10 Reasons to Ski and Stay at Okemo Mountain Resort

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Ahhh Vermont. We’ve developed a love affair with the state. As we cross the border along Route 7 from New York there’s always a sense of ease, of awaiting adventure. This ski season we revisited Okemo Mountain Resort, a favorite of my family’s from 2014. There is so much to love about this resort it’s tough to list them all.Once you arrive your family can just be swept away by fun; specifically family fun that is truly enjoyable for everyone. Okemo is divided between an older base lodge area and the newer lodging around Jackson Gore Village. Condos are located in various other spots across the mountain as well but my family’s experience has only been in the Jackson Gore area. Here are my top 10 reasons why you should ski and stay at Okemo this season:

  • S’mores at the Coleman Brook Tavern lobby bar – Bring the kids, order a cocktail and wait for your personal s’more making platter to arrive. During the weekend the lobby fills up quickly with an après ski crowd that’s a mix of all ages. Kids are completely welcome and the s’mores platter is a great start to any ski weekend or end any evening.

Okemo

  • Roomy accommodations –  Jackson Gore Village offers a variety of lodging options from cozy suites to multi-bedroom plush condos. Best of all, they are all slope side to allow for easy on and off access. My family’s favorite part of our lodging was the outdoor heated pool to soothe sore muscles after a cold day on the mountain.
  • Ski School – Okemo truly puts families first with staggered lesson schedules to accommodate various drop offs, knowledgeable ski instructors and excellent learning hills to allow newbie little rippers a safe place to learn.

  • Heated Bubble Lifts – Do I need to say anything more? Okemo now boasts 2 bubble lifts: a 6 passenger heated lift and a quad in Jackson Gore Village.
  • Off Slope Fun –  Skiing is only one piece, though a pretty important one, to what makes Okemo great. Off-slope activities from snow-tubing, to ice skating, to riding the Timber Mountain Roller Coaster complete any getaway. We try to hit the roller coaster after the kids’ lessons and prior to a dip in the pool. The only problem is finding the time to fit it all in.

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  • Food – What is a great ski getaway without excellent dining options? Both on and off the slope dining locales offer a gastronomic wonder with locally sourced food used to create truly unique dining experiences. Our favorite is EPIC located near the Solitude village and right off of the trail. Delicious  lunch options with a good selection of beers makes this our go to mid-day dining spot.

Okemo EPIC

  • Nighttime Activities – Throughout the ski season Okemo puts on a host of activities. If you’re visiting during the torch light parade make sure to head over to the base lodge to experience this swirling array of lights and stay for the fireworks. It’s a unique way to end the night.

Okemo

  • Ski Valet – An added plus to staying on the grounds at Okemo is that you can check your skis for free right off the slopes. Conveniently located next to the ski school check-in area, this little extra is a huge plus for parents who are used to lugging around a lot of gear.
  • Underground parking – A pleasant surprise when we arrived for our first visit is the availability of parking located under the Jackson Gore Village lodging for most guests.
  • Location – From our little abode in Albany, Okemo is an easy 2 hour drive. From Boston it’s a little over two and half hours and from metro New York around 4 plus hours.
  • Family friendly atmosphere – If all of the above hasn’t convinced you that Okemo makes for a fantastic ski getaway, know that families are truly welcome and kids can be kids while staying at a more high end resort. Some high end resorts,though they claim to be family friendly, just aren’t. I never have that fear at Okemo. The kids easily made friends, we made friends over drinks, and everyone can just relax and enjoy the getaway.

Need more reasons to visit? Check out some of my other Okemo reviews on the All Mountain Mamas – Vermont’s Family Ski and Ride Guide.

Disclosure: Okemo Mountain Resort graciously hosted my family’s visit and provided accommodations,lift tickets,and ski lessons for my children as part of my work with the All Mountain Mamas. As always, my opinions are my own.

Skiing on a Budget in the Northeast

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I’m just going to cut to the chase.  Skiing is an expensive sport!  Throw in a couple of kids and a family of four can easily spend a small fortune on a weekend ski getaway.  But skiing on a budget is possible with a little planning ahead.

