Fall for Steamboat Springs


Steamboat Springs

As the snow melts, an outdoorsman’s paradise awakens. So grab your bike, kayak or fishing gear and set out into nature. You won’t be disappointed.

Steamboat Springs is best known as a winter sports town, home to the Steamboat Ski Resort and dozens of winter Olympians. Yet at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Steamboat is equally lively in summer and fall, when its dry-as-ranch-dust snow is replaced with a sunny, cool mountain climate that’s idyllic for an outdoorsy getaway. In a single weekend, you can fly-fish mountain streams, horseback-ride across rolling ranchlands, hike through wildflower meadows and aspen glades, mountain bike on a growing network of single-track, browse a downtown lined with boxy Western storefronts, and finish it off with a soothing soak in one of the town’s steaming natural hot springs.

COWBOY CULTURE
Long before it was a sports town, Steamboat Springs was a ranch town. Along with multimillion-dollar vacation homes, working ranches occupy much of the Yampa Valley—thousands of acres dotted with beef cattle and bus-sized hay bales. The cattle dogs you’ll see in the back of muddy pickups really do herd, and the cowboy hats worn in town—some of them, anyway—are the real deal, too.

The 10-block-long downtown still reflects Steamboat’s cowboy roots. Ranch supply stores sit alongside bike shops, boutiques and wine bars on the main artery, Lincoln Avenue. Foremost among them is F.M. Light and Sons, a century-old dry goods store where shoppers can browse the 2,000 pairs of cowboy boots, stop by the Hat Services counter and pick up a handbag with a built-in gun holster.

To sample cowboy culture yourself, take a horseback ride at Del’s Triangle Three Ranch, in the Elk River Valley a half hour north of Steamboat Springs. Guides lead half- and full-day rides over sage-covered slopes and through the hills, keeping an eye out for the elk herds that often gather on the property. Come fall, blooming fields of yarrow and mule’s ear daisy give way to blazing yellow aspens. At this time of year, the elk put on their own show, as the males bugle loudly for female attention.

TAKE TO THE TRAILS
For those who want to hoof it in hiking boots, trails abound. Four miles from town, an easy quarter-mile route leads to Fish Creek Falls, descending 283 feet into a deep rocky seam. Paths continue to Upper Fish Creek Falls and 5 miles south to Lost Lake. Also near town, the Spring Creek Trail climbs gently for 5 miles through a broad canyon glowing gold with ferns and aspens. The surrounding Medicine Bow–Routt National Forest offers a dizzying array of options for long day hikes.

On a mountain bike you can cover even more terrain. Locals flock to the trails on Emerald Mountain, which rises up from the southwest side of downtown, and the 50 miles of trails at the Steamboat ski area, accessible with leg power or by gondola. Explore the ski area’s trail network or leave its boundary to connect with a web of national forest trails.

STEAMING SPRINGS
A cloud of fog and the tang of sulfur hang over Lincoln Park at the edge of downtown, where several of the region’s natural hot springs gurgle out of rock fissures and ponds. When early trappers came upon a nearby spring on the Yampa River’s western bank, they thought that the funny chugging sound it made resembled a steamboat whistle—which is how this landlocked town got its unlikely name. (Alas, construction of the railroad silenced the spring years ago.)

After a day on the trails, a visit to one of Steamboat’s hot springs provides the perfect remedy for weary muscles. You’ll find two decidedly different options for a public soak. The Old Town Hot Springs right downtown and open year-round offers 8 man-made swimming pools fed by hot mineral springs. Also part of the facility: waterslides and a fitness center with a range of exercise classes.

On the more rustic end of the scale, Strawberry Park Hot Springs lies in the woods, 8 miles from town (including 3 miles on a rutted dirt road). Steamy 147-degree water trickles down a hillside into a series of stone masonry pools, where it’s cooled with creek water to about 105 degrees. For the complete experience, take at least one plunge into the cold-water creek. Though it’s not the freewheeling flower-child scene found at many hot springs, Strawberry Park is clothing optional and adults only after dark.

CAST AWAY
Hot springs may be Steamboat’s identity, but the Yampa River feels like its lifeblood. Starting from modest streams high in the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Yampa grows into a broad river that flows right through town, just a block south of Lincoln Avenue. The 7-mile Yampa River Core Trail weaves along its banks, busy with runners, bicycling kids and stroller-pushing moms. Kayakers play in its waves, while inner tubers float past waterfront restaurants. Anglers enjoy several miles of public access, casting for rainbow and brown trout.

