Taking the Kids: Wisiting ski country in summer when it more affordable
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."
I love ski country in summer, whether in Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, Utah or Lake Tahoe. For one thing, there's a lot to do that doesn't cost any money -- swimming or hiking, for example.
For another, lodging can be a lot cheaper -- you might even be able to splurge on a luxury hotel like the Four Seasons Vail Resort, which seemed family central when we were there, perhaps because they are offering a Vail Getaway (40 percent off room rates). Families love the Four Seasons here because they seem to anticipate every need -- complimentary snacks at the pool; water and granola bars for a hike, free supervised kids activities and even tents in the room for the kids. It's "glamping for the kids," joked Brent Martin, the general manager.
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"You get a lot more for your money," said Melissa Bauman, here from Denver with three kids, as she enjoyed the Four Seasons pool, the mountains as the backdrop.
You'll also likely find a lodging deal, whether you want to be waited on in a luxury hotel or spread out in a condo. The Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont is touting a family package with the second room at 30 percent off. Aspen's Limelight Hotel is touting 25 percent off of stays four nights or longer. VisitParkCity.com has an entire list of lodging options offering 20 percent off this summer. Rates start at just $129 a night at Northstar in Lake Tahoe with their Great Summer Break deal, while Keystone, Colorado, has rates from $109 -- up to 40 percent off.
The kids shouldn't get bored, you either. Wherever you go in ski country, you're likely to find ziplines and alpine coasters, disc golf (as well as plenty of regular courses), bungee trampolines and climbing walls, mountain-biking clinics and all kinds of hikes. (The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, for example, offers several free hikes daily at the top of Aspen Mountain, with a naturalist who can talk about wildflowers and wildlife, as well as Aspen's mining history, fishing opportunities and, depending on where you are, rafting and tubing. Check out the Taking the Kids Summer Fun guide for more ideas.
It won't be as tough to get a restaurant reservation or a spa appointment either. And there's plenty to do that won't cost much -- if anything. For example, there are free concerts in Snowmass, Steamboat and Vail, among other places. Pick up picnic fixings at a local farmer's market!
Keystone Resort, just about 90 minutes from Denver, has several complimentary Kidtopia activities daily -- from making and flying kites to a family-guided hike, face painting, Super Snake River Science (when was the last time you looked for water bugs in a river?)
Waterville Valley's lodging deals at the New Hampshire resort include a Freedom Pass that allows access to a wide variety of activities, including mountain bike rentals, boating, tennis, Curious George story time and more. Don't you love deals that are really value added for families?
What do kids think is the best part of their stay in ski country in summer?
"Everything!" said Kate Le, 7, in Vail with her family.
As it should be on vacation!