Your spring family vacation: Head to the slopes

What’s to love about spring skiing and snowboarding? Plenty! Savvy families know that a spring ski vacation is a wonderful experience, with sunshine and blue skies highlighting longer days, warmer temperatures yielding soft snow that’s easy to learn or improve on, and destinations typically offering late season deals on vacation packages. If you’ve never considered a spring skiing and snowboarding vacation for your family, our family vacation experts are here to share four reasons why you should book a ski destination for your family’s spring getaway.

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Spring offers a winning combination of sunshine, blue skies, and pristine white snow. Just being outside on spring’s bluebird days leave skiers and riders with a happy, relaxed vibe. It’s a great time to celebrate the beauty of the mountain, pack snacks or a lunch, and enjoy the views provided by a summit picnic during your day on the trails. The warm temperatures lead to a feeling of celebration and plenty of socializing, with parking lots populated by tailgate barbecues and lodge decks filled with skiers and riders enjoying the sunshine. The season also provides plenty of fun events on the mountain, like pond skimming contests to watch or participate in; check your destination’s events calendar for details.

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Spring’s longer days offer more hours to try new activities and adventures while on vacation. Take advantage of spring’s longer days to fill your vacation days with plenty of action. How about inserting a zip line canopy tour into your ski day? Or signing up for instructional sessions in a snow sport that’s new to you?

Mountain trails in spring typically have great conditions to learn skiing and snowboarding skills. Get a jump on the next ski season by learning new skills or fine tuning existing ones by signing up for instruction during your spring vacation. “Spring’s softer snow conditions make it easier to learn to ski without the distraction of winter’s colder temperatures,” says Harley Johnson of Smugglers’ Snow Sport University®. “You’re not so bundled up and you have more freedom to move your body.” Soft spring snow is easy to carve turns into and more forgiving of falls. Another benefit: you’ll likely find that there are fewer skiers and riders on the slopes in spring, which also lends itself to a more relaxed learning environment.

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The lowest rates of the season can be found in spring. Typically, vacation package rates for a spring ski vacation are much lower than the rates of a winter getaway. At Smugglers’, SuperSaver rates on lodging packages are in effect from mid-March through early April, and run about 15 percent lower than height of the season rates. For the best value, look for a package, like those offered by Smugglers’, that features lift tickets and family-pleasing inclusions of amenities and activities at no extra charge.

Are you ready to think spring? Once you and your family have enjoyed the pleasures of a spring ski vacation, the experience just may become a yearly tradition!

Make winter fun! Our winter sports experts share their tips

The winter season offers many wonderful opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors. When you and your kids participate in a winter sport, you’ll gain the benefits of playing outside in the fresh air and being active. Learning a new sport together can enhance family relationships as well as boost your children’s confidence and self-esteem. We talked with winter sports experts at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont, to get their thoughts on what makes winter recreation so special.

The nature connection. Chris Rice is the manager of operations for Peak Expeditions, which runs the ice climbing and Via Ferrata programs at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. He says, “Getting outside in the winter gives people the unique experience of enjoying and being active in nature while having fun and challenging themselves. Here in Vermont, the winter season offers some of the most picturesque landscapes and beautiful scenery in New England. Smugglers’ Notch is one of the premier ice climbing locations in New England. Whether rappelling into an ice canyon or climbing up a frozen waterfall, we like to connect people to environments that many never get to experience. That connection to nature is special and fulfilling.

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing also provide a connection to nature, notes Paul “PK” Kayhart, at the Smugglers’ Nordic Center. “Participating in either sport can be a nice way to get outside and take in winter’s beauty at the pace you choose. Enjoy the countryside with friends and family or enjoy touring in peaceful solitude.” You might let the kids lead the way and explore by looking for animal tracks in the snow or identifying trees by their bark. Kayhart observes Smugglers’ visitors enjoying guided treks for families that talk about animal habitats and forest heritage, a vacation highlight that encourages kids’ interest in the natural world.

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Don’t be surprised to find that being a part of the winter landscape prompts big grins and feelings of exhilaration. “I love the way my kids hoot and holler as they go down the slopes,” laughs Harley Johnson of Smugglers’ Snow Sport University®, which, as part of its children’s ski and snowboard curriculum, connects kids to nature with fun activities, such as visiting Father Winter in his teepee on Morse Mountain.

