Posts Tagged ‘ Special needs vacations ’

A Great Ski Resort For Kids Of All Abilities

Monday, March 4th, 2013

I’ve read of sports fans who plan to visit all the baseball stadiums in the country. I’m no sports buff but I dream of visiting all the resorts in the U.S. that offer adaptive ski programs for Max, who has cerebral palsy. Check one more of the list: We recently vacationed at Keystone Resort in Colorado, which has an outstanding adaptive ski center—and where there was so much fun to be had we could have stayed for a month. We got six snow-tastic days!

The resort is an hour and a half from Denver airport; we got there via Colorado Mountain Express. Keystone Resort is a sprawling place—there are some 900-plus condos and 265 hotel rooms, with 3148 acres of skiable terrain and 135 ski trails. We stayed in a comfortable two-bedroom condo at Lakeside, in the Willows building, with a beautiful overview of Keystone Lake. It’s very close to River Run Village, ideal for families—there are good dining options (including a pizzeria), along with a grocery story and clothing and gear shops.

Buses run frequently around the resort run and if you have a family member with special needs there’s an on-call shuttle. It was completely dependable and one of Max’s favorite activities, given his love for all things that go. Once he got into the skiing groove, it fit the bill!

WHAT TO DO AT KEYSTONE RESORT

First off: childcare!

Keystone has a Children’s Center for kids ages 2 months to 6 years old; you can drop off kids from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.. My kids are too old for it, but they are hospitable to hosting kids who have special needs. There’s also a Kids Night Out on Thursdays from 5:00 to 8:00, also for a fee.

Adaptive skiing

The Breckendridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) at Keystone  has worked with kids of all abilities including cerebral palsy, autism and Down syndrome; Max’s instructor, Chris, told of a teen he worked with who had autism who could ski black diamonds—he just needed a guide in front of him to follow. There are 25 staff members and 350 volunteers.

Bonding with BOEC volunteer Rich in the ski shop

Chris and the volunteers couldn’t have been more patient—or enabling! We booked three private half-day lessons. Max was nervous on Day 1 but warmed up on Day 2 and really got into it—he started pointing his skis and gliding really well.

Max even took the chair lift to the top of a bunny hill and rode down, guided by the pros. Sometimes he held onto a bar for balance, guidance and comfort. We told him he was Lightning McQueen steering his car. It was awesome to see Max experience a skier’s high—and he was really proud of himself, as were we all.

He was also quite content to push around the wagons provided for gear (or, preferably, get toted around in it).

Keystone Ski & Ride School

One fantastic perk at Keystone is that kids 12 and under ski free with two booked nights (no blackout dates or restrictions, no gimmicks). We enrolled Sabrina in the ski school at Mountain House, and she absolutely loved it (there’s also a school at River Run). The classes were the smallest size we’ve ever had at a resort (she had six kids in hers), so she got a whole lot of attention and really upped her ski game. Dave also had a day with his own ski guide, Mack, a charmer who’s taught at the resort for 36 years and knows the terrain like it’s his backyard. Dave got the insider scoop on where to ski (Mack even showed him an area where snow’s made); picked up excellent tips on technique (down to making sure you move the balls of your toes in the direction you want to turn); and generally had a great time. In general, the staff at Keystone—from the waiters to the people loading the gondolas—are super-friendly, helpful and just plain nice.

Mom, Dad & Me lesson

It’s great shuttling the kids off to ski school and hitting the slopes on your own, but also amazing is doing a lesson with your kid’s class lesson instructor to get tips on how to develop your child’s skills (and maybe sharpen your own, too). Dave and Sabrina went out with an instructor one afternoon. Dave’s sometimes apprehensive about doing slopes with Sabrina that are too hard for her, but with the pro right there, he was better able to get a sense of her skills and they tried a blue together for the first time.