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After a long hiatus, I found my ski legs again last winter and, and along with my husband, we introduced our kids to skiing.   I definitely owe a lot this to my work with the All Mountain Mamas – Vermont’s Family Ski and Ride Guide for getting me back on the slopes again.

This year we made a decent sized investment in gear since there are over a half dozen ski mountains within an hour’s drive from our home and we’ve become a little fanatical about finding good ski deals.  I will be very honest, spending hundreds of dollars a weekend on lift tickets just isn’t in our budget.  But we have been, or have plans to ski for a whole lotta weekends this winter and here are some of the tips I’ve discovered to skiing on a budget in the northeast.

Ski Gear

  • Lease Gear – ski and boot rentals average around $40 per day for adults and $30 per for kids.  If you plan to ski more than 3 to 4 days in a season (that’s just 2 full weekends) head to a local ski shop in the Fall and lease a pair of skis and boots.  Season leases for adult leases are around $150 – $200 and for kids the price is usually around $100. Not only will this save you money but it will save you time at the mountain.
  • Buy Off Season – end of season sales are a great time to buy equipment.  Better yet, explore a local ski expo early in the season.  We scored a fantastic package deal in November and loving the new skis this season!
  • Albany-Ski-Expo_thumb.jpgFind a Consignment Sale – local organizations and communities tend to have early season used sporting goods sales.  Our local boy scouts run a one-day consignment of winter sporting goods where you can find everything from skis, boots, poles, and storage bags.  We’ve donated  A LOT to this annual sale!

Lift Tickets – This is where the real expense comes in with larger mountains easily costing $85 plus for a one day lift ticket.

  • Coupon / Savings Books – Do you know when your kids and neighbors are selling those discount coupon books for one of the many school fundraisers?  Well next time – buy one!  I’ve found two for one lift ticket coupons at local mountains in these little gems.  You definitely need to read the find print carefully as they often have restrictions on when you can use them.
  • Join a Ski Club – Ski clubs are usually inexpensive to join and allow members the benefit of discount lift tickets and packages at various mountains.  The New York Capital District Ski Council is comprised of 11 different clubs all promoting skiing in the northeast with promotional deals and discounts.
  • Buy Online and Plan Ahead – some mountains, like Mount Snow, offer steep discounts on lift tickets if purchased ahead of time directly on their site.  You have to know the day you want to ski but if you plan ahead you can save a bundle.
  • Check out Local Tourism Sites – My new best friend has become I Ski NY where I can purchase discounted vouchers for lift tickets at various mountains in New York State. Ski Vermont is another great site for discounted packages at ski resorts in the Green Mountains.
  • Kids Ski Free – both New York and Vermont have programs where kids of a certain age can ski free with a paid adult.  These are excellent programs that encourage families to get out together and embrace winter!  Some mountains, such as Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks, have promotional weekends where kids can ski free. At many mountains kids under the age of 6 ski for free or nearly free ($5 at Mount Snow).
  • Ski and Stay Packages – If you are planning to stay at a local hotel, ask if they offer discount lift tickets to area mountains.  Many of the hotels in the Berkshires of Massachusetts offer discounted lift tickets for Jiminy Peak and Butternut ski resorts for guests.

Skiing on a budget is definitely possible, but like all budget travel, is involves a little extra planning.  If you’re skiing with little kids, investing in a lesson is well worth it and the one area where I would spend a little more on for a quality program.

Legoland Florida – Everything is Awesome (mostly)

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About an hour’s drive south of the mecca of Disney World amusement parks is the new Legoland Florida amusement park and soon to be resort. Legoland is designed for kids under 12 years of age so bring your Chima fans but probably not the best place for teens. But for my Lego Friends and Star Wars Lego enthusiasts – everything was awesome! The song made famous by the Lego movie is pumped into the park ALL DAY and you can’t help singing along with it, even when you desperately try not to.

