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Best Ski Towns for Summer Vacations

Head to these ski towns in summertime for deals, steals and a surprisingly good time. No snow required.

BY Ellen Parlapiano

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PARK CITY, UTAH
Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort
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Park City, Utah

This winter Olympics site is the perfect place to challenge your inner summer athlete.

Hot Sports: Speed downhill on the Alpine Coaster (snowboarder Shaun White screamed all the way), or buddy up and ride side by side on the Alpine Slide. At Olympic Park, ski-jump off a mini ramp into the pool, ride the Comet Bobsled (piloted by a professional) at 70 mph (ages 14 and up), or watch the U.S. aerial ski team show off high-flying moves at Saturday shows (utaholympiclegacy.com). If biking and hiking are more your speed, Park City has miles of trails.

Cool Happenings: Experience the town's gold rush heritage at Park City Museum (parkcityhistory.org), where you can board a mining cage and "dynamite" a tunnel, then scare up some spirits on Park City Ghost Tours (parkcityghosttours.com). Though the Sundance Film Festival happens in winter, catch free indie movies under the stars on Thursdays in June, July and August—and maybe even spot Robert Redford, who lives in nearby Sundance.

Lodging Deals: Centrally located on charming Main Street, Treasure Mountain Inn is eco-friendly and a short walk or shuttle ride from the mountain. One-bedroom suites with kitchens sleep two adults and two kids under 12 starting at $150 a night; two-bedrooms from $225 (treasuremountaininn.com). For town homes, try Newpark Resort & Hotel, which has its own central village and pools; two-bedrooms from $175 (newparkresort.com).

Side Trip: Heber Valley Historic Railroad (30 minutes away) offers two distinct experiences on vintage trains: The Raft 'n Rail Adventure chugs through scenic Provo Canyon and stops for whitewater rafting, while Reins 'n Trains features a dramatized train robbery (hebervalleyrr.org).

More Info: visitparkcity.com

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Vail/Beaver Creek, Colorado

The country's largest ski resort has a vibrant summer arts scene that shouldn't be missed.

Hot Sports: Hike or bike Vail's recreational path through the Bavarian-style village; check out fly-fishing clinics along Gore Creek. The Eagle Bahn gondola whisks you to Adventure Ridge at 10,000 feet for bocce, volleyball, disk golf, a bungee trampoline and a climbing wall. In Beaver Creek Village, ice-skate in your shorts or ride horses through the hills (vailhorses.com). One town over, in Avon, watch cowboys rope broncos at weekly rodeos.

Cool Happenings: On Sundays, the Vail Farmers' Market and Art Show serves up food, crafts and live jazz. Meet more musicians at Free & Easy concerts during the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (June 25-August 4), or dance in the street flash-mob style at the Vail International Dance Festival (July 29-August 11). Families compete in water-balloon tosses and pizza-twirling contests and watch raptor shows at the Family Saturday Afternoon Club in Lionshead Village (mid-June to mid-August).

Lodging Deals: Vail Cascade Resort & Spa has a huge fitness center, two pools and spacious standard rooms—most with balconies—starting at $121 a night (vailcascade.com) . Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa at Beaver Creek Mountain's teen programming (for ages 12 to 16) includes Improv Movie Making and Hobo Cookouts (fees vary). Studio suites with kitchens start at $229 a night; one-bedroom condos start at $239 a night (westinriverfrontbeavercreek.com).

Side Trip: Water sports rule in the Victorian town of Glenwood Springs (an hour from Vail). Raft the Colorado River (glenwoodadventure.com) and soak in the world's largest hot springs pool, with slides and diving boards (hotspringspool.com). At Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the Giant Canyon Swing hurls theme park junkies over the river (glenwoodcaverns.com).

More Info: visitvailvalley.com and beavercreek.com

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Big Sky, Montana

Try nearly every kind of outdoor adventure.

Hot Sports: In Mountain Village, check out the bungee trampoline or high ropes course (balance beams and swinging bridges up to 30 feet above the ground)! Ride the chairlift up Lone Peak mountain (bikes allowed), then hike or pedal down the trails, or take the Lone Peak Expedition (combination chairlift, safari vehicle and tram tour). Don't forget to go whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River; Geyser Whitewater Expeditions leads half-day trips.

Cool Happenings: Chow down at Monday night pig roasts at 320 Guest Ranch. Save Thursday nights for Music in the Mountains, free concerts held in the Town Center in Meadow Village. The Big Sky Country Fair & Arts Festival showcases local artisans, farmers, chefs and musicians on July 28.

Lodging Deals: Rustic Buck's T-4 Lodge offers basic, cozy hotel rooms with free breakfast at their restaurant; rooms start at $139 per night. Or make yourself at home in a Big Horn condo, less than a quarter mile from Mountain Village; one-bedroom, two-bath units with kitchens and living areas sleep four, from $217.

Side Trip: Spend at least a day in Yellowstone, about 30 minutes away. Watch Old Faithful blow its stack and explore nearby trails for more gushing geysers, bubbling mud pots and colorful thermal springs. Drive the park's Grand Loop Road—bison and elk abound! And definitely hike the rim of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for its amazing waterfalls.

More Info: bigskyresort.com

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Lake Tahoe, California

A beach and mountain vacation, all in one!

