Looking for bargains on west coast family vacations
November 28, 2008 7:20 PM   Subscribe

I've a two week break at Christmas, wife and two little kids, gas prices so cheap I'm thinking road trip. At first I thought we could do Disneyland but I'm not inclined to visit at the busiest time of year. Now I'm thinking maybe ski resorts might be offering good package deals due to the crummy economy. Where could we go, <1000 miles from Seattle, for a great family vacation at a bargain basement price?
posted by carterk to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There is so much natural beauty in the American west it's mind-blowing.

Crater Lake in Oregon is amazing, as are the lava beds in extreme northern CA, although I don't know if either would serve as the focal point of a vacation really.

There's Yellowstone to the east (although snow may be an issue at xmas), and Zion and Bryce Canyon in Utah are by all accounts absolutely amazing. I'm also told this is the best time of year to visit the Grand Canyon, not as crowded as summer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:36 PM on November 28, 2008

You could go to Whistler, BC. You're dollar's strong against the loonie again ($1.20). Then again, Whistler's a pretty expensive place to begin with.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:38 PM on November 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's not like there's any shortage of beautiful National Parks in the western US. Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Jackson Hole, Zion and Bryce, Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, as much "old west" stuff as you'll ever need...and in the middle of all that is dinosaur country! When the kids get antsy, get out and dig!
posted by phunniemee at 7:42 PM on November 28, 2008

Response by poster: I'm sorry for not being clear- we're quite well traveled and have been to most of the spots mentioned, which are indeed beautiful. But my daughters are young and we'd be traveling during the last two weeks of the year, i.e., winter (and high season). For this vacation, I'm looking for convenience and comfort, and specifically looking for resort or resort-like spots offering cut-rate deals that would otherwise be hard to find during the holiday period.
posted by carterk at 7:50 PM on November 28, 2008

Bridger Bowl, Bozeman MT.

Just please don't tell anyone else about it.
posted by matty at 8:02 PM on November 28, 2008

I don't know if they're having cut-rate deals, but I'd look at some of the ski resorts in Montana. Big Mountain, in fact, can be reached directly Amtrak's Empire Builder line that starts in Seattle, and I think they often have package ski deals that include a stay at one of the hotels on the mountain. Here is a Flathead area travel agency with those sorts of package deals, but I've never done business with them, i.e. you might find better elsewhere.

Having grown up skiing and snowboarding in Montana, my family would usually go to either Big Mountain or Big Sky once a year. Showdown is my home mountain, but I wouldn't recommend it for destination skiing... While neither has the consistently good snow that Showdown has, I much prefer Big Mountain to Big Sky. The backside of Big Mountain is my idea of heaven. However, be aware that Big Mountain often has fog, whereas Big Sky is more often very clear. If you go to Big Sky, you'll also have Bridger Bowl nearby, which often has more powder than should be allowed, but if you aren't pretty competent on skis or a snowboard, it might not be the best place to go. And Big Sky shares a mountain with Moonlight Basin. Big Mountain has the new Blacktail Mountain ski area, though I haven't been there, so I can't tell you about it.

And, if you take a car to Big Mountain, you could easily make a day trip or longer to Glacier National Park (just 30 miles from Whitefish), though I don't know what access is like during the winter. As for driving in the area, I do know that if you don't have experience driving in bad conditions, the roads south of Kalispell can be bad (especially the one through Swan Lake, but that'd be a weird road for you to be on) and the roads around Browning in a snowstorm will test any driver, but you'd likely stay on the other side of the park. Big Sky, on the other hand, is just over an hour from the northern entrance to Yellowstone. Snow mobile tourism is real big (though controversial) at Yellowstone during the winter. You'll get up close and personal with some bison.

Here's a comprehensive (I think) list of Montana ski resorts.

(woah...just noticed that Big Mountain is now called Whitefish Mountain Resort; it's been 5 or so years since I've been there)
posted by msbrauer at 8:23 PM on November 28, 2008

Skiing? Why not Whistler/Blackcomb (as someone mentioned) just north of Vancouver. Right now the canadian dollar will only cost you 80 cents. A 4 day lift ticket at Whistler is about $276 can =$220 US. That price is about $150 cheaper than Vail.

Or the Okanagen valley in BC with a number of mountains and lots of stuff to see and do.


PS - me? I'd go to Cali to get some sun!
posted by Country Dick Montana at 8:55 PM on November 28, 2008

Granted those weeks in December are high time for most destination ski resorts as well so there might not be many bargains to be had except unless demand is down overall. I know that Whistler e-mails me constantly with offers. I'm on the other side of the continent so I don't often look at the fine print to see what kind of a deal it is but it would be worth checking out. You should also check out the interior of British Columbia where the resorts aren't as big W-B, but will be cheaper.

Speaking in terms of industry reputation, the big resorts in Montana often get praised for quality, vastness of terrain and small crowds. That's a healthy drive from Seattle in winter but I bet you could make something work there even if it meant staying off mountain.
posted by mmascolino at 11:04 AM on November 29, 2008

Sandpoint, Idaho. You could go skiing at Schweitzer (if it's open by then; I don't think they have a ton of snow right now) and many hotels there offer package deals that include lift tickets. It's about a six-hour drive from Seattle and it's a great little town.
posted by meggan at 11:21 AM on November 29, 2008

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