Skating on Keystone Lake

Keystone has the largest Zamboni-maintained outdoor skating rink (five acres!) in the country. Just watching that machine glide across the ice every morning was a treat for the kids, along with watching teens play ice hockey. Max isn’t able to balance on skates—but then he spied training walkers at the Adventure Center in Lakeside Village. We took one out onto the ice and he shuffled around, gleefully—an incredible sight to see. Monday nights is Kids Glow Bug Skate Night—glow sticks and necklaces included. Oh, here’s also the 7200-square-foot Dercum Square Ice Rink in River Run Village. And if you’re into snow-shoeing

Kidtopia Snowfort & other activities

Kidtopia is Keystone’s daily family programming for kids. We all the gigantic snowfort, complete with tunnels, slides and an ice chair for His Highness (aka your child). Warning: Your kid might be really embarrassed if you try to crawl through the tunnels. Not that I know any moms who’d do such a thing.

Amidst all the excitement of other activities, we didn’t get to Ripperoo’s Village Parade on Saturday, with free hot cocoa and ‘smores; the Cookie Hour at Dercum Square every day at 4 (with hot chocolate chip cookies, cocoa and cider); or the 7:00 p.m. fireworks on Saturday. But Max did have a meet-’n-greet with the Keystone celeb himself.

Family Tubing at Adventure Point

Zooming down a hill in an inner tube is basically one of the most fun snow things you can do, assuming you are not Max who decided to instead ride the gondola some more. Sabrina loved it; she kept saying “Faster! Faster!” Even as you’re free-falling down the hill, you felt safe confined within walls of snow; ridges at the bottom slow you down. If you like, staffers send you off with a spin.

Mountaintop Cat Tour

This was probably the most unique experience we had at Keystone. You get into the back of a Snowcat that has room for up to 12 people and go for a 45-minute drive up Dercum Mountain and the entire time you are thinking: We are actually  in a Cat. Going up a mountain. The views at the top of the mountain were jaw-dropping—you could see the Continental Divide.

We were all in awe of the trip but Max was particularly mesmerized; I think he would have gladly driven that machine if they’d let him. Although he sure did try.

The Spa At Keystone Lodge

I had a good (if unfortunate) excuse to get a massage: my lower-back inexplicably started hurting during the trip. I felt a little better as soon as I walked in—the setting is totally zen. My masseuse made my poor, aching back less achey. And I got to veg out in front of a fire, nibble on grapes, drink cucumber water and read magazines. The spa also offers facials, body therapies, nail treatments and more. I wish I could have spent more time here but I had no more good excuses.

A DAY TRIP TO BRECKENRIDGE

We spent our first Thursday in the area at the nearby town of Breckenridge. As much as we were raring to hit the ski slopes, we were adjusting to the altitude and thought it would be good to ease into activities. Also: the town is quieter on weekdays, a good thing for kids like Max who aren’t into crowds.

First up: dog-sledding—our first time ever—with Good Times Adventures. The Huskies are treated very well (that was the first thing I asked about), and the company has an adoption program. After putting on snow boots (we brought our own goggles) you head out to meet the dogs and get the scoop on how to run the sled (it’s pretty easy).

Max chose to ride in the snowmobile sleigh.

Dave and I took turns riding and guiding—when Sabrina let us, that is, because she basically wanted to steer the entire hour.

Our six-mile tour of the Swan River Valley was both breathtaking and incredibly relaxing; the winding trails are serene (except for Sabrina saying “My turn to steer! My turn to steer!”)

We had lunch at The Motherloaded Tavern, aka comfort-food central—but the modern-day kind (think Grilled PB&J an Salmon Fish & Chips).There were all types of burgers and kid favorites like mac ‘n cheese; that’s a basic food group for Max, and this version was outstanding.We ordered the Fried Sweet Corn Nuggets, which should come with a “warning: highly addictive” label. My husband loved the chili; I got the friend chicken and waffles, with pecans and strawberry syrup, and it was seriously delicious. We did not save any room for the desserts, so we’ll have to return for the Deep-Fried Twinkie. For which my arteries thank me.

Afterward, we rode the gondola up to the base of Breckenridge Ski Resort. We got to hang with Tali, a rescue dog who’s part of an elite team there trained specifically to find people buried in avalanches, and her handler Hunter. Tali literally rides around on his shoulders. Dave did not think it would be a good idea for us to try that.

