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There's no denying the high-energy thrill of hitting the slopes, but between skis, boots, and poles—not to mention lift passes—the sport can get expensive. (Rental packages start at $23 for kids, $25 for adults; lift tickets from $35 for kids, $50 for adults.) Luckily there are plenty of ways to keep a day on the mountain fun and affordable.
—Purchase half-day lift tickets at reduced prices. (An afternoon may be plenty of ski time for your family.) Spend the other half of the day taking a sleigh ride, ice skating, or visiting other area attractions.
—Consider smaller resorts, which are typically less expensive.
—Go late in the ski season, when resorts slash prices—sometimes by as much as 50 percent.
—Visit resort websites for midweek specials, "ski free" days, and discounts for reserving equipment online (which can also save your family time).
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Skiing Hot Spot: Whistler Blackcomb, BC
Host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, this mountain averages 403 inches of snow a year.
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Skiing Hot Spot: Park City, UT
Only 30 miles from the Salt Lake City airport, Park City's convenience is key. You might be able to wake up in your home state and be on the mountain by noon. And the Quick Start program offers a free same-day lift ticket when you present your airline boarding pass and online voucher.
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Skiing Hot Spot: White Mountains, NH
Talk about variety: There are eight great resorts within driving distance of one another.
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The subculture of snowboarding makes it especially appealing to tweens and teens—trendy clothes and cool music are as essential to the vibe as high-flying aerial tricks. And some people say it's easier to learn to snowboard than to ski. Renting the gear will run you about $20 for kids and $30 for adults, and you'll also need lift tickets (see prices in "Skiing," the first slide). Consider these tips to keep costs down:
—Ask about free beginner lessons and rentals for first-timers (resorts want to get kids hooked).
—Check out sports shops in your town or on your way to the mountain. They tend to offer better rental prices than the resorts—and may even throw in discounted lift tickets to nearby destinations.
—Shop around before your vacation starts. Local entertainment books as well as snowboarding magazines like Transworld Snowboarding and Snowboarder sometimes offer deals and coupons.
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Snowboarding Hot Spot: Lake Tahoe, CA
A mecca for snowboarders, this area has seven shredder-friendly resorts, 300 days of sunshine, and a slew of off-slope activities.
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Snowboarding Hot Spot: Burlington, VT
Base yourself in this lively town and you can choose from 15 terrain parks and countless rails, bumps, jumps, and banks at five nearby resorts.
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Snowboarding Hot Spot: Summit County, CO
Less than two hours from Denver, four resorts are conveniently located—and top-notch.
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Other than snowshoes, which are inexpensive to rent, this sport doesn't require special talent or equipment. (Rentals start at $15/day.) One of the fastest-growing winter activities, snowshoeing is appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. And you don't have to travel to a mountain to do it—families can partake wherever there's snow. Get your exercise at a nearby park or nature preserve, or head out on a guided trip or moonlit trek.
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Snowshoeing Hot Spot: Quebec City, QC
Home to the only Ice Hotel in North America and the largest winter carnival in the world, this city embraces the cold season. It has also become one of the top snowshoeing destinations in North America, with a vast network of trails and dozens of snowshoeing centers just minutes from the city.
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Snowshoeing Hot Spot: Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI
Snowshoeing families are treated to vistas of Lake Michigan on ranger-led hikes through snow-dusted dunes.
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Snowshoeing Hot Spot: Mount Rainier National Park, WA
More than 16 winter trails pass by icy waterfalls and alpine lakes—all with panoramic mountain views.
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Take a seat in an open sled pulled by a team of dogs—sometimes as many as 12. Typically the trainer will drive the animals, pulling harnesses and giving commands as families enjoy the paw-powered journey through snowfields. (One-hour rides start at $30 for kids and $75 for adults; half-day from $75 for kids and $125 for adults.) Research local clubs, where dogsledders are usually happy to give free rides.
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Dogsledding Hot Spot: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Sleds rush past geysers and hot springs, across vast fields, and beyond mountain ridgelines.
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Dogsledding Hot Spot: Cascade Mountains, OR
The forests of the southern Cascades boast alpine lakes, frosty streams, and frozen waterfalls.
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Dogsledding Hot Spot: Ely, MN
Dubbed the "Sled Dog Capital of the U.S.," Ely borders the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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No experience necessary—just sit in a large inner tube made for the snow and fill your lungs with exhilarating fresh air as you slide down the hillside. (Three- to five-hour passes range from $22 to $48.) Look for a place with lifts so you don't have to carry the tubes back up the hill.
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Tubing Hot Spot: Amesbury Sports Park, MA
Home to the steepest tube trail in New England, this spot has three lifts to take you up the hill and plenty of ways to get down.
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Tubing Hot Spot: Colorado Adventure Park (70 miles from Denver)
In addition to tubing and sledding, kids can try airboarding, a new craze that involves a speedy, facedown ride on a specially designed, inflatable bodyboard.
Tubing Hot Spot: Winterplace Ski Resort, WV
The largest snow tubing area in the state, with 16 lanes and 5 lifts.
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Hop on a snowmobile and get surrounded by pristine backcountry—think giant snowfields and dense forests—inaccessible by foot or by car. Minimum age requirements vary with outfitters and trips, but most require operators to have a valid driver's license (minimum age for drivers ranges from 16 to 21 years; minimum age for passengers from 6 to 12). Today's machines have easy-to-operate speed controls and hand brakes. Go on a guided trip that stays on designated trails but stops for sightseeing, picture-taking, or a picnic. The company should provide safety and operating instructions, along with gloves, helmets, and goggles. Prices for a one- to two-hour guided ride on a two-passenger machine are about $120 to $150.
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Snowmobiling Hot Spot: Eagle River, WI
Designated "Snowmobile Capital of the World," the area has more than 500 miles of groomed trails.
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Snowmobiling Hot Spot: Old Forge, NY
This Adirondack community opens its streets and vast system of paths to thousands of snowmobilers each winter. Start here to connect with all major trails in central and upstate New York.
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Snowmobiling Hot Spot: Maine
The sprawling statewide system has grown to more than 12,000 miles of trails, 280 local clubs, and hundreds of outfitters.
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Hot Winter Travel Deals
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Play It Safe
—Dress in synthetic layers and wear goggles.
—Wear a helmet to prevent/reduce head injuries.
—Use sunscreen as well as lip balm.
—Drink plenty of fluids in high altitudes.
—Have children and adults carry whistles or GPS tracking devices.
—Write your cell number and an emergency contact on your children's lift tickets.
—Visit snowlink.com, wintertrails.org, and winterfeelsgood.com for more tips.
Originally published in the January 2011 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.