Being active. Smugglers’ experts put the emphasis on having fun for families interested in winter recreation, but they are quick to highlight the health benefits of these outdoor sports. And you don’t have to be a pro to gain these health benefits. According to Kayhart, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing provide a great low impact and whole body workout. He adds, “Both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing can be beneficial for a variety of other reasons, such as improvement of balance, working the body’s core, and mental refreshment and stimulation. Don’t forget about the bonus calorie burn due to the cold!”

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Downhill skiing and snowboarding also have aerobic benefits, while engaging lower body muscles as well as the core, notes Johnson. Of ice climbing, Rice says, “It is a great leg and core workout that can really improve a person’s balance, while requiring a lot less arm and grip strength than people think.”

Personal growth. Look for a program with a focus that works with your family’s preferred learning style. For instance, Peak Expeditions programs are designed with the “challenge by choice” model in mind, which Rice explains as “we encourage people to push themselves a bit, but there is always a fun way of achieving success.” Johnson notes that sometimes beginners may be wary of a new experience, and having the support of a professional instructor can enhance a newbie’s skiing or riding experience through tips and guidance. Don’t be shy about communicating your needs to program staff.

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With young children, Johnson suggests talking about the activity in advance so that kids are prepared for it. This can help alleviate any nervousness they may feel and help them to proceed confidently. “It’s a good idea to discuss expectations with them ahead of time. It is important to keep their expectations reasonable so that they are not disappointed,” she says, pointing out that sometimes, young beginner skiers and riders think they will be riding the chairlift or doing tricks right away. “Remind them that there is a lot of fun to be had in developing the skills that prepare them for the next level. Tell them that even ski and snowboard instructors take lessons to polish their skills. Let them learn at the rate they are comfortable with, and that will build their confidence. Each milestone can be a family celebration.

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Rice of Peak Expeditions strongly believes in the personal benefits of winter outdoor activities. He notes, “Getting outdoors for these activities is a fun way for people to develop self-confidence, trust and communication skills. Leaving one’s comfort zone a little really pushes personal growth and can be a great way to grow as an individual, group, and family.” Continuing to relive such experiences through shared memories and storytelling enhances family bonding just as much as participating together in the actual activity. Alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice climbing are all sports that families can enjoy together and pursue as lifelong hobbies.

We hope you and your family are ready to choose a winter sport that’s right for you and that you’re excited to play in the snow this winter!

 

 

 

Unplugging: A dad shares his family’s experience

What happens when you replace your kids’ electronic gadgets with bingo night, singing, pirates, bonfires, and Ping-Pong®?

By Josh Briggs

Do you remember when family game night meant playing actual board games? When arts and crafts didn’t require some sort of printout from your laptop? How about the days when you could have a family dinner and not have every member of your gang staring at a glowing screen? Well, this year our family decided to take an unplugged vacation at Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont.

I bet you can imagine the look on my 12-year-old son’s face when I told him we were leaving the iPod® AND the laptop home for this trip. Not to mention the utter despair in my 8-year-old’s voice when he realized that the Nintendo DS™ was also going to sit out for this journey. I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure that my wife and I would make it through the weekend without checking email at least once. With a little hesitation we piled in the car, packed up like we were going on a vacation in 1978, and headed north to Smugglers’.

It only took a few minutes in the car to realize this trip was going to be different. Instead of the barely audible thumping of the latest teen pop song humming through headphones, there was some actual conversation. “Hey Dad, isn’t that the same car you used to have?” “Mom, when was the first time you went skiing?” So cool.

Once we arrived at Smugglers’ the real fun began. In a matter of minutes we were safely loaded into our condo right on the slopes, changed into our bathing suits (and parkas) and on the shuttle to the indoor pool. We quickly found our way into a game of water volleyball (our team won!) and took a relaxing dip in the kid friendly hot tub. Not a single word about a video game in five hours.

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After dinner we headed down to the FunZone and had a family Ping-Pong tournament. It was so nice to hear each of my family members tell me how much fun they were having, just playing Ping-Pong. After a quick sing/dance along with Goodtime Charlie, we went back to the room to call it a night.