Main Street is picturesque and quaint, with old Victorian houses and mining-town buildings blending with new ones. There’s a nice mix of great stores, including the awesome Peak-A-Boo Toys. Then we stopped by a grown-up toy store, of sorts:  the tasting room of the Breckenridge Distillery and sampled smooth, caramel-like whiskey (us, not the kids).

At The Welcome Center, housed in a 19th century log cabin, with displays on the town’s history from its days as a gold-mining town and a Victorian ski village. Sabrina decided to weigh the new Rubik’s Cube we got her at the toy store.

WHERE TO EAT AT KEYSTONE RESORT

Black Bear Grill 

We had dinner here on our first night at Keystone. We’d wanted someplace on the quiet side, as Max needs to ease into new places, and lucked out: there was a convention at the resort and the place was basically empty at 5:30. The fare’s casual—soups, salads, flatbread pizza, burgers, entrees including chicken pot pie and trout. The kids loved that they could watch TV as they ate, and we were happy to keep them distracted.

The Edgewater Café

Max liked this place so much he became a regular here for breakfast and lunch (yes, they knew his name when he came in). The dining room’s sunny, and if you sit by the windows you have a view of the ice rink.  The menu has soups, salads, sandwiches; the breakfast Farmer’s Omelette was one of the yummiest I’ve ever had. There’s also breakfast and lunch buffets (kids 5 and under eat free at the buffet).

Dinner Sleigh Ride

OH what FUN it is to ride in a multi-horse open sleigh to a delicious restaurant! Late one afternoon, we piled into a majestic sleigh and covered ourselves with wool blankets. Then horses trotted our group through the snow-coated Soda Creek Valley as a wrangler discussed the history of the area.

We ended at a rustic restaurant where we were greeted with hot barley soup, a thermos of hot cocoa and homemade biscuits (OMG: THE BISCUITS). We dined on salmon and apple cobbler a la mode, with complimentary peppermint schnapps, and Randall the guitar player sang any song requested and everyone joined in. Our bellies were so full and our mood so good by the time we left that we hardly noticed the chill riding the sleigh home.

Bighorn Steakhouse

Gotta love a top-notch steakhouse where the kids feel comfy, too. We ate here twice! The Boursin Cheese Stuffed mushrooms and House Smoked Trout and Salmon plater were excellent and the steaks, lean and tender. I had the Filet of Scottish Salmon one evening, blackened to perfection with citrus pineapple butter; my non-fish-eating daughter thought it was amazing. And they made mac-’n-cheese just for Max (to him, it’s just as fancy as steak). There’s a great wine list, too.

Der Fondue Chessel

The fun starts riding the River Run Gondola way up to the top of North Peak (you get blankets to keep you toasty). And then, you walk into a majestic timbered hall with a roaring fireplace. We came early, as usual, to have a quieter experience; later on in the evening, a trio playing Bavarian traditional songs strolled from table to table.

If cheese is the one food you’d take with you to a deserted island (that’s me, anyway), this place is nirvana.You start off with traditional Cheese Fondue (a mix of gruyere and emmental cheese), with an assortment of veggies, French and pumpernickel bread cubes and apples and pears to dip. After a tasty Caesar salad, it’s the Raclette course. You get to make two selections from the meat and seafood to grill; we went with chicken and beef sirloin (vegetarians can get vegetables, tofu and polenta). It’s accompanied by potatoes, assorted dipping sauces, bread and a plate of Raclette cheese. You grill everything on the table; both kids loved pitching in with the “cooking” (this is my idea of cooking)! For dessert, you guessed it, there’s chocolate fondue—milk, dark or Oreos and cream, with marshmallows, fresh fruit, banana bread, pound cake, and wafer cookies to dip. Amazingly, we all still fit in the gondola back down.

Keystone Ranch

This was a romantic night out for me and Dave (luckily, we snagged a staffer at childcare to babysit), and one of our most memorable meals ever. The restaurant sent a shuttle to transport us to the 1930s ranch homestead and its AAA Four diamond restaurant, which feels like a posh cozy cabin. I read up on the history while I was there, and our super-nice waitress answered questions.