Outfitters like Steamboat Flyfisher can offer even more, accompanying you to private stretches of river that run through ranchland south of town. Here the Yampa instantly feels wild, framed by red dogwoods and golden willows, flowing cold and clear the color of single-malt scotch.

Casting a fly rod here is an utterly peaceful way to spend a morning. You’re serenaded by the sounds of the water, the trill of blackbirds and the distant mutters and moos of ranch animals. You mend your line just so and watch it unfurl downstream, mesmerized, as you wait for the almost imperceptible tug of a rainbow.

 

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The Snows of Summit County: Breckenridge


Breckenridge

As soon as you head west of Denver on Interstate 70, the scenery transforms. Steel and concrete morph into pine and granite, and the front range of the Rockies fills the windshield. WATCH FOR WILDLIFE, cautions a yellow sign; bighorn sheep, pushed from the peaks by heavy snows, casually gaze through a curlicue of horn at the cars streaming by.

By the time you reach Dillon 60 miles later, you’ve nearly climbed to the roof of the Rockies. Summit County sidles up against the Continental Divide, spiked with peaks and elevations that range from 8,000 to 14,000 feet. Its ample dry snows, top-notch ski areas and picturesque resort towns—all linked by the free Summit Stage bus system—make this region a no-brainer for winter sports fans.

Fifteen miles southwest of Keystone, Breckenridge seems to have been plucked from a snow globe. Flakes drift down on a Main Street lined with brightly painted cabins and steep-pitched Victorians, now filled with restaurants, shops and galleries. The Blue River gurgles under pedestrian bridges and a snowy massif, etched with ski runs, rises right from town.

Prospectors flowed into this 9,600-foot-high outpost in the mid-1800s, bushwhacking their way up river drainages as they panned for gold. They hit pay dirt, including the largest gold nugget ever found in Colorado. “Tom’s Baby” weighed more than 13 pounds; the miner swaddled it in blankets like an infant on the way into town.

Of course, it was snow, not gold, that turned out to be this town’s greatest fortune. Today Breckenridge anchors the nation’s second most-visited ski resort (after Vail). The resort stretches across 4 peaks and seems to expand every year. Its south end, Peak 10, skirts the town; the north end, Peaks 7 and 8, sits higher, linked to town by the free BreckConnect gondola.

Some call Breckenridge “the gentle giant” for its gradual slopes; indeed, many will find the intermediate runs here quite tame. But advanced skiers and riders will find plenty of pitch in the bowls accessed from the nation’s highest chairlift on Peak 8, which tops out at 12,998 feet. Breck’s renowned terrain parks and pipes—considered some of the best in the country—ramp up the challenge, with an array of boxes, rails, kickers and other features that seem to go on forever. And everyone can enjoy Breck’s stunning serrated scenery, looking across to the Continental Divide scraping at the sky.

Even if you never intend to get on a chairlift, Breckenridge dishes up plenty of entertainment, which makes it the best base for a Summit County vacation. Take a thrill ride on the Gold Runner Coaster, where two-person sleds on rails twist wildly downhill. At the Breckenridge Nordic Center below Peak 8, some 30 kilometers of trails wind through old-growth pines, across meadows and to overlooks with postcard views of the Ten Mile Range.

In town, there’s great dining at every turn, from reliable stalwarts like the South Ridge Seafood Grill to newcomers like Ember and Twist. The Arts District is home to a growing number of galleries and art classes. Sign on with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance for a walking tour—the town has more than 250 historic structures—or a snowshoe tour of gold-mining sites.

And be sure to check out the Breckenridge Welcome Center. Its great little history museum reveals Breckenridge “firsts,” including the nation’s first half-pipe and the first ski resort in the world to allow snowboarding. Clearly, Breckenridge recognizes a gold mine.

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The Slopes of Utah


Park City Utah

Ski areas abound, making Utah a true winter wonderland—whether you’re a beginner or a former Olympian.

It seems that your plane has barely touched down at the Salt Lake City airport and you’re already riding a lift into the winter-white wilderness. Of Utah’s 14 ski resorts, 11 are less than an hour’s drive from the airport. Several are clustered together, offering a combination of activities and terrain for a wide range of abilities. Here’s an overview of what you’ll find.

AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
Just 29 miles from the airport is Snowbird, which has a range of slopes for skiers and riders. It’s connected to skiers-only Alta, right next door. The two combined have 4,700 acres of powdery paradise. For chilling out après-ski at Snowbird, the place to be is the Cliff Spa, which has a view-filled rooftop pool and hot tub.

