Travel

Your Guide to Skiing 2017

Whole family like to ski? There’s a mountain for that.

Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont offers diverse terrain for skiers of all abilities as well as many family-friendly off-slope activities.
Okemo Mountain Resort
Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont offers diverse terrain for skiers of all abilities as well as many family-friendly off-slope activities.

Thirty years ago, Tim and Diane Mueller designed Okemo Mountain Resort in southern Vermont with their two young children in tow. Today, as grandparents of three, they ski the mountain with their extended family.

“Tim and I have watched each of our grandchildren ski for the first time,” Diane says. “Now we try to keep up with them. At the end of the day, there is always dinner together to share stories and make more memories.”

The Muellers might be a more avid ski family than most, but they’re not alone in wanting to bring three generations together for an on-mountain winter vacation.

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“There definitely appears to be an increase in multi-generational family skiing,” says Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations at Okemo. “Our largest lodging units are always the first to be booked, and lift-ticket sales are robust across all age categories.”

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According to the National Ski Areas Association, the number of skiers ages 55 and up has roughly doubled in the past decade. “It’s only natural that people who discovered skiing in the middle of the 20th century and raised their families on the slopes, are now introducing their grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, to the sport,” says MacPherson.

But satisfaction doesn’t always come easy when you’re trying to please everyone. Experts agree that choosing the right destination is key, with plenty of activities and a variety of lodging choices.

Here are three top New England ski resorts that throw out their welcome mats for skiers of all ages.

Sunday River

Newry, Maine, 800-543-2754; www.sundayriver.com

There’s a lot to like about this resort, with eight interconnected mountains, and 135 developed trails spread across 870 acres. (There’s also another whopping 2,000 acres within the resort’s boundaries for off-piste, backcountry skiing and boarding.) It’s big and varied, with 30 percent green circle beginner trails, 36 percent blue square intermediate trails, 18 percent black diamond expert trails, and 16 percent double black diamond trails. But what really makes this New England resort a standout (and a favorite among skiing families) is how easy it is to get around the mountains, skiing from one peak to the next. The layout of trails and lift placements are the best, and most intuitive, in the East. This means that your hot shot teen and Grandpa can rip down Emerald City and Poppy Fields in Oz; Grandma and the toddlers can cruise Dream Maker off the North Peak, and Dad and Mom can schuss up and down Ecstasy off Barker Mountain, and after a few runs, they can all meet up at the North Peak Lodge for hot chocolate (and killer views.) Most peaks also offer an easy way down, which makes it great for groups with varied abilities who want to start out together, take different trails, and then meet back up at a specific base.

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Lodging: You can’t beat the ski-in, ski-out convenience of Sunday River’s resort hotels: the Grand Summit Hotel and the Jordan Hotel. Both have easy access to the slopes, an outdoor heated pool (a major plus with kids), and hotel-style amenities (think: Wi Fi, concierge services, on-site restaurants). The Grand Summit has a range of options from standard rooms to suites with kitchens. We prefer Jordan Hotel, with three-bedroom units and full kitchens, because it’s newer and sits at the base of Jordan Bowl, at the highest elevation of Sunday River’s lodgings.

Off-slope activities: Last time we visited, we took a day off the slopes. Half the family went on a dogsledding trip with Mahoosuc Guide Service, and the other half rented snowmobiles from Northeast Snowmobile & ATV Rentals to traverse deep forest trails and climb slopes to a warming cabin overlooking the western Maine mountain range. We got together that evening, and, over dinner, traded stories of our adventures. There’s also ice skating and snow tubing at the resort, and close-by cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along the picturesque Androscoggin River. Board the Chondola for a trip up to Peak Lodge for special themed dinners held throughout the winter season. Kids’ Night Out is every Saturday, January through mid-March (and Wednesday during vacation weeks). While the kids enjoy pizza and a movie, drive to the nearby town of Bethel to have dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants, like 22 Broad Street (great Italian!)

