Winter Adventures

Adventure can be defined in many different ways. And while each of the following destinations can be equally exciting, one may appeal to your family more than another. Check out these venues to decide which makes the coolest winter adventure for you.

Lake Placid, New York

The Big Attraction - Bobsledding: This is one of the few places in the world you can take a ride on an Olympic bobsled. At the Olympic Sports Complex, you can ride with a professional bobsled driver down the competition track. Each sled in this program has been built especially with you in mind, providing a safe, comfortable, thrilling ride. Even though this activity is a bit pricey at about $75 per person, with every ticket you receive 20 percent off a second ride and a free ticket to a world championship event.

While you're there: Play up the Olympic theme and visit the MacKenzie-Intervale Ski Jumping Complex and the Lake Placid Winter Olympics Museum. Also, the Olympic Speed Skating Oval is open to public ice skating daily.

Where to Stay: The Crown Plaza Resort is located close to the Lake Placid Olympic Center, giving easy access to tourists. Immaculate rooms are accompanied by amenities, such as four unique restaurants, an indoor pool and spa, a fitness room, and a cross-country ski and snowshoe center. Ice fishing and horse-drawn sleigh rides are also available close to the resort.

The most luxurious option near Lake Placid is Mirror Lake Inn - known as both a family-friendly lodge and a romantic destination. A private ice-skating rink is provided for lodgers, and dogsled rides are available nearby. The interior is beautiful, but visitors are encouraged to take advantage of several winter adventures, including the toboggan chute. This thrilling ride takes several people on a three-foot toboggan sled down a chute, which lands and slides onto the ice of Mirror Lake. The inn's day spa is a great place to enjoy some pampering after a long day out in the snow.

Ely, Minnesota

The Big Attraction - Dogsledding: This city is considered the "Dogsled Capital of the U.S." Minnesota takes the cake (or should we say "bone"?) when it comes to man's best friend. The wonderfully thick snow and beautiful mountain scenery lends itself to dogsledding. If you are interested in giving dogsledding a try, the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge offers several winter adventures, ranging from half-day sled tours to five-day dogsled camping trips. No experience is needed, and you'll quickly learn to drive the dogs yourself! Food is included, and trips run from December to March. They also feature workshop trips, which include lessons in photography or creative writing. All ages are welcome (visit dogsledding.com to learn more).

While you're there: Snowmobiling can be another exhilarating experience in the winter months, and Minnesota is just the place to do it. The Taconite Trail spans 170 miles and includes several scenic offshoots. You can snowmobile here for a few hours or a few days, depending on your level of expertise and your low-temperature threshold. Cross-country skiing is also popular in this area of the North. There are six groomed trails, but more advanced skiers are welcome to strike out on their own.

Places to stay: Truly a wilderness destination, Ely offers mostly cabins as lodging. Moose Track Adventures has several beautiful lakeside cabins for rent. Each cabin includes its own microwave, refrigerator, stove, kitchen utensils, and linens. Several different sizes of cabins are available, allowing vacations for both small family getaways and big family reunions.

However, if you are looking for something a bit less wild, the Grand Ely Lodge is wonderful. A stay at the Lodge includes access to their indoor pool, whirlpool, and sauna, and features a restaurant with an impressive menu. Sixty-one rooms and suites are available.

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

The Big Attraction - Skiing: Whistler Blackcomb is the selected skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic winter games. These two mountains provide the best skiing in all of North America, with the biggest vertical drop (5,280 feet). Natural beauty encompasses the area and creates an outdoor-lover's paradise. This area of Canada features excellent terrain, wide alpine bowls for skiers and snowboarders, glaciers, and a thriving town. There are more than seven thousand acres of land for skiing, and though more than sixteen thousand skiers and snowboarders come to the area per day during peak season, there are plenty of unexplored slopes.

While you're there: Go tubing at Blackcomb's Coca-Cola Tube Park. This park has eight 1,000-foot-long lanes varying in difficulty. A conveyor belt lift makes reaching the top of the slope easy and fun. Whistler also features the number one zip line tour in North America. There are two distinct zip line tours to choose from: Skyline and Ziptrek. Located at Cougar Mountain, Skyline allows adventurers to zip-line in a seat. Ziptrek allows adventurers to glide in a harness between the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Other great things that you can do include dog sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and heli-skiing.

Places to stay: Fairmont Chateau Whistler set at the base of Blackcomb combines unique architecture (which reflects the natural landscape), beautiful design and decor, and magnificent outdoor surroundings. For skiers, this hotel offers ski-in/ski-out convenience and a giant soaking tub in every room - perfect for tired muscles. Other amenities include a dry sauna, a sixty-foot outdoor heated pool with underwater music, and private cabana rentals. Rates start at $269. Visit fairmont.com/whistler for more information.

Crystal Lodge, located in Whistler Village, has been awarded for its impeccable service, newly renovated lodgings, and numerous amenities. The hotel offers the largest selection of on-site restaurants of anywhere in the area. Other amenities include complimentary ski valet, an outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub, sauna and fitness rooms open twenty-four hours a day, heated underground parking, and an Olympic meeting room which can accommodate up to sixty people. Rates begin at $180.

