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Shut Up and Ski

By Laurie Kuntz, Bret Roedemeier, and Brad Tuttle
December 11, 2006
0602_shutupandski
America's top 10 old-school ski resorts are all about the snow -- and lift tickets are a deal.

UTAH
POWDER MOUNTAIN

Elevation: 8,900 feet
Vertical drop: 2,005 feet
Skiable terrain: 5,500 acres
Annual snowfall: 500 inches
Lift ticket: $53 or less
Info: 801/745-3772, powdermountain.com

With monster snowfalls, a remarkable lack of trees, and slopes that are consistently steep but not harrowing, Powder was created for wide skis. Less than half of the trails are groomed, and it's not unusual to be making turns in untouched powder a week after a dump. For the poor man's version of heli-skiing, a snowcat that tows skiers up to the top of remote bowls can't be beat ($10 per run, in addition to a lift ticket). Even with all the terrain and outstanding snow, Powder remains under the radar compared to hotter resorts, such as Park City, Snowbird, or nearby Snowbasin (which figured prominently in the Salt Lake City Olympics). Down below Powder is gorgeous Ogden Valley. It's only a matter of time before strip malls and subdivisions fill it up, but for now the valley is mostly open land.

How to get there

Powder Mountain is a straightforward, 55-mile drive north of the Salt Lake airport. You'll pass through Eden, so save a few bucks on your lift ticket by buying it at the Valley Market (801/745-4000).

Where to stay

The Red Moose Lodge is a modern take on a vintage ski lodge, with vaulted ceilings, deep leather sofas, and a pool table in a loft. Rooms are big, and it's less than 15 minutes from the mountain (2547 N. Valley Junction Dr., Eden, 877/745-0333, theredmooselodge.com, from $89). Moreover, it's just down the street from Eats of Eden, a fantastic little restaurant with buffalo burgers and sandwiches on homemade bread (2595 N. Hwy. 162, 801/745-8618). Another good spot for a bite: The Oaks, which opened in 1907 and has a menu that always features Ogden's own Farr's ice cream (750 Ogden Canyon, 801/394-2421).

Apres-ski

Built in 1879, the Shooting Star Saloon survived Prohibition by running a whiskey distillery in the basement. Today, it's the oldest bar in Utah and serves only beer. Drink specials are illegal in Utah, but who needs happy hour when a cold one costs only $1.25? After a long day at the mountain, see if you can survive the $6 Star Burger, a grilled Polish sausage sandwiched between two beef patties (7350 E. 200 South, Huntsville, 801/745-2002).

Local's tip

"The place is huge and can be hard to figure out," says Amy Wicks, who was born and raised in the area and skis at least twice a week. "I definitely recommend a free guided tour with a host to take you out and show you the layout. There's a lot you might miss if all you did was look up at the mountain from the lodge." (To hook up with a host, contact Powder Mountain.)

COLORADO
WOLF CREEK

Elevation: 11,904 feet
Vertical drop: 1,604 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,600 acres
Annual snowfall: 465 inches
Lift ticket: $48
Info: 970/264-5639, wolfcreekski.com

Snow, snow, and more snow. Wolf Creek gets the most in Colorado, and the views on the traverse to Alberta Peak rival those at any resort in the Rockies. Most runs are short--the mountain's a lot wider than it is high--and because Wolf Creek is so far removed from anything resembling a city, there's plenty of snow for everyone. People are as laid-back and unpretentious as they come; it's not uncommon to see someone lugging in a Crock-Pot for a picnic in the lodge. The cafeteria sells PB&J sandwiches for $1.50 and daily specials, like a cheesesteak with fries and a dessert for $7. The atmosphere may change if Clear Channel Communications magnate Red McCombs's plans for a 287-acre development at the base of the Alberta lift are realized. Locals are fighting the proposed development, which could destroy a six-mile loop for cross-country skiers and their dogs.

How to get there

The nearest airports to Wolf Creek are in Durango and Alamosa, each about an hour from the mountain. It's usually much cheaper to fly into Albuquerque (four-and-a-half hours by car) or Denver (six hours), if you can handle the drive.

Where to stay

The High Country Lodge, just outside Pagosa Springs on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass, rents modern log cabins with full kitchens and heated floors, and each unit comes with a fireplace or potbellied stove. Hot breakfast in the lodge is included (3821 E. Hwy. 160, 800/862-3707, highcountrylodge.com, lodge room from $90, cabin from $120).

