Outside the RItz-Carlton

The two words “Christmas vacation” are nearly synonyms for “disaster,” thanks to Chevy Chase.

But this holiday season, I decided to redefine the phrase and put together the best family Christmas vacation trip possible. The anti-Chevy Chase.

With so much already on my plate as a working mom of a 4-year-old (the most magical Santa-loving age!) during the holidays, I didn’t have any extra time to plan another thing. So I needed to find a family-friendly destination that would already be set up for a foolproof experience, one that every one of us could enjoy: mom, preschooler and husband.

The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, up the Colorado mountains in a charming ski town called Avon, was the answer.


Where the powder feels untouched

Ski vacations are exciting, but they can also feel overwhelming, when the slopes are overpacked, the lines are long and the parking is clustered. Some of the most popular ski areas on busy days can quickly strip that peaceful, outdoorsy feeling that is at the heart of what makes skiing so appealing to begin with.

Avon is a bit farther up the mountain, but it’s worth it. You’ll pass some of Colorado’s busiest ski areas and wind around into what feels like relatively untouched territory. The Ritz-Carlton itself is perched like a wooden-and-stone castle at the end of a winding mountain road, with royal views, too. Best of all, the Ritz has its own backyard access to beautiful ski slopes, and guests’ use is included in your stay.

No shuttles, parking and extra ski passes necessary. Here, you can literally ski out your own backyard. And if you need warmed up, the great room’s floor-to-ceiling, dramatic stone fireplace, cushy couches and steaming hot chocolate is only a minute away. Or gather around the stone fire pit and roast marshmallows — sticks and sweets provided in an adorable treasure box — and toast your hands, too.

Not interested in skiing? You and your kids can join the on-site naturalist for a free snowshoe hike through the mountains, where you’ll learn about the animals and plants that make Avon so special.


Holiday events

Although the Ritz-Carlton’s ski access is undoubtedly one of its most outstanding features — a characteristic that makes this particular Ritz one of our favorite branches in the nation — you could never leave the building and still experience one of the best vacations of your life.

In fact, Travel + Leisure named this the No. 1 hotel in Colorado in 2012, and also called it one of the best hotels in the world. In 2013, Travel + Leisure ranked the Ritz Bachelor Gulch No. 1 on the World’s Best Awards list of Top Hotel Spas in the continental U.S.

In addition, Conde’ Nast Traveler placed the Ritz on the World’s Best Places To Stay: 2012 Gold List.
As would be expected from one of the world’s best hotels, the Ritz goes above and beyond to organize holiday activities for the family. Book a free photographer to shoot your family pics on site (in front of more Christmas trees than you can count) for those holiday or New Year’s cards or gifts (photos can be purchased a la carte, no obligation).

Special for the holidays, the Ritz features “12 Days of Christmas” activities, starting Dec. 20 and running through the end of the year, where families can decorate their own ornaments and stockings, participate in holiday sing-alongs, decorate cookies, hand-deliver letters to Santa with his reindeer, decorate a gingerbread house, learn how to make cinnamon and peppermint ice cream from scratch, make your own snow globe and more.

Life in the hotel

The Ritz itself is a sprawling hotel hugging the mountain, with outdoor pools and Jacuzzis and a perfectly peaceful spa within. Take a dip in the co-ed grotto, a hot pool inside a dim cave of rocks; then stretch out on a lounge chair in this warm room with a glass of cucumber water and a cool towel and listen to the waterfall.

You can also find smaller grottos in the men’s and women’s locker rooms.

Access to the grottos, as well as the locker room, spa lounge area (stocked with snacks, hot tea and spa water), the spa shop (we’re obsessed with Colorado-based Zents brand; try the shea butter lotion to combat the dry skin at these dry elevations) and the “grotto circuit” are all included in your stay. The circuit is designed to improve circulation and aid in overall health, and it includes a dip in a cold plunge pool, a steam room infused with eucalyptus essential oil, a hot whirlpool and a shower.

