Playing in the Vermont snow

What do you do when downhill ski conditions aren’t great?

On Thursdays, I periodically publish Travel Questions where I share a question and my own response to it. Then I open up comments, my Facebook page, and my Twitter stream to your answers or tips. Got a burning travel question of your own? Feel free to send it to me and maybe I’ll include it at a later date.

I don’t care what T.S. Eliot says, if you’re a downhill skier in the eastern United States, January can often be the cruelest month, alternating between deep freezes and sudden thaws that can throw a big wrench into your family travel plans. This month has been no exception to that rule, and the beginning of February is looking a little dicey too. So what should you do when unexpectedly bad ski conditions appear? Here are a few ideas.

Snowshoeing in the Enchanted Forest

Try a new outdoor activity. When the ski trails are icy, that means local ponds and rinks are too – what better time to get out on skates? And just because the snow has gotten soft on the mountain during a thaw doesn’t mean you won’t find enough to snowshoe on in the woods.

Sign up for a lesson to improve your boarding or skiing skills. Even on the worst of skiing days, most mountains are able to keep their practice slopes open. Invest in some private instruction for yourself and your kids and you’ll see it pay off in improved skiing when that big snowstorm finally arrives.

Scope out the nearest museum. Yes, ski resorts are by definition somewhat remote (being on the tops of mountains and all) but it’s worth checking to see if there are any museums within a reasonable drive. Even a small art gallery in town or a display of dinosaur bones at local college can make for a welcome distraction when the weather is bad. In Vermont, in the Mad River Valley, the tiny Madsonian Museum offers kids a chance to explore the best in industrial design – everything from toys to shoes to cars. And in Stowe, the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum has exhibits about every aspect of the sport from equipment to technique.

Relaxed after spa treatments at Stowe Mountain Lodge

Can anyone say spa? Many ski resorts have spas, and some of them offer treatments for the younger set. At Stowe Mountain Lodge, my then six- and nine-year-old boys loved the 30-minute Chillax session, which included hand and foot treatments and a chocolate facial. And when you’re booking your family’s spa experience, be sure to ask if the fitness center and pool are available for your use – a vigorous swim can make up for lost time on the slopes.

Enjoy a little family time. One of the nice things about renting a condo when you’re on a family ski trip is that you can spread out and relax without feeling compelled to use your free time to organize your spice cabinet or clean out your closet. Pack a few board games, puzzles, and DVDs as well as some popcorn and hot chocolate and you’ll have all the ingredients for a cozy day of family fun. Or maybe your family likes to cook together. If so, bring some cookbooks and spend the day shopping for ingredients and creating a magnificent meal (complete with dessert).

I’ve shared my tips for finding fun on family downhill ski vacations when the snow is less than perfect. Now it’s your turn: What other activities do you enjoy on family ski trips when the conditions go south? Please feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments below.

This post was written in conjunction with my relationship with Mountain Reservations as one of its Mountain Ambassadors.

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