Apres-ski

The first restaurant on the way from the mountain to Pagosa Springs is JJ's Riverwalk Restaurant & Pub, a favorite for its happy hour (4 p.m.--6 p.m.), when beers on tap are half-price, well drinks are $1 off, and appetizers are discounted 25 percent (356 E. Hwy. 160, Pagosa Springs, 970/264-9100).

Local's tip

Avoid spring break if at all possible," says David Pryce, a sales staffer at Doc's Outdoor Sports in South Fork, who skis at Wolf Creek around twice a week. "That's the middle to the end of March, when all the high schools and universities are out, and one of the few times the mountain is crowded."

CALIFORNIA
HOMEWOOD

Elevation: 7,880 feet
Vertical drop: 1,650 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,260 acres
Annual snowfall: 450 inches
Lift ticket: $58 or less
Info: 530/525-2992, skihomewood.com

Stellar views of Lake Tahoe, 300 days of sun per year, and a totally hassle-free experience: It's no wonder the resort motto is "Smile, You're at Homewood." Skiers pull off Route 89 directly into Homewood's parking lot, and within 15 minutes find themselves halfway up the Madden Triple Chair. About 65 percent of the terrain is beginner and intermediate, making it one of Tahoe's best places to learn to ski or ride. Experts get theirs, too, with tree skiing in the Hobbit Land area, rails and jumps in Shredwood Forest Terrain Park, and the steep chutes of Quail Face. Local hotshots head to Homewood after a big snowfall because they know they'll find stashes of powder long after Tahoe's more famous (and more crowded) resorts are tracked out. But it's the lake views that keep people coming back. For the best (and longest) look, take Rainbow Ridge from the summit to Cradle, then head down the Face. It makes for a great last run of the day.

How to get there

Homewood is six miles south of Tahoe City. By car, it's about an hour from Reno, two hours from Sacramento, and a little more than three hours from San Francisco.

Where to stay

Dick and Ulli White rent 16 cheerful red cabins, some with gas fireplaces and claw-foot bathtubs, at Tahoma Meadows B&B Cottages, just south of the mountain. Two-person cottages include breakfast in the B&B's common room, while larger "kitchen" cabins are perfect for families (6821 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoma, 866/525-1553, tahomameadows.com, from $109).

Apres-ski

Sunnyside, about four miles north of Homewood, is a beautiful arts and crafts-style building with a wide deck overlooking the lake. The bar fills up on Wednesdays throughout the ski season for the half-price ($3) fish tacos--beer-battered snapper, shredded cabbage, and ranch dressing in a soft flour tortilla (1850 W. Lake Blvd., Tahoe City, 800/822-2754).

Local's tip

"Homewood hasn't shut down its chairlifts because of high wind in more than two decades," says Christopher Taylor, a 20-year-old carpenter originally from Manchester, Vt., who moved to the Tahoe area two years ago. "There aren't any detachable quads that shut down when it's storming, and because of the tree coverage, you can get fresh powder for weeks after."

MONTANA
LOST TRAIL

Elevation: 8,200 feet
Vertical drop: 1,800 feet
Skiable terrain: 900 acres
Annual snowfall: 300 inches
Lift ticket: $31 or less
Info: 406/821-3211, losttrail.com

"Hey, it's Lost Trail not Vail," the locals like to joke. As if there might be confusion. At Lost Trail, deep in the Bitterroot Forest, on the continental divide near the Montana-Idaho border, the slow, two-seater chairlifts are powered by generators. Few runs are supersteep, and the people are unfailingly friendly, making Lost Trail a wonderful family mountain. It feels like an old-fashioned ski club, where no one bothers with lockers, and moms send kids off on their own without thinking twice. And $31 lift tickets? You know you're not in Vail.

How to get there

From Missoula, Lost Trail is a two-hour drive, or about four hours from the Idaho Falls Airport by car. The two nearest towns--Salmon, Idaho, and Conner, Mont.--are each about 20 minutes from the lifts.

Where to stay

How's this for a ski report? First thing in the morning, look out the window from the 100 Acre Wood B&B, a timber lodge outside Salmon that, despite the name, sits on a 27-acre property. If there's a herd of 200 elk grazing, a whole lot of snow fell in the high country the previous night. The elk move down to the valley when the snow is too deep (2356 Hwy. 93, Salmon, 208/865-2165, 100acrewoodresort.com, from $90 with breakfast).

