How to enjoy a ski resort vacation without hitting the slopes
Many people will assume that if you’re visiting ski country, you must be a skier.
But packing up your skis and hitting the slopes every winter might not always be in the cards, especially when you consider the cost of gear and ski passes. And, if skiing and snowboarding simply aren’t for you, that’s OK too.
Although my family loves to ski, we always look for other ways to enjoy the area when we visit ski towns. During last year's trip to Stowe, Vermont, the mountain conditions weren’t great one day, so we hung up our skis and still found plenty of fun activities at the resort.
If you want to spend winter in the mountains but skiing isn’t your jam, know that there are so many other reasons to book a ski resort getaway. While we aren't 100% sure what ski resorts will look like this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, chances are more activities and services will be open this year versus last. (You still might find more closures than in pre-pandemic years.)
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Even if you aren’t strapping on ski boots, you can still have fun in the snow by tubing down the mountain. Some tubing hills even require you to take a lift (or magic carpet ride) up to the top of the slope.
This activity isn’t just for children. Whether you’re six or 60, you can always feel like a kid when you’re tubing down the mountain.
Well-known tubing mountains include Camelback Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania; Keystone Resort in Colorado; Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire; and Killington Mountain in Vermont. Some places even offer Cosmic Tubing in the evenings, such as Oregon’s Mount Hood Skibowl, which features more than 600,000 LED lights, laser light shows, black lights, colored lights and music.
Read more: Why Snowshoe Mountain is a perfect getaway spot — in both winter and summer
Take a sleigh ride
Sleigh rides are another great way to enjoy the winter — especially with a cup of hot chocolate in hand. In Stowe, Vermont, just down the street from the base of the mountain, you can have your pick of sleigh or carriage rides.
Related: Everything you need to know about skiing at Stowe Mountain
Strap on the snowshoes
If you want exercise without the vertical drop, strap on some snowshoes and start exploring. You might even find a resort or hotel that offers snowshoe tours, which are the perfect way to get comfortable with the sport. Spruce Peak — the village at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort — offers tours throughout the week right from the village.
Related: Best credit cards to use on ski trips
Spend the day snowmobiling
Consider a day spent snowmobiling. In Stowe, you can experience a 25-mile adventurous journey through Mount Mansfield State Forest. You have the option to ride on a single or double snowmobile or pair up with a guide if you’re feeling a little nervous.
And though many places only offer snowmobiling to adults and teens, there are a few places that allow young children to participate too. At the family-friendly Bretton Woods Resort, there's traditionally a kids snowmobile park at the base of the mountain. Although the park was closed for the 2020-2021 season due to COVID-19, we have our fingers crossed it will be back up and running this year. You can also find mini snowmobiles for your children at Solider Hollow Nordic Center in Midway, Utah.
Related: A step back in time — Upscale getaway at the Omni Mount Washington Hotel and Bretton Woods Ski Resort
Explore the ice
Get an ice axe, harness, rope and crampons (a metal plate that attaches to your shoe to aid in walking on ice or climbing) and you’re ready to try ice climbing. While experienced climbers might be able to simply venture into the mountains, many ski towns offer an “Ice Climbing 101” course to guide you along the way with all equipment provided. Best of all, you don’t need any climbing expertise to try this sport.
You can even find a climbing park for kids in Ouray, Colorado, about an hour from both Telluride and Silverton Mountain.
Bike on the snow
While Stowe Mountain Resort might be well known for its ski slopes, it also offers some of the best mountain biking trails in the country. Rent a fat tire bike, which will allow you to enjoy some of the same trails, but on the snow. Take the bikes around the mountain and venture into the village.
Explore the village
With mountain towns getting more and more popular these days, you’ll find that formerly rugged mountains are now paired with amazing villages filled with restaurants and shops. But some really go above and beyond, with everything from ice skating to fireworks and even live performances.
At Stowe Mountain Resort, in the middle of the Spruce Peak Village, you will find a fun rink that offers complimentary ice skating, a candy store for kids and parents alike, and a huge adventure center with rock climbing.
Of course, Stowe isn’t the only ski resort to offer these amenities. You’ll find other great villages at Beaver Creek and Keystone, in Colorado, and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, among others.
Head into town
While Spruce Peak Village at Stowe has a ton to offer, not too far down the road you'll find the Ben & Jerry’s Factory, The Vermont Teddy Bear Factory and numerous maple sugaring farms, where you can arrange a tour based on your interests. Let’s be honest, what’s a trip to Vermont without bringing home some local syrup?
At Smugglers’ Notch, also in Vermont, you can find classes where you make your own candles or medicinal tonics, and you can even learn to etch glass.
Be sure to explore each charming mountain town to find activities and cultural attractions you might not find at home.
Related: How to plan your ski trip with points and miles
Indulge in après ski
Indulge in the food, drinks and camaraderie of après ski, even if you didn’t hit the slopes.
While things might continue to look slightly different this ski season, you will definitely still be able to enjoy the après ski experience. In fact, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it enhanced the après ski feel. Last year, many mountains set up great outdoor options with more seating, heat lamps and fire pits. What's better than sitting outside with friends or family, with the mountains in the background and a drink in hand?
During our trip to Stowe last year, we were able to sit outside in Spruce Peak Village with heat lamps to keep us cozy. This was the perfect spot for lunch and a late afternoon hot chocolate break.
Related: 6 mistakes to avoid when planning a ski trip
No matter where your interest lies, ski resorts offer something for everyone — both on and off the mountain. Even if you’re not a skier, you can still enjoy the ambiance of the mountains and find plenty in the resorts and nearby towns to keep you entertained without ever hitting the slopes.
Additional reporting by Priscilla Blossom.