The main house dates back to 1938; the newlyweds got a gift of a stone fireplace (now why didn’t WE get any wedding gifts like that?!) and built a cabin around it. It was a working cattle ranch until 1972. Over candlelight, Dave and I enjoyed a five-course dinner; ingredients are locally farm-sourced. We had the vegetarian soup, Baby Spinach Salad and Greek Salad (which came with a melt-in-your-mouth feta cheese little crisp); Honeycomb Mussels (with house sausage, tomato fennel broth and egg papardelle); Grilled Wagyu N.Y. Strip Steak; and Colorado Rack of Lamb. And then, we went into the living room that still has the original fireplace, and enjoyed coffee and the Ranch Signature Grand Marnier Souffle and Grilled Carrot Cake with cream-cheese ice-cream (yes, ice-cream). The food is exquisite, and the ambiance special. Book a babysitter!

Keystone Resort’s winter schedule goes through April 7. En route back to the airport, we came to a standstill for a few minutes; the flashing sign said “Avalanche control in progress”—which sure beats New York traffic, where you get stuck for seemingly no good reason at all. Our nice driver told us that there are even more activities to do in the area in summer, and that it’s gorgeous with no humidity. Dave would like to check out the Keystone Ranch Golf Course. Me, I have more spa exploring to do. We all enjoy hiking. We will be back, for sure!

Thanks to Keystone Resort for hosting our trip; all opinions (and Rocky Mountain high) are my own.

 

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7 ways family trips help kids with special needs (and their parents)

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Some of my fondest memories involve trips with my parents: Our first venture to Disney World, car rides to the Vermont countryside and, when I was in college, a  jaunt to that land of wholesome-ness know as Las Vegas. Now that I have kids, I want to give them those kinds of memories (er, minus the slot machines). I also want to expose them to as many new sights and experiences as possible, especially Max. He has cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment, and a long time ago our beloved pediatric neurologist told us to expose him to as much as we could to help nurture his brain. Traveling for us isn’t just fun—it’s therapy. With housekeeping service!

We recently spent spring break in Scottsdale, Arizona, rated one of the best warm-weather family adventure destinations in the country by Travel & Leisure. It was a blast—and a game-changing trip for Max, in many ways. Some of the ways I’ve found trips to be an amazing thing for him:

1. Travel makes learning extra-fun. Count the Cacti became a favorite car game as we cruised through stretches of Arizona desert.

Max learning about pythons at the amazing Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde

2. Travel gives kids opportunities to not be themselves.  Max is usually scared of loud music; he’s never been to a concert. But he did venture into the lounge at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch, as a band played one night and he was enchanted. When kids are in new environments and out of their usual comfort zones, it sometimes emboldens them to try things they otherwise wouldn’t. Max wanted to go back every single night. It helped that the guitar player was named Max. Here’s my Max and, yes, he’s with the band.

3. You get a break you need (and deserve). If we’re going to a resort for vacation, we usually choose one that offers childcare; my husband and I need time to ourselves to decompress and be together. I always check in with the childcare or day camp manager ahead of time to discuss Max’s needs; most places are usually accommodating. One day, we visited the beautiful Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The kids checked into Bobcat Billy’s Clubhouse for activities, arts and crafts and fishing in a pond; the staff couldn’t have been more awesome. My husband I checked into our own cabana. We nibbled, napped, watched TV, swam and vegged, and it was heavenly.

4. And then you can take even more of a break while your husband watches the kids. I got a Desert Hot-Rock Massage at The Willow Stream Spa, and I can’t remember the last time my muscles were that happy. First, the masseuse rubbed warm oil all over my body; next, she massaged with hot, smooth riverbed rocks. One word: OMG.

The waterfalls at the spa. Wish you were there? Me, too

5. Travel lets kids do therapy in new ways. Here’s Max in the Sonoran Splash Pool doing aquatic therapy. Of course, there’s nothing like the physical, occupational and speech therapy he regularly gets every week—but being on vacation gives kids a chance to flex their muscles in different ways. Even better if it involves a floating plastic car.