Apres-ski

The Rocky Knob Lodge was built by loggers in the 1940s in exchange for "favors" from the property's owner, a member of the oldest profession. On the Montana side 20 minutes from Lost Trail, the former brothel now serves $2.25 cocktails and excellent food--the smoked ribs ($18.95) in particular (6065 Hwy. 93, Conner, 406/821-3520).

Local's tip

"Go on a Thursday or Friday for good powder," says Chase Cooper, a wood-flooring contractor in Victor, Mont., who started skiing at Lost Trail when he was 10 and manages to hit the slopes about 20 times a year. "The mountain is closed Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; so when Thursday comes, the snow's fantastic. And since it's not the weekend yet, there's also hardly anyone there, and you can get on lifts right away without having to wait."

MONTANA
BRIDGER BOWL

Elevation: 8,100 feet
Vertical drop: 2,000 feet
Skiable terrain: 1,500 acres
Annual snowfall: 350 inches
Lift ticket: $43 or less
Info: 800/223-9609, bridgerbowl.com

Twenty minutes from downtown Bozeman and long a favorite excuse for Montana State students to ditch class, Bridger Bowl stretches along a wide ridge, with easy terrain at the bottom and in the Apron area, and hairy steeps and great powder-filled bowls up at the top. The nonprofit resort marked its 50th anniversary with the 2004/2005 season.

How to get there

Drive 16 miles north from Bozeman, which has an airport served by Delta, Horizon, Northwest, and United.

Where to stay

Right on Main Street in Bozeman, the Lewis & Clark Motel is a quirky gem, with a roadside neon sign depicting the eponymous explorers and casino poker in the lobby. Down in the basement, there's a swimming pool, as well as a tiny pond stocked with rainbow trout (824 W. Main St., 800/332-7666, lewisandclarkmotel.net, from $58).

Local's tip

"On a powder day, get there early," says Keven Wiesner, owner of the Ph.D. Skis shop in Bozeman, who puts in about 80 days per year at Bridger Bowl. "Leave at 7 o'clock from town. If it's deep powder, there'll be a ton of people waiting. Good skiers should get over to the Ridge area. It's a great experience, and the snow is twice as deep."

VERMONT
MAGIC MOUNTAIN

Elevation: 3,200 feet
Vertical drop: 1,700 feet
Skiable terrain: 135 acres
Annual snowfall: 180 inches
Lift ticket: $56 or less
Info: 802/824-5645, magicmtn.com

After Magic shut down in 1991, heartbroken locals sold "Save the Magic" T-shirts to raise money for its rebirth. The mountain reopened in 1997, and while it doesn't have the fancy lifts, restaurants, and snowmaking equipment of nearby resorts, it does feature some of the steepest trails in southern Vermont--and a whole lot of heart. One thing it almost never has is crowds, even on the weekends. This season, lift tickets for all ages cost only $39 Monday through Friday (non-holiday).

How to get there

Magic is about three hours by car from Boston, or four hours from New York City.

Where to stay

The Swiss Inn rents standard motel rooms with a full breakfast included, and patrons can always find fondue on the restaurant's menu (249 Rte. 11, Londonderry, 800/847-9477, swissinn.com, from $79).

Local's tip

"The west side has a lot of difficult terrain," says Marlene Williams, an administrative assistant for Green Mountain Beverage. She and her husband Jim have lived within walking distance of the lifts since 1978 and ski four or five days a week. "If we have good snow, Talisman is a great run. It's really challenging. My husband's favorite trail is Sorcerer, which is steeper and has a lot of bumps."

IDAHO
BOGUS BASIN

Elevation: 7,600 feet
Vertical drop: 1,800 feet
Skiable terrain: 2,600 acres
Annual snowfall: 250 inches
Lift ticket: $46 or less
Info: 800/367-4397, bogusbasin.com

A twisting, 16-mile drive north of Boise, the nonprofit Basin is the pride and joy of locals. Sun Valley gets all the attention as Idaho's premier resort; the fact is, the blue-collar Bogus Basin has more acreage and receives more snow. Its name comes from a legendary gold swindle in the 1880s, but the slopes are anything but bogus. For a challenging mix of tree skiing, bowls, and steep faces, head right to the expansive backside of the mountain.

How to get there

Downtown Boise's Harrison Boulevard turns into Bogus Basin Road, which ascends about 3,000 vertical feet in a series of switchbacks, then dead-ends at the resort. Caldwell Transportation runs a bus service to the mountain every day, with pickups all over town (208/459-6612 or 800/727-9925, ctcbus.com, $12 round trip).

