Ski vacations rock...but not always for non-skiers. When I was growing up my brother, dad and I took annual ski trips to Utah and Colorado during spring break; my mom always headed South to the beaches instead. That was many years ago, and if I could go back, Mom, I'd tell you this: there's so much more to the ski vacation than just skiing. You may not be able to lay out on a sandy beach (although sunny Colorado decks in April are pretty great), but you would be able to have an action-packed vacation full of things that have nothing to do with skiing.
Major ski resorts offer much more than skiing and riding. There are the more well-known activities like tubing, dogsledding, and paragliding; there's the shopping and fine dining; there are some of the finest spa getaways in the world nestled into mountainside natural hotsprings. Mountain towns are magnets for craft beer enthusiasts and wellness buffs. And even if you are going for the skiing, why not indulge in everything else the destination has to offer? Especially on those frigid February days when, let's face it, you'd rather hit the slopes for 2 runs then continue your day in the sauna. Read on for 15 things you (or your non-skiing loved ones) can do besides ski on your next winter vacation.
Paragliding is perhaps the most active way to see the landscape on a ski vacation. Most major resorts partner with private companies that offer both tandem flights – during which you’ll fly with a trained guide – and training for individual flights (although the former is much more common). You’ll strap into a dual harness, get a running start from the top of a peak, and cruise through the sky for 30-45 minute flights.
This is a favorite among kids, and a good option for a day off in the middle of a long ski vacation. Some areas around ski resorts, like national parks and wilderness areas, are not accessible by motorized vehicles in the winters: dogsledding is a unique alternative. Tours can last anywhere from 2 hours to day-long excursions that include destination lunches; you’ll be led by a professional guide, or trained to mush the sled yourself.
Ski resorts are located in some of the most aesthetically pleasing places in the world; what’s lesser known is that some are also located in historically and culturally rich communities that existed long before the resort towns developed. Keep an eye out for museums and art centers that provide learning experiences for kids. The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre in Whistler offers insight into the local First Nations Culture. Alternately, check out the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole for a peak into the natural history of Wyoming’s wild west.
Brewery and Distillery Tours
It’s a well known truth that skiers love well-crafted drinks. So it’s also no surprise that microbreweries serving up tasty brews are common in mountain and resort towns. Most offer public tours at least once a day, or you can drop in for a tasting flight and get the skinny from a friendly bartender on how they craft their beer. Distilleries are less common, but worth a trip if you’re in town. Park City’s High West Distillery and Saloon is a ski-in/ski-out favorite; Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont draws crowds from resorts like Stowe, Sugarbush, and Bolton Valley.
Resorts are chock full of fabulous eateries: gourmet mountainside restaurants, notorious dive bars where locals get rowdy after a day on the slopes, and international spots serving up cuisine you’d never expect in a mountain town. But destination dinners are our favorite: check out options like the Game Creek Restaurant at Vail, where you’ll take a snowcat ride to the top of Game Creek Bowl for a five-star culinary experience. Experiences like these offer old-fashioned charm amidst modern elegance that are not to be missed.
Yogis: get stoked for power vinyasa, mountain town style. Ski resort locals love their wellness, and private yoga boutiques as well as major hotels offer specialty yoga classes for those living (or visiting) the mountain lifestyle. Group as well as private sessions are usually available, and you can check with the concierge of your hotel for different offerings. If you’re in Aspen, be sure to drop into the mountaintop yoga class at the Sundeck for a smooth transition into a day on the slopes (or shopping the streets).
We love alpine slides because they’re a little bit cheesy, and a lot bit fun. Kids always have a blast. Major resorts, as well as smaller ski areas, often boast these luge-like apparatuses that involve 30-60 second rides down a twisted, not-too-fast track. Beware of getting really little tykes stoked on taking a ride: there’s usually a height/weight/age minimum.
For the ultimate bachelor party, weekend getaway, or blow-out ski vacation that has you out all night (every night), head to a resort that boasts casinos (and a wild night life – they go hand in hand). In the States, this means the Lake Tahoe area, where you’ll find plenty of gambling opportunities near Heavenly. Alternately, explore the slightly smaller scene in Casino Barriere in Chamonix (although the Alps aren’t known for their casinos, interest and offerings are on the rise.)
Some resorts are remote; others are not – but all of them – if they attract large crowds of destination vacationers – boast excellent shopping. From outdoor goods that will make gear geeks go nuts to handcrafted jewelry that ladies will absolutely love, ski resorts boast a huge range of offerings. Our advice? Try to shop local for finely crafted goods and clothes, and tune into what the area is known for. You’ll walk away with truly unique finds.
Every season, concert-goers flood ski resorts to see their favorite musicians live (and often for free). The most popular time for outdoor concerts is late March and early April, when entire base areas turn into major concert venues: parking lots are cleared, stages are erected, and great concerts are played. You’ll also find local acts and well-known musicians touring through for smaller shows. Whistler Blackcomb is known to consistently host a series of big acts in early April during their World Ski & Snowboard Festival.
Perhaps you knew about it, perhaps you didn’t. But if by “tubing” you think we mean sliding down the backyard on an inflatable water tube like you did when you were a kid, keep reading. Tubing has evolved over the past decade into a major resort attraction, where multiple lanes (sometimes up to twenty!) run long into the nights and include obstacles and full lift service. Resorts best known for tubing are actually in the mid-Atlantic area, and include Camelback Mountain Resort, Blue Mountain, and Holiday Valley.
Adrenaline junkies can get their fix with snowmobile tours, which not only offer long excursions into remote backcountry areas, but a different kind of excitement than what some folks find on the slopes. For those who have never driven a snowmobile, a training and safety tutorial is usually offered, and heading out with a professional guide often mandatory. Some tours, like those run out of Big Sky, Montana, offer full-day excursions that include phenomenal sightseeing.
Luxury Spa Days
Luxury spas can be the ticket to get the non-skier in your family to actually agree to a ski vacation. This is a particular advantage of staying at major resorts: with shopping, dining, sightseeing and spas in the mix, skiing becomes more or less optional. Destinations like The Cliff Lodge & Spa at Snowbird offer a full range of massages, steams, facials, sauna, pools, and body work.
Kids’ Night Out
Didn’t know you could get away from the kids for the night, and they could go to their own party, too? Introducing Kids’ Night Out, a favorite of parents looking for an evening to themselves without the hassle of finding a babysitter. Resorts across the country, including Smugglers’ Notch, Telluride, and Sunday River, host these intermittently throughout the season, and always during peak vacation periods. Drop the kids off for pizza, games, movies, and more, and head out for a night on the town.
Hot Air Ballooning
For a bird’s eye view of the resort’s surrounding mountains, check the offerings of hot air balloon rides. While adventurous souls may opt for paragliding, taking a sunrise tour via hot air balloon is a relatively mellow alternative, and one that lasts longer as well. It’s a good option for families who want to experience the sights together in a unique way. Steamboat offers family-friendly, year-round sightseeing tours of the Yampa Valley; check in with your specific resort for information on local offerings.