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My husband and I enjoy skiing, but we no longer pick a winter vacation destination for skiing alone. Between high-speed lifts and cranky knees, we're often ready to quit by early afternoon. So we prefer alpine destinations that offer other activities appealing to us and any non-skiing family members or friends who join us.
These five resort areas not only double down on other outdoor sports, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and dogsledding, but also offer less active alternatives with broad appeal. That makes them ideal for multigenerational family groups.
Note that while some ski resort hotels can be pricey, rental condos and apartments are usually less expensive (you can go through sites such as Airbnb and Homeaway) and allow you to keep meal costs in check if you do a little meal prep yourself. And in general, the farther you get from the lifts, the more affordable the lodging options.
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Salt Lake City, Utah
Arrive in Salt Lake City (known as Ski City) in the morning and you can be skiing in the afternoon. Or not — there's plenty else to do for everyone, from dinosaur-obsessed kids to basketball fans, thanks to a slew of family-friendly activities including museums, a planetarium, concert halls and Utah Jazz basketball games. You'll want to spend a day in Park City. At the Utah Olympic Park, visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum and the Olympic Winter Games 2002 Museum, and watch the action in the Olympic venues, including the bobsled/skeleton track. The new Woodward Park City, an indoor-outdoor action sports resort, offers progression-based facilities for 10 sports, including skiing, skateboarding, tubing, scooter, BMX and parkour. That means everyone, from first-timers to seasoned pros, will find options, and the “no thanks” crowd can watch from the café.
For savings, the Visit Salt Lake Connect Pass offers discounts on attractions and is a good option for nonskiers, while the Ski City Super Pass is an economical way to access lifts at Alta, Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude. Both include transportation options.
Where to stay: Most major chains operate downtown hotels. The splurge-worthy Grand America Hotel especially appeals to art connoisseurs (it's $300 a night and up), but anyone can view the priceless art and antiques on a self-guided tour.
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Home to Whitefish Mountain Resort and framed by spectacular Glacier National Park and the Kootenai and Flathead national forests, Whitefish offers seemingly endless outdoor activities, but it also has a thriving downtown filled with independent shops, galleries, restaurants, breweries and distilleries. (Save room for a scoop of house-made huckleberry ice cream from Sweet Peaks, the sweetest treat around.)
Also downtown are the Wave, with indoor pools and racquetball, the Rockfish climbing gym and Hidden Key Escape Games. Amtrak's Empire Builder stops here twice daily, and the S.N.O.W. bus connects downtown with the mountain.
Where to stay: A sleigh ride at the Bar W Guest Ranch, chased with hot chocolate and cookies, is a must, but you also can book a room, cabin suite or the whole lodge (rooms start at around $125). The Good Medicine Lodge, a family-friendly bed-and-breakfast, offers plentiful space to spread out, with rates just a bit more than the Bar W. If you're with a big (and big spending) group, book one, two or all three luxury ski-in/out Snow Bear Chalets.
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Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Wild about wildlife? With Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and the National Elk Refuge at its doorstep, Jackson Hole has it in spades, with gorgeous mountain views (the Tetons are spectacular). Pick your pleasure: You can experience wildlife safaris into Yellowstone and Grand Teton by van, snowcoach, snowmobile, snowshoe or cross-country skis. Visit the Elk Refuge on a sleigh ride. For a howling good time, spend a day dogsledding into the Bridger-Teton National Forest, including time for a soak in Granite Hot Springs.
Those who prefer warmer explorations can visit the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which houses more than 5,000 treasures, and learn about the town's Wild West heritage at the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum. Or shop: Stores, galleries, and boutiques radiate from Jackson's town square, entered through iconic elk-antler arches.
Where to stay: The Wyoming Inn is just over a mile from the town square. Those traveling without young children might consider the Huff House Inn and Cabins (about $200 in winter), a downtown bed-and-breakfast. For alpine convenience, the Hostel, at the base of the slopes, offers spartan-but-clean budget-friendly private and shared rooms — with king beds or four twins — along with a well-equipped recreation room ($49 to $169 for a king room, depending on the season). A bus connects town with both Jackson Hole and Snow King alpine resorts.
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Mount Washington Valley, New Hampshire
The Valley, as locals call it, oozes classic New England, complete with a Victorian train station and a covered bridge. With 13 alpine and cross-country areas within easy reach, it's a favorite winter sports destination. It also ranks high with shoppers, thanks to anchor town North Conway's mix of independent shops and national outlet stores. The New England Ski Museum's Eastern Slope Branch shares the region's rich skiing heritage.
The Mount Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center, an interactive science museum, focuses on weather and climate. Hardy weather geeks can also book a day trip to Mount Washington's summit weather station, home to some of the world's worst (unless you like freezing temps) weather. The less adventurous can book a snowcat tour up the Mount Washington Auto Road.
Where to stay: Lodging here runs the gamut. For boutique luxury, there's the Glen House, a large new hotel adjacent to the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center that's pet-friendly (rooms are $80 and up; $20 extra for a pet). In downtown North Conway, the historic Eastern Slopes Inn offers varied options, with rates as low as $89, as well as an indoor pool. You might also check out the grand and historic Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, where rooms are a bundle but you can always just stop in for a drink.
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Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, North Tahoe, Calif.
More than a dozen resorts pepper this region straddling California and Nevada. Biggest are California-based sister resorts Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, which offer eye-candy views of North America's largest alpine lake. But anyone can ride Squaw Valley's aerial tram to High Camp to drink in those stunning views, and visit a small museum highlighting the 1960 Winter Olympics, held in Squaw Valley.
Dive into Lake Tahoe's heritage at the Tahoe Maritime Museum or dip into its environment at the Tahoe Science Center. Exhibits at the North Lake Tahoe Historical Society explore the 1960 Winter Olympics, the railroad, black bears and Native American basketry. Even in winter, you can book a cruise or a fishing trip — or cross the state line to gamble. A special treat: a moonlight snowshoe to Alpine Meadows chalet for a Bavarian-inspired multicourse dinner.
Where to stay: For ski-in/out convenience, opt for condos in the Village at Squaw Valley, where prices run the gamut. Or it's an easy walk to the lakeshore and downtown shops from Basecamp Tahoe City, which offers family-style rooms, continental breakfast and nightly s'mores, with rates starting at $115.