by Kim Foley MacKinnon
Embrace and celebrate a season of snow, skiing, skating and snowboarding to the fullest. Countless options for weekend escapes within a few hours of Boston make it a bit difficult to choose where to go. Here are a few destinations – listed in order of distance – perfect for families who think winter is all too short and should be enjoyed to the fullest, whether that means hitting the slopes, relaxing by a fire, tubing down a hill or all of that and more.
One Hour Away
Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, a mere hour’s drive from Boston in Princeton, MA, is one of the closest ski resort areas to the city, and if that’s even more than you want to drive, a special “ski train” from North Station to Fitchburg runs on weekends in season. At the MBTA Fitchburg Station a shuttle bus picks up visitors and takes them to the mountain. The Wachusett Mountain Ski & Snowboard School, with more than 300 instructors, has a reputation for being one of the largest and finest in New England. The popular Polar Kid’s Program and Children’s Vacation Clubs are a great way to introduce kids to the sports. The school vacation programs are a deal, with full days that include coaching, lift tickets and even lunch for kids ages 6 to 15.
Princeton, Mass., 978-464-2300; 800-SKI-1234; www.wachusett.com.
Two Hours Away
Since the 1800s, King Pine Purity Spring Resort, a family- owned and operated resort in East Madison, N.H., has offered myriad activities year-round. In winter, its King Pine Ski Area is a smorgasbord of snowy fun, including both Alpine (downhill) and Nordic (cross-country and ski jumping) skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and tubing. A bonus is that with your lift ticket, the Nordic skiing, skating and snowshoeing tickets are included. It’s an ideal place for beginners, especially this year, because the resort is offering free 90-minute Learn-to-Ski and Learn-to-Snowboard lessons for the entire winter season (with the purchase of a full-day rental and a lift ticket at the regular price). Various accommodations, from lodges to cottages to condos, are available; this place has a loyal following so book well in advance.
East Madison, N.H., 800-373-3754; www.purityspring.com.
Loon Mountain in Lincoln, N.H., not only offers a great Snowsports School with programs for all ages and abilities, but this year also marks the debut of an Ice Castle at the resort’s Adventure Center. The castle, the first of its kind in New England, is nearly an acre in size, a 12,000-ton frozen fantasy fortress with walls as high as 25 feet. Other fun activities at the Adventure Center include a 700-foot-long zip line, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In addition, there are two Paul Bunyan-themed terrain snowboarding parks and a snow tubing center. While in the area, check out the New England Ski Museum, which offers a fascinating look at the history of skiing from its prehistoric roots (really!) to the present day.
Lincoln, N.H., 603-745-8111; www.loonmtn.com.
by Kim Foley MacKinnon
Waterville Valley in New Hampshire is an adorable village in a self-contained valley, with plenty of family-friendly activities and accommodations. Besides the Alpine skiing (52 ski trails, served by 12 lifts) and Nordic skiing (40-plus miles of trails), you can take a sleigh ride, go ice skating, dog-sledding or snow shoeing. New this year, there’s also a tubing center with four lanes to speed down. Stay and play vacation packages include everything from lift tickets to access to the resort shuttles, swimming at the White Mountain Athletic Club, ice skating passes and other perks.
Waterville Valley, N.H., 800-468-2553; www.waterville.com.
Two and a Half Hours Away
Omni Mount Washington Resort, with the unmatched combination of a gorgeous historic hotel and its location within Bretton Woods, New Hampshire’s largest ski area, is the perfect place to celebrate your snow-filled adventure. While the hotel offers plenty of amenities for its guests, including a luxurious spa and a multitude of dining options to please even the pickiest eaters, winter visitors are often eager to hit the slopes as this area is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding trails – more than 100 – for all abilities. You’ll also discover ice skating, snow tubing, dog-sled rides, sleigh rides and more. Visit their website to check out the deals for families, including their ski and play packages.
