Holidays on Ice

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide

Holidays on Ice

Skate and glide your way through the season at five snowbound lodges

Mirror Lake Inn, New York
Walk into Lake Placid's Mirror Lake Inn, and it's possible for all of your lofty athletic ambitions to vanish instantly. The mahogany-walled living room is crammed with deep, pillowy chairs; windburned guests are sprawled puddinglike in front of a roaring fire; and the concierge is boasting about the hot tub and reflexologist available in the full-service spa downstairs. Meanwhile, outside, it's a typical Adirondack winter day, with the cement-gray sky promising fresh snow and iced-over Mirror Lake beckoning skaters just outside the front door. The great outdoors is everywhere you look, but from where you stand, the indoors doesn't look too bad, either.

Fortunately, it only takes a few hours for Lake Placid's rampant Olympic spirit to inspire you to action. The half-mile and mile-long bobsled runs at Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex are a good place to start: The bullet-shaped capsule hurtles you down the icy chute at 40 to 50 miles per hour. When the dizziness wears off, head to nearby Cascade Cross Country Center for 20 kilometers of groomed trails, or try the wilder, four-mile uphill slog on snowshoes or touring skis to Avalanche Lake. Go on your own, or with one of the inn's veteran backcountry guides.

Back at the inn, tromp across the lake for an evening of dogsledding and Christmas carols, then retire to your digs — a simply furnished colonial room or a split-level suite with whirlpool bath and loft. Ah, the joys of being inside. At least until morning.

Doubles are $95-$165 per night regular season, $125-$250 per night peak season (December 19-January 3 and February 13-21); Placid suites, $270-$300 per night regular season, $360-$430 per night peak season. Call 518-523-2544.
— Katie Arnold

Vista Verde Ranch, Colorado
If you're lucky, like I was, you'll arrive at Vista Verde Ranch in the middle of a snowstorm. The two-story ranch house was at its most enchanting under six feet of new snow, its lanterns glowing in the dusk and surrounding the ranch house with a warm, soft light filtered through still-falling snow.

The 540-acre ranch is ringed by skiable 10,000-foot peaks and 25 kilometers of immaculately groomed trails, all lathered up by roughly 400 annual inches of snow. Vista Verde doesn't scream the dogma of Lycra and low body fat, and it treats novice skinny skiers and backcountry experts with equal respect. Gung-ho telemarkers can climb and ski the steep faces of 10,824-foot Farwell Mountain; first-timers get instruction in the never-ever program. Cross-country skiers can explore the backcountry, then finish with a cruise under the stars along those lantern-lit trails.

At night, everyone (a maximum of about 20 guests) convenes for a quiet dinner of arugula pesto-rubbed pheasant breast or beef tenderloin with apple-smoked bacon. Then guests retire to one of three lodge rooms or eight outlying one- to three-bedroom cabins, where exposed-log walls, antiques, and bury-yourself comforters allow the storms of winter to recede behind dreams.

Five-night packages (including lodging, meals, ranch activities, equipment rentals, and transportation to and from the Hayden airport, an hour and a half southwest of the ranch) cost $845-$1,045 per person based on double occupancy. Daily rates are $195-$240 per person, including meals and activities (three- to five-night minimum). Contact Vista Verde Ranch at 800-526-7433 or visit the ranch's web site at
— Peter Oliver

Edson Hill Manor, Vermont
Edson Hill Manor, in the quiet uplands north of Stowe's busy Mountain Road, may not have the cinematic cachet of its famous neighbor resort, the Trapp Family Lodge, but it also lacks knots of showtune-humming shufflers clogging its trails. (Edson Hill does, in fact, have a screen credit; the winter scenes from Alan Alda's The Four Seasons were filmed here.) At Christmastime, white lights gleam in the trees that line the long dirt road leading into the 225-acre former estate. If your arrival is well-timed, a horse-drawn sleigh might be making fresh tracks in the clearing below the gabled 1940 main house.

You can stay in one of nine guest rooms in the inn — most with fireplaces and muraled walls — or in one of 16 units in four adjacent carriage houses. Either way, some of Stowe's best ski touring is right out your door. Edson Hill, one of four interconnected nordic systems in town, has 40 kilometers of amazingly underskied groomed trails — some set in gladed fields, others shooting nearly straight up into the wooded hills behind the inn. The estate's barn serves as base camp; here, you can rent skis or snowshoes, sign up for lessons, or just hang by the woodstove.