The next day started with some fantastic skiing up to lunch time, when we were serenaded by Rockin’ Ron the Friendly Pirate. Now, I was pretty certain that the kids were going to think that the singing pirate was a bit too much, but half way through the first song the whole family was laughing and singing along. I really couldn’t believe it: our experiment was working!

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Prior to our trip, we decided that we would all take some ski lessons, and the boys were pretty vocal about NOT wanting to. “It’s like going to school while we are on vacation,” they told us. Despite their protests, we met our instructors and hit the slopes. The kids went their way and we went ours. When we met back up later that afternoon the kids were transformed! They had such a great time in their lesson and couldn’t wait to do it again the next day. They had made a connection with the instructor and had improved their abilities tenfold. What else can you ask for?

We remained unplugged for the remainder of our visit to Smugglers’. In fact, we didn’t miss the electronics at all. My family has been talking about our amazing adventure ever since and can’t wait for our summer getaway later this year. We’ve decided to make it a bi-annual family tradition and have already planned our hiking excursion. If someone told me last year that my kids would be anxiously awaiting our next Ping-Pong tournament, I probably would have laughed. Now, I have to tell you, I can’t wait to get back up there either. If you are like me and are getting tired of seeing your gang zombie-eyed staring at those flickering screens, unplug. I promise you won’t regret it.

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Josh Briggs and his family are from Massachusetts. They have enjoyed two family vacations at Smugglers’ Notch Resort.

Traveling with a baby: Tips from Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s nursery director

As director of the TREASURES child care center at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Shelly Schaffer sees many new parents who arrive at the resort feeling daunted by the new adventure of traveling and vacationing with their little ones. Schaffer and her staff have years of experience supporting families’ special getaways at Smugglers’. They understand that traveling with an infant requires a bit more planning and offer a few simple tips below to help parents have a relaxing family vacation with their baby.

Think about your “wish list” of priorities when choosing your destination. Are you looking to spend time with your partner? You’ll need to consider what child care services are offered, which could include private sitters and an onsite child care center, like the one offered at Smugglers’. Thinking about this ahead of time allows you to contact the destination and ask questions prior to arrival, which can help reduce the stress of setting up child care at an unfamiliar place.  Would you like to have convenient laundry services? Infants can go through a week’s worth of clothing in just a couple of days. Perhaps a condominium setting with in-home washers and dryers would be a much-appreciated feature. Would you rather not eat out every night? If so, note whether your destination has lodging with a kitchen or kitchenette. Pre-planning some easy meals in your lodging can provide a seemingly effortless dinner option and make maintaining an infant’s routine easier.

baby-on-swingConsider the staff at your vacation destination as a resource prior to arrival. When planning a trip with an infant, there are lots of questions that come up, primarily related to keeping your baby happy and on a familiar routine. While a destination’s website offers lots of information, it’s reassuring to connect with a knowledgeable staff member at your destination via email or a phone call. They can fill you in on what’s available right on the property or in the area, and whether you’ll need to pack extras of everything, or nothing! Resort destinations like Smugglers’ are likely to have stores that stock diapers, wipes and baby food, and rental services for everything from baby carriers to strollers.

Plan your route with baby’s needs in mind. Prior to heading off to your destination, it’s useful to map out your stops along the way. Diaper changes or bathroom breaks are often needed at the most inopportune times, so it helps to know where the next rest area is. It may also be helpful to start driving during the night or just prior to nap time, when your infant is usually sleeping. This helps keep fussy babies quiet and can make hours in the car more tolerable, especially if you have other young children unaccustomed to long car rides. If you do leave in the evening, a stay en route may be necessary, and planning your route ahead of time can help with identifying potential overnight lodging.

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Research child-friendly restaurants along your route – not just restaurants that tolerate kids, but those that welcome them! If you’ll be traveling through a mealtime, it can be helpful to look up places to eat before you hit the road. Almost every parent has experienced that unsettling moment when their child decides to fuss and cry in a quiet restaurant. By looking ahead to find eating options where children are welcome, you can thoroughly enjoy your meal.

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Relax – your pre-vacation preparations have covered all the bases. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your baby and other children will be, and your family will be well on their way to creating special vacation memories.

