Kids Just Wanna Have Fun… Teens Too!
I was talking to a friend the other day who told me quite bluntly that teenagers are a nightmare. I think she meant they can be challenging and surly and sometimes a parent just does not know what to do with them to fill up the hours. I know there have been several times when I‘ve wanted to scream, “We are going to have FUN. NOW.” And I don’t even have teenagers yet.
Vail and Beaver Creek are renowned for acres of fluffy powder. We spend hours on the slopes as a family… but what happens when the kids refuse to put on their ski boots another day? Luckily here in Eagle County, there as many non-skiing options as there are acres of powder. Take it from some teens and find amazing things to do this winter—both on and off the slopes.
“It felt like the dogs were listening to me, it was so cool.” The ultimate teen compliment, right?
Think those Iditarod entrants are crazy? You might change your mind after you spend an afternoon with Mountain Musher dog sledders. Opened 24 years ago with two dogs, the company now has 92 working dogs plus one pet who’s lucky enough to get to sleep on the bed.
The tranquility at the top of Bellyache Ridge in Wolcott is pierced only by dogs working and families racing by on the sleds. Usually, six sleds run at a time, with ten dogs pulling each sled. The dogs and drivers love their work, says Denise Glass who owns Mountain Musher with her husband Wally.
“There was a lot of open land and it was really beautiful. It was a different experience,” says Noelle Jacob, a local teenager who was lucky enough to be on a dogsled tour last year. “It was a lot of fun, just being with all the dogs and getting to go fast.”
On private property overlooking the entire Vail Valley, where there is no cell service and the quiet is deep, riders nestle under blankets and watch the scenery fly by. The lack of phone service might make everyone in the family twitch a little—until they put their phones away, and instead of looking at the little phone screen they look around at the majestic New York Mountain…. epitomizing the heart of the Rockies. Each tour is about two hours with a mid-way break for homemade pumpkin bread and hot cocoa, of course.
Lainey Bailey, a local teen who ventured into the wild last year positively bubbled when she talked about her day of dogsledding. “It was really cool, just watching all the dogs in front of us and how excited they were to be going down the trail and being on the trail itself,” she says. She casually mentions that she even drove the sled at one point.
“It felt like the dogs were listening to me, it was so cool,” Lainey says of when she took the sled reins. “It was really cool.” The ultimate teen compliment, right?
The dogs are friendly, energetic and fast. “A lot of companies don’t want you to pet their dogs because they are working teams. We have a different philosophy, we want you to pet all the dogs,” Denise says.
If your kids are into an entirely different kind of sled, snowmobiling is a must. Picture your 18-year-old tearing it up in powder on a sled of his own. I bet you can easily imagine just how psyched he’ll be—deep powder, Rocky Mountains and a solo adventure. Freedom! (Don’t worry, they are part of the tour and well watched.)
“The leaders of our expedition were professional but knew how to have fun,” says Pierce Moynihan, a total newbie to spending a day in miles of fresh powder with the roar of a sled under him. “It was one of the most fun times I have had to this day!” High praise indeed!
Just as important to mom and dad, though, are that the guides are into safety. Sage Outdoor Adventures keeps its tour sizes to just seven people at a time. “Guides are there to make sure you don’t get lost, to teach about the area. They are not policemen, they love being outside and to share it,” Daryl Bangert, co-owner, says. “It’s not bumper to bumper.”
With 6,000 acres to explore, crowds are not a problem. Corey Little’s take on his adventurous day? “Optimal views, and plenty of room to gallop on top-grade snowmobiles,” he says.
Nova Guides is on the opposite end of the Valley, with two snowmobile tour locations and is ideal for a family adventure. There are awe-inspiring views of the Mount of the Holy Cross and Vail’s back bowls and a mid-way stop at a warming hut—hot cocoa to warm up with before heading back.
What about the little sister? Nova has a youth track for kids 90 pounds or less to get their ride on. While parents hang out in the lodge, with a snack or drink, kids race around the track. For a buck a minute, the younger kids get the same feeling of freedom as the big kids.