The regular winter rates are $150-$210 per night, including breakfast and dinner for two in what is widely regarded as one of Stowe's top dining rooms (peak season rates, from December 18-January 3 and February 12-21, are $180-$250 per night, with a three- or five-night minimum stay). A two-night minimum stay is required on weekends throughout the winter. Call 802-253-7371.
— Meg Lukens Noonan

Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort, Colorado
If it weren't for the groomed trails, you might actually think you're the first person to skate-ski alongside the Continental Divide. That's the kind of solitude you feel at Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort in winter, despite the fact that you're just 70 miles west of Denver. Devil's Thumb, so-called because of the odd spur of rock that juts up from the other side of the Divide just outside your window, literally takes cross-country to new heights.

At 8,500-plus feet, the 100 kilometers of groomed trails are not for the meek, and you'll soon discover how Punishment Hill and Screamer got their names. The resort's Devil's Thumb Cross-Country Center is a good place to try out the latest skate-skis, cross-country skis, and snowshoes. The six cabins (which sleep two to six) and 14 lodge rooms (with private or shared bath) are small and cozy, with pine furniture and down comforters, and some cabins have fireplaces. While the accommodations are charmingly rustic, you won't feel as if Ralph Lauren just dropped by. Better yet, the views out your window of the windswept domes of the Divide are the West we all came west to see. The resort's Ranch House Restaurant will serve up a stylish dinner of blue crab cakes or Mountain Man grilled sausage. Nightlife? If you've been climbing Crime Hill that day, the horse-drawn sleigh ride probably sounds like work. Rates for doubles are $60-$86 per night for lodge rooms and $100-$200 per night for cabins. Call 800-933-4339.
— Everett Potter

Le Ch‚teau Montebello, Quebec
"Rustic," we've all learned the hard way, can mean anything from a spartan one-room cabin with no plumbing to a five-star suite with natural log walls. At Le Ch‚teau Montebello, it means something in between — a former 1930s-era sportsman's club turned woodsy backcountry lodge set on the Ottawa River roughly midway between Montreal and Ottawa. But "log cabin" definitely doesn't apply: One of the world's largest log buildings, the ch‚teau has 210 rooms in four wings that radiate from a three-story lobby where fires blaze in a massive hexagonal stone chimney.

Guests don snowshoes to follow moose and wolf tracks in the nearby 65,000-acre private wilderness called Kenauk, cross-country ski on 70 kilometers of trails, take a dogsled ride (the dogs live at the ch‚teau), or ice skate on the Ottawa River. Closer to home, try curling at the lodge's rink, or do laps in the indoor pool while snowflakes fall. Come evening you'll be rewarded with Qu‰b‰cois entrees like roasted Lake Brome duck and chicken velout‰ with grilled almonds.

Standard doubles cost $51-$68 per person, including breakfast. A special Christmas package provides three nights' lodging, breakfast and dinner daily (including a traditional Christmas dinner), a sleigh ride, gifts from Santa for the kids, and nightly kids' events for $361 per person, $11 per child age four to 12, based on a family of four. Call 800-441-1414.
— E. P.

Into the Backcountry
Dogsledding in the Yukon
Super Natural Vacations' (800-263-1600) weeklong trip begins in Whitehorse, where you'll learn mushing basics. Then you'll travel to a base camp of yurts where you'll go dogsledding, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. Dates: 16 trips between December 6 and March 28. Price: $1,725-$1,845 per person, including all meals.

Teton Winter Sports Sampler
On this six-day inn-to-inn trip with Roads Less Traveled (800-488-8483), you can go alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. There's also a sleigh ride to a backwoods candlelight dinner, and a snow coach ride into Yellowstone. Dates: February 21-26 and February 28-March 5. Price: $1,710 per person, including all meals.

Glacier Skiing Clinic & Ascent
American Alpine Institute (360-671-1505) offers a five-day Glacier Skiing Clinic & Ascent course in Washington's North Cascades. Learn glacier assessment, avalanche hazard evaluation, and crevasse rescue while improving ski techniques. Dates: upon request in April and May. Price: $650-$1,150 per person.

Seal Watch in Canada
Natural Habitat Adventures' (800-543-8917) six-day Seal Watch takes you to the ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where 250,000 harp seals go each March to bear their pups. You can also go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and hiking. Accommodations are in hotels. Dates: Five trips from February 28-March 15. Price: $1,895-$3,295, including airfare from Halifax, daily breakfast, and two dinners.

Wisconsin New Year's Eve Getaway
Your base for this six-day trip is The Northwest Passage's (800-732-7328) La Bri lodge near Boulder Junction. You can snowshoe, telemark, and cross-country or alpine ski, or learn winter outdoor skills. Dates: December 29-January 3. Price: $650 per person, including breakfast and dinner.
— Kara Ryan

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

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