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If you think all the ski resorts close shop when summer hits and the snow melts, think again. These winter wonderlands transform during the summer months into havens for mountain-biking schools and family golf camps, water parks, arts festivals, and more.
Families come in record numbers, and at many resorts, off-season visitors now rival the ski crowds. Resorts are catering to them with an avalanche of diversions. For younger kids, assorted adventure programs aim to deliver the joys of summer camp without the homesickness, with a whirl of crafts, hiking, and games. For teens, there are variations of extreme sports at many resorts, such as dirt biking, mountain biking, or rock climbing. Grown-ups aren't forgotten either: Many resorts offer lavish spas, summer festivals, and concerts.
Now that they're so popular, these mountain destinations aren't the rock-bottom summer bargains they used to be. But there are still good package deals to be found, especially early and late in the season -- in the months of June and September -- when the mountain scenery is splendid and the weather is still temperate.
After the white stuff fades from Vermont's Green Mountains, some ski resorts barely slow down. Mount Snow, about 30 miles east of Bennington, stages family golf weeks and opens a mountain-biking school; Killington, about 72 miles north of Mount Snow, offers outstanding hiking, scenic gondola rides, and an adventure park with go-carts and water slides.
But nobody's better at keeping families busy on summer vacations than Smugglers' Notch Resort, "Smuggs," as it's widely nicknamed, 30 miles east of Burlington in the state's northern sector. Every year from June until Labor Day, the 3,000-acre condominium resort becomes a self-contained "Summer Fun University," buzzing with 50 or more daily activities. Smuggs enrolls babies as young as 6 weeks at its licensed daycare center, while their older siblings learn to kayak or rock climb, or frolic at six playgrounds and eight pools featuring four water slides. Teenagers can hang out at two separate clubhouses, one for kids 13 to 15, the other for older teens -- no parents allowed. Grown-ups can amuse themselves with aqua aerobics and yoga, learn to paint watercolors or sculpt, fly fish, golf, play tennis, and get a massage. The whole family can bond during hikes, nature walks, and at bonfires, sing-alongs, and sock hops. For more information, call 800-451-8752.
If you can tear yourself away from Smuggs, you'll find still more diversions. Vermont's tastiest tourist mecca beckons 10 miles south of Stowe, in Waterbury, site of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory, where you can take a tour, see a "moovie" about the history of the company started by pals Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978, and gobble samples. About five miles north of Smuggs, the town of Jeffersonville boasts art galleries, covered bridges and antiques stores. For more information about the region, call 800-849-9985.
If all this activity leaves you with an appetite, Smuggs has its own deli, pizzeria, informal grill and grocery store, plus the atmospheric Hearth & Candle restaurant, where you can dine pub-style downstairs with the kids or upstairs with the adults (try the raspberry-glazed salmon). And Stowe serves up dozens of restaurants, including the Austrian Tea Room and the Dining Room at the Trapp Family Lodge, run by descendants of the famous clan in The Sound of Music; the Shed for burgers and microbrews; and Miguel's StoweAway, where the tasty Mexico-meets-Vermont cuisine has launched a line of gourmet salsas and chips.
Smuggs offers summer packages. From June 11 to 24, a family of four can stay in a furnished one-bedroom for six days and five nights for $1,465, a price that includes an all-day children's camp and many adult activities (prices are $1,895 from July 18 to August 26, and $2,395 from August 27 to September 6). After Labor Day up until September 19, the price for the same lodgings plummets, to $785, although the activities are not nearly as plentiful. The rate then goes up to $1,031 until the winter ski season officially begins in December.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2004.