Feature: The Joys of Snow Season

Three mountain escapes for the whole family.

By Alex Pasquariello

Get out of the city and make haste to one of these wintertime playgrounds for wallet-friendly family fun, all within driving distance of major East Coast hubs. Whether your group is full of longtime skiers, has a few first timers, or would rather walk through the snow than schuss through it, there’s a mountain range here that will have you cheering for one more month of snow season.

The Green Mountains

For Skiers

Vermont was named for its verdant Green Mountains, which descend from Quebec south through the heart of the 14th state. But come winter, these monts verts are blanketed in white and become premier ski destinations. Just under three hours from busy Boston, historic Stowe embraces all of New England’s winter charms, from snowy ski slopes to farm-to-table restaurants.

American skiing was arguably born in Stowe at the advent of the 20th century, when intrepid Norwegian immigrants revived their homeland’s use of skis to slide from point A to point B. It wasn’t long before the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was cutting trails down the slopes of nearby Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest peak at 4,393 feet—which hosted what is believed to be the country’s first ski race, in the winter of 1934. At Stowe Mountain Resort (5781 Mountain Rd.; 802-253-3000; adult day passes, from $73), those original trails are incorporated into the signature Front Four runs down Mansfield’s face: National, Goat, Starr, and Liftline.

But Stowe is so much more than those first basic runs. There are a staggering 485 skiable acres covered in 116 trails that plunge down 2,360 vertical feet. For an adrenaline rush and a fast history lesson, drop off the FourRunner Quad Lift into Upper Nosedive, a black-diamond (advanced) run that was formed on Mansfield in the mid-1930s by the CCC. Looking for terrain that’s a little more mellow? Take the gondola to Upper Perry Merrill, an immaculately groomed run named for the Vermont official who created the state’s park system and led the CCC in carving these slopes.

Skiing is king in this neck of the woods, but it’s not the only source of snowy fun. You can also lace up your skates and practice your figure eights at the ice rink at the Spruce Peak Village Center (7412 Mountain Rd.; 888-478-6938; skating, free; skate rentals, $17 a pair). Or heed the call of the wild on a dogsledding adventure with Umiak Outdoor Outfitters (849 S. Main St.; 802-253-2317; two-hour programs, including 50-minute ride, $495). Outings begin with a lesson on harnessing and hitching the beautiful Alaskan Huskies and culminate in a 50-minute ride along glorious Green Mountain vistas.

However you work up an appetite, there are plenty of dining options to choose from. You can hop on the gondola for a lift to Cliff House (5781 Mountain Rd.; 802-253-3665; lunch for two, $60*), whether you’re after a gourmet lunch or an après-ski nibble. This chalet-style perch serves up regional cuisine with a side of mountain views. Down in the village, Plate (91 Main St.; 802-253-2691; dinner for two, $55) is the place to go for a farm-fresh dinner. Owner Aaron Martin was the restaurant’s founding chef when it opened, in 2013. He returned to the kitchen last winter after a two-year hiatus. Try nouvelle dishes such as hearts-of-palm vegan crab cakes or go classic and order the beer-brined pork chop with potato pancakes.

Speaking of beer, this town knows how to brew. Look for the Alchemist beers—especially the Vermont-famous Heady Topper (a hefty 8 percent ABV)—at bars and restaurants throughout the Green Mountains, including Plate. Or stop in at The Alchemist Brewery and Visitors Center (100 Cottage Club Rd.; 802-882-8165; tours, $10 a person, including commemorative glass and samples) for a taste, a tour, and a sixer to go.

The Poconos

For All Levels

Spread across 2,400 square miles of northeastern Pennsylvania, the Pocono Mountains are a picture-perfect escape from New York City or Philadelphia, both less than a three-hour drive away. Just outside the town of Tannersville, Camelback Mountain Resort (139 Resort Dr.; 855-515-1283; adult day passes, $55) is an epicenter of family fun, offering the most skiable acres in the Poconos as well as the largest snow-tubing park in the country and a massive indoor water park.

With 166 skiable acres and 100 percent snowmaking capability on all trails so you can access them for the full season, Camelback has terrain suitable for all levels of schussers. Send the speed demon in your family to Rocket, a black-diamond run right along the fall line (the most direct downhill path); it can be reached from the Sullivan Express lift. For less challenging turns, try Marc Antony, a green (easy) run that meanders from the top of its eponymous lift all the way to the base of the mountain. Do you have an X Games athlete in the making? Set them up in the CBK Park, which debuted last winter with jumps and rails for riders of all abilities.

And for those completely new to skiing or snowboarding, Camelback is a great place to learn, no matter your age. A kids’ half-day lesson (two-and-a-half-hour lessons, $145 a person) is available for children ages 4 to 12 and includes a lift ticket and equipment rental. Teens and adults can sign up for a private lesson (one-hour lessons, $135 a person) with one of the resort’s instructors, during which they’ll begin picking up the skills they need to ride all the terrain on the mountain.

The good times don’t have to stop when the sun goes down; Camelback lights all its trails for night-skiing thrills—just be sure to bundle up when the temperatures drop. Too tired to ski? Last winter, the resort launched Galactic Snowtubing (107 Resort Dr.; 570-629-1664; three-hour sessions, $30). Starting at 5 p.m., an LED light show illuminates all 42 snow-tubing lanes that zip down the mountain.

Camelback’s restaurants aim to satisfy adults with sophisticated tastes—and their kids. Sitting pretty at 2,133 feet at the top of the Sullivan Express lift and on the edge of Big Pocono State Park, Kartrite’s Summit House (Big Pocono State Park; 570-369-1505; dinner for two, $60) is the highest restaurant in the Poconos. Here you can dine on contemporary American fare, including duck breast and waffles drizzled with a lavender-honey gastrique. Or bring your appetite—and the entire brood—to Berrelli’s (233 Resort Dr.; 570-369-1506; dinner for two, $52) for old-world eats: eggplant Parmesan, shrimp scampi, and rigatoni with sausage and peppers. Berrelli’s is also home to one of the best wine bars in the region, with both a tasty selection on tap and a deep cellar of Italian bottles.