The drive from the airport to Solitude takes about 45 minutes. You’ll find a cute European-style village at the mountain’s base, and 1,500 acres of skiable terrain. Drive 5 minutes more and you’re at Brighton, one of the state’s most popular resorts for families both for its affordability and for its terrain.

PARK CITY RETREATS
Resorts in the Park City area include Park City Mountain Resort, Canyons and Deer Valley. All are less than 36 miles from the airport and have state-of-the-art lifts—including Canyons’ Orange Bubble chair, which has heated seats—and terrain to please a wide range of abilities. What’s more, Park City itself is within 15 minutes’ drive. Its Main Street is lined with shops selling one-of-a-kind fashions and jewelry as well as bars and restaurants of all sorts. A plus: Many buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, since Park City was founded during the silver boom. A short drive away is Sundance Resort, with 6,000 acres at the base of Mount Timpanogos.

Utah

NORTHERN DELIGHTS
Thirty minutes north of Salt Lake City is Odgen, a former railroad town that’s a hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Three ski resorts are within a half-hour’s drive: Snowbasin, Wolf Mountain and Powder Mountain. The latter, known as Pow Mow, is North America’s largest ski area, offering 7,000 acres of skiable terrain. Even on the busiest days, you can find yourself skiing alone on untouched corduroy. In Ogden itself, consider a visit to iFly, an indoor sky-diving simulator that’s so effective, sky divers use it to train. Farther north but still only 90 minutes from Salt Lake City is family-owned Beaver Mountain.

SOUTHERN GEMS
Utah’s southern resorts, Eagle Point and Brian Head, are a bit farther afield. Three hours south of Salt Lake City, they deliver reliably good conditions all season long, with plenty of fresh powder.

 

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.

 

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Park City's Winter Wonderland


Utah

This old mining town has sure built itself up into an incredible getaway.

At first light you were schlepping a plastic bin through an airport security line. Now, the only line you’re worried about is which of the pitched white curves of Deer Valley’s Ontario Bowl to ski down—still untracked, it should be noted, at two in the afternoon. Visiting Park City is like slipping through a rabbit hole: It’s a quick, convenient and a true getaway. This historic mining town, just 40 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport, beguiles you with its downtown full of top-notch restaurants and galleries, and then tempts you with a trio of world-class ski resorts. Welcome to wonderland, Alice.

THE SERENDIPITY OF SILVER
While many ski towns try to manufacture charm, old Park City’s nearly abandoned boxy Wild West storefronts and frilly Victorians were waiting in mothballs, courtesy of the miners who chiseled more than $400 million worth of silver out of the surrounding Wasatch Mountains in the 1800s. Today, Park City’s fairy-tale Main Street twinkles with lights and brims with activity. Since the skiing here is considered less challenging than at neighboring resorts like Snowbird and Alta, the clientele tends to be of intermediate skill—couples and families looking for a well-rounded experience that includes shopping, dining and relaxing.

Pack snow-proof footwear, because this is a town for strolling. On foot, you’ll discover a warren of diversions tucked above, below and along Main Street and Park Avenue. Browse Bahnhof Sport for skiwear, Chloe Lane for designer jeans and Mary Jane’s for funky women’s clothing and accessories. A free trolley travels Main Street if you find yourself loaded down with packages.

Two dozen art galleries showcase everything from local watercolor landscapes to western bronze statues. Start with Phoenix Gallery, an airy, three-story space that provides a perfect backdrop for the contemporary mixed-media sculpture on display.

Shops and galleries seem to be outnumbered only by restaurants. It’s not easy to find a bargain, but the financial hit is worth it for some memorable meals. Rustic chophouses serve chile-rubbed prime cuts; trattorias could hold their own in Tuscany. The name on locals’ lips is Shabu, where you can cook your food in sizzling broth at the table. The atmosphere is fun and informal, and the “freestyle Asian cuisine” playfully pairs flavors, like sake-steamed sea bass with black bean and garlic paste.

Despite what you may have heard about Utah’s bewildering liquor laws, nightspots abound as well. Those wishing to close out a day on the slopes with a cocktail need only pay a nominal “membership fee” to get in to most clubs. Whether your tastes lean toward meeting for martinis and appetizers (Jean Louis) or drinking beer and dancing until dawn (Harry O’s), you can find it in spades in Park City. In Utah terms, Park City is “Sin City,” and the town takes pride in that nickname.

UP ON THE SLOPES
Above all, Park City is a ski town. Its fortunes were transformed from silver to snow in 1963, when a local mining company opened Treasure Mountain to skiing. Photos at the Park City Museum show zealous skiers traveling through old mine shafts and surfacing in soot-covered parkas on mid-mountain slopes.