Where to stay

At the mountaintop Pioneer Condominiums, guests ski down to the lifts (800/367-4397, pioneercondos.com, from $129).

Local's tip

"Experts have got to make a lap through the Waterfall and the Triangle," says Charles Butrick, leader of the Bogus Basin Ski Patrol. "They're not really on the map, but are known areas nonetheless. Have a local show you the way. Also, don't miss beers in the Bogus Creek Lodge, where ski bums congregate to lie about all the crazy runs they supposedly took."

WASHINGTON
49 NORTH

Elevation: 5,774 feet
Vertical drop: 1,900 feet
Skiable terrain: 2,325 acres
Annual snowfall: 300 inches
Lift ticket: $43 or less
Info: 866/376-4949, ski49n.com

Unabashedly retro, with lifts that aren't remotely high-speed, 49 North offers 70 percent beginner and intermediate terrain. For those who refuse to take it easy, there's backcountry skiing in the East Basin, accessible by a fairly mild traverse from the peak. Taco Time, a local restaurant chain, hands out two-for-one lift ticket vouchers on Tuesdays, no purchase necessary. Also, skiing is totally free for everyone during the last week of the season (April 7-13). Just show up and ask for a lift ticket.

How to get there

From Spokane, drive for about an hour on Hwy. 395 north. With little else up there, the mountain is hard to miss.

Local's tip

"If you're looking for bumps, do Klondike," says Daniel Voltz, who owns the Norski Conoco gas station in Chewelah and finds a way to ski 50 to 60 days a year. "If you're looking for fast cruisers, ski Mahre's Gold, named after the gold-medal winner of the slalom in the 1984 Olympics."

OREGON
WILLAMETTE PASS

Elevation: 6,683 feet
Vertical drop: 1,563 feet
Skiable terrain: 555 acres
Annual snowfall: 400 inches
Lift ticket: $44 or less
Info: 541/345-7669, willamettepass.com

What Willamette Pass lacks in convenience--it's a 90-minute drive southeast of Eugene--is made up for with a fun mix of tree skiing and cruising runs, along with a peaceful setting amid lakes and hundreds of miles of national forest. It's closed Monday through Wednesday, which means untracked snow on Thursday!

How to get there

Willamette Pass is right off of Hwy. 58 deep in the thickly forested Cascade Mountains, and there's not much in the way of civilization on the drive from Eugene. Skiers don't have to drive, though: A bus service called the Willamette Pass Express departs from downtown Eugene Thursday through Sunday at 7:15 a.m. (541/345-7669, $14 round trip).

Where to stay

Seven miles from the lifts, the Willamette Pass Inn has standard rooms and cabins, all with kitchens and most with fireplaces (Mile 69, Highway 58, 541/433-2211, from $81).

Local's tip

"Get hot cocoa at the Crescent Lake Lodge & Resort (Hwy. 58, 541/433-2505, crescentlakeresort.com), which overlooks Crescent Lake," says Svein Berg, manager of Berg's Ski & Snowboard Shop, a third-generation family business in Eugene. "There's an old stone fireplace where you can sit back and check out the view. It's fabulous."

VERMONT
BURKE

Elevation: 3,267 feet
Vertical drop: 2,000 feet
Skiable terrain: 250 acres
Annual snowfall: 250 inches
Lift ticket: $56 or less
Info: 802/626-3322, skiburke.com

Burke sticks to the basics that drew serious skiers to Vermont two generations ago, with dozens of fast, narrow runs that call for sharp edges and big, swooping turns. The challenging slopes hold some of the responsibility for getting five alums of the Burke Mountain Academy--a ski-in, ski-out high school, if you can believe such a thing--to the Olympics in 2002. A mile from the lifts is the village of East Burke, little more than a gas station, a church, and a couple of restaurants and shops. The century-old Bailey's & Burke earns its billing as a general store, selling bottles of wine, sandwiches, cereal, fresh muffins and cookies, pots and pans, toys, books, locally made jerky, hot pizza, and dog food (466 Rte. 114, East Burke, 802/626-9250). Upstairs is the office for the Kingdom Trails system: 110 miles of interconnected paths that are perfect for mountain bikers in summer and cross-country skiers and snowshoers in winter (802/626-0737, kingdomtrails.org, day pass $10). The general store also sells Starbucks coffee, and the mountain did what seems like sacrilege to some old-timers, replacing its classic, superslow main lift with a high-speed quad in summer 2005. Coincidentally, lift-ticket prices were boosted $3. But for the most part Burke's low-key atmosphere and remote location--up in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, 40 minutes from the Canadian border--have kept the crowds and corporate interests away.

