Keystone and Vail Offer Winter Family Fun

Toes on Skis

Toes on Skis






The woman beside me had warned me that she did not “have much English,” so I was content to scale Keystone Mountain into the Rocky Mountain’s bluebird sky in silence. As we approached the top of the mountain, I turned around and saw white-frosted tree tops and glittering mountain peaks spread in every direction. My lift mate twisted in the chair, too, when she heard me whisper, “Wow,” and responded in a thick Russian accent, “Bee-yew-tee-fahl.”

I was in Colorado on a family vacation, but my children were in ski school and my husband was tackling deep powder in the back bowls, so I was on my own for a few runs. There was a kind of serenity to my day. Listening to my skis schuss down the mountain, I had time to appreciate the sounds around me and let my mind wander aimlessly.


Enthusiastic children board a bus to ski school at Keystone's River Run Village.

Enthusiastic children board a bus to ski school at Keystone's River Run Village.










The Arapaho basin provided a variety of ways to put our bodies to the test while distracting us with immeasurable beauty. From our condo in River Run Village, my family began our day with breakfast burritos, pan au chocolat and the occasional mimosa at a local coffee shop that was only steps away from Keystone’s ski school, chairlifts and River Run gondola. The small-town feel of the village instilled a confidence in all of us that might be lost in a more daunting mega-sized resort.

It was easy for my husband to find his advanced challenge on high-mountain Sno-Cat rides to windy basins while I found my bliss in long intermediate runs. At Bob’s Run I found myself faced with enormous moguls. My burning legs halfway down the run made me appreciate my Keystone ski pin that read, “Got Oxygen?” At more than a mile above sea level, I paused for air several times – the benefit of which was stillness in which to appreciate the jagged mountains that jutted out in every direction around me.

A lone skier enjoys the slopes under a bluebird sky at Keystone, Colorado.

A lone skier enjoys the slopes under a bluebird sky at Keystone, Colorado.

After an exciting day of ski school that left my daughters bubbling over with stories of their mountain successes, my family went up the mountain to explore Kidtopia while I slipped away for mental and physical rejuvenation at the Keystone Spa. While they scrambled around a legendary snow castle and reigned over the mountain from thrones of ice, I gratefully received a fluffy robe and was told to relax.

“We realized you must be running late, so we moved your appointment back a half-hour so you could unwind before your treatment,” the welcoming spa attendant told me.

I snuggled into a fluffy robe and settled in a quiet meditation room where a copper cauldron filled with steaming water and rose petals was placed at my feet.  By the time my massage therapist came for me, I was well on my way to total bliss. She rubbed and pulled my sore thighs and calves in a warm, softly lit room and then poured me back into a fireside chair in the meditation room where cold grapes and hot tea waited.

The following day found my husband back on the mountain, but my daughters and I were excited to try out a five-acre, Zamboni-smoothed lake. We had skated on lakes in northern Wisconsin, but the threat of pits and ridges there kept us cautious. On Keystone’s smooth lake we confidently plowed through 4 inches of powdery snow that had fallen in the night. My daughters skated a big heart into the snow for me, and we plopped down in it to make angels on the rink. Surrounded by mountains filled with skiers, we lay flat on our backs and held hands. By then, the Zambonis were plowing away the snow, and we got up to zoom around the cleared areas, too.

Later that day we moved from Keystone to Vail where we caught a bus to the Eagle  Bahn gondola for dinner atop Vail Mountain. Vail Village’s cobblestone streets, upscale window displays and Alpine architecture felt like a movie set. I kept expecting a tuxedoed James Bond to careen through on a Ducati as we walked to the gondola. No such luck, but our gondola ride maintained the Bond-esque quality. We rose above the twinkling village into a cloud of snow that mimicked a trip through outer space.

An evening stroll in Vail Village.

An evening stroll in Vail Village.












After securing a dinner reservation we boarded a Sno-Cat to a cozy yurt, where a young New Zealander taught us the snow-tubing ropes and directed us to our tubes. We slowly scaled the mountain on a moving belt that staff members call a magic carpet ride and came out at the top of a very long snow chute. Linked together hand-to-foot, the four of us rocketed our tubes down the hill. Falling flakes combined with the snow kicked up by our tubes to swirl around us. One second we were rushing noise and wind, and then everything was utterly still. We sat in stunned silence until my older daughter piped up, “That must be what time travel feels like!”

Instead of ski school the following morning, we kept our daughters with us to see what they’d learned at Keystone. We coasted down the longest green run in Colorado and then met up with a free mountain tour that is provided daily for Vail guests.  The volunteer guide shared inside information about how to navigate the vast mountain and find the shortest lift lines, so we stuck with him for several runs. After deftly visiting all corners of the mountain in just under three hours, we stopped for a mountaintop lunch and then spent the rest of the afternoon gliding through fire roads, zipping across advanced runs and offering words of encouragement to our budding ski-bunnies.