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Visiting Legoland Florida

We visited on an unseasonably cold weekday in February with high temperatures only hitting the 50’s and met up with my parents. We were used to sub zero temps so this wasn’t really an issue for us and it did keep the crowds away that day! Photographers are on hand throughout the park to help you memorialize your visit and to Lego’s credit, there were a lot of characters walking around the park for little Lego fans to greet!

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Stephanie from Lego Friends with her biggest little fan!

Legoland Florida is broken up into 12 different themed areas with a 13th (Heart Lake City) coming in the summer of 2015. Depending on your kids’ interested you should map out where your “must visit” spots are before arriving to hit them first and make sure you actually get on all of the rides. Although is wasn’t super crowded, the lines for some of the rides in the Lego Kingdom were too long for us and we bypassed them.

The driving school is great and lets kids test their skills on the road and is divided by age group which I really appreciated. Continue reading

Looking Back on 2014 and Thinking of the Year Ahead

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With diapers and nap time all but a memory for us in 2014, this year was the year of amazing new beginnings for my little family.  As the year comes to a close and we all are looking back on 2014 my takeaways are really focused on my kids and how we’ve changed as parents this year. The kids showed incredibly growth and increasing maturity throughout the year and we had the chance to try a lot of new things.  As parents we allowed ourselves more time to be adults and started to explore new areas that we ALL can enjoy!

For me wanderlust can be satisfied by a new locale close to home if that is the only destination you are able to explore.  This year that was more the case but it was a fabulous year and thank you for being part of it!

We Are Now a Skiing Family

First, the winter of 2014 was my first year writing for the, in my very biased opinion, fantastic new Vermont family ski and ride guide, the All Mountain Mamas! This opportunity put this mama back on skis again after a long hiatus and gave my whole family the chance to learn to ski at some of the best mountains in the northeast!  This experience really changed my family as my kids learned to love winter and have already been asking when we’re going to start skiing again.  And if I can find a weekend where both kids aren’t fighting some illness – we’ll get there!  We all tried our ski legs at Smugglers’ Notch, Bolton Valley and Bromley Mountain and loved different aspects about each of these mountains!

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First ski trip to Smugglers’ Notch

Spring Weekend Getaways in the Hudson Valley

The spring brought some great weekend trips including our annual Mother’s Day tradition in Rensselaerville to hike the Huyck Preserve.  Staying close to home brought us to some great spots in the Hudson Valley including a Girl Scout trip to Olana and its stunning Hudson River School vistas and a birthday celebration at the Hyde Park at the Vanderbilt Mansion. I felt like Lady Mary for a day and dined like it too at the Culinary Institute!

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Olana – home of Hudson River School artist, Frederic Church

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Sky Zone Albany – A Trampoline Park for the Whole Family

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Sky ZoSkyzone Albany Logone Albany is the Capital District’s new family-friendly destination! The indoor trampoline park at Sky Zone is a great way to shake off some of the cabin fever your kids will likely experience in the coming winter months!  My family was lucky enough to get a complimentary invite to try out the huge indoor park with my two bite-size testers – my 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son and we had a blast!  Yes, I even got out there to bounce around.

Sky Zone provides the much sought after family-friendly destination that we all need when the kids just need to burn through some of that pent of energy.  It’s clean, safe, and there is constant supervision on the trampolines so parents can feel at ease.

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Skyzone socks are a must to keep kids from slipping!

But, first things first, ALL guests must purchase the specially designed Sky Zone socks.  They cost $2 but once you purchase them they’re yours to keep and bring with you next time.  This is actually a smart move to prevent little ones from slipping while on the trampolines.  Once our scheduled jump time was called we were provided a brief introduction and the park rules were discussed in an age appropriate way.  After that we had 60 minutes of bounce time!

