October 9, 2019
Not everyone who goes on a skiing holiday wants or is able to ski or snowboard, and the bigger your party, the more likely it is you’ll have a winter sports refusenik in your ranks. And even die-hard powder hunters sometimes want time away from the slopes or to do something different. So what else is there to do on a typical skiing holiday in a traditional ski resort? We look at some of the choices in our favourite North American destinations…
There’s nothing like sinking into the warmth of a natural hot springs pool on a cold winter’s day, especially when that pool is sheltering deep in a snowy, pine-clad mountain landscape. At the magical Strawberry Park Hot Springs, near Steamboat Springs in Colorado, the air may be freezing but the mineral waters are 104 degrees fahrenheit and you’ll find it hard to tell your own breath from the steam rising from the water. The video below shows Strawberry Park in summer, but trust us – it’s even more magical in the snow.
For a slightly less rustic experience, Banff Upper Hot Springs in the Canadian Rockies is an excellent 1930s-built pool and bathhouse, perfect for a long relaxing soak. Whether you have sore thighs from whizzing downhill all day or you simply want to unwind, this spring-fed hot pool with views of Mount Rundle will ease your aching limbs and is a wonderful place for stargazing.
If you’re looking for more of an indoor relaxation experience, it would be easy to while away an entire day in a full-service spa. Many established ski resorts are home to high-end spa hotels, and even if you’re not staying at one yourself, most will allow you to book in as a day guest. Fairmont Hotels in Banff, Whistler and Tremblant all welcome day visitors, as does the Montbleu Spa Resort in Lake Tahoe and the Beaver Run in Breckenridge.
Shopping in a ski resort can be hit and miss, with many resorts home to little more than sports equipment, sunglasses and clothing stores. Others, however, have a much broader appeal. The Canadian resort towns of Tremblant and Whistler Blackcomb are renowned for the number and variety of shops on offer. Breckenridge in Colorado has an old-fashioned main street lined with more than 200 independent stores, boutiques and galleries selling everything from organic handmade toiletries to authentic Navajo weavings. The quintessential New England village and ski resort of Stowe in Vermont also has an abundance of quirky stores, selling handcrafted jewellery, speciality Vermont foods and local fine art.
Not exactly one for the faint of heart, but if you don’t want to ski – but still want an adrenaline rush – this could be the ultimate thrill. Other than nerves of steel, no special skills are required to experience the former Winter Olympics venue and fastest sliding track in the world at the Whistler Sliding Center in Whistler, Canada. You’ll get all the necessary safety training, before teaming up with a trained bobsleigh pilot and speeding down the track at 125 km per hour. If you’re super brave you can even try the solo skeleton ride and hurtle headfirst down the track on your own – hopefully not into oblivion.
If you’re not an avid skier, but still love the snow and want to soak up the mountain scenery, snowshoeing could be the winter sport for you. Like hiking – but with the help of outsized footwear that displaces your weight over a larger surface area so you don’t sink into the snow – this exhilarating, low-impact aerobic exercise is cheap, accessible and easy to master.
A beginner’s guided snowshoe tour will help you with the basics, like lengthening your stride length, using your toes for traction when going uphill, and kicking into the snow to create a ‘stair’ when traversing powdery slopes. Ready to give it a try? The ski resorts of Vermont transform into a magical winter wonderland in winter, with plenty of snow-covered peaks, frozen waterfalls and frosty forest trails to explore – try Stowe Mountain Resort or Killington Mountain for some of the best snowshoeing and scenery in the state.
Canada is one of the best places in the world for stargazing and viewing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The further north you can go the better, but even in the more accessible areas of Alberta and British Columbia, the chances are good. To maximise your viewing experience, head to some of the darkest spots along the Icefield Parkway in Banff National Park or further north along the Athabasca River beside the Yellowhead Highway in Jasper National Park. Jasper is an official Dark Sky Preserve – the second largest in the world, in fact – with an annual stargazing festival and structured winter viewing events.