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Ski areas not just for winter anymore

Thursday, August 1, 2013
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Who says ski areas are for winter only? Not me! Just back from a few days at Smuggler’s Notch outside Burlington, Vt., and I can attest that while the calendar reads summer, the place was hopping.

No, this isn’t a skier’s delusion brought on by the recent heat wave. We still have months of bad sliding before we can break out the boards again.

So why go in mid-summer? For the activities, of course. Ski areas are becoming popular destinations in the warm weather months. We know they are located in appealing places: up in the mountains, away from the traffic and bustle. More and more these days they are adding activities to attract people so the resource doesn’t just sit there empty, waiting for the snow to fall.

These days there are mountain coasters and alpine slides, and zip lines nearby; and golf and tennis programs; and mountain biking and hiking. Concerts and special events are regular features at areas we once paid attention to only in winter.

Then there are the kids.

If your travel posse includes children, check out Smugglers’ Notch.

Known for the quality of its kids’ programs in winter, Smuggs first focused on youngsters as part of a marketing plan developed in conjunction with the Montreal Summer Olympic Games in 1976. Area officials reasoned that with year-round lodging in place, why not offer day trips to the competitions a short bus trip away.

But how to appeal to families where the children could likely care less about the game?

Kids programs! Voila!

It worked. Then by adapting this focus to winter, and backing the idea with money and staffing, a mid-level Vermont ski area developed an international reputation for the variety and quality of programs aimed at children year round. And when a program aimed at children works, it is a home run for everyone in the family.

We’ve been to Smuggs in winter and watched a never-ever skier make her first turns on snow. Now we have seen the young ones have fun in summer too. Not only were there traditional summer camp programs like hiking and swimming and crafts, but the youngsters were re-united with winter characters like The Friendly Pirate and Mogul Mouse, and Billy Bob Bear in evening programs for entire families. For those too old, or too young for the costumed characters, there were programs for them too. And the parents had their own activities also: a wide menu from Segway tours, to yoga, to fly fishing instruction. My hiking companion one morning was a 3-year-old Llama named Chester.

The idea is that if ski areas are great places for winter recreation, why not summer too?

It works. There are a lot of options out there these days. And these programs are not far from home. For a full description of the programs offered at Smuggler’s Notch, check out www.smuggs.com. Or, try the website of your favorite place. Ski areas are not just for winter anymore.

Phil Johnson is The Gazette's ski columnist.

 
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