1. Penguin Paddle
A helmet and a dollar, which buys you a garbage bag "poncho," are all you need to take part in a highly amusing upstate New York tradition known as the "Penguin Paddle." Held at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, New York, a favorite destination for Northeastern families, the annual event involves sliding down a ski run on your belly as you "paddle" like a penguin. A "Canadian Mountie" serves as the race official, lining up the flock of plastic-clothed "puffers" and sounding the start signal. "Kids love it, but I'd say the biggest smiles come from adults," says resort spokeswoman Jane Eshbaugh. "It is a great way to spend the weekend with your kids actually doing something together, and a good way to teach them about helping others." Money raised from the event, scheduled for February 23, 2013, will benefit the resort's Lounsbury Adaptive Program, which provides lessons to skiers of all abilities. The event also features an outdoor barbecue and live, Chinese and silent auctions.
Situated 45 minutes south of Buffalo, N.Y. and just three hours from downtown Toronto and Cleveland, Holiday Valley is one of the Northeast's most popular and family-friendly ski destinations. Beyond an easygoing vibe, the resort offers onsite childcare, children's ski programs, a mountain coaster (must be at least 3 years old and 36 inches tall to ride along with an adult) and "Little Tubers" at Holiday Valley Tubing Company, a dedicated tubing area for kids under 42 inches with shuttle service to and from the resort.
Lift and lodging packages (two night minimum stay required) begin at $682 for two adults for two nights and include lift tickets from Friday to Sunday afternoon. Lift tickets for kids ages 12 and up for the same period are $108, or $88 for kids ages 6 to 11. Children five and under ski free. Hang your head for the night at Tamarack Club, an all-new property featuring an indoor/outdoor heated pool, a game room, a spa, underground parking and hotel rooms and condos which sleep up to eight and include kitchen facilities.
2. Ithaca Loves Teachers
Created with educators and their families in mind, this week-long festival celebrates Pre-K to 12th grade teachers with nearly 100 amusing activities, from chocolate tastings and wine trail tours to live theater, musical entertainment and spa parties. Hosted by the town of Ithaca, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, the event offers tons of kid-friendly options, from family sledding at Rice Hill and skiing at Greek Peak Mountain Resort to hands-on science experiments at The Ithaca Science Center and ice cream sampling at Cayuga Lake Creamery. The event is open to all, but only school employees are eligible to apply for "A Very Important Teacher (VIT) Pass," which provides exclusive freebies and access to special discounts on area shopping, dining and attractions.
For those planning an overnight getaway in downtown Ithaca, budget-friendly Holiday Inn Downtown and Hilton Garden Inn are both within walking distance of Ithaca Commons, shopping and area dining. Just outside of town, near Ithaca College, Country Inn and Suites is a family-friendly choice, offering free hot breakfast and complimentary fresh baked cookies and hot chocolate. Less than ten minutes from downtown next to Triphammer Mall, Homewood Suites by Hilton Ithaca offers expanded elbowroom and a nightly Manager's Reception. Nearby, in Cortland, Hope Lake Lodge & Indoor Waterpark at Greek Peak Mountain Resort is a full-service resort that's a destination in itself.
For a true taste of earthy Ithaca, head to "The Space" across from Greenstar Natural Foods Market, which on Saturdays serves as the winter site for Ithaca's famous farmers market.
3. Fire and Ice Festival
From fireworks and a "Full Moon Tube Park Party" to parent and child races, a Trivia Night and a 24-hour scavenger hunt, you'll enjoy a full range of family-friendly activities during Stratton Mountain's annual Fire and Ice Festival. Typically held the third week in January, this year's event will take place February 16 through 24. Besides standard pursuits like downhill skiing, ice skating and snowboarding, options for adventurers include dog sledding, mini-snowmobile rides, Nordic skiing, lift-served snow tubing and guided snowshoe tours. In Stratton's lively slope side pedestrian Village, the "Activity Hub" is the headquarters for finding these and more fun-filled activities. When it's time to chow down, a number of kid-friendly dining options beckon. One standout spot is Organic Pizza Company, featuring farm-fresh salads and organic and gluten-free pies prepared with local ingredients.
4. February Vacation Week at Sugarloaf Mountain
Major fun is on the agenda for school vacation weeks at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, the largest ski and snowboard resort in the East. Besides fireworks, a family fun night with a magic show and a special comedy presentation, kids and families can enjoy a full range of off-the-hill activities. After a trip to the resort's new Base Lair Arcade, which is open until 9 p.m. nightly (10 p.m. on weekends), guests can make tracks to the Antigravity Complex, an indoor playground which includes a trampoline center, a climbing wall, a basketball court and a skate park. A new zip line course is another adventure option, providing plenty of opportunities for fast-moving family fun among the treetops. Afterwards, chow down on cheeseburgers at The Bag and Kettle in Sugarloaf Village. For a taste of Maine, stop into Bob's Clam Hut, specializing in fried clams.
February Vacation Ski and Stay packages, which include five days of skiing, five nights of lodging, access to the Sugarloaf Sports and Fitness Center and family entertainment all week long, start at an affordable $525 per person. Package lodging is in mountain condominiums, but upgrades to the Sugarloaf Inn or Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel are available. Rates are a bit lower the following week (February 24 to March 1), when New Hampshire students take a winter break. Canadian school breakers receive an even steeper discount.
5. Smugglers' Notch Resort
Want to enjoy a ski break without the major crowds that a school vacation week can bring? Then you might want to consider scheduling a mid-week retreat at Smugglers' Notch in Vermont. There, whet your appetite for Winter Break on Tuesday, February 19 with an on-the-snow Vermont specialty foods tasting. Then, on Thursday, February 21, warm up with Smuggs' Winter Carnival, featuring music, games, face painting, a bonfire and an outdoor barbecue. Later that night, families can enjoy fireworks and a torchlight parade -- a resort tradition.
Known for its top-notch ski programs for youth from tots to teens, Smugglers' Notch also offers a full range of additional winter sports for families. From ice climbing, ice skating, snowmobiling and off-site dog sledding, to frozen "Via Ferrata" adventures and a year-round zip line canopy tour, the options are truly energizing. While these activities are additional, winter packages include lodging, daily lift tickets, snow tubing and access to the indoor pool and FunZone Family Entertainment and Recreation Center -- a virtual indoor carnival of inflatables, games and other energy-burning activities for kids. February holiday rates start at $175 per child and $205 per adult per night for a five- to seven-night stay. From February 15 through 21, families who stay six nights get the seventh night free.
Here's another way to dodge the crowds while also stretching your ski vacation dollars: arrive late to the party, suggests Smugglers' Notch resort spokeswoman Karen Boushe.
"Families with flexibility might want to consider visiting the second weekend of the holiday week, (February 22-24), when rates dip to $115 per youth and $145 per adult for a two- to four-night stay."
Among the lodging options, one- to three-bedroom condominiums in the North Hill Community feature premium amenities and on-demand shuttle service along with access to an indoor aquatic center with a lap pool, hot tub and mini waterpark.
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