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Winter Camps for Kids
Snow-season vacations can prove challenging for many families -- do we ski? sled? snowshoe? And then there's the questions of skill levels -- how best to bridge the gap between big brother's snazzy snowboarding and the bunny hill belly flops of the little ones? Two words: winter camp. Enterprising resorts across the U.S. are creating programs that rival the adventures of traditional summer camps. Generally catering to ages 4-12, these camps provide a day's worth of indoor/outdoor activities sure to please the most discriminating young travelers. Pack the mittens -- camp is a-waiting!
At the Resort at Squaw Creek, nestled in Northern California's Squaw Valley (site of the 1960 Winter Olympics), a glass tower rises Darth Vader-like from the snowy landscape. The dark glass outside belies the warm environs inside, where fireplace suites done in a palette of taupe and sand provide ample room for kids to ogle the panoramic view. Thanks to a recent $55 million renovation, the resort is in peak form: polished woods gleam in the spacious lobby, restaurants have been reborn and the Spa is the place where parents will want to end their day. Back to the kids, though. Their first stop will be Mountain Buddies, where children ages 4-12 are in for a rollicking good time. Program Manager and Camp Counselor Alexa Muhs sticks to an indoor/outdoor program, the better to maximize the season and setting. Themed days are also part of the mix. On a recent day, she invites her charges to take on the "rock wall" first, with Legos or a beading project next. As the pulse rate elevates, it's time to strap on ice skates for a few laps around the ice rink. Clever "walkers" insure that even first-time skaters will take on the challenge. Midday, it's back to the clubhouse to order lunch and listen to stories. A scavenger hunt throughout the resort ushers in the afternoon, with the grand prize (everyone wins!) a trip to the sledding hill for a seemingly endless number of runs. As the afternoon chill settles in, it's back inside for a marshmallow treat. Hands that are washed clean can make an airplane or a boomerang. The new toys are colored and...it's time to go! Our five-year-old son and his classmate were effusive about their Mountain Buddies experience:
STEVEN: "Alexa made me the second boss of Mountain Buddies. I asked her if I could be that for the whole day and she said I could be that for my WHOLE LIFE!"
ZED: "Me and Alexa and the rest of the class were talking about our funny bones!"
STEVEN: "I LOVED Alexa 'cause she made all the fun."
But that's not all the fun. Families will want to dine at Sandy's Pub, where kids provide the cheering section at the shuffleboard and pool tables between bites of pizza and dogs. Parents will enjoy the perfectly-prepared fish and fresh salads. The Yurt at the Nordic Center rents snowshoes and cross-country skis for a placid trek to the Olympic Village while the Spa at Squaw Creek's slate of massages can prove irresistible. Then there's the swimming pool and hot tub, a singular treat at a snowy retreat. Not to be overlooked is the resorts' own chairlift, offering skiers a bottom-to-top ride to Squaw Mountain USA. Equally unique to the property are dog sled tours with Husky teams that are poised to enter the Iditarod. With these choices and more, the Resort at Squaw Creek is a prime destination for family fun during the winter season. For detailed information on rates and reservations, go to www.squawcreek.com or call (530) 583-6300.
At the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch on Colorado's Beaver Creek Mountain, it's yellow Labrador Retriever Bachelor who's most likely to greet kids on arrival. He's also a frequent guest at the Ritz Kids Roundup, a western-themed and camp-inspired full and half day program for kids ages 5-12 where they can make snowmen, partake of Rocky Mountain arts and crafts and even take a field trip to the local recreation center. A Ski Nanny service is also available for kids participating in the Beaver Creek Ski School -- simply drop the little ones off first thing in the morning and the nanny will get them out and back from class. The Bachelor Gulch Youth Spa invites kids ages 5-15 to sample the fitness center for a fun "workout," lunch and a choice of two 25-minute mini-treatments. Munchies and a Movie are on tap from 4-6 p.m. daily and you can bet the bean bags and popcorn will look as good as the film. Kids' Night Out, from 6-10 p.m., runs the gamut from a pajama party to an ice skating/pizza party in Beaver Creek. Ah, to be a kid at the Ritz! But all is not lost for parents: the open-air sleigh ride to Zach's Cabin for a cozy dinner a deux insures that everyone will go to bed with a smile on their face. For detailed information on rates and reservations, visit www.ritzcarlton.com or call (970) 748-6200.
Boasting its very own ski mountain, The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire keeps the action close at hand. Camp Wind Whistle is where kids ages 7-13 will check in for a full or half day of skiing, while Camp Wee Whistle caters to the 4-6 age group. Tiny Turns is for budding skiiers ages 3-4, although they may prefer to stay behind at the Alpine Base Lodge, where kids ages six months to five years can play games or work on crafts while mom and dad slip into their Alpine or Nordic skis (nearly 100 km of groomed cross-country trails are on property). The resorts' play room is stocked with board games, though the ping pong, air hockey or video game machines may prove more enticing to teens. Families may want to reconnect for a spin around the ice rink or rent snowmobiles in nearby Errol, New Hampshire. The more than 600 miles of interconnecting trails make Northern New Hampshire one of the most desirable places for snowmobiling in the world. While The Balsams is an ideal destination for an active vacation, it's equally appealing as a relaxing getaway, since this historic hotel (dating to the Civil War) is truly a destination in its own right. For detailed information on rates and reservations, visit www.thebalsams.com or call (603) 255-3400.
Elaine Sosa Labalme is a food and travel writer based in San Francisco, California. When she's not busy as a domestic goddess she's out traveling with husband Fen and five-year-old son Steven. She hopes to be the next Charles Kuralt.