(Tribune Media Services) -- Got the M&Ms?
A family takes a break on a hike at Keystone Resort in Colorado.
Whenever we hike in the mountains, a little chocolate therapy does wonders when the kids are tired and the adults are cranky. Hand out a sweet treat and those vistas -- fields of wildflowers, craggy peaks -- are guaranteed to seem that much more spectacular whether you are on foot, mountain bikes or riding a ski resort chair lift.
Yes, ski resorts in summer. They might just be the best vacation value going in this summer of great vacation values. Ski instructors around the country whisper that they came to the mountains for the snow but stayed -- raising kids in ski towns -- because of the glorious mountain summers.
There is so much to do -- everything from whitewater rafting to free concerts, mountain biking to camping and alpine slides. And it's so cheap! Lodging can be more than 50 percent less than it is in winter, says Dan Sherman of www.ski.com, which has just launched www.summermountaintravel.com. You can even snare a deal on a luxury resort.
If tony Aspen and Vail were out of reach last winter, now's your chance. In fact, to encourage families to visit in summer, for the first time, Vail Resorts has launched all-inclusive summer vacations complete with airport pickup, guided hikes, mountain picnics, visits to Rocky Mountain National Park and even a parents night out (www.epicsummer.com). Also check out www.vailallthelove.com for more deals on everything from lodging to restaurants to shopping.
Book three nights and get a fourth free at many Aspen hotels -- along with a coupon book good for discounts at everything from admission to the Aspen Music Festival (where kids 17 and under are free this summer) to two-for-one rock climbing and even a free candy bar from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (www.aspenchamber.com).
I especially like the newly renovated Limelight Lodge. Right in downtown Aspen, the Limelight has been owned by the same family for more than 50 years. If you are looking for an adventure with your kids, you can hike and stay at some of the 29 backcountry 10th Mountain Huts or take a free guided hike atop Aspen Mountain with naturalists from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The skateboarders in your gang will also love the Rio Grande Skate Park, considered one of the best in the country.
Don't forget ski resorts on the East and West Coasts either. Waterville Valley, New Hampshire -- in the middle of 770,000 acres of the White Mountain National Forest -- offers all-inclusive packages that start at just $45 a person a night, including golf, canoeing and mountain bike lessons.
And in Vermont -- which is celebrating the Lake Champlain Quadracentenial with an array of special activities -- Smugglers' Notch Resort has slashed summer prices by as much as 20 percent. Come in June and child care at its first-rate nursery is half off, too.
In California, Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort offers the widest variety of mountain biking of any park in California -- and lots of stay-and-bike packages.
Those with physical and mental challenges, including those with autism, aren't left out either, with terrific programs and camps that challenge them to get into the wilderness at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colorado, the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado, and the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah.
Whatever your family's interests or abilities, you could easily spend a week in Park City, Utah where you can find a condo for under $100 a night and plenty of Main Street restaurants in the historic (and oh-so-picturesque) mining town offer two-for-one meals.
On Friday nights, see a free award-winning film at a city park -- a winner from the Sundance Festival, which is held here every winter. There's a Park Silly Market every Sunday selling everything from fresh sushi to lobsters flown in from Maine to antiques. Everything is recycled, too.
Ride a chairlift up to any of Park City's three resorts and go mountain biking or hiking. There are free concerts at Deer Valley on Wednesdays and at the Canyons on Saturday nights. Deer Valley has a mountain bike school, as well as 50 dedicated trails. There are mid-mountain hiking trails that connect the resorts and the Utah Olympic Park -- 27 miles' worth -- where incidentally locals turn out in force on Saturday afternoons to watch the "flying aces" show, ski jumpers practicing their jumps and landing in a pool. It seems as if the entire town might show up to watch the show.
Visit the Olympic Park, free every day except Saturday, and test your mettle on an Olympic toboggan run. "The G forces really surprised me," local Steve Williams said.
There is an Alpine slide and an Alpine Coaster at Park City, as well as a zip line, bungee trampoline, mini-golf and places to go fly-fishing, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. We stayed at the Snow Flower Condominiums, a good bet for families because of the location and summer prices. I love all the mining history, too. Underneath the mountains are 1,200 tunnels that were once the property of 70 mines, mostly silver. At one point, miners camped on the side of the slope.
The thing about ski resorts in summer, locals tell me, is that they've got the 21st-century entertainment, golf courses, spas and restaurants but also plenty of places to get away from it all in the mountains with the kids.
Steve Wilson, a father of three who spends winter Saturdays as a mountain host at Park City Mountain Resort, says his family's favorite summer day is a hike up to Shadow Lake within the Park City Mountain Resort. "Last summer we saw a moose in the lake," he said. "It was incredible. We take lunch and have picnics there."
He promises, "Even kids who don't really like the outdoors will like it here."
Especially if you've got plenty of M&Ms.
(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)
Copyright 2009 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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