Today Park City has 3 ski resorts, all regularly deluged with the dry-as-dust Utah snows that drift down the east side of the Great Salt Lake. Few ski hills are as centrally located as Park City Mountain Resort. To hit the slopes, all you need to do is hop on a chairlift downtown and soar over the city up the mountain. On the way down, skiers and snowboarders still schuss past the occasional mining relic. This 3,300-acre resort is especially well suited for families, thanks to its great location, abundance of ski-in/ski-out lodging, diversity of runs and teen-pleasing terrain parks (even lighted for night-riding) that routinely win kudos from snowboarding magazines. Near the base is the Alpine Coaster, a 2-person roller coaster that blazes downhill.

Four miles north, The Canyons has quietly become one of the largest ski areas in the country, with 3,700 acres of terrific bowls, gullies and ridiculously long, mellow cruisers. It's still expanding: 300 acres of aspen glades were added in 2008 around the new Dreamcatcher chairlift. And there's a growing village at the resort's base, though guests staying there might feel a bit isolated from Park City's other attractions.

The area's toniest accommodations can be found sidled up to Deer Valley Resort, a mile south of downtown Park City. This exclusive mountain prides itself on elite customer service and amenities. To prevent lift lines and give skiers plenty of elbow room, ticket sales are limited. Trail grooming approaches high art, and snowboarding is prohibited. Mid-mountain restaurants cater to the upscale clientele with dishes like grilled Atlantic salmon with orange hollandaise; the resort even markets its own line of signature foods (cilantro-lime glaze, anyone?). On sunny afternoons, after their 2-hour lunches, guests contentedly sip blueberry mojitos on The Beach, where Adirondack chairs are lined up in the snow.

The 1,825 acres of ski terrain at Deer Valley gets better every year. Guests tend to gravitate to those delightful corduroy groomers, leaving the wide-open steeps and glades for accomplished skiers off the Empire and new Lady Morgan chairlifts.

Not that you need more variety, but the scissor-sawed peaks ringing the horizon are home to more than a half-dozen additional ski resorts. These include Alta and Snowbird at the south end of Salt Lake City in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Robert Redford's Sundance near Provo, and the virtually undiscovered expanses of Snowbasin and Powder Mountain north near Ogden.

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Waitsfield & Warren: Little Neighborly Vermont Ski Towns


Ski in Waitsfield; eat in Warren—or do both in one day. You can’t go wrong.

Fair warning: The Very Small Donuts sold at Waitsfield’s Big Picture Theater & Café are addictive. Luckily, you can bag a dozen for $6.50 while watching, say, Cheaper by the Dozen in one of the two screening rooms. Throw in a microbrew: This retro-themed spot, which has sea-foam-green decor, leather couches and killer brunches and burgers, is one of the state’s only movie theaters that allow dinner and a show.

Waitsfield anchors one end of the Mad River Valley, where you’ll find the ski areas Mad River Glen and Sugarbush. The other marquee town around here is Warren, home of the Pitcher Inn and the Warren Store. The latter is famous for its No. 6 (turkey on a baguette with a secret-recipe cranberry mayo) and other overstuffed sandwiches, but the toys, women’s clothing and housewares at the top of the rainbow-colored stairs are just as tempting. The Tracks lounge, across the street at the Pitcher Inn, is a fine place to snack on duck rillettes by the fire.

But there’s more poking around to be done in Waitsfield. Park near the covered bridge to check out works by more than 200 Vermonters at the Artisans’ Gallery. Then head for a meal at Mint, a vegetarian restaurant that should convert even the most devoted carnivore, at least temporarily. If you must have meat, try the New Vermont Sausage pizza at the perennially popular American Flatbread, made with maple-fennel sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Once you’re ready to click into your skis, you’ll find natural snow, zero snowboarders and a time-capsule vibe at Mad River Glen, a laid-back ski area that has barely changed since its founder decided in 1948 that it wouldn’t be a “mountain amusement park” but a “winter community.” Over at 578-acre Sugarbush, more-modern upgrades let you score first tracks in the fresh snow of Lincoln Peak in a heated snowcat dubbed the Lincoln Limo. It’s very—well, sweet.

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Jeffersonville: A Little Vermont Ski Town


Schussing down the Green Mountains is sublime, but so is strolling the snow-covered streets filled with galleries, bakeries, brewpubs and more in this quaint ski town.

