Everyone promised that you would have skiing down in no time, right? Instead, you got stuck on the "Magic Carpet" and could barely manage the "pizza" while ski-clad tots were gracefully whizzing past you. Trust us, we've been there. But after many failed attempts at tricky ski maneuvers like getting off the ski-lift without face planting, we've learned a new trick: how to find the coolest non-skiing activities in ski towns. In fact, ski towns have a lot more to offer than just the slopes -- we promise! So for those of you who got roped into a ski-centric vacation, check out our favorite non-skier activities in nine ski destinations below.
Ice-skate: If you'd rather not hit the slopes, ice-skating is a great way to still get outdoors and get your heart rate pumping. There is an ice-skating rink right out the front door of The Arrabelle in Vail Square, with views of the slopes, the village, and the massive Christmas tree.
Go on a Dogsled Tour: While your friends are out enjoying the fresh powder on the slopes, you can be too -- but in the comfort of a horse, er, dog-drawn sleigh. Winterhawk Dogsled Adventures runs daily tours in Alaskan husky-drawn sleds; the basic tour explores the expansive grounds of the historic 4 Eagle Ranch, while adventure tours run across more remote terrain at a higher altitude. The concierge at The Sebastian can arrange a tour for you, even ahead of your stay.
Ride a roller-coaster: You weren't expecting to see this as an option, were you? Well, the Breckenridge Ski Resort has built a new roller-coaster, called the Gold Run Alpine Coaster, at the base of Peak 8. With 2,500 feet of track, the coaster allows riders to control their speed as they zip through the forest and over ski runs. The roller-coaster is open year-round and those staying at One Ski Hill Place, located on Peak 8 with ski-in/ski-out valet, have easy access to it.
Tour a mine: Breckenridge is home to Country Boy Mine, a restored historic gold mine that was founded in 1887. Visitors to the mine can embark on an underground tour (complete with hard hats), pan for gold in Eureka Creek, and even slide down the 55-foot ore chute. The Moutain Thunder Lodge is less than a 10-minute drive from the mine.
Sightsee from the Peak 2 Peak Gondala: The world record-breaking Peak 2 Peak Gondala stretches nearly three miles between Whistler and the Blackcomb Mountains. The gondola grants passengers a gorgeous bird's-eye view of the slopes with windows on all sides, and once at the top of the mountain, there are several restaurants with equally expansive and stunning views. The Four Seasons is just a short walk from the entry-point of the Gondala.
Go on a dining tour: Whistler Village has some top-notch restaurants. With over 30 options, it can be hard to try them all -- unless you hit a few in one night, of course. The Whistler Tasting Tours offer a variety of dining tours throughout Whistler Village, where guides bring groups to multiple restaurants over a few hours' time. So whether you want a four-course meal from luxurious, fine-dining picks, or would prefer to skip dinner and treat your palate to a multitude of desserts, you'll be able to do just that. The Westin Resort & Spa is just a two-minute walk from the heart of Whistler Village, where the tours meet.
Party it up: Vancouver is a great ski destination for non-skiers; all three of the ski mountains (Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour) are less than 45 minutes from Downtown Vancouver, a cosmopolitan city with plenty to offer. Vancouver's nightlife is concentrated in the historic Gastown area, the city's original "downtown." Gastown's brick-paved streets are lined by restaurants, bars, and night clubs, many of which don't shut down until three a.m.. The Hotel at Terminal City Club is just a short drive from Gastown.
Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery: Located on bustling Robson Square, the Vancouver Art Gallery is the fifth-largest art gallery in Canada, with over 10,000 pieces in the permanent collection. Housed in a stately former courthouse, the art gallery focuses on works of famous British Columbian artists such as Emily Carr, but the museum also has has an extensive collection of Chagall's works and hosts visiting exhibitions throughout the year. The Moda Hotel is just one block from the museum.
Catch a Sundance screening: If you time your Park City vacation just right, you can arrive along with a truckload of celebrities in town for the Sundance Film Festival. The coming-up festival runs from January 19 to January 29, 2012 and most of the action (and celeb sightings) takes place along Main Street. If you get to the theater well in advance, plenty of screenings offer standing-room viewing and the Silver King Hotel offers guests a free shuttle to Main Street.
Go bobsledding at the Utah Olympic Park: Built for the 2002 Winter Games, the Utah Olympic Park is still an active spot. Visitors can watch professionals practice for the upcoming games, and they can even participate in some of the fun! Adventurous types can race along the bobsled track (with the security of a professional pilot) and those staying at the Bear Hollow Village only have to walk next door to join in.
Salt Lake City
Visit Temple Square: Salt Lake City's downtown area is between 30 and 45 minutes from the ski resorts in the Wasatch Mountains. In the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, Temple Square is home to one of the city's most iconic buildings -- the Salt Lake City Temple. A Mormon temple built in 1893, the temple has soaring steeples and beautiful stained glass windows, and tours are given daily. The Salt Lake Plaza Hotel is right across the street from Temple Square and some rooms have Temple Square views.
Go to the zoo: The Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, with a primate building, an "elephant encounter" space, a discovery theater, and even a carousel, has tons of animals to check out and plenty of things to do. In the months leading up to Christmas, the zoo is also the scene of a large holiday lights show. Just east of the University of Utah, the Hogle Zoo is a 12-minute drive from The Grand America Hotel, a site to see in itself.
Ice climb: Not for the weak of heart, ice-climbing is an increasingly popular sport in Lake Placid, where ice formations last from November to March. The Adirondack Rock and River Guide Service takes climbers of all levels on an invigorating scale up Adirondack cliffs! The concierge at the upscale High Peaks Resort helps guests plan adventures like ice-climbing and many ice-climbing excursions meet within half-an-hour of the hotel.
Attend a Winter Carnival: A tradition since 1897, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival is a week-long festival of games, races, performances, and of course, a fireworks show from the massive ice palace. This season's carnival will be held February 3rd to February 12th, and the theme is "Space Alien Invasion" -- should be interesting! The Crowne Plaza Resort is less than 15 minutes from the site of the activities.
Go on a wild safari: Yep, you don't have to venture to another continent for this. Though there are no lions, tiger, or bears (actually there may be a few of those) calling Jackson Hole home, there's plenty of wildlife in the Tetons: bison, elk, moose, and bald eagles, just to name a few. The Jackson Hole Wildlife Safari takes safari-goers out in snow vehicles equipped with binoculars and hot coffee. The tours head out to the Grand Teton National Park from Teton Village, just a short walk from the Inn at Jackson Hole.
Snowshoe: Snowshoeing is a popular winter sport in Jackson Hole (and almost every ski destination, for that matter). Spring Creek Ranch offers snowshoe rentals so guests can run free on the nearly 1,000 acres of wildlife refuge, with stunning views of the Tetons. For the less adventurous types, horseback riding trails are transformed into snowshoeing trails during the winter months.
Check out a show: The historic Wheeler Opera House, opened in 1889, hosts many performances throughout the year: everything from operas to Broadway shows to Aspen Music Festival events. Located in the heart of Aspen, theater-goers can make a quick stop at the high-end shops along Galena Street on the way and Hotel Jerome is just a few blocks from both.
Get some R&R: While others are hitting the slopes, you can be hitting the spa. Aspen and Snowmass are chic hangouts, with plenty of upscale hotels with upscale spas. One of the best is the spa at the Viceroy Snowmass. At 7,000 square feet, the spa features 6 treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy room, and a luxe relaxation room. Snowmass and Viceroy Snowmass are coming to Oyster.com -- check back soon!