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It was only because we used snowboarding as the hook.
But it was the promise of a family trip to a ski resort in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that enticed the college boy to travel with us to Vail, Colorado over Thanksgiving break. After that, all we had to do was figure out how to make our family snow trip fun for all the boys. We had to find activities to keep his younger brothers, seven and nine, as well as my 20-year-old stepson, all happy and satisfied. Or, at least not constantly trying to kill each other.
The Hotel: Sonnenalp Hotel
The five of us stayed at the European style ski resort, Sonnenalp Hotel which recently celebrated 40 years of making families happy in Vail and 100 in Germany. Walking into the Sonnenalp Hotel was like stepping into a Bavarian lodge, only with American sized rooms. The Sonnenalp Hotel features 112 luxury suites and 12 hotel rooms. Every one of them faces either the Gore Creek or Vail Village.
The entry to our suite had its own little mud room, dedicated to keeping our leaky snow gear from messing up the rest of the space.
Inside, a burgundy couch and an azure loveseat faced a flat screen TV. A glass-covered fireplace blazed to the right. Behind, two green headboards framed two green quilts covering a pair of queen sized beds. The bathroom claimed more space than most New York City apartments. Environmentally conscious, industrial sized, containers dispensed refillable luxury lotions and toiletries. A steam shower and a whirlpool jet tub whispered the promise of relief after a full day on the slopes or chasing after the kids. Across the bathroom, a wood framed walk-in closet gave us plenty of space to unload all five of our belongings.
Just outside our French door balcony, snow-topped mountains and hills of white held green Douglas-firs and Engelmann spruce. Uncertain temperatures exposed patches of brown dirt. Above, in a blue sky, pillows of clouds contorted into familiar shapes. Even during early winter, the chill turned our breath into puffs of air.
It was late when we arrived, so we decided to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, Bully Ranch which had all the expected tough guy mountain fare like burgers and beer but also mindful options like veggie burgers and a superfood salad. Once satisfied, the little boys raced out to the paved street, serving as a walkway for most pedestrians, lined by earth-hued, recently built condos and boutiques, that led to the heart of Vail Village. We enjoyed the crisp walk but could have hopped on one of the free Vail buses or trolleys, the largest network of complementary public transportation in the United States.
Vail Village with Kids
We arrived at the center of the Village to discover a giant outdoor ice rink, buzzing with skaters, under twinkling electric lights. Bundled-up, laughing families raced around the Solaris Ice Rink, surrounded by two stories of shops, condos and restaurants. The free rink, open during the winter months from 1–9:30pm, offers families an opportunity to enjoy winter and each other off the slopes. Skate rentals are located on the ground floor next door to bol, a contemporary bowling alley also perfect for family fun.
Even though neither of the little boys had ever skated before, they both enjoyed racing around, the rail within arm’s length, until they got comfortable enough to stumble onto the middle of the ice, ankles folding in their skates like drunken sailors.
College boy Kyle laughed as his brothers, Kaleb and Knox, tried to make snow angels in the hard ice.
Before we called it a night, we walked over to the Bridge House Ski Haus and rented our gear for the duration of our stay. They offer a complimentary ski valet service in partnership with some local hotels, including the Sonnenalp. They drop-off and pick-up your skis at your hotel, so you don’t have to schlep anything anywhere. Plus, you get a discount for being a hotel guest.
It was only the promise of a family trip to a ski resort in the Colorado Rocky Mountains that enticed the college boy to travel with us to Vail over Thanksgiving break. After that, all we had to do was figure out how to make our family snow trip fun for all the boys.
We woke up and headed downstairs to Ludwig’s for the International breakfast buffet feast where some brave souls — or those visiting from colder climates — relaxed with meals on the outdoor patio. We, from Los Angeles, huddled inside and enjoyed a huge variety of foods representing all parts of Europe.
Adventure Ridge at Lionshead Village
Later, my husband, Howard, and Kyle planned a big boy day to themselves and took their freshly delivered skis and snowboard up to Vail Mountain while I hopped on a free bus for the five minute ride with the little guys to explore Adventure Ridge, in nearby Lionshead Village. We found the Eagle Bahn Gondola that took us to the top of the mountain. Our glass cube ascended into the sky. We passed huge swatches of white tipped greenery that kept us quiet with wonder.
The sky let loose a flurry of snow. By the time we stepped out of our gondola, a fluffy veil of white covered the ground. We excitedly gathered as much of the powder as possible, packed it into balls, and proceeded to remind each other just how fun and mischievous winter could be while pelting and screaming as cold, wet snow found its way into the sliver of space between our jacket and our neck.
Next, we hopped into the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, a toboggan that flew around a metal track much faster than I expected. I tried to ignore the little voice inside my head that told me I was going to fly us off the metal rail, hurling my youngest son down the mountain, if I didn’t slow down.
Kid’s Club at Sonnenalp Hotel
The kid’s club program at the Sonnenalp offers programs that introduce local wildlife to children. During the dry months, lessons are taught during hikes but during our stay, we got to learn about nature while snowshoeing.
None of us had tried it before and we were so excited to strap on our snowshoes and clank up the hill. As we made our way up the terrain, our guide, Sonnenalp’s Guest Activities Coordinator, Kara Hasbrouck-Schmidt, stopped in front of a tree and asked if we knew what kind of evergreen it was. We city-folk shook our heads and she pulled off some of its pine needles and held it out for us to inspect. We looked and she said you could tell if you tried rolling them between your fingers. She proceeded to roll the needles across her palm with the finger of her other hand. “See?” Hasbrouck-Schmidt showed us, “The needles roll because they’re square. That’s how we know it’s a spruce.”