The Blue Ridge Mountains

For Nonskiers

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains may not be the first range to come to mind when you think of snow. But if you’re looking for solitude and solace, winter is a great time to explore both the wilds of Shenandoah National Park (3655 U.S. Hwy. 211 E., Luray; 540-999-3500; seven-day passes, $30 a vehicle) and the Blue Ridge’s cultural treasures—all of which are within about a three-hour drive from Washington, D.C.

There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails in the park, and—with six waterfalls set in a forest of hemlock, oak, and hickory—Whiteoak Canyon may be the most trekked five miles of them all. In summer and fall, this trail is packed with hikers and leaf peepers, but in winter you can have the trail and its cascades all to yourself. Without foliage on its trees, the canyon’s folds and rock faces are revealed, and when the temperatures drop in January and February, the falls can freeze into stunning ice cascades. Looking for the ultimate Blue Ridge challenge? Experienced hikers can summit Old Rag Mountain. This is the most popular hike in the park, but with winter’s chill, the rocky peak can be all yours. Old Rag’s nine-mile circuit ascends the Ridge Trail before turning into a scramble up exposed granite to the summit. Be sure to take in the gorgeous vistas before descending the Saddle Trail back to the parking area.

But if hiking in winter conditions is more than you bargained for, you can still take in breathtaking mountain views from Skyline Drive. As it weaves 105 miles north to south around mountains and meadows, the road shows off the full scope of this ancient landscape, with the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont plateau to the east. And with less traffic and no leaves on the trees, the season is ideal for spotting wildlife such as white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, or even black bears. Stretches of the Skyline do close in the winter for weather; call the park’s information line for current conditions.

When it’s time to return to civilization, drop in to Staunton. This small city is the Shenandoah Valley’s cultural capital, with the picturesque Beverly Street incubating quaint restaurants, galleries, and boutiques along with a thriving music and theater scene. If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to The Shack (105 S. Coalter St.; 540-490-1961; dinner for two, $54)—it’s better than it sounds. Chef Ian Boden’s pretense-free restaurant combines Virginia mountain fare with dishes that reflect his Eastern European Jewish roots. Although the seasonal menu changes constantly, keep an eye out for the pork schnitzel and biscuits.

A few blocks over lies Zynodoa (115 E. Beverly St.; 540-885-7775; dinner for two, $95), where Virginia-born-and-raised executive chef Matt Hull highlights the produce of the state’s independent farms with his take on comfort classics: brûléed cast-iron corn bread with apple butter, and pulled pork with bacon-braised collard greens. The restaurant is only steps from the vaunted American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse (10 S. Market St.; 877-682-4236; tickets, from $20). The company stages works by the Bard as well as contemporary playwrights in a theater modeled after Shakespeare’s first indoor venue, a converted monastery that burned down in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Depending on when you go, you might just be able to catch a performance of A Christmas Carol, packed with music and good cheer—a perfect note on which to end your wintry getaway.

RCI® affiliated resorts in or near the featured destinations include:
Smugglers’ Notch Resort 0300

A shuttle to base camp makes it easy to access mountain fun. 4323 Rte. 108 S., Jeffersonville, VT
Member Review: “Great kids’ programs.”

Tree Tops at Pocono Mountain Vistas by Exploria Resorts 0251

A cozy wooded retreat in the heart of the Poconos. 2157 River Rd., East Stroudsburg, PA
Member Review: “Gorgeous views of the ski slopes.”

Fairway at Pocono Mountain Villas by Exploria Resorts 1760

Shares amenities with Tree Tops at Pocono Mountain Villas by Exploria Resorts. 2157 River Rd., East Stroudsburg, PA
Member Review: “Everything you need for a winter vacation.”

Woodstone at Massanutten 5711

Outdoor enthusiasts can get their fill in all seasons. 1822 Resort Dr., Massanutten, VA
Member Review: “Plenty of activities for every age.”

Eagle Trace at Massanutten 2293

Shares amenities with Woodstone at Massanutten. 1822 Resort Dr., Massanutten, VA
Member Review: “The most relaxing atmosphere.”

The Summit at Massanutten 3640

Shares amenities with Woodstone at Massanutten. 1822 Resort Dr., Massanutten, VA
Member Review: “Rooms were beautiful, clean, and spacious.”

Regal Vistas at Massanutten C152

Shares amenities with Woodstone at Massanutten. 1822 Resort Dr., Massanuteten, VA
Member Review: Not yet rated

For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in the featured destinations include:
The Lodge at Spruce Peak

This slope-side stay serves up Mount Mansfield views, a Vermont-chic spa, two revamped restaurants, and a performing-arts center. 7412 Mountain Rd., Stowe, VT; 802-282-4625; sprucepeak.com; doubles from $229 a night

Camelback Resort

A family-focused mountain resort with an indoor water park, a 170,000-square-foot arcade, and a spa for when you need to get away from it all. 193 Resort Dr., Tannersville, PA; 570-629-1665; camelbackresort.com; doubles from $230 a night

The Blackburn Inn

Thomas Jefferson’s protégé Thomas Blackburn built this hospital turned hotel in 1828. It was revived in 2018 as a modern state-of-the-art experience. 301 Greenville Ave., Staunton, VA; 540-712-0601; blackburn-inn.com; doubles from $149 a night

  • NOTE: Lift tickets may represent 2018 pricing and be subject to change.
  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Winter 2019