Physical therapy: The nice walk we talk around the pond

Occupational therapy: “Cooking” in the Children’s Museum of Phoenix

More occupational therapy at the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale

6. Travel encourages independence. Max tends to be more of a do-er at school than he is at home. By that I mean, he’ll gladly feed himself at school but at home, he tries to get me or my husband to feed him (I refuse, Dave often caves). At school Max is fully potty-trained; at home, he is still working on it. When we’re away on vacation, though, our routines are upended—and Max is more willing to do stuff on his own. It helps to be motivated by tasty treats like guacamole; Max developed a passion for it. When we had dinner at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, Max downed an entire bowl of guacamole by himself (and helped make it, too). We all enjoyed the Roasted Corn Soup, Mexico City Fajitas (chicken and steak) and Cinnamon Churros.

Mommy’s favorite: Tuna Ceviche with ahi tuna, red onion, mango and mole verde vinaigrette (I apologize if I’m making you hungry) (I’m about to make you thirsty, too)

The evening entertainment: Flaming Coffee

Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm

7. Travel opens kids’ eyes. Everything we did on our vacation was new, and everything was exciting to the kids. One of their favorite experiences was our tour of the Sonoran desert through Green Zebra Adventures. Max was practically in a trance, he was so fascinated by everything we saw.

He thought the bumpy part of the ride was a laugh riot

We all came home from Scottsdale happy, relaxed and craving guacamole—I’m already planning our next trip. Max, meanwhile, wouldn’t let us put our big family suitcase away; it’s been parked in a corner of his room. Sometimes, he gestures at it and I’ll say “Max, you want to go on a trip?” And he’ll say “Eeeee-yah!” ["YEAH!"]. And then he’ll ask, “Too-aye?” ["TODAY?"]

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Great Vacations For Special Needs Families

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Finding a good place to vacation when you have a kid with special needs isn’t always easy (understatement alert). Depending on your child’s abilities, you need to assess accessibility. And if you want childcare—my husband and I always do, so we can relax because we so deserve it)—you have to call ahead and make sure the place is amenable to hosting kids with special needs.

Over the years, we’ve had great experiences with Disney Cruises and Disney World; Franklyn D. Resort & Spa in Jamaica (where every family gets their own vacation nanny); Woodloch resort in The Poconos; the Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vermont (where Max skied with Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports) and, as of last week, Park City, Utah.

We stayed at the beautiful Deer Valley Resort, located a minute’s drive away from skiing at Snow Park Lodge. There are readily available shuttles to transport guest everywhere, a wonderful thing if your child is obsessed with all things that go, as Max is. The Deer Valley Children’s Center offers state-licensed childcare for babies age two months to 12 years, and are exceptionally welcoming to children of all abilities. Max blissfully hung out there for a few mornings (he called it “ski school”). We also roamed around Park City, visiting the Utah Olympic Park (site of several 2002 Olympic events) and the child-friendly Park City Museum. The dining options are abundant; favorites included Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge, The Mariposa and the Skier’s Buffet at Stein Eriksen Lodge.

What drew us to Park City is The National Ability Center, which offers year-round, affordable outdoor sports and recreation activities for people with disabilities, along with summer camps.

The NAC campus features a lodge with 26 fully accessible rooms; they’re available to those participating in NAC activities and their families. During winter, rates are an extremely reasonable $70 a night.

There’s a hippotherapy program in a 17,000 square foot heated indoor arena.

We came for the adaptive skiing, offered through the NAC at three locations: Park City Mountain Resort, Snow Lodge and Canyons. I booked three three-hour sessions for Max at $100 each, with a ski pass included; you rent skis separately.

Max got an awesome instructor, Kevin, who knew exactly how to make Max comfortable. He gave Max a rubber wheel and asked him to steer left and right as if he were Lightning McQueen, the Cars character Max idolizes.

Within minutes, Max was gliding along, with Kevin’s assistance. Clips on the front of his skis held them parallel.

Max also rode the magic carpet, which was a little tricky when it came to balance but he hung in there. Overall, Max had a blast and built up confidence in his abilities. And that’s both his and my idea of a good time.

Other programs that offer adaptive skiing for kids with special needs include the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado; the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, also in Colorado; and Stride Adaptive Sports which offers skiing in Hancock, MA, Hillsdale, NY, and New Hartford, CT. Many other ski resorts around the country have adaptive ski programs; just Google “adaptive skiing” for your area.

What sort of great vacation spots has your family been to? Please, share your ideas!

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