How to get there

Burke is seven miles off of I-91, three hours from Boston, six hours from New York City, and within two hours of the nearest airport, in Burlington, along with more skiing at Stowe, Smugglers' Notch, and Jay Peak.

Apres-ski

In a renovated barn behind Bailey's & Burke, the Pub Outback serves burgers, meat loaf, and nachos, as well as locally brewed Trout River for $3.50 a pint (482 Rte. 114, East Burke, 802/626-1188, thepuboutback.com).

Local's tip

"Throw an extra scarf in your jacket just for the chairlift ride up to the top," says Charlie Hepburn, a high school student and ski racer in nearby Littleton, N.H. "The trees provide good cover from the wind when you're cruising down the mountain, but on the lifts you're totally exposed to the cold."

Keep reading

New York, Free for All

(1) The Station Tour at Citigroup Broadway set designer Clarke Dunham and his wife, Barbara, have brought to life a 27-foot replica of a Victorian train station and filled it with intricate displays of miniature trains and figurines. The trains chug up and down the Catskill and Adirondack mountains and pass New York City skyscrapers and a country fair--complete with a hand-painted Ferris wheel--as the seasons change from one scene to the next.  Citigroup Center Atrium, 53rd St. and Lexington Ave., dunhamstudios.com; Mon.-Sat. 10 A.M.-5 P.M. and Sun. noon-5 P.M., through Dec. 29 (closed Christmas Day). (2) Prospect Park in Lights Local artist Jim Conti's festive installations light up all four entrances to Brooklyn's Prospect Park: Grand Army Plaza, Bartel-Pritchard Circle, Park Circle, and Parkside & Ocean Aves. On weekend evenings, trolleys make free half-hour trips through the park. Hot chocolate and entertainment are extra perks on Dec. 10 and 17.  Prospect Park, 718/965-8999, prospectpark.org; trolleys depart from Grand Army Plaza at 6:45 P.M., 7:30 P.M., and 8:15 P.M., Sat. and Sun. through Jan. 7, 2007. (3) The Pond at Bryant Park There's no shortage of Manhattan rinks (Rockefeller, Wollman, Lasker, Chelsea Piers), but this recent addition gets kudos for its free admission and postcard perfect surroundings--an old-fashioned carousel, a flower kiosk, a holiday market, and restaurants. In mid-January, the Pond dries up to make way for the white tents and runways of Fashion Week.  Bryant Park, 40th to 42nd Sts. between Fifth and Sixth Aves., 866/221-5157, bryantpark.org; open daily through Jan. 15, 2007; $8.75 skate rental. (4) Why Art? An Exhibition and Examination of International Children's Art Budding artists aged 3 to 14 contributed watercolors, tempura paintings, collages, and sculptures to this show organized by the nonprofit Jardin Galerie. Works are grouped by category--Trees and Secrets; My Mother, My Family; Animals; and Sea Life--to highlight cultural similarities and differences.  The UBS Art Gallery, 1285 Ave. of the Americas, between 51st and 52nd Sts., 212/713-2885; open Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-6 P.M., through Jan. 12, 2007. (5) Charmin Restrooms It's hard to believe, but Charmin's 20 public restrooms in the heart of Times Square are so clean and well-supplied that you'll actually want to use them. There's an indoor waiting area, and attendants in unfortunate white uniforms (with attached floppy toilet seats!) inspect the restrooms after each use.  Times Square, 1540 Broadway at 46th St., charmin.com; 8 A.M.-11 P.M. daily through Dec. 31, 2006 (they close at 6 P.M. on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and are closed all day on Christmas).