My kids immediately darted towards the Foam Zone!  With three lanes and six feet of dense foam blocks you can easily spend a good part of your visit just hanging out here – we did!  Next we tried out one of the three dodge ball rings.  This was pretty cool and can probably get pretty crazy when you throw in a bunch of energetic tweens! Continue reading

Long Island’s North Fork with Kids – Gingerbread University and Wineries

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It was a post-Thanksgiving on Long Island’s North Fork and a great way to spend time with my family and get into the holiday spirit! Growing up on Long Island I had some, but not a significant, appreciation for the beauty of the island’s less populated fork.  The towns along the north shore of the Island are dotted with former potato farms turned wineries, farm stands, and the quaintness you may expect in a small New England setting. My approach had always been to turn every getaway from home into an opportunity to explore an area.  Even though I grew up on Long Island, it’s really something to see how it’s changed and now view it through the lens of my kids.

We started our day with a trip to Gingerbread University in Riverhead. I’ve heard about this festive locale for a while but finally had the time to visit. Kids can chose from small gingerbread people, giant size holiday cookies, or a fully assembled gingerbread house. A full container of colorful candies are provided and a brief lesson on how to get the best results from your bag of icing and the rest is up to your imagination! It took my kids about 45 minutes to fully decorate their houses and left with two securely wrapped houses and certificates of completion!

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All of the fixings provided at Gingerbread University on Long Island

Prices range from under $10 to $35. It can get pricey if you are visiting with multiple kids but it was a very “sweet” way to start the season! Tip – make sure to make a reservation because spot do fill up quickly. Open on the weekends but check the website for specific hours as they do vary. Continue reading

Passports with Purpose 2014 – Win a Trip to Killington Resort from Ski Vermont

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Passports with Purpose kicks off today and I’m thrilled to take part in it this year!  Passports with Purpose is a non-profit organization that began in 2008 by a group of travel bloggers as a fundraiser to held communities in the developing world.  The fundraiser is now an annual event held during a two-week period in November/December that largely focuses on helping those in poverty, specially women and children.   To date, Passports with Purpose has raised nearly $400,000 to help communities in Haiti, Cambodia, India, Mali, Zambia, and other international non-profit organizations. This year’s campaign will go towards Sustainable Harvest International.

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For every $5,000 Passports with Purpose raises during the fundraiser, Sustainable Harvest International will help a family in Honduras learn to farm sustainably and feed their family with training and support lasting for five years.   With a commitment like this, the benefits for the entire community will continue well beyond the five years. In my early 20’s I gave up my corporate job to volunteer for a year with Habitat for Humanity International who also encourage the same hand-up not hand-out philosophy and their impact can be witnessed in communities across the globe. Plus, all donations (minus small fees associated with Pay Pal) go directly to Sustainable Harvest International.  Organizations like these make lasting contributions to communities and here’s how you can help!

The 2014 online fundraising event will run from Monday, December 1 to Wednesday, December 17, 2014. During that time you will be able to place a $10 bid on amazing prized through the Passports with Purpose catalog of prizes.  Travel bloggers from all over the world have secured travel prizes and related gear that YOU can bid on.  Bid as many times as you would like for more chances to win! 

I’m truly excited to host a fantastic vacation package, generously donated by Ski Vermont as part of this year’s Passports with Purpose campaign!  The lucky winner and a guest can take a dream ski vacation at Killington Resort in Vermont. Killington, commonly known as “The Beast of East” is the largest ski resort in Vermont!  The package includes accommodations and lift tickets for 5 nights for two guests (mid-week non-holiday). Enjoy long days on the slopes and wind down at one of many après-ski destinations at Killington. Then get cozy for the night in one of the lodges or condos at Killington.  This would make a great parent getaway or upgrade and bring the whole family!

Passports with Purpose Killington

As many who read this blog know, my family started skiing together last season and Vermont was our go-to destination. Killington is massive and has already been open for the 2014-15 season for about a month now!

This is a great package and your bid of $10 to Passports with Purpose is your access card to win! I sincerely hope during this holiday season that you too can give a little to benefit those desperately in need while giving yourself the chance to win a great getaway in Vermont!  Follow the campaign using hashtag #PwP on social media!

I would like to extend a very grateful hand to Ski Vermont for signing on to Passports with Purpose this year and donating this incredibly generous prize.  I would also like to thank the PwP sponsors, TBEX and Home Away for their continued support of Passports with Purpose.