Although sometimes families have to divide to conquer, that’s not the case on Vail Mountain. Sure the back bowls have more than 5,000 skiable acres—but wait, there’s more! Vail is home to Adventure Ridge, an adrenaline junky’s paradise at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. When’s the last time you snowbiked? Mainly for older kids and adults, it’ll make you squeal like a kid. To add to the thrill, tours go out only after the mountain closes to skiers. Bikers, donned in headlamps, follow a guide and race down the mountain. I was nervous at first. Five minutes into it, I was laughing so hard I thought I would hyperventilate.
What about the tubing hill? Holy cow! You know that feeling when you aren’t sure to laugh or cry? When your heart is in your mouth and your stomach is near your throat? That was me on the tubing hill. Manic laughter. Vail recently upgraded the tubing area so it now has its own lift and multiple tubing lanes for swirling, twisting, turning action. If you’re more the eat – drink – and – be – merry type, plan on hanging at Bistro 14 while the kids careen down the lanes.
Let the littler kids test their snowmobiling skills on the snowmobile track at Adventure Ridge. Trepidatious at first, soon enough the kids are leaning into the turns acting like pros. If Mother Nature decides to pound down powder and you’re determined to play at the top of the mountain, hide in the Nature Discovery Center. This cozy yurt is staffed by Walking Mountains’ naturalists who are able to answer every question a curious child can throw out. With hands-on exhibits and fun games to entertain, we’ve wiled away an afternoon waiting for the storm to pass. And at 2 every afternoon, they’ll take you out on a free, guided snowshoe tour.
Even a teen can make even a bluebird day in Beaver Creek a little rough… Except Beaver Creek has foiled those stinkers with mountains of adventures. There’s Rail Jams, Thursday Night Lights, Disco Skate Night, Haymaker Hill, Marmot Maze, Cocoa and Corduroy (free hot cocoa at the top of the Centennial Express)…. And that’s just the start.
See how it feels to be a marmot, winding through burrows, tunnels and slides. Tired of snowplowing and ready to feel the wind in your face? Haymaker Hill gets your heart pounding as you rip down the mountain in the snow tubing area. There’s something about a parade, and Thursday Night Lights lets the kids shine as they twinkle down the darkening mountain with glow sticks. Be awed by the fireworks finale afterwards.
And what the heck is a rail jam? Don’t get me wrong, I love snowboarding but do my best to keep the board on the ground at all times. Beaver Creek’s Rail Jam Playground lets riders do tricks on rails, boxes and pipes.
Got the quintessential eye-rolling teen? Beaver Creek Loves Teens Too has the antidote. Teens can act tortured and parents can know they’re really having a blast. After all, every family vacation needs a little apart time. One of the popular options is the twilight snowshoe, a guided snowshoe trek after sundown.
New Year’s Eve holds such promise. But with great promise comes great questions… “What can I do on New Year’s Eve with my kids?” Try Beaver Creek’s Family New Year’s Eve Carnival. The last night of the year begins with a glow-stick ski down, torchlight parade and fireworks over the village. Later on, dance to a DJ and ring in the New Year with games. If your kids are over 21, have them join the party at Vail’s Dobson Arena with Mix Master Mike.
So the teens seem happy for now. How to entertain the younger kids who refuse to put on their mittens one more time? Fear not, options abound.
Through the baby and toddler years, we’ve spent countless hours at the Town of Vail Public Library. The town recently renovated the library, and the separate kids’ room is a haven. Kids are captivated by Children’s Librarian Cricket Pylman who sings, dances and crafts during story hour. For the kids who just can’t sit still, Vail’s solution is Story Time Skate. Skate first then head to a story hour, or vice versa. Bonus: skating almost guarantees a nap!
After the library, check out the Vail Recreation District’s (VRD) Imagination Station in the Lionshead parking structure. VRD reimagined the space and opened it about a year and a half ago. The bright room encourages interactive play and you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re getting out of there in less than an hour. Kids love the toys that cleverly disguise the fact that they are learning. Don’t forget the Mad Scientists’ lab where kids make ooey-gooey gak and other delightfully messy projects. The beauty of it? You can leave the mess for someone else to clean up. Heaven.
