From roller coaster rides to indoor climbing to a day at the spa, there’s plenty to do in the mountains, even if you don’t ski or snowboard.
Even if you don’t ski or snowboard—or you just don’t want to ride chairlifts every day of your mountain vacation—there’s plenty to do in the high country in the winter. Here are 8 off-slope activities your family will love .
Why pay for tubing when there’s a perfectly sledding hill nearby? Because professional tubing hills give you a steep, spinning thrill like no other. Most tube parks offer enormous inflated tubes with handles, staff to answer questions and get you started downhill, and, often, a magic carpet ride back to the top of the very long hill.
(or superlative views, consider the tubing park at Mt. Norquay, in Alberta, Canada, near Banff.
For a more down-home experience, where you walk back up the hill after tubing down, Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA-operated nordic center in Granby, Colorado, fits the bill.
If you can walk, you can snowshoe. And many mountain towns have a suite of snowshoe trails that range from flat and easy to through the woods and more challenging. Snowshoeing is quiet, as rigorous as you want it to be, and still you stay warm, thanks to your body’s effort. Snowshoe rentals are usually available at local mountaineering or ski shops.
Quick Tip: Sunscreen. If you’re going to be outside in the mountains, you’re at a higher risk of sun exposure, even if it’s cloudy, because the air is thinner at higher elevations, and the sun’s UV rays are strong. Always lather up before heading out, and reapply after a few hours.
There are two primary types of Nordic Skiing: classic and skating. “Classic” is where you ski in an established track and simply go forward. “Skating” is what Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall did when they won the gold medal in Nordic sprint in the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. Naturally, you won’t be skiing like an Olympian your first time out, but you will experience the peaceful calm that comes from winding through the woods on skis.
There are Nordic ski areas all around the country—the best way to find one is by using the interactive map on this page or through an Internet search. Many mountain golf courses also groom Nordic trails in the winter.
Nordic gear rentals are typically under $50 for skis, boots, and poles, and day passes range from $10-$20 at most areas.
Many resorts are building off-slope winter activities to appeal to a wide range of guests. The Gold Runner Coaster at Breckenridge in Colorado drops 2,500 feet through the resort’s stunning, high alpine terrain. Participants ride a chairlift to the top of the coaster and then fly down. Coasters are cropping up at resorts all over the country—check out this an extensive list to find a coaster near your vacation spot.
At the newly renovated village in Snowmass, Colorado, the Limelight Hotel offers a five-story indoor climbing gym that’s open to the public and features beginner and more advanced routes . New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain has a climbing gym, as do many other resorts. If you can’t find an actual climbing gym, check out the town’s rec center—chances are they have one.
Quick Tip: Most mountain towns have city-owned rec centers with pools and hot tubs, indoor climbing walls, and gyms. Plus, they don’t mind brown bag lunches. For a fraction of the cost of activities at a resort, head to the local rec center for a day’s worth of activities.
The aestheticians in mountain towns understand the body’s need for moisture, relaxation, and restoration. They’re also intimately familiar with the sore muscles that come from pounding your body during adventures. A spa day in a ski town won’t be cheap, but it can relax your muscles and give you that extra boost to end your mountain vacation on a high note.
Most resort-town libraries have a lot more than books. At the Vail Public Library, the kids’ area has toy trains and puppets, along with an entire nook of cozy furniture made for little people.
The Teton County Library in Jackson, Wyoming, brings in world-renowned authors to give readings and talks, has a café, and is a warm, welcoming place with plenty of work space. Many libraries will let you check out books with your local library card, thanks to an exchange program, or they may issue you a temporary card.
OK, this isn’t exactly an off-slope activity, but it is one growing in popularity. Uphill skiing is where you have special ski bindings that release your heel on the way up (like Nordic skiing) and let you lock it down for the descent. To get traction going up, you affix “skins,” which are adhesive, carpet-like strips, to the bottom of your skis.
Many resorts, including Snowmass, Winter Park, Vermont’s Mad River Glen, and others allow skiers to go uphill during special hours. This lets you get the workout of uphill without needing additional expertise to ski in the backcountry (like knowing how to stay safe in avalanche terrain). Local outdoor shops rent uphill gear.
Related articles that may interest you:
About the Author: Rachel Walker is a writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado, who has been skiing since she was five. Find her on Twitter at @racheljowalker.