A volunteer guide gives tips to Vail Mountain visitors.

A volunteer guide gives tips to Vail Mountain visitors.










Our après-ski cocoa and cookies were well deserved by the time we left the mountain. Slightly rejuvenated, we headed out to soak our aching limbs in a snow-ringed hot tub where delicious hints of wood-smoke drifted in the air. My squealing daughters ripped steamy toes through snow banks, grabbed giant icicles and leaped into the heated pool, where they anxiously watched to see which one would melt first.  I stayed relaxing in the hot bath and listened to their gleeful splashing outside my envelope of quiet steam.

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Where to Stay – Red Hawk condos are a short walk from River Run Village and the River Run gondola to Keystone’s Adventure Point, but there are many other condos and townhomes available with equally expedient access to the mountain (

The Lodge at Vail’s ( close proximity to the Vista Bahn chairlift and Vail Village shops makes it an easy home base at Vail.

Breakfast Treat – Inxpot Coffee Shop ( in Keystone’s River Run Village fuels skiers up for a high-energy day.

Book Your Education – and both have links to ski schools in addition to private lessons and other
mountain information.

EpicMix – Lift tickets take on a whole new job at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly mountains. The Epic Pass – what used to be just a lift ticket – automatically scans at each chairlift so that location, vertical information and special personal achievements can be followed and shared on the EpicMix web site via mobile phone or computer. Family and friends can locate each other easily on the
mountain, and evening brag sessions can be followed up with digital proof.

Mountain Meals – Keystone and Vail boast “Lunch for Less” meals that cost less than $10.  Bistro Fourteen at the top of Vail Mountain (970-754-4530) has regional fare and a full bar for adults and a children’s menu that includes appetizer, entrée and
dessert for less than $10.

Where to Play – Keystone’s Kidtopia ( offers Disco Tubing, a colossal snow fort, and family activities for weekend visitors. Adventure Ridge ( atop Vail Mountain’s Eagle Bahn gondola is the place to arrange snow biking, children’s snowmobiling and multi-chute snow tubing.

How to Unwind – The Keystone Lodge & Spa ( is a 10,000-foot spa that recognizes the importance of environmental awareness. All treatments are done with organic products, and an effort is made to use organic and recycled products elsewhere in the spa when available.

New York City

Packing up to take a bite out of the Big Apple.

Packing up to take a bite out of the Big Apple.



New York’s cosmopolitan and chic reputation make it an attractive destination for martini clinking businesspeople, but the Big Apple can be equally enticing for a family vacation. By laying a pre-trip groundwork with my daughters, I was able to kindle their enthusiasm for exploring Manhattan.

In “Journey Around New York From A to Z” by Martha and Heather Zschock, a cartoon pigeon alphabetically introduces Radio City Music Hall’s Rocketts and the Zodiac above Grand Central Station among other famous sights. “Miffy Loves New York,” “Action Jackson” and “Eloise” are also exciting to read and helpful in deciding what to see and do in the city. Art Memo, a matching game of famous paintings inspired my family to put the Met and MoMA on our list, and a few tunes by John Lennon got us in the mood to “Imagine” “Strawberry Fields” in Central Park.

Upon arrival at John F. Kennedy airport, my daughters were thrilled to hail a taxi like those about which they had read. As we motored to our hotel in Times Square, the city’s neon lights reflected in their bedazzled eyes.

“It didn’t look this huge in the book!” my older daughter exclaimed.

A view of Manhattan from the Top of the Rock was a good way to start our visit. We were able to get a feeling for the vastness of the city and a mental image of how it is situated. From the top of Rockefeller Center, we found the neighborhood of a new friend from our flight. His apartment life with public transportation to neighborhood parks was an exciting antithesis to my daughters’ rambling Midwestern neighborhood where quick hops in the family car lead to miles of wilderness hiking trails.


Central Park stretches out below Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in New York City.










Across from Radio City Music Hall, we bought lunch from affable vendors whose carts were snuggled up against busy street curbs. Mustard dribbled from my daughter’s steamy hot dog onto the toe of my shoe – much to her delight. We finished off our lunch at one of many coffee shops where child-sized cocoa and hand-made cannoli lured us in from an icy winter wind.

Our books had lauded the cultural significance of Broadway shows but did not prepare us for the Lion King’s awe-inspiring sunset over Africa. From handy booster cushions, my daughters were captivated by elaborate animal costumes, flying silk birds, ethnic music and a particularly funny and flatulence-filled warthog.

The magic continued through that night, and in the morning, the cold city had been blanketed with snow. We walked through the winter wonderland to Battery Park where a ferry embarked to Liberty Island. The snow had turned to fog, and it was easy imagine being one of millions of immigrants who had approached Ellis Island after watching the Stature of Liberty emerge from the mist.

Children delight in poking their heads into the nostrils of a lif-sized Lady Liberty.