"It’s very sweet,” the no-nonsense waitress at Jeffersonville's Mix Café warns a mother and two preteens about their menu choice. They've taken a break from Facebooking on their iPad to debate ordering the crème brulée French toast with "drunken" blueberries. The trio nod and order it anyway—why not? The Mix's particular twist on French toast is said to be the best in Vermont, and almost everyone who gathers here, from Carhartt-clad farmers to snow bunnies in Bogner, has probably earned the calories.

Sweet but also surprising: sort of like many Green Mountain ski towns themselves. Jeffersonville is the home of Smugglers' Notch. At one point, there really were smugglers in Smugglers’ Notch. Early-19th-century outlaws ferried embargoed British goods and later, during Prohibition, booze from Canada through this narrow pass in the Green Mountains. Today Smuggs is best known as a family-friendly ski resort with 3 interconnected mountains and 1,000 acres of terrain, a 2,610-foot vertical drop and an average annual snowfall of 322 inches.

You won’t find high-speed quads or gondolas at Smuggs—and that’s just the way locals like it. Slower chairlift rides means fewer people on the hill at one time. The toughest trails, such as Black Hole (the only triple black diamond in the Northeast), Liftline and F.I.S. wriggle down from Madonna Mountain, while Morse Mountain is a gigantic playground dusted with snow. Smuggs even has its own mascot, Mogul Mouse, and Burton Riglet Park for very young snowboarders.

For a non-ski option, visit ArborTrek for a zip-line canopy tour. The 2-hour Wild Winter Ride takes thrill seekers on a high-flying adventure through snow-covered treetops.

Après-ski, it’s hard to beat a slope-side Long Trail Ale at Morse Mountain Grille or the moules frites at the Hearth & Candle; both are right in the resort’s village. Feel like a drop of vodka or rum? Duck into Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. The rest of Main Street, and pretty much the whole town, stretches east from there: At 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery, you’ll find such kid-friendly fare as grilled cheese and chicken fingers, while the Jeffersonville Country Store (sells Betty Boop lamps, wooden trains, Bove’s pasta sauce and Lake Champlain Chocolates.

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Seaside Fun Without the Crowds


Known for its beautiful beaches and enormous dunes, North Carolina’s Outer Banks have plenty to offer no matter the time of year.

Winter is a remarkable season on the Outer Banks. Without the buzz of summer crowds, the 130-mile strand of sandy islands off the North Carolina coast feels like even more of a frontier. Visitors in this quieter time often have long stretches of beach all to themselves. Most arrive by taking the 3-mile-long Wright Memorial Bridge across Currituck Sound. Two other bridges link the Outer Banks to the mainland through Manteo. Travelers can also take a North Carolina state ferry from points south. Whatever the route, visitors and residents say they breathe easier as soon as they hit the coast-hugging, two-lane N.C. Highway 12—aka “the beach road”.

ISLAND ART, FESTIVE LIGHTS
The landscapes of the Outer Banks inspire artists who paint, sculpt and photograph the birds, fish and lighthouses. Carvings of ducks and shore birds are featured at the Bird Store in Kill Devil Hills. Other galleries that show and sell the work of local artisans include Wanchese Pottery in Manteo and the colorful Pea Island Art Gallery on the surfers’ haven, Hatteras Island.

NATURAL WONDERS
Believe it or not, in winter you can go sledding and sandboarding (similar to snowboarding) at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Its 426 acres of sand dunes are the tallest in the eastern United States. Sandboarding is only permitted from October through March when the sand is cooler; participants glide down dunes that look like small ski mountains. Jockey’s Ridge is also known to have great conditions for hang gliding: consistent winds and deep sand that makes for softer landings. Outfitter Kitty Hawk Kites offers hang-gliding lessons year-round.

Wild horses live on the northern beaches of the Outer Banks, and winter is a terrific time to see them. You’ll start to notice plenty of four-wheel-drive vehicles as you head north of Duck and Corolla. Eventually, the paved portion of Highway 12 disappears in the sand. From that point on, only outfitters and others in off-road trucks and Jeeps can drive on the 7,500 acres of beaches that are home to the wild descendants of colonial-era Spanish mustangs. (Note: The horses are protected by law; you’ll face a stiff fine if you get closer than 50 feet.) Locals know that the holidays are a good time to take family and friends on excursions with outfitters like Corolla Outback Adventures and Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

South of Nags Head, incredible seaside scenery is the star attraction on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Along this windswept, mostly undeveloped stretch of coast, blowing sand from tall dunes must be scraped regularly from the highway by bulldozers so that traffic may pass. The shore is known for its seashells; one of the best shelling spots is Coquina Beach, near the Bodie Island Lighthouse. And some 400 species of birds frequent the Outer Banks, including wintertime warblers, finches and orioles. Birders bring binoculars to the Charles Kuralt Trail and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

SEASIDE HISTORY
At Roanoke Island Festival Park, learn about the “lost colony” of English settlers who mysteriously vanished from Roanoke Island in the late 1500s. Boat-building workshops are offered at the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. Meanwhile, displays and stories of shipwrecks, sea battles and pirates can be found at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras—some 2,000 ships have sunk along the Outer Banks over the centuries.

