in-out accommodations, lots of kid-oriented activities, things tossed in for "free" as part of the package, variety of terrain.  One notable thing is for a very small increase in the package rate, you get all-day daycare for little tykes, which include ski lessons.  Youths (a bit older) also include half-day ski lessons.  Jay Peak has daycare but it's just inside, no actual time out onside skis.  We felt it important for our kids to have time on skis, not just supervision indoors.  This way they'd benefit from time on the hill (plus actual lessons included).  After all, if it's a ski trip, why get stuck inside, especially if you're a kid?


Call Smuggs, they're extremely helpful, courteous, and accommodating.  Top notch, I highly recommend for family trip.  Book early and they have some great discounts going on now.

post #23 of 45

In terms of family atmosphere and kids programs/activities, you can't go wrong with Smuggs.  It will be very crowded though.


As an alternative, I'd like to suggest North Conway, NH.  It's a bit further than most places suggested, but I did see Sugarloaf mentioned, so it's not the furthest.  It will have everything you're looking for for the family, with a few different skiing options.  I would suggest Black Mt, and I can almost guarantee that you won't have an overcrowding issue.

post #24 of 45

It was mentioned once above, but let me suggest Pico.  Lots of great novice terrain from the lower quad, great family atmosphere, and low prices (by Vermont standards).  You have access to all the activities at Killington and can save some money on lodging by staying in Rutland and driving up each morning.

post #25 of 45

First off if you have the money do it.  The payoff potential is a family activity that can last the rest of your lives.  


Due to crowds I would shy away from some of the bigger names of ski areas mentioned in the NE USA (Canada is different because they do not have the same Holiday and it is an adventure if you can make the drive to Quebec, but that is a long drive).  A smaller place will seem much more accessible for the whole family and not seem so overwhelming as a large ski resort bursting at the seams President's Day Week.  


Attitash in NH is just outside North Conway and there is reasonable slopeside lodging.  In this economy I would definitely haggle even on President's Day week.  The mountain is relatively empty and Bear Peak has lots of nice cruisers.  Not sure what else is right at the mountain, but worth checking out as there are activities there in the summer.


Great Restaurants in the area and lots of outlet shopping in North Conway. Town of Jackson, Pinkham Notch, Franconia Notch are all worth visiting.  


Another area to check for slopeside lodging is Cranmore which has just invested a lot of money into development.

post #26 of 45
Originally Posted by Maineac View Post

Another area to check for slopeside lodging is Cranmore which has just invested a lot of money into development.

What's the skiing like at Cranmore?  I've only seen it in the summer and it seemed plenty steep - because I was running up it and then back down.  For a family staying in N. Conway the location couldn't be easier - it's basically in town.  Dunno about slopeside lodging but we stayed at nice B&B that was an easy walk or short drive to the base of Cranmore - the Spruce Moose - that also had cottages for rent with full kitchens that would be good for a family.  And of course there's not just Cranmore but also the many other areas nearby.  

post #27 of 45

To be honest the last time I skied Cranmore the skimobile was still running-probably 1970.  Enjoyable family stuff, but not steep.

post #28 of 45
Thread Starter 

Thanks -- the wife and I actually honeymooned at the Inn at Thorn Hill in Jackson back in October 1995.  A family ski trip would be a great excuse to get back up there.



post #29 of 45

If you get up to NH, there is no mountain more fun (for skiers of all levels) than Wildcat. I was there with some little ones a few years ago when they were low intermediates - had a ton on fun and saw a moose on the drive back to N. Conway. I think that Bretton Woods also has some good children's all day programs.

post #30 of 45

If you head up to Pinkham Notch, you have to hit Wildcat then. Cold mountain but great conditions, terrain, and views of Mount Washington. The skiing there is very underrated IMO.

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