The Europeans have been doing ski vacations right for decades. They take it easy. They wine, they dine. If the sun is out, they ski. Maybe. Or they hike, or spa or shop, or take the kids to the sledding hill. In other words, it’s not all about all-day, every-day, first-on, last-off-the-slopes skiing. Some days, it’s not about skiing at all.
New England ski resorts are catching on, offering finer dining, more luxurious accommodations, and a host of off-slope activities. Here are three that are re-inventing the old ski vacation, recognizing that off-slope fun is as important as skiing the mountain.
There’s so much going on at this resort in northern Vermont that you may need a vacation from your vacation. Dubbed “America’s Family Resort,” it’s the winner of a heap of awards, including the Number 1 Resort for Families in the East according to SKI Magazine’s 2024 annual reader survey. In our opinion, Smuggs is also the winner of the Something for Everyone award.
There’s ice skating, tubing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice fishing, and snowcat rides to the top of the mountain. There are bonfires, fireworks, movies, magic shows, and a weekly winter carnival. There are pool parties, and live music. There’s an arcade and an indoor pool, along with board game tournaments, arts and crafts classes, scavenger hunts, Kids’ Night Out, and teen gatherings. And more. It’s a whirlwind of fun, fun, fun.
A huge inventory of rental homes is available, within walking distance to the slopes or a short resort shuttle bus ride away, ranging from one- to five-bedrooms. Dining options include a pizzeria, a handful of lounges, a coffee house, and cafes. The Hearth & Candle and the Morse Mountain Grille, located in the resort village, are popular spots for dinner, serving hearty entrees like rib eye steak, house-made lasagna, chicken pot pie, burgers, and more.
We’ll give them the Something for Everyone award for their skiing, too. The resort, spread across three mountains with 78 trails, has a wide variety of terrain, including some of the best expert trails in the East, and a well-regarded, all-day children’s ski school. It’s a bit old school — you won’t find a single high-speed chair — but no one seems to mind much. (Let’s go! It’s karaoke night!) 800-419-4615, www.smuggs.com
Omni Mount Washington & Bretton Woods
The Grand Dame of the Presidential Mountain Range in New Hampshire opened on July 28, 1902, with a staff of 350 or more. Since its opening, the resort has hosted a long list of famous people, including Thomas Edison and three past presidents. Today, it’s a National Historic Landmark and continues to be one of the finest hotels in New England.
You could simply relax in your room or snag a cushy lounge chair in the lobby next to the massive stone fireplace with a good book and warm beverage. Or spend some time in the heated indoor or outdoor pool, or at the 25,000-square-foot spa, with a host of luxurious therapies. Let the winds blow and the snow fly. Grab coffee in the intimate Princess Room in the morning and later dine in the 1902 Main Dining Room, the mansion’s elegant, ballroom-like dining area, or the more casual Stickney’s Restaurant. You never even have to leave the hotel.
If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, you could ride the Bretton Woods Skyway gondola to the summit for sweeping mountain views, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride, go tubing or snowshoeing, or take the zipline canopy tour, one of the longest in the continental United States. The hotel also has daily activities, including morning yoga, historic hotel tours, and arts, crafts, and games at the Omni Kids Club.
Did we mention there’s skiing and riding? Skinny board skiers can head to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, one of the largest cross-country ski areas on the East coast, with a 100-kilometer trail network. Bretton Woods, the state’s largest alpine ski area, has 63 trails and 35 glades spread across 464 acres. The resort, cited for having the best snow and best grooming in the East by SKI Magazine readers, celebrates its 50th anniversary this season. 603-278-1000, www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington
Skiers and riders love this resort in the picturesque Mad River Valley of Vermont, with near cult loyalty. They love the laid-back vibe and absence of pretense. They love the snow conditions. They love the views. They love the short lift lines, and the elbow room you may not find at other top New England ski mountains.
The resort has two big mountains with base areas, 111 trails, 28 wooded areas, and 2,000 acres of backcountry terrain. If you’ve come to ski or ride, you’ll find plenty of it here.
But there’s also a slew of other things to do. You don’t have to be a skier or rider to enjoy top-of-the-mountain views. You can take a one-hour private ride in the heated Husky Cat to the summit of Lincoln Peak, where you’ll have views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains.
Are you missing golf? No worries: you can play a round or two in one of the resort’s Sports SIM Suites; you can even get tips from the resort’s PGA pro while you’re playing. The state-of-the-art suites at the Health & Recreation Club have a variety of simulated games, including bowling, baseball, hockey, sport shooting, and more. There’s also a rock-climbing wall, indoor pool, and fitness classes at the club.
The Mad River Valley, with its rolling fields and forests, dotted with ponds and sliced by rivers, is a great place for snowshoeing. The resort offers guided tours, and DIY maps and suggestions if you’d prefer to go on your own. Or explore the backcountry on a dog sledding adventure. For a special night, book the Allyn Lodge dinner experience. You’ll ride to the top of Lincoln Peak on a heated snowcat to enjoy a five-course candlelit dinner at the lodge.
The resort has lots of lodging options, including hotel and inn slopeside rooms, and ski-in/ski-out one- to five-bedroom suites and condos. 802-552-4007, www.sugarbush.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com