Okemo Mountain Resort

Ludlow, Vt., 800-786-5366; www.okemo.com

This long-loved resort in southern Vermont knows what families want. Access to lessons and day care? You got it. Diverse terrain for skiers of all abilities? Yep. Lots of fun off-slope activities? You bet. Plus there’s a variety of restaurants and a wide choice of on-slope lodging. They hit all the right marks, and then they throw in extra pampering (like underground parking, bellhops to schlep your gear, complimentary ski lockers, spa services, and more). We all know it takes some work to go skiing or snowboarding, so we really appreciate when a resort makes it super easy to bring the gang. There’s something for everyone, with 121 trails and some of the best cat-scratched groomers in the East. High-speed chairs whisk you up the mountain in a hurry, including a six-person heated bubble chair. Plan to meet for lunch at the Summit Lodge, with gorgeous mountain views (the hand-carved turkey or prime-rib sandwiches and chicken pot pie are the best.)

Lodging: Families have plenty of choices, from ski-house units to luxury hotel suites. Nothing but the best for your brood? Book a lavish two- or three-bedroom suite in the Jackson Gore Village, with spacious living and dining areas, full kitchens, gas fireplaces, and ski-in, ski-out convenience. There are outdoor pools and on-site restaurants, and you’ll be close to the Adventure Center and other non-skiing activities. For a more economical option, consider a two or three-bedroom unit at the Winterplace or a classic ski house in Trailside Village; both are slope-side and an easy walk to the lifts.

Off-slope activities: The Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster is a hit with kids of all ages. The roller coaster-like ride reaches speeds of up to 30 miles per hour as it careens through the woods, making corkscrew turns and loops along the way. There’s cross country skiing and snowshoeing at the Nordic Center and the Indoor Golf Training Center features a 700-square-foot putting green, swing stations, and a virtual golf simulator. Ever wonder what it’s like to claw up the mountain in a snowcat? Sign up for the after-hours snowcat excursion to find out.

Bretton Woods

Bretton Woods, N.H., 603-278-3320; www.brettonwoods.com

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You get the best of two worlds when you visit this northern New Hampshire resort: skiing at family-friendly, easy-does-it Bretton Woods, combined with a stay at the elegant Omni Mount Washington Hotel. We like the casual, everyone-knows-your-name vibe on the mountain, where 62 trails and 35 glades crisscross 464 acres. You can expect conditions to be good; the mountain is consistently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the East for grooming and snow by SKI Magazine. And though it’s the largest ski resort in New Hampshire, you can’t get into any serious trouble here, there are plenty of corduroy groomers and all trails lead home.

“My advice to grandparents is that they make a run off the Zephyr ski lift so they can take their grandchildren to the Chutters candy hut, which is at the top of the lift,” says Jim Early, who has skied with his children and grandchildren many times at Bretton Woods. “My advice to parents is to let your teenagers and pre-teens go where they want. Every trail leads back to the central lodge at Bretton Woods, so there is never a lost child.”

Lodging: If you’re looking for extra space, consider the Townhomes at Bretton Woods. These two- to five-bedroom condominiums and townhomes come fully furnished with full kitchens, separate living and dining areas, fireplaces, and outdoor decks. Guests have access to the indoor and outdoor pools and fitness center at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, a short shuttle ride away. There are also family rooms and a 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom luxury family suite at the hotel, for a real splurge.

Off-slope activities: The non-skiers in your group will love this place. And the skiers and boarders will be torn. Hit the slopes or go snowmobiling (there’s even a Kids Snowmobile Park with mini machines), rent fat bikes to ride designated trails, go ice skating, take a sleigh ride, or zip through the woods on a three-hour canopy tour. There’s a roster of daily activities, guided mountain tours, sleigh rides, an indoor climbing wall, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and more. Send the kids to the supervised Omni Kids Activity Room, while you enjoy massages at the full-service spa.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.