North Lake Tahoe, California

The Big Attraction - Snow Caving: Ever wondered what it would be like to spend the night out in the snow? Treat yourself to an unlikely adventure in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains. The company Adventure Out features a snow cave camping trip, during which you learn about winter survival and how to build snow caves. During this three-day, two-night excursion, you have the choice of sleeping in the lodge or in your own snow cave. Expert instructors do the teaching, so it is completely safe. Food is provided, but you should bring warm clothes and some camping equipment. All ages are permitted. Go to adventureout.com/snow_camping.html for more details.

While you're there: A fantastic winter festival is located right down the road. Snowfest at North Lake Tahoe features fireworks, a laser light show, and a parade . . . on skis! However, the best part about this festival is Wacky Winter Bowling. Both kids and adults participate in this silly game: sledding down a hill trying to knock down inflatable pins.

Snowshoeing is a popular winter pastime here, and snowshoes are readily available for anyone wanting to give it a try. Although Tahoe receives about six hundred inches of snow each year, most of its winter days are sunny, providing the perfect opportunity to explore this paradise in the mountains.

Places to Stay: Northstar at Tahoe is just one of the twelve beautiful ski resorts in the Sierras. This amazing resort offers several children's activities, live music, and even bungee jumping. Northstar has several different housing possibilities, including romantic rooms with one bed and family lodges with five rooms. A heated pool is available to patrons, as well as three spa tubs and a game room.

Another Tahoe resort, the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn, combines just the right amount of comfort with access to the slopes. Ski and snowboard rental and waxing are available on-site as well. Sixty rooms and suites are available to patrons, all of whom are invited to take advantage of several offered amenities. This hotel is known for its extraordinary cuisine and boasts an excellent in-room dining service.

The lower-scale Big Pines Mountain House is a more affordable option for Tahoe visitors. Big Pines offers comfortable beds, functional rooms, a friendly staff, and a continental breakfast. With a private beach and a location close to Heavenly Village shopping center, Big Pines is close to everything you could want without offering more than you need.

Zermatt, Switzerland

The Big Attraction - Heliskiing: Three hundred and thirteen kilometers of some of the highest north- and west-facing slopes in Europe are found in Zermatt. Here, you have the opportunity to try heliskiing, the adventure of a lifetime. In this sport, a skier is carried high above the mountains by helicopter and then dropped onto otherwise inaccessible slopes. However, for those not as daring, hundreds of groomed slopes are available for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels. Located at the foot of the majestic Matterhorn Mountain is Zermatt, a tiny town of 5,500 inhabitants, known as "the village without cars." Here, in order to prevent pollution, electric cars and horse drawn sleighs and carriages are the only transportation allowed. The town is built on the image of exclusivity. The streets are brimming with gourmet restaurants, luxury hotels, and designer shops. In fact, forty world-class restaurants dot the mountain range.

While you're there: The sport of curling is a long-standing tradition in Zermatt. Curling is played by two teams of four players. Teams take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones down the ice towards the target, which is called a "house." Two sweepers with brooms direct the stones to the house. To win the game, teams must understand the complex nature of stone placement and shot selection. Some refer to curling as "chess on ice." Although it requires great skill, the sporting arena in Zermatt, which offers sixteen curling rinks on a natural ice rink, invites all visitors to try the sport. To make reservations, visit Zermatt's curling web page

Places to stay: Zermatt's Igloo-Village is one of the few places in the entire world where you can spend the night in an igloo. The hotel enhances the beauty of nature's wonders and prides itself on its gourmet cheese fondue - the food of the "Alpine Inuit." You can enjoy the fine cuisine inside the igloo or on the snow terrace. Get your sleeping bags ready and visit iglu-dorf.com for more information.

For those who prefer a little more warmth and luxury, Riffelalp Resort is a five star hotel with only sixty-five rooms and five suites. The rooms of the hotels bring the outdoors in with warm colors and beautiful wood molding and furniture. The hotel offers a large, indoor heated pool with whirlpool, as well as a steam bath, a Finnish sauna, and an organic sauna.

For another great winter adventure . . .

The Ice Hotel A beautiful building made of glimmering ice, covered with snow, and filled with sculpted ice furniture - sounds like something you would read about in a fantasy book, doesn't it? But talented sculptors and designers travel every year to Sweden to create the ICEHOTEL, a masterpiece of ice, snow, and imagination.

The ICEHOTEL is located in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. This magnificent structure gets its foundation from the Torne River, which freezes every winter and supplies the hotel with the ice necessary for its serene, frozen beauty.

Inside, the temperature is never lower than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a relief after spending all day in the -22 degree outside temperature. Guests stay in rooms made completely of ice - including the beds, chairs, and tables. Reindeer skins are used as bed sheets, and guests sleep on top of them in thermal sleeping bags. Guests can also enjoy the club room, which features ice armchairs and a frozen fireplace (with a light instead of an actual fire, of course), and can worship or even catch a glimpse of a wedding in the Ice Church, a beautiful chapel with a stunning ceiling. After spending a night in the cold, ICEHOTEL recommends going next door to stay in the regular, heated hotel.

Because of the extreme low temperatures, adventurous souls may want to give this place a try; those of us who prefer more tropical vacation sites may just want to check out a few pictures of this wondrous marvel and stay in our own cozy abode.

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