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Frozen: Epic Icy Vacations Around the Northwest

Once-in-a-lifetime winter vacations for families

Published on: October 30, 2014

Courtesy Big White ski resort

“Do you want to build a snowman?” The popularity of a certain Disney movie notwithstanding, kids have always found snow and ice magical: skiing, ice skating, sledding, snowball fights, snow forts and — yes — snowmen. But if this is the year your family wants to take your subzero adventures up a notch (perhaps because of a certain Disney movie), we’ve found four thrilling trips in our mountain-rich corner of the world that go far beyond traditional snow activities. Bundle up!

Skip to the first vacation or browse all four here:


Christina Potters Ice Rink; photo by Matt Leidecker

1. Epic glides in Ketchum

Ketchum, Idaho, is home to one of the Northwest’s largest nonrefrigerated outdoor ice rinks, covering roughly 2 acres in Atkinson Park and scenically tucked in the shadow of Bald Mountain — aka, “Baldy,” the primary mountain of the Sun Valley ski resort. Constructed every year in mid-December, the Christina Potters Ice Rink opens around Christmas and usually closes about mid-February, weather permitting. Your kids can work on their slap shot or triple lutz with free skates (hockey and figure), helmets, pucks, sticks, goals, broom balls and balance assists. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, the rink plays host to the Idaho Pond Hockey Classic with bratwurst and music. The rink is unlit, but many flock to the ice at night to skate by moonlight. Magical.

Deep-freeze details: Christina Potters Ice Rink is free admission.

>>Pair with: Sun Valley has its own indoor and year-round outdoor ice rinks. (Sun Valley is home to one of the nation’s oldest figure skating clubs with a U.S. Figure Skating-sanctioned competition in February.) Sun Valley is also, of course, one of the West’s best — and most family-friendly — ski resorts, including a mountain (Dollar Mountain) dedicated solely to kids learning to ski and snowboard, and “adventure trails” with jumps, bumps and hairpin turns designed just for little skiers. Add in moonlight snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and dinner sleigh rides and you’re in winter-vacation heaven.

Stay: The historic Sun Valley Lodge, which boasts a basement bowling alley and heated outdoor pool, is closed for renovations until June 2015, but the inn and condos rented through the lodge are open. The inn has an outdoor heated pool and is in the middle of the resort action (deluxe rooms at the inn from $289; 800-786-8259).


2. Mush! Dogsledding in Leavenworth

Courtesy Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce

Good news: A family-friendly version of the Iditarod is as close as Leavenworth. You can unleash (pun intended) your kids’ inner dog whisperer on the forested trails of the Cascade foothills on a dog sled pulled by eight to 12 Alaskan malamutes. Because these sled dogs are keyed up and ready to roll beforehand (they live to run), Northwest Dogsled Adventures encourages families to interact with the dogs after they hit the trails at Fish Lake Sno-Park. Rides last from a half hour to two hours (covering 1–9.5 miles) for kids ages 1 and up. Dress warm and prepare to be amped, especially on the downhill run!

Deep-freeze details: Half-hour dogsled rides cost $70 per person ($50 per kid under 80 pounds) at Northwest Dogsled Adventures

>>Pair with: Round out your Bavarian-themed weekend with free winter-wildlife snowshoe tours at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, jingle-bell sleigh rides at Red-Tail Canyon Farm (with post-ride cocoa in a teepee), or skiing, sledding and tubing at Leavenworth Ski Hill; you can even try ski jumping (Ski Hill is home to the only jump on the west coast of the United States). About 40 minutes away, find 1,125 acres of skiing terrain at Stevens Pass, an award-winning resort in the Cascade range that also has a network of Nordic trails. You could also plan a weekend around one of Leavenworth’s incandescent winter festivals, including a Christmas tree lighting festival the first three weekends in December and a Bavarian Ice Fest in January that features ice carving, ice fishing, dogsled competitions and games such as a snowball toss or an ice-cube scramble.

Stay: Icicle Village Resort has an arcade and game room, s’mores at the fire pit, a free breakfast buffet and a covered pool and hot tub (from $219; 800-961-0162). Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, on the banks of Icicle Creek, offers a spectacular setting and packages that include sustainable, gourmet cuisine and full-service spa (packages from $250 a night; 509-548-6344).

3. Taming the ice at Big White

Ice climbing may sound like an intimidating sport. But at Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, B.C., kids of all ages (and adults) can tackle a 60-foot ice tower made out of four telephone poles covered in three-foot-thick ice. Each side of the tower is a different level, from beginner to advanced. All climbing gear is provided (ice picks, boots, crampons). Climbers are roped in and use a harness; trained climbing staff are on the ground holding on to the rope to prevent falls and coach you to the summit, where you can ring the victory bell. No age restrictions: As long as your kiddos are coordinated enough to climb with ice picks they can give it a go; kids as young as 4 have made it to the top.