We plodded along a little farther and she stopped in front of another tree. When she tried to roll the needles this time, they wouldn’t move. “The fir tree needles are flat, so you can’t roll them,” Hasbrouck-Schmidt said, “That’s how you can tell the difference.” A little further up, she stopped again and pointed to some animal tracks, asking if we knew how to tell the difference between dog and mountain lion prints. With a crease between our eyes, we again shook our heads. “Mountain lions retract their claws like cats when they walk, while dogs do not,” she said as we looked more carefully at the tracks, hoping to see claws.
King’s Club Lounge at Sonnenalp
That night, after dinner, we hung out on the couches at the King’s Club, a glowing fireplace on one side and the crooning sounds of a singer strumming a guitar on the other. King’s Club is cozy like a giant living room divided by arches and partition walls, each section hosting families and couples lounging on sofas and chairs. We talked, ordered snacks and drinks and enjoyed playing backgammon by the warmth of the fire.
The big boys had reported that many of the Vail lifts were still closed for the season, the day before, so we hopped in the car and drove 20 minutes west on I‑70 to Beaver Creek, where we signed the little boys up for snowboarding lessons and we big kids got to enjoy some Colorado powder. We stayed and watched the lessons for a while and noted the staff seemed attentive and experienced. Then, we threw caution to the wind and skied down the mountain like we were all in our 20s, instead of just one of us.
More Vail Village
In the evening, we signed the boys up for movie and pizza night at the Sonnenalp kid’s club and the three of us walked into Vail Village for dinner at Yama Sushi. The waitresses were probably ski instructors during the day and the contrast between the black walls and red floor gave it a hip vibe. The fish was fresh and some dishes arrived in wooden boxes with origami-inspired presentations. It was nice getting the chance to talk with our college kid without the distraction of his little brothers fighting.
Copper Mountain / Woodward Copper
Our last day in Vail, we ventured a half hour east on I‑70 to Copper Mountain where we planned to ski during the first part of the day and conquer Woodward Copper, an indoor/outdoor extreme sports park, in the afternoon. The little boys wanted to go to ski school again, with its small hills and slow lifts. The big boys chose to ride the lift with them and spend their morning cheering them on.
Since they were paired off, I took the free bus from Center Village to West Village and rode the Union Creek lift up for three of the best ski runs I’ve ever skied. The trails opened wide to uncrowded conditions and combined the speed from a high starting altitude with beginner and intermediate level declines.
Woodward Copper finally gave all three boys the opportunity to shred together.
Woodward has twelve locations between the U.S. and Mexico and is divided into areas where kids and adults can fly around and grind on skateboards, BMX bikes and snowboards using high-quality ramps, bowls and rails. The training is the key. Besides daily classes, Woodward campuses host summer camps to facilitate athletic training and progression. Former Woodward campers have won 14 Olympic medals and claimed 125 pro level medals.
First time sessions start with instruction from coaches on flinging yourself safely onto trampolines and foam pits. Then, participants get to choose which high adrenaline sport they’d like to practice. The little boys decided to scooter around the ramps and do little hops into foam pits. Kyle rolled down a 20 foot ramp, on a snowboard with wheels, and landed into a pit full of foam. (See video below)
When we returned, I treated myself to a massage in the Sonnenalp Spa. After all the mountain activity and full throttle parenting, this was a much-needed release. My therapist, Stephanie, delivered one of the most effective treatments I’d ever experienced. I’m not sure if I was moaning but, at the end, I turned to rubber. I couldn’t thank her enough. I wished I had enough time to soak in the indoor spa or pool but alas, I knew daddy could only handle so much solo time.
That night, our last in Vail, Kyle galantley offered to watch the boys while we shared a romantic night out at the White Bison Restaurant and Bar. The food was spectacularly prepared with a rustic, high-end presentation that included tin cups for water and metallic serving platters. We returned to find the little guys passed out after trying to kill each other for hours, Kyle reported. He promised it would be the last time he’d undertake such a foolhardy task.
In the morning, the Sonnenalp Spa offered a free yoga class in a bright yellow and cream room. Painted golden suns emblazoned the wall behind the teacher, Marta. Marta led a strong class and while we sat quietly, enjoying our calm, I realized the hotel name, Sonnenalp, translated to sun on the mountain. Given the warm experiences we’d all shared, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate description for our lodgings. And even though the little boys had sometimes driven us crazy, I hoped Kyle would travel with us again.
A big thank you to the Sonnenalp Hotel, Copper Mountain and Woodward Copper for hosting us during our stay up in Vail. Every adventurous family would love experiencing the activities we feel lucky to have tried. Let us know if you go!
LIMITED TIME SPECIAL
Although none of us are traveling now, we could still give the gift of hope and travel to our loved ones. Sonnenalp wants you to treat Mom and Dad to a Colorado Rocky Mountain Getaway for their special days. More information on the perfect Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift can be found here.
We flew into Denver International Airport (with its bizarre artwork) — about a two and a half hour flight from Los Angeles International Airport. We spent two days in Denver, to acclimate to the altitude (and explore more of Colorado) before heading west on the I‑70 for the two hour drive to Vail.