Perhaps the greatest visitor activity in the Outer Banks, though, is a flight of imagination. Thousands of people from around the world make their way to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills each year to see the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first powered flight happened in 1903. Full-scale reproductions of their practice glider and their first “flying machine” are among the displays at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The historic grounds are marked by a towering marble obelisk on a mound that can be seen from miles away—a reminder of the feat the brothers accomplished on these wild barrier islands little more than a century ago. Thanks to them, travel has never been the same since.

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Skiing Lake Tahoe


Two states, 15 ski areas and endless entertainment ring American’s favorite Alpine Lake.

In the 1950s, alpine skiing in America was a fringe, foreign sport and Squaw Valley an unknown rocky seam in the Sierras, high above Lake Tahoe. Then Squaw founder Alex Cushing implausibly launched—and even more implausibly won—a bid to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, a move he later admitted was little more than a marketing stunt for his fledgling ski area. Those Winter Games became the Sierras’ coming-out party, showing the world that America could more than rival the Alps. Skiers discovered that the saw-toothed range ringing Lake Tahoe ponies up more altitude than Innsbruck and way more snow than Chamonix.

BIG, BOLD SQUAW

Squaw Valley USA never looked back after those 1960 Olympics. It’s one of the nation’s leading ski areas, with 4,000 acres of steep bowls and granite knobs just 6 miles from Tahoe’s northwestern shore. Its precipitous runs have appeared in so many ski movies that the region has earned the nickname Squallywood.

But really, Squaw has everything. A network of more than 30 lifts leads to loads of sunny cruisers and intermediate tree skiing, too. You can glide to a mid-mountain ice rink at lunch, and at day’s end practically ski right into a steaming hot tub (if you happen to be a guest at the Resort at Squaw Creek). Then nab a table at the Six Peaks Grille, where chef Chad Shrewsbury uses molecular gastronomy techniques similar to those pioneered in Europe’s top kitchens. Luckily, you don’t need to understand his craft to enjoy it.

UNHERALDED ALPINE MEADOWS

Just 2 miles south of Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows sits in its big sister’s proverbial shadow, with fewer lift lines and plenty of elbow room. This is the locals’ favorite ski area, and it seems content to stay out of the spotlight: Its day lodge is utilitarian, and its biggest stars are the ski patrol dogs that are trained for avalanche rescue. They’ve become such popular icons that patrollers hand out baseball cards with canine stats: Bridger, a 62-pound golden retriever, “likes powder, practicing my search-and-rescue techniques and rolling in the snow.”

Alpine Meadows skis big, with short traverses leading to huge expanses of terrain that you didn’t even notice on the trail map. There’s also plenty of inbound terrain that’s accessible via short hikes along the ridge. “What’s really great about Alpine is that only about the middle third of it is lift-served,” says local Paul Ehreewil as he glides off the Summit chairlift. “Don’t be afraid to just get out and explore.”

NORTHSTAR PUTS ON THE RITZ

Tahoe never had the ultra-luxe lodging of, say, Aspen or Vail. But that all changed when Northstar-at-Tahoe opened the mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton Highlands. Nestled in a grove of ponderosa pines, the surprisingly unobtrusive hotel is patterned after grand mountain lodges like Yosemite’s Ahwahnee, with a soaring central “living room” that fuses beams, stone and natural light. Sunny patios are just steps from Northstar’s slopes, which offer everything from wide groomers to hard-charging bumps.

The Ritz-Carlton also includes a gondola to shuttle guests from the hotel to a recently built pedestrian village at Northstar’s base. The village is a perfect fit for this pleasantly mellow ski area: an idyllic family gathering spot with casual restaurants, shops and gas “bonfires” clustered around a skating rink.

