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Taking the Kids: Wisiting ski country in summer when it more affordable

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Ready to do something different on vacation? Maybe you want to soar more than two miles 300 feet above the valley floor with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop?

How about making your way up 36 feet on an outdoor rock-climbing wall?

Hike one of Colorado's famous Fourteeners -- one of the 50-plus mountains that rise more than 14,000 feet -- hike to Vail's famous Back Bowls through a sea of wildflowers or mountain bike on miles of trails. Welcome to Vail in summer.

U.S. travelers are wild for the west, according to TripAdvisor's new Seasonal Attractions Trend Index for summer, and they're seeking nature attractions and looking to explore the outdoors.

Try a ropes course or the alpine coaster. "The ropes course was really challenging and a little scary -- in a good way," said Riley Knowles, visiting with her family from Greely, Colorado.

Her younger brother, Creed, 6, added that the Little Eagle kids' zipline "was the best!"

The second summer of Epic Discovery, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Nature Conservancy Vail, has upped the vacation quotient for even the youngest adventurers (there is also a mini adventure course).

The hope is that kids and adults will learn about the mountain ecosystem throughout their adventure. And this summer, Vail is offering kids the opportunity to get to the top of the mountain and Adventure Ridge free on the gondola when riding with an adult.

At the top of the mountain, families are eating barbecue and burgers in the sun and the kids are on the mini ropes course, trampoline and tubing hill. Some are in the Walking Mountains Science Center, which offers a variety of interactive activities. How about matching animal tracks or scat (the plastic kind) to the animal? Check out the free nature hikes daily and full-day backcountry hikes (ask about pricing) for those who want an immersive nature experience -- and an 8- to 15-mile hike.

While my daughter Mel and her boyfriend were off mountain biking, we opted for a guided five mile hike on the Ptarmigan Loop at an altitude of over 11,000 feet to Vail's famous Back Bowls. After skiing here several times over the years, the mountain looks a lot different in the summer. "The back side of the mountain is my favorite," said Maria Magana, our guide. "It's less crowded and a better wilderness experience."

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