Hopefully lots of snowflakes.
October 12, 2017 5:05 AM   Subscribe

Part one: How do I take a relatively economical ski vacation in New England between Christmas and New Year's that will satisfy my seven-year-old son and also my mid-60s parents? Snowflakes (!) inside.

I live in the Boston area and my parents and sister (late 20s) would be flying up from Memphis, TN. We'd like to go skiing.

We want this to be a vacation and we could spend 3 - 5 days. None of us have been skiing in at least 20 years, so we'll all need lessons in addition to lift tickets and rental equipment. Also, I'm not from here, so I have no local knowledge of what's good.

We're hoping to find a place that my kid will enjoy, but that also isn't "too touristy" for my parents. They like Carnival cruises, so I think "not too touristy" just means "not too much neon, more peaceful, not filled with tacky attractions that try to separate you from your money at every turn" and on the less crowded side, although I'm aware that any place we go will likely be crowded during this time.

Where should we go? Where should we stay -- in a hotel or resort, as close to the action as possible, or maybe in an Airbnb and driving (or taking a shuttle?) to the mountain? I know skiing is an expensive activity, but are there ways to keep this more on the economical side of things? Should I book a package or hunt for lodging/lift ticket deals separately?

What lovely holiday activities might be happening during that time?
posted by woodvine to Travel & Transportation around New England, United States (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Location-wise, throwing a warm winter hat in for Smuggler's Notch: a vacation there is where I learned to ski at that age, and its still "number 1" for kids in the east (I'm not sure by what metric, but its featured prominently on their website). The resort is run to be as economically-friendly as one can be with skiing/snowboarding, and there looks to be lots of No Worse Than Carnival times to be had for the older crowd.
posted by Chipmazing at 5:46 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Preliminarily, that week is touch and go for quantity and quality of snow in New England. If "family weeklong ski trip on a vacation" is an agenda for you, doing it over MLK or President's week are safer bets.

I've been to most of the big and many of the smaller ski resorts in New England and none is remotely "touristy." Drinks at a lodge or hotel bar (which will be pretty simple / rustic) and dinner at a family-owned restaurant that will be pretty straightforward are what you're up for. Each ski town has one or two more lively bars for the younger set, but nothing fancy.

There's no "action" to speak of at the ski slopes. If you aren't literally ski-in, ski-out (and that will be murderously expensive), you might as well be in town and drive. And not only shouldn't you avoid VRBO/AirBnB, those are great ideas for getting good space and a good price. New England ski resort hotels and motels off-mountain can be pretty shabby and expensive for what you get, especially if you have a group.

In terms of specific mountains, for your criteria you probably want to avoid Stowe -- because it's now in Vail Resorts, it will be especially crowded, expensive food and lessons, and at least on its way to being glitzier. (If you are a regular skiier with a Vail Epic Pass, it will be great though from a cost perspective.)

That might make a good argument for the other large resorts in central Vermont -- Killington and Okemo -- as that incremental Stowe business may be coming from those places. You certainly want to call up and look for packages on lift passes, equipment rentals and lessons. A semi-private lesson just for the family might be a great idea.
posted by MattD at 5:54 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Cross the border and ski in southern Quebec's Eastern Townships -- the exchange rate may be helpful in keeping costs down a bit. Ski Sutton is pretty great, though very popular with people coming from Montreal (i.e. can be crowded). Owl's Head is super low key, relatively uncrowded. Staying in nearby Mansonville is great: it's a charming little Quebec village.

In Vermont, Burke and Smuggler's Notch would be my choices. I like Jay Peak the most, but it may not be as great for family and less serious skiers.
posted by bumpkin at 5:57 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for an inexpensive hill to practice on (and maybe take the kid for some basic lessons) before your vacation, I'd suggest shooting up to Bradford in Haverhill- it's less than an hour north of Boston, and has a pretty good magic carpet system for kids to learn the basics with. I'd definitely suggest doing that if you intend to ski with the kiddos. It's pretty cheap, too, because it's a tiny hill.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:01 AM on October 12

Smuggler's Notch is where our family skis. It's not touristy and it's definitely more economical than Stowe, but also doesn't have Stowe's snowmaking capacity. So between Christmas and New Year's you can't count on enough snow, especially on the mountain that has all the beginner runs. And it only has fairly old, slow lifts - all doubles. So you'll spend more time riding up and less time skiing.

The best time of year to come skiing in Vermont is around the first 10 days of March. If you have to come at Christmas time, I'd look for a place that does a lot of snowmaking. My brother's family has enjoyed visiting Killington, and it sounds like they make a lot of snow. I have no idea what their prices are like.
posted by Redstart at 6:07 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I skied Okemo last winter for the first time and can not wait to go back. Nice long easy and intermediate runs, great snow making and grooming. Stayed on the mountian and while more costly, I recommend highly- that week will be crowded (assuming we've had some natural snow) and not having to drive from off site means that much faster to the rental equipment and then the lift, etc. and when the day is done you just start relaxing, no making sure you have everything and having to drive.
posted by vrakatar at 7:57 AM on October 12

Agreeing that end of December can be iffy for snow, however with snowmaking Killington could be your best bet. The terrain is massive and varied so even if crowded there will be lots of choices. The lift tickets and lodging will be expensive (as with anywhere because of the holiday week). I learned to ski there over 30 years ago and my now 20 something son did 20 years ago.

We have stayed many times at the Snowed Inn in Killington and eventhough it is billed as a B&B they have a really good sized two bedroom apartment within the main lodge that works very well for a group. It is two bedrooms and a separate sleeping area off the LR. I think the LR also has a pull-out. There is a full kitchen as well as 2 baths. Since it is a B&B you get to mingle a little with other guests there is also an outside hot tub (even fun in the snow).

It is showing some availability for that week but I'm sure it will fill up fast.
posted by MrsMGH at 8:00 AM on October 12

Okemo is a great, low-key mountain in Vermont with a nice town. You can buy a three-day, no-dates blocked pass and use it on your chosen dates for $200 - $231 per person, which is a nice deal. There are a lot of rentals at reasonable cost if you're splitting the per-night with your parents.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 AM on October 12

I would consider something in the Jackson/North Conway NH area. The mountains in that area are smaller (Attitash, Wildcat, Black Mountain) but if you're just beginning you really don't need to be at a big mountain like Stowe or Sunday River or Killington. And North Conway is closer to Boston than the Vermont mountains, and has a little downtown and outlet shopping and stuff for times when you don't want to be skiing. Jackson has covered bridges and cute inns and stuff.

Vermont mountains are great, and they're very accessible from like Hartford and NYC, but I think New Hampshire is what you're looking for.
posted by mskyle at 12:30 PM on October 12

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