The Perfect Family Ski Vacation

by : Mischelle Weedman Davis

In December 2007 our family enjoyed an amazing holiday ski vacation. Christmas morning the kids found out that in addition to the gifts under the tree, Santa had given them a ski adventure trip...and we were leaving that very day! The trip would include an overnight Amtrak train ride on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Whitefish, MT (just over 13 hours) and five days of skiing at the Whitefish Mountain Resort (formerly known as Big Mountain Resort---not to be confused with Big Sky Resort).

The kids were beside themselves!! A train ride; sleeping on the train; going to Montana (home of Hannah Montana they thought); snow; skiing; sleddingthey were elated! After the fun of opening gifts and a delicious holiday breakfast we all rushed to pack our bags. Luckily Santa had tipped me off to his plan a few days earlier so I could prepare all of the ski gear. Wink.

We departed Seattle's King Street Station at about 4:30pm. The ticketing and baggage check-in experience for Amtrak is unbelievably simple and easy. No lines, no security hassles, no problems. You could literally arrive minutes before your train leaves the station.

We reserved a family-sized (sleeps four) room on the sleeping car. A friendly, traditionally dressed conductor came by to smile and punch our tickets. The kids thought he looked like the Tom Hanks character for The Polar Express. And a few minutes later the attendant arrived with champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the kids.

Seating on the train is vastly superior to airline seating. There is lots of leg room, room for your carry-on baggage, and you can move around as much as you like. You can even stretch out as if you were on your couch at home. After admiring the scenery for several hours and catching up on our reading we proceeded to the dining car (dinner included in the fare for sleeper car customers) where we sat in a large, comfortable booth with a white table cloth and candles. The chef was no Tom Douglas; but, the meal was much better than your typical reheated airline dinner.

When we arrived back at our room on the sleeping car the seats had already been converted into bunk beds for us by the attendant. This was the best part for the kidssleeping on the train. I didn't sleep as well as I would have in my own bed or in a hotel room but there is something strangely soothing about the rocking motion of the train and the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track.

The following morning we awoke just in time for a hot breakfast in the dining car before rolling into Whitefish at about 7:30am.

We were met by a shuttle driver who helped with our bags and drove us and several other families the eight miles up the mountain to the Whitefish resort. We checked in at the General Store and got keys to our ski-in/out condo (there are lots of slope-side condos for rent). We were skiing by 10am.

The Whitefish resort is extremely kid friendly. It has one of the best daycare facilities that I have ever seen at a ski resort. Our 2 and a half year old enjoyed the activities and the friendly, caring staff. And our 10 year old daughter felt so safe that a few times she ventured out and took a few runs on her own.

The skiing at Whitefish was great. It snowed almost every day we were there. The resort has lots of runs for any skill level and several new high-speed quads. Other than the line for the main lift at the base lodge, the lines were typically short.

It is both a plus and minus that Whitefish doesn't have the kind of village atmosphere that you find at many resorts such as Whistler. There are fewer restaurant choices for dinner; however, the atmosphere is much more quiet, subdued, and family-friendlyno loud party goers. But if you need more choices the charming town of Whitefish has lots of restaurants, pubs, etc. and is just a short, FREE shuttle-ride away.

We thoroughly enjoyed the five days that we spent at Whitefish. And the train ride home was a nice way to wrap up the trip. This time we departed Whitefish Station at 9:30pm on New Years Eve. The got their own room this time and went right to bed. While my husband and I enjoyed some champagne to toast the New Year.

Our whole family highly recommends the Whitefish Mountain Resort as a great spot for a family ski vacation. And for those that live in Seattle, the train is the wonderful way to add extra adventure to the trip.