Trip Coach: December 5, 2006

Budget Travel editors: Welcome to this week's Trip Coach. Let's get to your questions! _______________________ Tolland, CT: What are the best accommodations for a family of six (mother, father, a 5-year-old girl, a 2-year-old boy, grandmother, and grandfather) visiting Disney World the last full week of April? We want a kitchen, laundry facilities, and a pool. We want to spend no more than $2,000 on lodging. Are rental villas the way to go? How far from Disney is too far? Is this even possible? Budget Travel editors: As someone who has traveled to Disney more times then she'd care to admit, I think this is definitely possible. My recommendation would be to go for one of the many two-bedroom villas (kids can sleep on the usually provided pull-out couch, so all you really need is two bedrooms for the adults) that are offered either on or around the Walt Disney World property. While the week you want to travel isn't THE busiest time of year to go, rates are still high at most of the Disney properties that offer two-bedroom villas. The lowest I found on Disney properties for six nights during the last week of April was $3,660. All these resorts have elaborately themed pools and the villas include kitchens and laundry services. An added bonus of staying on Disney property is all resorts include complimentary transportation to Walt Disney World parks. Visit disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/index and look at Disney Vacation Club resorts to book a villa.Off the property I've found that staying on one of Marriott's properties is close enough to not feel left out. Marriott has several properties with villas. I've stayed in at least two of them and found that both offered exceptional amenities. I found a two-bedroom, two-bath villa at Marriott's Cypress Harbour property for $1,174 and a similar villa at Marriott's Sabal Palms property for $1,208. These prices are based on a six-night stay during the last week of April. All villas have a kitchen, pool and laundry services. However, the Marriott properties do not have transportation to Walt Disney World so there will be an added expense to get to the parks, unless you have a car. Visit marriott.com and focus on Marriott Vacation Club properties to book a villa. In my experience, staying on Disney property is usually worth the added expense, especially when you consider that most of the parks are spread out all over. Plus when you stay on property, guests usually get special extras like early entrance to the parks and deals on meals, etc. _______________________ Seattle, WA: My husband (32), Sister-in-law (30), Brother-in-law (38) and I (36) and my dog (14) are planning a trip to Whistler, BC on February 15-18, 2007. We are driving up from Seattle on Thursday, and need a place to stay for three nights in Whistler Village that is "pet-friendly." We are considering the Delta Whistler or Summit Lodge. Three of us want to ski at least two days and would like to know the advantages of buying our lift tickets in coordination with the room reservation as it is offered by many hotels. We would also all like to snowshoe while we are there. In the evenings, we enjoy recouperative massages, art galleries and pubs with character. In addition to being a much needed get-away, this trip is a celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary and my in-laws 5th wedding anniversary. I would appreciate any help you can offer us for planning our trip. Budget Travel editors: Congratulations on your anniversary! Whistler is a terrific place to celebrate. You can save up to 20% off lift tickets, which start at $69.99 for a one-day adult pass, when you buy your tickets with accomodations through Whistler's official website, whistlerblackcomb.com. Washington State residents can also buy an EDGE card, which offers savings on lift tickets, skiing and snowboarding lessons, and other discounts.Delta Whistler Village Suites also has some great skiing packages. We recently ran a deal for four nights lodging, a two-day lift pass, roundtrip airfare from San Francisco, and hotel transfers from $692 per person. Since you don't need airfare, you can also book lodging-only packages through their website.As you're looking for lodging, don't forget the favorable Canadian exchange rate--currently U.S. $1 to CAN $1.15. Check out our currency converter for up-to-date rates. And don't your to ask for a VAT (value added tax) refund receipt or application when you check out of your hotel; Canada offers a 7% VAT refund on hotel accomodations. Read more about how VAT works here. _______________________ Manhattan, KS: My mother is turning 70 in February, and since she's alone now following my father's death, my sister and I want to take her on a trip for her birthday. She's always mentioned interest in the California Coast, so we thought a trip along the coastal highway might be perfect, especially in February. What's the best way to plan this trip? Is it something we can do on our own with a rental car and travel guidebook? We'd like this to be very special--hitting all of the highlights along the way--yet relaxing. Thank you. Budget Travel editors: California's Pacific Coast Highway is a classic road trip, full of breathtaking views and twists and turns. You can definitely plan a trip with a car and a guidebook--in fact, you could ditch the book, as we recently wrote about a similar trip in our magazine.Check out "Road Trip: Pacific Coast Highway."In our magazine's Trip Coach column, we also helped a family plan a road trip from Seattle to San Diego, with lots of fun stops along the way. Read about it here. _______________________ Walkersville, MD: A group of 9 will be in Vancouver in June from 4pm-11am before boarding ship the next afternoon. Suggestions for don't miss sightseeing or a good variety restaurant for dinner? All staying in hotels near port area. Budget Travel editors: Lucky you! Vancouver is a beautiful city. One place I would definitely recommend visiting is Stanley Park. The park is huge, and a very close walk from downtown. You can see the city of Vancouver from almost every angle on the "Seawall"--the paved path that wraps around the park. I would imagine the view is spectacular at sunset as well. The park has gardens, nighttime dancing, beaches, a pool, tennis courts, a children's farmyard, and a great aquarium. Restaurants are located in the park as well. Theatre Under the Stars has a yearly production at the park. Go here for an updated schedule. Parking is a pleasure at the park--you pay once for however long you want to stay, and you can use the same pass all day at any of the park's parking lots.If you can't make it to Theatre Under the Stars, Vanier Park in Vancouver also features Bard on the Beach every summer. The theatre tent opens up in the back, and you are left watching the production at sunset with a beautiful view of the mountains. Tickets should be bought online in advance.For great shopping and dining, be sure to hit up Robson Street. Enjoy your visit! _______________________ Overland Park, KS: My parents, sister, my husband and myself are all traveling to Miami for New Years. We'll be there December 28th to the 1st. My parents are in their early 50's, my husband and I in our mid-twenties and my sister is in her early 20's. None of us are drinkers or into the party scene. We need some ideas of places to visit, things we shouldn't miss, etc! Budget Travel editors: While there will be more than a fair share of wild late-night New Year's parties, sun-kissed Miami