In addition to offering reliable standbys such as sleigh rides and skating rinks, resorts across the West and up in Canada are coming up with creative ways for visitors to enjoy winter that don’t involve schussing down a mountain. Even if you never buckle into ski boots or a snowboard, you can still be adrift in snowy outdoor adventures on your family’s next “ski” vacation—whether you’re looking to play in a fort, zip down a mountain, or get up close to local wildlife. In fact, there’s so much to do you might end up convincing the skiers in your group to try something new.
Pointing downhill on skis and snowboards seems almost sedate compared with careening along the slopes on an alpine coaster, a mountaintop roller coaster with bobsled-like cars. At Snowmass, a ski complex near Aspen, Colorado, a ride on the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster (Elk Camp; 866-857-8769; rides, from $25) begins at an elevation of 9,805 feet then twists down the mountain for more than a mile through a blur of pines. Other coasters operating in winter include the Gold Runner Coaster (1627 Ski Hill Rd.; 970-453-5000; rides, $16; riders 38″–54″, $12) in Breckenridge, Colorado; the Cowboy Coaster (Snow King Mountain Sports, 402 E. Snow King Ave.; 307-201-5096; rides, from $10), in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and the Outlaw Mountain Coaster (2305 Mountain Werner Circle; 877-783-2628; rides, $15; must be purchased at least one day in advance), in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which claims to be the longest alpine coaster in the U.S.
Zip lines are a growing summer attraction at ski areas, but Ziptrek Ecotours (Blackcomb Mountain; 1-866-935-0001; tours, from $91* a person), in Whistler—a Canadian ski town just north of Vancouver—welcomes you to zing through the air in winter, too. In New Mexico, Ski Apache’s Wind Rider Zip Tour (1268 Ski Run Rd., Alto; 575-464-3633; tours, $84 a person) starts zip liners off at a height of 11,489 feet. Anyone brave enough to hurl down the Sierra Blanca mountains can reach speeds of 60 miles an hour, taking in views of snowcapped peaks along the way.
Looking for even more speed? You can feel the force of four g’s on Utah Olympic Park’s Winter Bobsled Experience (3419 Olympic Pkwy.; 435-658-4200; rides, from $175), in Park City, or by renting a bobsled at the Whistler Sliding Centre (4910 Glacier Lane; 1-888-403-4727; rides, $189), up north in Canada.
Slope-Side Fun and Games
In Vail, Colorado, you could spend all day at Adventure Ridge (970-754-8245; pricing varies by activity), “a snow park the size of a football stadium.” The park includes a tubing run, mini snowmobile track, and other kid-friendly activities, all at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola (66 I-70 Frontage Rd.; one-time rides, $42**)—itself pretty fun. Over in Keystone, Colorado, the little ones can climb and play inside an immense snow fort atop Dercum Mountain known as Kidtopia (970-754-0001; admission, free with lift ticket). To reach it, ride the River Run Gondola (120 Ida Belle Dr.).
Picture a bike with ski runners instead of wheels and you’ve got a ski bike (also called a snow bike), another way to whoop it up—or rather, down—the slopes at Colorado’s Winter Park Resort (Winter Park; 888-221-1806; two-hour ski-bike tour, $69 a person). You can sign up for a tour or learn the basics with a guided lesson then rent a ski bike on your own to explore more of the mountain.
More to Explore
Or slow the pace with a guided tour. In Colorado, the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (203 S. Main St.; 970-453-9767; Hike Through Gold Mine History tours, $20 a person) leads guided snowshoe tours through 19th-century silver-mining ghost towns. You can search out elk, bighorn sheep, and other locals on tours with Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris (307-690-6402; four-hour tours, $145 a person) or of Canada’s Banff National Park with Discover Banff Tours (215 Banff Ave.; 1-877-565-9372; three-hour tours, from $51 a person).
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.
- **Indicates pricing for winter 2017, as pricing for winter 2018 was not announced at time of publication.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: November 2018