Not all kids are artists at heart. When kids really just need a place to run, to turn the jungle gym into an imaginary space rocket or to test their superhero powers, head out to a nearby park. There are plenty to choose from – whether in East Vail or Gypsum. Bighorn Park in East Vail is a huge park with play area for kids. Right at the base of Gondola One your kids will be psyched to walk the plank at Pirateship Park. (Bonus: parents can sit on Los Amigos’ deck while the kids hang out with their mateys.) If you have time and energy after skiing and the kids want to tackle a fun sledding hill, check out Ellefson Park in West Vail.
Getting off the beaten path is usually a reward in itself, and Little Beach in Minturn doesn’t disappoint. Here, locals and the town worked together to create a park adjacent to the Eagle River. Harry A. Nottingham Park in Avon has it all from ice skating to barbecue grills. A paved path winds its way around the lake, with stunning views of Beaver Creek. If it’s too cold to stay at the park, head to the nearby library or Avon Rec Center.
If you’re able to buckle your kids into a stroller, get a leg- and lung-burning workout in by pushing them up the bike path to Beaver Creek. Their reward? The park behind the Hyatt, steps from the Buckaroo Gondola. Your reward? You can sit beside a firepit and sip a hot toddy while the kids go nuts. Stick around for the 3 o’clock cookie.
Colorado’s best kept secret is that it’s not usually bone-chilling cold. But when it is, and the kids still need to jump, bounce, run and sweat? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that… so to speak.
Everyone becomes a kid on a trampoline—more than once I’ve seen the kids waiting not-so patiently while dad jumps. And jumps. There’s tons of places to catch indoor air: VRD’s gymnastics center, WECMRD’s Edwards’ Field House, right down I-70 to the Gypsum Rec Center. Be warned: it’s awfully hard to climb gracefully out of the foam pit when seven months pregnant, but it makes the kids laugh uproariously to see mom flailing.
Ready for more? Check out the trampoline on steroids for kids eight years old and up at the Anti-Gravity Center at the Field House. It’s designed to help freeskiers, snowboarders and skateboarders learn, improve or perfect aerial skills … or just for fun. The Burton US Open might be just the catalyst to get you to the Edwards’ Field House, channeling Shaun White, attempting tricks over the safety of the monster trampoline. As a bonus you might really embarrass your kids.
Of course when there are world-class ski mountains out your door, the kids are going to want to… swim? Of course they are. You’ll be a prune by the time you leave the Avon Rec Center and its pools and slides. Gypsum’s Rec Center, further west, but just as much swim fun.
Once your kids have had their fill at the pools, funnel the rest of their energy onto the ice. I was lucky (?) enough to sport the iconic Dorothy Hamill haircut as a girl—and sometimes I think I can nail a triple lutz when I lace up my skates. I can’t…. But there are plenty of ice skating opportunities in Eagle County. Dobson Ice Arena, Eagle Pool and Ice Rink, Solaris in Vail where the larger-than-life modern art sculptures make you feel like you’re on a set of a movie, Arrabelle at Vail Square and Nottingham Lake in Avon.
For a truly small-town feel, when it gets cold enough the Town of Eagle floods the town park and voilá—an outdoor family skating rink nestled next to a park and down the street from Eagle’s downtown. It’s a step back in time, with pick-up hockey games, moms in jeans and thermoses of hot cocoa. It’s one of our favorite places to spend a Sunday morning or go after school.
It’s no secret that I love disco music. And while it might not have the cult following other musical genres do, there’s something about skating around the Black Family Ice Rink while a DJ pumps out “Dancing Queen” or the BeeGees croon, “How Deep is Your Love”. I am not kidding when I tell you I actually packed a tutu for one of Monday’s Disco Skate Nights. Luckily I remembered I’m not seven, or a good skater. My point? It’s hard not to laugh, and showoff just a little, under the bright lights and pulsing music on the skating rink. Of course, you don’t have to skate, you can cozy up under the heater and watch your kids—but your toes will still tap.
Remember when there weren’t so many options? Me neither. You’re in a huge playground when you are in Eagle County. There are so many things to do, that it’s hard to pack it all in to one week or even one winter. This is one to-do list your kids will not complain about!