THE SOUTH'S HEAVENLY VIEWS

Skiers and snowboarders line up like slalom poles along Heavenly’s California Trail to pose for snapshots. Perched 3,500 feet above the south shore, this run delivers the most glorious view: glittering blue Lake Tahoe, laid out in its entirety before you. Put simply, Heavenly Mountain Resort is huge. Its 4,800 acres of terrain stretch across Nevada and California and offer base areas in both states (when’s the last time you saw a “Welcome to California” sign tacked to a slope-side tree trunk?). Most folks seem content with Heavenly’s ample cruisers (meticulously groomed to wide-wale corduroy), which leaves areas like Milky Way Bowl—with its perfectly spaced pines and chalky snow days after a storm—blissfully empty even on a busy afternoon. Save some time in your ski day to check out the mid-mountain tubing park, one of the speediest and friendliest in the West.

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How to Rock the Rockies


Rockies

A wintery Lake Louise, in Banff National Park near Canmore.

The Canadian Rockies are such a majestic sight that even the most jaded traveler will turn into the one who takes photographs from the airplane. There are 5 national parks in this part of the Rockies, and the peaks are a must-see destination for outdoors enthusiasts.

CANMORE, ALBERTA

Just an hour’s drive from Calgary, Canmore is considered a commercial hub in these parts, with more than 70 restaurants and unique shops. One of these is the Ammonite Factory, which specializes in jewelry made of ammolite, also known as Alberta’s official gemstone. The unusual menu at Crazyweed restaurant includes Vietnamese meatballs, spicy Indian noodles, and Moroccan roast chicken. The Trough, an intimate spot downtown, serves rack of lamb and Alberta beef tenderloin. An equally tasty but more reasonably priced meal can be found at Mountain Mercato, a specialty food market with a café that dishes up soups, salads, and paninis.

All that food is fuel for the real star of the area—the skiing. Canmore underwent a much-needed rebirth to prepare for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Three top ski spots are nearby: Nakiska (the setting for the Olympic alpine events), Lake Louise and Mount Norquay—the only one with night skiing. Lake Louise and Norquay, both in Banff National Park, have recently added winter tube parks, where speed freaks can zip down the mountain on rubber tubes (then use the lift to go back up).

PANORAMA, British Columbia

Panorama, 2 hours southwest of Banff, has one of the largest vertical drops in North America (4,000 feet). Skiers and snowboarders fly down the slopes by day and night. Those who prefer lower-altitude activity should check out the Panorama Nordic Centre, at the base of the mountain. After exploring the miles of cross-country trails, skiers visit the Hale Hut, known for its hot chocolate.

For a proper drink, stop by Greys Restaurant at the Earl Grey Lodge, and stay for dishes such as rainbow trout and flank steak tacos as well as a lovely selection of wines (many Canadian). T Bar & Grill, in the Pine Inn, is the spot for slope-side casual dining.

FAIRMONT HOT SPRINGS, British Columbia

Fairmont Hot Springs has what may be one of the best locations an active person can ask for—it’s situated in the Columbia Valley, between the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges and Columbia and Windermere Lakes. Those hot springs are found at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, where an outdoor pool, open year-round, is fed by mineral-rich waters. A dip in thermal waters is sure to soothe sore muscles after a day on the slopes. Panorama’s 14 trails all funnel to this resort, and your ski pass gets you into the pools for free.

Options for après-ski dining abound. The latest is From Scratch, which has become a favorite for its gourmet pizzas, pork ribs, and Thai curry. Hoodoo Lounge & Grill holds several all-you-can-eat nights (crab on Tuesday, ribs on Friday); accompany your meal with the locally brewed Arrowhead beer. For a more upscale experience complete with killer views of Mount Nelson, head 20 minutes north to Elements Grill at the Copper Point Resort, in Invermere. If the weather cooperates, you can dine outdoors on the patio or even enjoy a poolside cocktail.

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Winter Getaway


We took a four day weekend to Door County, WI in February and stayed at The Rushes on Kangaroo Lake. We expected to hike around in some of the county and state parks while we were there. What we didn't expect were all of the extra accommodations The Rushes had to offer. They had a separate room with every size ice skate, snow shoe, cross country ski and poles for our family, as well as our 4-year-old. These activities were complimentary. We tried snowshoeing, but got hooked on cross country skiing! My husband and I wondered why we had never tried it before. Our 12-year-old son had a good time too. We could pick between three different trails varying in length and difficulty. The priceless moment was watching our 4-year-old son and the triumph on his face when he could ski too. New experiences as a family, now that's what vacation time is all about!

-Linda A. from Fond du Lac, WI

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Mountainside at SilverCreek


Skiing at Winter Park, CO

 

Skiing at Winter Park, CO

- Vance Z. from Hudson, WI

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Ski Vacation in the Poconos


Karen P. - RCI Social Media and Marketing NewsI’ll be honest, I’m not an expert skier – or even close to tackling a double black diamond trail for that matter.  But I do love a great ski getaway, whether it’s for a nice long week across country (I live in New Jersey) or nearby in the Poconos.