The sun came out while we explored Lady Liberty’s museum and poked our heads in the giant nostrils of her replicated face. We scaled the 354 steps to her crown for a memory we will not soon forget; in addition to the beautiful view of Manhattan and the harbor, my younger daughter lost a front tooth there.

The rest of that day we spent touring Ellis Island with an audio program geared for children. The voices, easy descriptions and background sounds made the visit more interesting for me, too. It was sobering to stand where so many immigrants had entered America. Fortunately, my children were able to grasp the gravity of the place more completely after having read “The Orphan of Ellis Island,” in which Dominic Cantori travels through time to experience the island first-hand.

A volunteer guide took us through the infrequently visited Ferry Building Exhibit. Chilly, dark passageways led us toward the hospitals where sick immigrants had been treated before being allowed to enter their new country. In the original ferry building, photos of happy-looking children playing with kind-hearted nursing staff were not among the images we had expected to see at this “Island of Tears.”

Other historically noteworthy areas of the Big Apple are intriguing for kids. George Washington took his oath of office at Federal Hall across the street from what is now the New York Stock Exchange. A giant statue of the first president marks the spot of his inaugural address. It’s only a few blocks from there to the site of the World Trade Center where reconstruction is underway.

For more creatively significant activities, we walked through Central Park, past John Lennon’s “Imagine” memorial in Strawberry Fields, and into the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we found familiar pieces on every floor. We quietly honored Egyptian mummies, wondered at the colorful modern paintings and sought out the Druer drawings that my daughter had read about in “Masterpiece” by Elise Broach. I explained the beauty of the human form in the sculpture room, and we envisioned ourselves hosting guests in the carefully replicated period rooms.


Children explore more than just paintings at the Metropolitain Museum of Art in New York City.











New York City's art collections intrigue all ages.

My daughters scampered around the Museum of Modern Art with an activity sheet that guided them through rooms of recognizable paintings by Van Gough, Matisse and Picasso. They excitedly pulled me past friendly docents to point out works of art from our books and games. A trip to the Plaza Hotel, too, was an opportunity to find familiar points of interest from “Eloise” books. The hotel’s concierge kindly guided us to their pastry shop where we delighted in cocoa piled high with real whipped cream and pastries smothered in chocolate, fruit and powdered sugar.

Throughout our visit, dining remained a family adventure. In SoHo, we wandered aimlessly until we found Il Corallo Trattoria, a tiny Italian restaurant with the warm welcome of a private villa. The owner introduced me to Cannonau wine, and the staff taught my daughters to twirl pasta efficiently. What a surprise to emerge on a cold, dark New York street after dinner instead of onto a golden Sardinian countryside.

During rush hour in Grand Central Station, a businessman and his partner offered us their table overlooking the main terminal so that we could enjoy our Shirley Temples and appetizers with a Grand view. In this metropolis reputed for being impersonal and brusque, we learned that the people are what make the city – and we found both to be welcoming, exciting and easy for a visiting family to enjoy.


NYC BOOKS TO PREREAD-   “Miffy Loves New York City” by Dick Bruna, “Journey Around New York from A to Z” by Martha and Heather Zschock, “Eloise” by  Kay Thompson, “Action Jackson” by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, “Masterpiece” by Elise Broach, “The Orphan of Ellis Island” by Elvira Woodruff

ART BOOKS/GAMES –  “Can You Find It? and Can You Find It, Too?” By Judith Cressy, Art Memo Game by Piatnik

YOU TUBE VISITS – Schoolhouse Rock’s “Great American Melting Pot” and “Walking on Wall St.”

WHERE TO STAY –  Times Square is centrally located and has several hotels, but to stay in the financial district of Manhattan, Andaz on Wall St. is the only option.  Its sleek appearance belies its capability to comfortably host children.

WHERE TO EAT-  Il Corallo Trattoria at  172-176 Prince Street offers cozy Italian. Try their Cannonau wine and ask about its history.  The lounge in The View at the top of the Marriott hotel in Times Square rotates once per hour and has an appetizer buffet that makes a nice après-theater meal.

WHERE TO SKATE-   Rockafeller center is the stuff of movies, but locals suggest skating at Wollman Rink where skates rent for $8-11 and lockers cost about $4. Battery Park has a new rink that costs $10 admission and rents skates for $3.

WHERE TO WARM-  In close proximity to everything in the Big Apple, you’ll find a Starbucks – where a familiar-tasting kid-sized cocoa can be counted on for a smile.

ART HUBS-  Adult admission is $20 at the Museum of Modern art ( and at the Metropolitan Museum of art (  Children are free.

VISIT THE CROWN-  Security is tight at the Statue of Liberty, and crowds are carefully regulated.  Make advance reservations at

GRAB A VIEW-  The unimpeded view from the top of Rockefeller Center, includes Central Park, the Empire State Building and all of the boroughs of New York City. Advance tickets and information about Top of The Rock can be found at


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