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How to plan a fun, multigenerational family getaway during the pandemic

Even in the age of COVID-19, it’s possible to please everyone on a winter escape. Here’s one family’s experience.

Stowe, Vt., can offer family fun for all ages.
Stowe, Vt., can offer family fun for all ages.Pamela Wright

STOWE, Vt. — It was halfway through the sleigh ride at the Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vt., when we all finally took a deep breath, and relaxed. Four-year-old James was sitting in the front seat next to the driver, shouting encouragements to Duke, our horse. “Good job, Duke!” he cried.

Two-year-old Daniel was cuddled under blankets in the back seat, pointing to the trees, and the clouds, and the dog chasing our sleigh. “Look, look, look!”

The grown-ups in the group were simply taking in the gorgeous scenery: rolling, sun-dappled, snow-covered fields and forests laced by a rippling, icy stream. This was worth the hassle: the scheduling, the packing, the drive up in a blizzard. This was why (at least one of the reasons why) we embarked on this multigenerational weekend away last winter, pre-COVID, before everything changed. Now, we’re even more grateful that we did.

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There were six adults and two toddlers, encompassing three generations: a Gen Z, four Millennials, two Baby Boomers, and a 2-year-old in this extended family weekend ski getaway. We looked forward to the stretched-out time to connect and bond in a different environment, and an opportunity to share new experiences.

Apparently, lots of people are still thinking the same thing, as multigenerational travel continues to rise, topping the list of travel trends. According to a recent Airbnb survey, during summer 2020, there were three times more wish lists including family in the title than there were in 2019, and that trend continued to increase with more than 2.5 times the inclusions in September 2020, compared to last year.

Travelers are also extending their travel bubbles. According to a recent survey conducted by Virtuoso, an international travel agency network specializing in luxury and experiential travel, 79 percent of travelers would take part in a travel pod (defined as two or more households whose members have been following similar quarantine and social-distancing practices that make plans to vacation together).

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We’ve flown as a family to far-flung destinations in the past, staying at both rental homes and hotels. Last winter, we decided to stay closer to home as it would be easier to schedule (less time away from school and work) and easier on budgets. Once we settled on a weekend that was available for everyone (experts advise that you plan far in advance to be able to accommodate busy schedules), we bantered around possible New England destinations, and picked Stowe. Our reasoning: there’s cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, craft breweries, restaurants, boutique shopping; in other words, something for everyone. There are also plenty of places to stay in Stowe, and we’ve learned that selecting the right accommodations is key to success and sanity. One of the three-bedroom townhomes at Topnotch Resort in Stowe was perfect for our group. First, everyone had their own bedroom and bath, which ensured a modicum of privacy. All the rooms were spacious and each had a flat screen TV. There was also plenty of space for gathering with a full-size kitchen and dining area, large living room, and mud room for gear. As townhome guests we had access to all the resort facilities and amenities, including the fitness center, indoor swimming pool, sauna, hot tub, full-service spa, and free shuttle to Stowe Mountain Resort, just up the road. There are also restaurants on site, including Roost, a contemporary bistro, which is a popular après-ski hangout. It was the best of two worlds: a roomy home-like environment with upscale resort perks.

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We arrived Friday, each family separately, but in time to enjoy some of the perks. The kids and some adults headed to the pool, while the others headed to The Roost for drinks. Later, we enjoyed a made-ahead spaghetti dinner at the townhome, and games around the fireplace.

Saturday

Like herding cats. Knitting fog. “We’re leaving in five minutes!” Getting the group ready and out the door, with ski equipment, clothes, boots, maps, tickets, was not a smooth task. Four adults and 4-year-old James were heading to Stowe Mountain Resort for a morning of skiing and lessons. We dropped James off at the sprawling Adventure Center for his morning group lesson, and then we hit the slopes. The mountain spreads over 485 acres, crisscrossed by 116 trails. Twelve lifts, including two gondolas, whisked us around the slopes, for quick up-and-down skiing. By lunchtime, our legs were wobbly. We picked up a gleeful James, who was anxious to show us what he’d learned. (As a testament to the kid’s program at Stowe, James couldn’t stop talking about his lesson and was disappointed when we told him he wouldn’t be going back the next day.)

Others in our family group decided to cross-country ski and snowshoe at Topnotch. The resort sits on 120 acres, with trails leading through forests, fields and backcountry (equipment rentals are available, too). Daniel fell asleep in the backpack kid carrier, while his aunts enjoyed the trails, fresh air, and mountain views. We met back at the townhouse for lunch and to share our morning photos.

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Late afternoon, we walked to the Topnotch horse barn for an hourlong sleigh ride (a highlight for the kids and a delight for the adults), and later that evening, we opted not to pile into two cars to go to dinner. Instead, we dined at Flannel, the resort’s lively bistro. Warm bread and fresh whipped butter, along with crayons and paper for the kids, arrived immediately, followed quickly by the adult beverages. Later, the kids ate mac and cheese and watched the chefs in the open kitchen, while we dined on dishes like scallops and pork belly, togarashi-crusted tuna, saffron seafood risotto, and steak frites.

We ended the evening with glasses of wine and local craft beers and good conversation.

Sunday

The morning was spent skiing (for some) shopping (for some) spa-ing (for some) reading and napping (for someone) and visiting the Alchemist, one of the top craft breweries in Vermont, and maker of the cult-craved Heady Topper beer.

At checkout time, we packed up quickly, loaded the cars and headed home. A family group text came through while Grandma and Grandpa were sharing a platter of brisket at Prohibition Pig in Waterbury (a fabulous place for lunch): Where’s our next trip (insert smiley emoji)?

How it might look this year

We’re readier than ever to plan a winter getaway with our extended family. Alas, it will look different this year. Stowe (www.stowe.com), as part of Vail Resorts, and like most ski areas in New England, has adopted several safety guidelines, including required face coverings, advance reservations, seating only for related parties on lifts, health screenings, reduced food and beverage options, and limited class sizes. Topnotch Resort (www.topnotchresort.com) is open and its amenities, including dining at Roost, spa, pool, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides, are available, with safety guidelines and social distancing practices in place. The shuttle to the slopes will be running with limits on capacity; shuttle schedule and details will be available through the concierge and front desk.

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Takeaway tips on multigenerational getaways

We learned a thing or two.

  • Two nights was barely enough. Adding another night or more would have made the trip a lot more relaxing, especially given the time on the road.
  • Some like to ski, some like to shop, some like to spa. Pick a destination with lots of nearby activities.
  • Bigger is better. Having separate, private bedrooms and baths is a worthy splurge.
  • A full kitchen is crucial. Being able to have breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks at the townhome was not only convenient but saved time and money.
  • Go your own way. Let there be times when you split up and do your own thing.
  • Apps like Venmo and Splitwise can be useful in keeping track of and paying shared expenses.

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