Taking another page out of the Disney handbook, ski resorts are adding thrill rides to their on-mountain offerings. First it was fuzzy mascots to make the kids feel comfy at otherwise cold, unfamiliar ski camps - like Mickey Mouse in the mountains. Now mountain coasters, ziplines and canopy tours are popping up on trail maps like moguls on Outer Limits in March.
The reality: zip lines and mountain coasters are less expensive than fancy high-speed quads or gondolas, and the fun factor for families is an added amenity to your alpine vacation. Besides, with today's high-speed lifts, you can easily bag enough ski runs by 1 p.m., leaving the afternoon to pursue other sensations with your kids that don't involve further burning of the thighs.
Jiminy Peak, Okemo, Cranmore, and Attitash have added mountain coasters to their alpine operations. These open-concept two-seater cars ride on a metal track, you head straight up the hill on the rail then descend at speeds of 20-plus mph (with your own hand brake) down the twisty, turning steel track. Basically, it's a ski area roller coaster. The ride is short, about 5-7 minutes, but promises to be exciting at $9-$15 a pop. Okemo's "Timber Ripper" is thought to be the fastest, dropping 375 feet vertical, and reaching speeds of 25 mph.
Look for zip lines and canopy tours at Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Loon, Wildcat, Smugglers and Bretton Woods. Cable lines run from tree-to-tree in the ski area forest canopy, and you are harnessed in for your descent from platform to platform. Zip excursion range in price from $25 to $110, and can take one hour to three, depending upon the length of the tour - Bretton Woods' is the most scenic and longest in New England, descending 1,000 feet.
So, now you can have your amusement park adrenaline rush in ski country. Look for ski and stay packages that bundle these activities, or discounts for pass holders in their inaugural season, and add a little zip to your ski trip.
Photo by Greg Burke For more of Heather's family ski tips go to www.familyskitrips.com
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.