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Money in the bank: Managing vacation costs

Families on vacation want to have a great time while managing vacation costs. So how do you obtain the most value for your dollar on vacation? According to the vacation planning professionals at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, it pays to be flexible with your plans and do your research. Here are some of their tips for planning a budget-friendly family vacation:

Be flexible…

  • with your vacation dates. Book during periods that are non-holiday periods. If you have the flexibility to travel during non-peak times, you’ll always find a deal.
  • with your transportation. If a destination is within driving distance, or a train route is available, you may save money over flying.
  • and consider traveling with friends or extended family members. At many destination resorts like Smuggs, sharing the comforts of a larger condominium home is always a better value than booking separate homes.

Research…

  • package inclusions for your stay. Book a package with inclusions that will offer the most complete vacation experience for your family members.
  • the cost of adding on activities. It may be better to pay for desired inclusions up front rather than tack them on upon arrival.
  • special offers by calling your destination; there may be an unadvertised special.
  • your travel route if you choose to drive. Careful planning of your route will help you avoid backtracking or missed turns that can cause you to lose time and spend more money on gas.
  • the activities you’ll want to participate in and look for special offers. You may find that a multi-activity program will be less costly than a la carte selection of activities.

We hope these tips are money in the bank for your family!

Fun on the slopes: Tips that build confidence

Building confidence is very important to a successful skiing or snowboarding experience, whether you’re brand new to either sport, returning to the slopes after an absence, or considering moving up a level in your abilities. Taking a lesson should be your first step. Why? Because professional ski and snowboard instructors are trained to build the confidence that will yield a great experience – they want their students to succeed! If you’re looking for ways to build confidence on the slopes, read on for tips from the pros at Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s Snow Sport University®.

Choose an instruction level that is appropriate and the type of instruction that meets your needs. Most ski resorts outline ability levels on their websites, typically on the section of the site having to do with instruction. The description might have class levels numbered, with 1 being beginner level and 9 being expert, or they might have descriptive names, such as “novice” or “first timer.” If the levels as described leave you confused, call your destination and describe your family’s abilities to aid in proper placement. If you’re an intermediate or expert looking for fine tuning, check in with your destination to see what program might be perfect for you. For example, Smugglers’ offers a wide range of instruction from group to private to special sessions for teens, plus women’s clinics and adult camps. Proper placement means comfort and confidence!

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When picking up rental equipment, remember that the rental technicians are great resources. If your boots don’t feel quite right, ask them if the size can be changed or if they have suggestions on how to increase comfort. Try to factor in time to wear the boots around for a bit indoors to get a feel for them – taking that extra time can pay off for kids as well as adults. Make sure equipment fits well and is comfortable before heading out. If you own your own boots, consider a consultation with a bootfitter who can make adjustments that

When you arrive for an instructional session, feel free to share. Share goals, share concerns, share anything that might impact the experience, whether it’s a private one-on-one or a group lesson. Sharing pertinent information at the outset can allow for proper placement in a group, and ensure an experience that is tailored to your individual goals. adult ski

Be in the moment! Adults tend to be more challenged by this than kids! Keep your mind on your experience of learning how to ski or ride. Enjoy your time on a beautiful mountain in the crisp, clear air. If frustration or nerves overtake you, that’s fine – consider sticking with the same level for more time or stepping back a level until you’ve reestablished a feeling of comfort. Learning something new or improving your skills can be a challenge. Celebrate each little milestone that you, or if you’re a parent – your child, meets during the learning experience. Remember, there’s no test – your experience is all about fun!

If you’re a parent, consider your child’s instructor as your partner in developing a confident young skier or rider. Oftentimes, a parent’s ability to relax and ski or ride with confidence is linked to the knowledge that his or her child has acquired the tools to be responsible on the slopes. A good ski school supports many facets of a young skier or rider’s development. First, instruction is offered step-by-step at a pace comfortable to the learner, with a review of the skills mastered before progressing. Second, safety considerations are presented in a variety of formats so that the message is reinforced. For example, at Smugglers’, the skier’s and rider’s responsibility code is incorporated verbally into teaching settings and is included on a special children’s trail map. Third, instructors welcome parents’ questions at the end of the day and offer suggestions about how parents can model or reinforce the lessons learned, either through conversation or fun on-slope activities. It all adds up to confidence and peace of mind!