I grew up skiing at a local mountain, but it wasn’t until years later that I planned my first ski vacation at Shawnee Mountain in Pennsylvania.  Shawnee is a great ski mountain for all skill levels.  It seems to be designed for beginners, as most of the trails are a beginner or intermediate, but it also offers a few expert trails as well as a terrain park for more advanced skiers.  If a few in your family or group don’t ski, Shawnee offers a snow tubing park, which is a lot of fun.  Once you’re done with the slopes, there’s plenty to explore in the nearby Shawnee-on-Delaware and East Stroudsburg area, including great shopping and dining.

If you love to ski or are looking to plan your next ski adventure, check back throughout the week to read stories and view photos that RCI subscribing members have shared from their ski vacations through RCI.  You might just get an idea for your next winter escape!

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Any season is the right season to visit Vermont


Brad P. - RCI Sweepstakes and Social Media NewsI’ve been traveling to Vermont for almost 20 years now and I have so many fantastic memories of my times there.  I first started my relationship with the Green Mountain state as a teenager when I used to trek up North in an attempt to find the most rigorous and challenging ski trails. With more than 15 different mountains and resorts, Vermont offers a wide variety of options for all kinds of skiers and snowboarders, no matter what your skill level.

While the winter may be my favorite time to visit Vermont, I’ve also had the opportunity to experience it in the autumn and summer.  I can honestly say that New England during the height of fall foliage is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.  The views of the rolling mountains and hills, filled with different hues of yellow, orange and red, are quite breathtaking. Vermont is also a great place to visit in the summer.  One of my favorite memories was when I visited my sister in July and we spent the afternoon walking the streets of Burlington before ending the day relaxing in a park that overlooked Lake Champlain.

This week on the blog, we’ll be featuring stories and pictures about Vermont from RCI subscribing members.  Be sure to check back throughout the week to get some great ideas and information that can help you plan a trip to the Green Mountain state.

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Park City, Utah – A true, four season destination


Dan "The RCI Guy" - Vacation Travels with RCI TV's Dan "The RCI Guy"I've been lucky over the years... I've lived in some of the most beautiful states in the country. When I was young I lived in Northern California, then we moved to Alaska. I've also lived in Colorado and Connecticut and I've had a job that has taken me to all 50 states... numerous times. Having said that, I think I now live in the best state of all...Utah! You can literally go skiing in the morning and play golf that same afternoon. I love it! And while there are cool cities and towns everywhere in Utah, you have to visit Park City!

Park City is the perfect place - there are three ski resorts within just a few miles of each other - The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley. Each has won their share of International awards. One of the things I love about Park City is its easy access. There is a 6 lane freeway (I-80) that runs right past it and you can actually fly into Salt Lake City International airport and be at any of these resorts within 45 minutes.

Park City has just the right mix of locals and tourists. If you like to shop there is a huge outlet mall out by the freeway exit as well and another shopping center less than a mile away that has new cinemas, the latest stores and good restaurants, too. But the best part of Park City is "Historic Main Street". Park City was built up during the 19th century as a mining town and many of the earliest original buildings are still a part of Main Street. Main Street has a little bit of everything... really unique shops and stores selling everything from your typical souvenirs to high-end furs. There are great art galleries and lots of really quaint, local restaurants, diners, coffee shops and ice cream stores. The one thing you won't find on Main Street is any kind of a chain store or restaurant - I absolutely love it.

Park City is a true, four season destination. I live about 45 minutes away and we play in Park City year round. I grew up in Alaska so I definitely like to hit the slopes during the winter. But I also love photography and, during the spring, the mountains and meadows burst with color as a result of all the spring flowers. During the summer we've enjoyed everything from hot air balloon rides to great rounds of golf and lots of outdoor concerts. Fall in Park City is amazing as all the leaves change colors and everything is blazing in oranges, reds, yellows and greens. This is the time of year that we typically use some of our Points and exchange through RCI to stay at any of their affiliated resorts - we really like The Miners Club at The Canyons.

If you like amazing natural beauty with the fun and sophistication of a classy resort town proud of its history and heritage, you will LOVE Park City.  And besides...it seems like the air is always clean and crisp and the sun a little brighter up here. If you haven't been to Park City you really should check it out... and if you have been here, well... I know you'll be back!

This week on the RCI Blog, we’ll be sharing stories and photos from RCI subscribing members who have visited Park City. Be sure to come back to read about their adventures!

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