Bretton Woods, N.H., 603-278-1000;
When your kids hear that Red Jacket Mountain View Resort boasts its own 40,000-square-foot indoor water park, your search for a winter getaway may be over. This very family-oriented New Hampshire resort offers a great selection of room types, as well as various packages. A ski, splash and stay deal includes two nights of lodging; one lift ticket per person (per stay) to either nearby Cranmore or Attitash; daily admission to the Kahuna Laguna Water Park; and daily breakfast. If your family would rather skip the outdoor activities, the splash and save package is a bargain, with unlimited use of the water park, accommodations and complimentary full breakfast.
North Conway, N.H., 603-356-5411; www.redjacketresorts.com.
Three Hours Away
Thrill-seekers love the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster at Okemo Mountain Resort in Ludlow, Vt., just one of many family attractions found there. Besides the mountain coaster, which zips along through the woods on a winding, looping track like a roller coaster, there’s also an indoor/outdoor pool, an ice skating rink, and, oh yeah, Nordic skiing galore on dozens of trails, plus snowshoeing and snow tubing. The town of Ludlow is a charming place to spend the afternoon, with plenty of shops and restaurants. Accommodations at Okemo range from one-bedroom rooms to three-bedroom suites with full kitchens, perfect for families. There are several different children’s ski and ride programs for kids even as young as 2, plus daycare and kids’ nights out.
Ludlow, Vt., 800-786-5366; www.okemo.com.
by Kim Foley MacKinnon
Sugarbush and Mad River Valley offer plenty for families to do. Located in Warren, Vt., in the Mad River Valley, the 4,000-acre resort boasts 111 trails in two mountain areas, multiple lodging and dining options, and scores of amenities. At the Adventure Learning Center, lessons, clinics and camps cater to every age and ability level. There are guided and self-guided snowshoe tours, plus ice skating and ice fishing nearby. There’s also a winter tennis program at the Sugarbush Health and Racquet Club (which also has an indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna and rock-climbing gym). A bonus once you arrive is that you can just park your car and forget about it. A free shuttle service, called the Mad Bus, runs regularly in and around the resort with stops at most condominium complexes and the Sugarbush Inn.
Warren, Vt., 800-537-8427; www.sugarbush.com.
Four Hours Away
Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont wins accolades from publications each year for its family-friendly vibe, consistently offering some of the most outstanding programs for kids and families in New England. For example, its new Vermont Winter Experience Package includes lodging, guided walks and snowshoe treks, a cross-country ski lesson, a snowcat ride, snow tubing, airboarding (inflatable sleds), access to the indoor pool and hot tub, and evening entertainment. If you stay for more than two days, you can choose to add on activities like a snowmobile tour, zip lining, dog-sledding, ice climbing and more. When you’re ready to play inside, the FunZone Family Entertainment & Recreation Center features an arcade, a bouncy house, table games, a 45-foot giant obstacle course and after-hours teen-only activities. In addition, special programs from bingo to arts and crafts to dance parties ensure no one has a chance to be bored.
Cambridge, Vt., 800-419-4615; www.smuggs.com.
Jay Peak Resort in Jay, Vermont, just a few miles from Canada, claims the distinction of having the most snow in eastern North America. It boasts the only aerial tram in Vermont and has more than 385 acres of skiable terrain (77 trails and eight lifts). New for families is the Mountain Kids Adventure Center with Toy Story characters, indoor and outdoor learning areas, a moving carpet and a dedicated learning slope. An ice skating rink offers another fun winter activity. There’s also an amazing indoor water park at Jay Peak called the Pumphouse, which features a lazy river, slides, a Flowrider (sort of like surfing), a 65-foot-high tube chute that rockets you along at 45 miles per hour (you have to be at least 4 feet tall and weigh 88 pounds), kids’ play areas and indoor/outdoor hot tubs. The resort has a variety of ski/splash/stay vacation packages that you can customize.
Jay, Vt., 802-988-2611; www.jaypeakresort.com.
We hope you get out enjoy one of these winter weekend getaways in New England with your family.