offers plenty else to keep you busy. We recently ran a local's take on the city's laid-back side, My Hometown: Miami. And our Miami Snap Guide is packed with tips on where to eat, shop, and sightsee, from the Miami Art Museum to the crafts market along Espanola Way. _______________________ Anonymous: If I am making my first trip to Italy and I have only 3 weeks and want to include Venice, Florence (and some towns in Tuscany)...plus Rome and the Amalfi Coast--how should I break that down, and in what sequential order? Budget Travel editors: How lucky to have three weeks to spend in Italy! You should have enough time to cover all the destinations on your list without running yourself ragged or over-programming each day. We suggest beginning with four days in Venice--hit the blockbuster sights like St. Mark's Square and Basilica and the island of Murano; then spend a day or two wandering the maze-like streets to see how the locals live and hop over to less-touristy islands like Giudecca and Isola San Michele, home to a stately cemetery where Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinksy lie. Make Florence your next stop. You can walk through the compact historic center in a few hours, but you'll want four days to begin to absorb the city's staggering collection of Renaissance and Medieval art (The Uffizi Galleries, David at the Accademia, the Medici Chapels, Palazzo Pitti...). Allow yourself another four or five days for exploring the countryside--choose among nearby towns such as Pisa, San Gimignano, Lucca, Greve in the Chianti region, or Siena. On your way south to Rome, you could spend a night in the lively university town of Perugia. Give yourself five days in Rome to refuel and tackle its millennia of art and history, and reward yourself with a few final days kicking back on the Amalfi Coast.As for logistics, search sites like kayak.com or sidestep.com for multicity airfares, allowing you to arrive in Venice and then depart from Naples or Rome. You can look up train fares and schedules on the official site. And for more destination inspiration, here are a bunch of our favorite articles on Italy: Renting an Apartment in Venice; Eat Like a Local: Florence and Venice; Secret Hotels of Tuscany; Rome Snap Guide; and Secret Hotels of the Amalfi Coast. Buon viaggio! _______________________ Nashville, TN: I'm a recent college graduate faced with only having one week a year to travel (Dec 25-Jan 1). Please help me find a great last-minute deal! Budget Travel editors: You're right to be frustrated--that week is a tough one for bargain-hunters. If you plan to wait until Dec. 20 or so, try Site59.com, which specializes in last-minute packages (mainly in the U.S. and Latin America). Airfare to Western Europe drops in winter because of the chilly weather, but the holiday time frame means the savings won't be as great as in, say, late January or February. A quick search on sidestep.com reveals a round-trip fare between Nashville and London for $740 on American Airlines, departing on the 26th and returning on the 1st. For air/hotel packages, try tour operators such as Go-Today.com and Gate1Travel.com. A six-night package for Amsterdam and Paris with airfare from Nashville in late December starts at $1,219 at Go-Today.com, based on double occupancy. _______________________ Seattle, WA: What's the safest way for Americans to travel to Cuba? My Canadian friends go all the time and when I was in Cancun, my hotel offered a $200 excursion to Cuba. I'm worried about US regulations--lots of my friends have gone, however, and I'd really like to know the best way to go and not get in trouble. Budget Travel editors: Let me refer you some recent Budget Travel articles filled with advice for those traveling to Cuba: Inside Cuba, Travel to Cuba: Essentials, Travel to Cuba: Highlights, Ask BT: Traveling to Cuba. The articles are filled with information on how to get to Cuba, and what not to miss while you're there. _______________________ Knoxville, TN: Our family of four will be traveling through England and Scotland this spring. Which would be most enjoyable (least hassle) considering luggage--traveling by train or a potentially small rental car? Budget Travel editors: Considering the size of most European rental cars, there's a good chance your family of four (with luggage) might be in for a tight squeeze if you decide to rent. However if you limit the number and size for your bags, a car is probably your best option. Try Europe By Car or Auto Europe for deals on car rentals. _______________________ Tustin, CA: I'm planning a trip to Hawaii for April 07. When would be best to purchase airfare; now, or wait for later? Budget Travel editors: That all depends. When purchasing airfare, it's important to be an informed consumer, meaning you should constantly shop around for the best price before you buy. How do you do that? First subscribe to online newsletters like Airfare Watchdog which notifies you of unadvertised fare reductions and other airfare sales for domestic and international travel. Another good idea is to check your preferred carrier's website daily for deals or special promotions. SAS, for example, is currently in the midst of it annual holiday sale unveiling a new low fare to Scandinavia everyday in December. Is it a flight to Hawaii? No, but the more investigating you do, the better your chances are of finding a cheap ticket. That said, expect to pay around $400 for a roundtrip ticket from California to Honolulu in April when pre-summer deals begin to appear. _______________________ Saint Petersburg, FL: I will be traveling to Costa Rica during the last week of January. I need to renew my passport which has expired. How long does it take to get it back? Is it six weeks or more? I can't find this information anywhere. I know that I can pay for expedited service but would rather not have to if I don't need to. Budget Travel editors: The best resource for passport information is the US state department's travel website. US citizens are able to renew their passports by mail if they meet certain requirements, which you'll see clearly listed on the site. Assuming you meet them, under normal circumstances, the mail-in renewal process should take six weeks from the moment you send your passport away until the time you receive the new one. With the expedited service, you get your passport within two weeks--and pay $60 more, plus overnight delivery charges. The website does include the following warning, however: "During busier times, such as the summer travel season, we encourage customers to expedite their applications if traveling in less than eight weeks." You may not have travel plans during the summer months, but you are sending the passport to be renewed with less than eight weeks notice in the middle of the holiday season. Save yourself an ulcer and use expedited service. _______________________ New York, NY: I will be in New York at the Marriott on 42nd Street in early January. Where I can find cheap 24 hour garages? Marriott's rates are too high. Budget Travel editors: We've recently run across a very useful website (nycgarages.com) that lists all New York City parking garages between Houston Street and 96th Street by daily and monthly parking rates. You can search by address, neighborhood, attraction, or cross street. Enter in the dates you'll be arriving and departing the garage and the website will calculate each garage's rates for you. Happy hunting! _______________________ Budget Travel editors: Thanks for all of your questions! _______________________