Hot Sports: The lake's calm water makes it a great place to learn stand-up paddleboarding; Tahoe Adventure Company offers intro lessons and tours. Boating is big here too—rent kayaks, pedal boats, Hobie Cat sailboats and Jet Skis from North Tahoe Watersports. When it's peak time, head to Heavenly Mountain Resort on the South Shore for a gondola ride through the Sierras or fast tubing down a hill.

Cool Happenings: Spot planets, constellations and meteors at Star Tours nighttime sky programs at Northstar resort, led by an expert from the Northern Nevada Science Coalition. At the Wanderlust wellness and music festival, July 26-29, strike a pose with renowned yoga teachers, go on meditation hikes and groove to Ziggy Marley live.

Lodging Deals: North Lake Tahoe is more serene and kid-friendly than the south end. Try the retro, family-owned Ferrari's Crown Resort, set on Kings Beach, one of Tahoe's best; with two pools and breakfast included, rooms start at $99. Minutes from the lake, the luxurious mountainside Resort at Squaw Creek has three pools and a waterslide, a spa and fitness center, and family golf nights, when kids can play free with a paying adult. Rooms start at $229 a night.

Side Trip: Virginia City, Nevada, is a perfectly preserved frontier town about 90 minutes away. Stroll the wooden sidewalks past the old firehouse, jail and many working saloons; tour the Ponderosa Mine; or ride through town on a vintage stagecoach.

More Info: visitinglaketahoe.com

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Stowe, Vermont

It's classic New England: church steeples, country roads and covered bridges.

Hot Sports: Rent kayaks and canoes and paddle where Native Americans once ventured (pinnacleskisports.com). Walk, bike or Rollerblade along 5-mile Stowe Recreation Path, which winds over 10 bridges. Or hike the more strenuous Pinnacle Trail for great views of Stowe. Drive Mountain Road through narrow Smugglers? Notch (navigating carefully around ginormous boulders) to Smugglers' Notch State Park, with secret passages that were once an escape route for slaves and a hiding place for Prohibition-era bootleggers.

Cool Happenings: Sound of Music fans: The von Trapps settled here and opened a lodge, where you can take historical tours (trappfamily.com) . For a wild ride, zipline with ArborTrek Canopy Adventures, nestled in a valley below Smugglers' Notch (arbortrek.com). Or get pulled by a team of 10 Alaskan huskies—the sled is on wheels. Splurge-worthy tours start at $195 (edendogsledding.com).

Lodging Deals: At laid-back Stowe Motel & Snowdrift, lounge in a chaise while the kids swim. Deluxe efficiency rooms start at $126 a night; two-bedroom apartments start at $160 (stowemotel.com). Fifteen minutes north, Smugglers' Notch Resort has eight pools, four waterslides, a skate park and unlimited family fun. Five-day packages in a condo that sleeps four start at $1,780 without kids' programs and $2,140 with (smuggs.com).

Side Trip: An hour west is Burlington, Vermont, a funky college town with a pedestrian mall full of cool shops and restaurants. Picnic along the shores of Lake Champlain or go sailing on the Friend Ship, a classic New England sloop (whistlingman.com).

More Info: gostowe.com

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Crystal Mountain, Michigan

Many Midwestern cities are within a few hours' drive of this northern Michigan resort.

Hot Sports: Zoom down a twisted track on Crystal Coaster Alpine Slide, controlling your speed with a hand brake. At Mountain Adventure Zone, challenge family members to paintball on the giant field. Soak in a hot tub at the water park pool while your kids have a blast on the slide and floating lily pads. Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa also has one of the top golf schools in the nation.

Cool Happenings: Michigan Legacy Art Park celebrates the state's culture through sculptures, poetry stones etched with inspirational verses and student artwork. On Friday nights (June 29 -July 27), there are outdoor concerts (free for guests of Crystal Mountain Resort). Catch a double feature at the old-fashioned Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre, about 25 minutes away in Honor; you can even have dinner delivered to your car (cherrybowldrivein.com).

Lodging Deals: The Hamlet Hotel is near restaurants and activities; rooms with microwaves and mini fridges start at $169 (crystalmountain.com). WinterGreen condos have full kitchens and private decks; one-bedroom units sleep four and start at $259; two-bedrooms sleep six and start at $289 (crystalmountain.com).

Side Trip: About 45 minutes north, at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (sleepingbeardunes.com), climb the towering sand dunes, which rise 460 feet! Swim in Lake Michigan (water as clear as the Caribbean), or take a tubing trip on the nearby Platte River (canoemichigan.com).

More Info: crystalmountain.com

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Bargain-Hunting Tips

1. Shop the specials. Websites like SummerMountainTravel.com, TravelZoo.com and LastMinute.com may have great off-season packages, but you should also call resorts directly and ask about competitive rates.

2. Compare all-activity passes. If you plan to participate in a bunch of activities, consider one-price passes with unlimited access to gondolas, alpine slides, bungee trampolines and more.

3. Go house-hunting. Rent a condo or house, hit a local grocery store and save serious cash by preparing your meals at home. Search at vrbo.com, flipkey.com and airbnb.com.

4. Invest in coupons. A few weeks before your vacation, sign up for Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com alerts for the areas you'll be visiting.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Family Circle magazine.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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