 

Keep track of your days on the mountain. Downloading a tracking app to your smartphone helps you keep an ongoing record of your favorite trails as well as your progression in skiing or riding. Smugglers’ makes it easy for families with children in the full-day instructional camps to do a daily review. Each child is outfitted with a gps trackingFlaik™ GPS that tracks their route, mileage and speed, and can be reviewed at the end of the day through secure log-in. At Smuggs; tracking your runs on the mountain can also be done with the resort’s Smuggs Tapped app. Young children may enjoy creating an ongoing journal of their ski and ride outings incorporating photos and trail maps. Whether you track your adventures with technology or by putting pen to paper in a journal, reviewing and reliving your day on the slopes is a fun activity for all ages that is sure to prompt many good stories and memories.

By following these tips, you and your family will be well on your way to becoming confident skiers or riders! Revel in every run you take!

 

Evaluating vacation child care programs

For those parents looking to enjoy time with their partner, or perhaps a bit of “me time” while on vacation, finding the right child care arrangement is very important, both for the child’s wellbeing and your own peace of mind. Vacation destinations may offer hourly babysitters or a center with full day care, but a truly family-oriented destination provides more than just services. A top-notch child care staff understands the tug parents experience between the desire for adult time and concern about their young child, and does everything possible to offer a secure, fun, and comfortable experience focused on responding to the family’s needs. And how would you find such a gem of a nursery? Shelly Schaffer, director of TREASURES nursery at Smugglers’ Notch Resort, offers tips that will help you identify and evaluate vacation child care programs so that you’ll find the best care for your young child.

Vacation childcareBegin the search. What resources can families use to find destinations that offer child care services? There’s nothing like word of mouth from trusted sources, so Schaffer suggests checking in with your friends and family first to see if they have had a great experience with vacation child care. Second, check the Internet. Typically, vacation destinations will include information on child care options on their website – and this information should be easily found. Family destinations with reputable child care centers will highlight their programs as an integral part of vacation planning and not as a side bar or buried page. When searching, you’ll also probably turn up useful articles prepared by online travel and parenting resources that identify “top 10” family destinations. Your searches should yield a list of destinations with basic information such as pricing and hours; if you are considering several destinations, it might be useful to prepare a grid to assist with further research.

Delve into the details. What questions do parents need to ask to determine if a child care option is reputable? Schaffer encourages parents to call the resorts they are considering. She says, “Families should ask whether child care centers are regulated and licensed by a state division, and inquire about the center’s discipline policy and child care philosophy, security protocols, and staffing requirements: qualifications, training, and certifications. They can also look into state Department of Education child care licensing divisions to determine the credibility and quality standard of licensed centers.”

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Imagine your child’s day and ask about situations they might encounter while at the center. This will help you determine if the center will be a good match for your child. Staff should be happy to respond to inquiries from parents, notes Schaffer. She suggests asking questions such as “What is your daily routine? How will your staff nurture and support my child? Is your staff trained in special needs? How do you accommodate allergies and special dietary restrictions?” Address safety and security procedures, staff qualifications, daily schedule and routine, the physical facility, food, and accessibility – the ability of parents to drop in or contact the center during the care period.

If you’re considering a private sitter, many of these same questions apply. Consider qualifications, training, certifications, and whether they have references. You may consider asking to meet with a sitter in advance, which will give you ample time to ask questions and get a sense of their disposition and ability to connect with your child. Ask about their knowledge of safety procedures. Be sure you understand pricing and other policies, such as minimum hours required or payment procedures if you return earlier or later than expected.

Vacation childcarePrepare your child for the experience. Once you decide on your vacation destination, how can you prepare your child in advance of child care? Schaffer recommends explaining to your child that he or she will be going to “school” or “day care” and meeting new people. It’s fine to acknowledge any anxiety and reassure your child that you will be back to pick them up; it might be helpful to remind your child of another time when he or she was away from you and had fun playing with new kids and toys in your absence. Talk to your child about time in a way he or she will understand; for example, “I will pick you up right after lunch and I will be so excited to hear about the fun you had.” Allow your child to bring along a nurturing item like a blanket, picture or favorite stuffed animal. Encourage him or her to draw a picture or do a craft to show you when you return. Always say goodbye! If you have time upon arrival at your destination, you could visit the child care center prior to drop-off and familiarize your child with the setting. Ask a child care provider if your child can borrow a toy to play with that they will have to return to the center when they are dropped off. On the day or days your child attends the center, let your child choose what to wear, and let them help back their bag or backpack. Make the experience theirs.