Why We'll Pass on Verified Identity

There's been a lot in the news lately about Verified Identity Pass, the company that looks to be first in getting prescreening for air passengers approved. The idea is that people will pay around $100--annually!--to avoid waiting in security lines. A recent report in The New York Times said that the Transportation Security Administration claimed that "lines will not get longer for those who do not sign up for the service." Well, we should hope not! We won't sign up for the service for a number of reasons: 1. We stand by our initial assertion, made months ago, that the government must find a way to make the lines shorter for everyone, not just people who pay more. Subcontracting a private company to fix the problem for only a few people is just wrong. If lines at the DMV were really slow, wouldn't you hope that your state government would do something to fix them--and not get a private company to sell passes" to folks who can afford them? 2. What if the company (or the others like it) finds something it thinks is suspicious? Are you suddenly in trouble with the TSA? Heaven forbid. 3. Will it work abroad? Right now, one of the big problems is that the rules are much less consistent when you're outside the country--you never know what you'll be faced with. (We recently bought water and wine on the "secure" side of the airport in Buenos Aires. The security folks made us dump the water, but not the wine.) 4. Finally, as much as we all like to complain about security lines, and as annoying as it is to take off your shoes, in the big scheme of things the problem just isn't that bad. It makes you wonder how many homeless people that $100 a year could feed.

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