Deep-freeze details: $25 per climb or $65 for a day pass; both include all equipment.

>>Pair with: Big White is a winter wonderland well worth the trek from the Seattle area (about a six-hour drive). Once your kids tame the ice, they can race on the kids-only snowmobile track (think go-carting on snow), skate on Canada’s highest outdoor rink (5,482 feet), tramp through the woods on a full-moon snowshoe tour or go tubing (five lanes, from gentle to turbo speed). Powder abounds for skiing. The resort hosts free kids’ crafts nights and family après-ski with popcorn, coloring books and mocktails.

Stay: Both Eagles Resort, a hotel directly opposite the village center, and Sundance Resort (with pool) are fab for families. Reserve through Big White Central Reservations and look for Stay and Ski packages (rooms from $325 at Eagles, $349 at Sundance; 800-663-2772). Find more info at

4. Chasing the northern lights in Fairbanks

Kids always bugging you to stay up late? Journey to Fairbanks, Alaska, to give them a really, really good reason: to see the aurora borealis, aka the greatest natural light show on earth. This collision of solar wind with the earth’s atmosphere paints the night sky with a spectacular green glow or whirling tendrils of neon violet and blue. And the remote backcountry outside Fairbanks is a phenomenal place to see it because of its crystal-clear, cold nights free of the light pollution rampant in the Lower 48. An excellent base for your aurora explorations is Chena Hot Springs Resort, located some 60 miles outside Fairbanks.

Deep-freeze details: At Chena, you can get a special aurora wake-up call (they recommend a post-dinner nap and then a 10 p.m. wake-up) and head out in a snow coach to a 2,600-foot ridgetop to sky-gaze until 2 a.m. Warm up in a giant yurt with hot tea, cider and cocoa. You can also view any time from inside the “Aurorium,” a heated log cabin perched on a hill with floor-to-ceiling windows, or from the mineral hot springs on-site.

>>Pair with: During your stay at the resort, kids ages 14 and up can take a dog-mushing class, and kids ages 12 and up can learn ice carving. Everyone can tour the dog kennels, go on dogsled rides or wildlife watch for moose and caribou. Don’t miss the on-site Aurora Ice Museum — dubbed the world’s largest year-round ice environment — crafted from 1,000 pounds of snow and ice by world-champion ice carvers who have sculpted a two-story observation tower, a polar bear bedroom, an igloo and an ice bar with caribou-fur-covered stools. You can also swim in the indoor pool, ice skate, snowshoe and Nordic ski.

Stay: The geothermal-powered Chena Hot Springs Resort offers family suites with connecting bathrooms (from $300). Find more info at

IMPOSSIBLY COOL: 4 more far-flung icy vacations

Want more winter dream vacations to, well, dream about? Below, find four far-flung icy vacations to add to your Frozen wish list.

1. Lapland ice hotel

Some 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, find the ICEhotel of Jukkasjärvi on the shore of the Torne River. Slumber in a 23-degree room with a bed built of snow and ice, view the northern lights, head out with a Sámi guide to their reindeer camp for sled rides and hand-feeding, go on an arctic wildlife safari and learn ice sculpting. Best for ages 4 and up.

2. Polar bear safari

Churchill, Manitoba, is one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild. Watch them from unique local tundra vehicles, designed to move smoothly over snow and ice and to protect passengers from curious or hungry bears. You can also stay at a wilderness lodge built on the bears’ migration route, canoe the Seal River or take guided walks to areas the bears frequent.

3. Quebec City winter carnival

Think Mardi Gras in the snow. Dubbed the world’s largest winter carnival, Quebec City’s festival, Quebec Winter Carnival, has been going since 1955, with elaborate nighttime floats and live music on parade, ice tobogganing, snow tubing, ice canoe racing on the St. Lawrence River, ice sculpting, dogsledding, skating, an Ice Palace and sugar-shack maple treats galore. Mais oui!

4. Rideau Canal Skateway

The Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds the Guinness World Record as the largest naturally frozen ice rink. The 4.8-mile-long skate way, which runs through the heart of downtown Ottawa, is equivalent to 90 Olympic-size rinks. It’s typically frozen from January to mid-February. To keep up the kids’ skate energy, chow down on Beaver Tails (basically, fried dough with sugary toppings) at one of the canal’s ice-based kiosks.


Skip back to the first vacation or browse all four here:

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