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What happens after drop off? Schaffer recommends calling the center after an hour to get a sense for how your child transitioned. She notes that it’s likely your child will be happy and engaged in some fun activity with their new playmates … which means that it’s time for you to relax and enjoy YOUR experience!

 

 

Celebrating the holidays … away from home

Many families put a new and exciting twist on their holiday experience by visiting a vacation destination. Consider the benefits: by shedding responsibilities you typically have at home, your family can relax and enjoy together time, not to mention the wealth of new experiences and availability of activities for all ages.

Snowman-022_720x479_72_RGBEntry1The Fabrega family from Florida discovered these benefits when they first spent the Christmas holidays at Smugglers’, enjoying the snowy ski slopes and village center that sparkles with white lights during the holidays. Parents John and Stacy had grown up in snowy states and wanted their children to experience a white Christmas. Stacy notes, “When away from home, the distractions and pressures are fewer. We get to spend real family time together. The days are simple, but that’s part of what is best about the time we spent at Smuggs. And being right at the slopes meant being able to jump up and do fun things on the spur of the moment.”

Families may wonder if they’ll be able to continue traditions established at home. Stacy initially shared that concern: “I was more hesitant than my husband John to leave home for the holidays. I was afraid that Christmas away wouldn’t feel the same and that our traditions would suffer.”oaks+fireworks The solution? The Fabregas tweaked their normal traditions to fit being away from home, and found new activities to enjoy.  “We brought special holiday stockings for our time at Smuggs and had our traditional Christmas Eve –– minus the holiday plates. We loved gathering on the green in the snow singing Christmas carols, watching the fireworks and watching Santa arrive in the snow cat,” says Stacy.

As veterans of holiday travel, the Fabregas feel enjoying a holiday away from home means simplifying the experience without giving up what you love and involving the kids in deciding what is important in maintaining your holiday traditions. If sharing gifts, select gifts that can easily be transported. “Try to anticipate the unexpected,” adds Stacy, “and plan ahead.”

“Yes, plan ahead,” agrees Margie Preman, lodging manager at Smuggs. Preman and her staff of vacation planning professionals are experts at responding to holiday inquiries. “We understand that a holiday vacation is a very special time for families, and that the questions we get are often based on their desire to make sure that this will be a vacation to remember.”

Preman and her staff offer the following tips to families for successful holiday travels:

  • Make your reservation as early as you can. Arrangements should be made as soon as your family makes the decision to include travel in their holiday celebration. One advantage to early booking is that you’ll have more flexibility if you want to request particular lodging or special activities as part of your family’s vacation. A second advantage is that you’ll have plenty of time to research what’s available at the destination and enjoy a more relaxed planning process. For families making a last minute decision on their holiday stay, Preman advises that they still call their destination, saying, “you might be lucky and find last minute availability.”
  • Feel free to call the resort with questions. A quality destination serves as the traveler’s partner in planning, yet increasing numbers of travelers are booking their travel online and missing the wealth of information that can be shared by staff at their destination. Preman and her staff are happy to address a range of inquiries, from where to stop en route for a stretch or interesting attraction, to where to enjoy a holiday dinner.
  • Consider winter gear needs ahead of time. If space is not a problem, pack winter sports gear, which will save money and offer the comfort and ease of familiarity. If space is at a premium, pack your family’s personal snow gear such as hats, mittens, snowboots and goggles. Ski or snowboard equipment can easily be rented and individually fit by resort gear technicians. Some resorts also rent winter jackets and snow pants in youth and adult sizes so that guests don’t have to worry about packing these necessary but bulky items. But make sure to ask; not every resort offers these kinds of rentals!

SMUGGS3311-353_720x462_72_RGBEWEntry1A well-planned holiday trip can yield lasting memories and be the basis for a new and fun-filled family tradition. You might even find that your travel destination has become your holiday home away from home!