As a spa addict, the 21,000-square-foot, Forbes Four-Star spa was my favorite floor of the hotel.

I was excited that it was also family-friendly. The spa and grotto offer designed days and times when it opens up for families. We weren’t there on one of those days, but they let us bring our 4-year-old daughter after hours one night so my husband and I could indulge and relax together.

My husband was overjoyed to learn about the Bachelors Lounge, which features private reserve tasting of single-barrel bourbon crafted exclusively for the hotel; a beer and cheese tasting at the outside heated terrace; and classes with mixologists on how to make different cocktails. These events run on different days throughout the holidays and range from complimentary to $35 per person.

All of your skiing, snowshoeing, swimming and gingerbread-house building is sure to work up an appetite, and luckily one of the area’s best restaurants is located right next to the great room. Buffalos, a locally influenced restaurant, offers healthy food that’s also comforting. My daughter enjoyed her mac and cheese so much she had it for both lunch and dinner.

I fell in love with the Black Rose Aviation drink, a mixture of Leopold Bros. gin, lemon, rosemary simple syrup and blackberry. It warmed me up from the belly out.


Kids rule the Ritz

The bison chili was a great way to warm up for lunch, and the tacos were surprisingly filling for dinner — which we were excited to learn we could eat right in the spacious lounge area on cushy couches by the fire. Our server brought our plates to us where we were already stationed (no restaurant required, which any parents know with kids is an awesome option), and another staff member brought us the Candyland board game. There’s a whole cabinet of board games you can choose from.

In addition, kids receive a special packet when checking in, full of activities (like scavenger hunts and coloring pages), as well as toys. My daughter loved making a glow-in-the-dark necklace out of the bead kit provided. At lunch, the chef actually made my daughter a snowman kit — a to-go box complete with a large carrot for the nose and blueberries for the eyes. You can bet she and my husband built a great snowman, too (with help from the shovel the concierge provided). And after dinner, our server brought our daughter ice cream with chocolate sauce on the house for dessert. Everywhere we went, the staff all knew her by first name. She has never felt so special on a trip.


Families can also warm up in the arcade room, with free arcade games (Pac-Man — yes!), ping pong, foosball and various toys.

Hand’s down one of the best family offerings was Ritz Kids, where kids can stay and play and learn — included in the price of your room. While you receive a spa treatment down the hall or hit the slopes (after your kids have pooped out), the highly trained staff will teach your kids about the environment in a nature-based curriculum, do crafts and serve them healthy food. In the summer, kids might do water coloring outside or go mini-golfing. In the winter, they might snowshoe through the forest or go ice-skating.

Back upstairs, my daughter was also thrilled to see an entire room of gingerbread houses, as well as a hot cocoa bar. We all enjoyed the complimentary cookies, S’mores kits, and hot cider and house-made chocolate walnuts.

Add all of that to the room: Instead of a pop-up cot or hide-a-bed, staff set up a mini teepee in our room for my daughter to sleep in. The floor was lined with fluffy blankets and pillows. It was all I could do to get her to leave our room.

I’m not gonna lie. I hung out in there for a while, too, and warmed up by the in-room fireplace. Then I drew myself a hot bath in the deep tub in the marble bathroom and relaxed with a cup of tea, while my husband headed down to the bar to watch the football game and drink local beer. It did not hurt that a puffy, goose-down comforter and 400-thread count Egyptian cotton Frette linens awaited me in my bed.

The view from our balcony went on forever. No buildings, no cars. Only trees, snow and wildlife.

The Ritz-Carlton arranged plenty of ways to bond together as a family, but it also catered to our individual needs to keep the vacation feeling balanced and enjoyable for all.

Good thing I was not traveling alone; my family had to drag me into the car to leave.

On the radar: The Ritz’s New Year’s celebrations, from a kid-friendly bash, to a private teen grotto party with music and dancing, to a “fire and ice show” in the Great Room, the perfect way for Mom and Dad to ring in the New Year with style.

This article is courtesy of Aimee Heckel, SpaTravelGal’s editorial assistant.