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The Mouse That Bored

The Mouse That Bored

Features
By Moira McCarthy
posted: 09/25/2001

We boarded the plane exhausted, burned out and broke, having just fulfilled one of the unwritten requirements of parenting by spending Thanksgiving week in Walt Disney World (the one in Florida) with the kids. As the plane rose toward the northeast, leaving Mickey and Co. behind, I leaned over and asked my 9-year-old, "So, did you love it?"

She hesitated and looked at her 14-year-old sister, who nodded her on. "Uh, Mom?" she asked quietly. "Next time, can we just go back to Colorado?"

Call it abnormal. Call it un-American. Call it the strangest thing you've ever heard, but for my family, at least, it's true: We just weren't thrilled with Disney World, and would prefer a ski vacation to a Disney vacation any day.

In a funny way, I feel wicked just saying that; like FBI agents will be breaking down my door and turning me in for anarchic acts any day now. But in another way, I'm proud. In this world of passive entertainment and fake heroes, I've raised a couple of kids who would rather meet Tommy Moe than Mickey Mouse; who would rather take on the steeps of a real mountain than ride a two-person cart through a plastic one.

And while we may be in the minority, we're not alone. Disney may be filled past the breaking point (I got claustrophobic just walking down Main Street U.S.A.), but ski resorts are bringing more and more vacationing families on board. To those who think a ski trip cannot match a Disney trip, I offer the following comparison. Ride for ride, meal for meal, special moment for special moment, a recent trip to Telluride, Colo., says it all.

The Arrival As you make the drive from Orlando airport to Disney World, the landscape is flat, but the foliage¿rich, green and tropical¿makes your heart pump a bit. About 20 minutes and 8,200 amusement-park billboards later, you get your first glimpse of it all: The white-metal top of Space Mountain peaks over the trees, and the water tower for MGM Studios spirals up to where the birds fly. Pull into your hotel entry, and at once you are surrounded by perfection: perfect fake waterfalls, perfect fake lighthouses, perfect fake lagoons (with real water, though).

As you make the drive from Montrose Airport to Telluride, you start out wondering what you've gotten yourself into. The land is hilly but barren: Even in midwinter, at lower altitudes, rocky terrain shows almost everywhere. As you climb northward, however, you see hints of what's to come. Ralph Lauren's ranch stretches out for what seems like forever. The snow gets thicker and deeper. And as you round the bend into town, you are suddenly encircled. Telluride boasts an especially dense concentration of high peaks, including four that top 14,000 feet and another half-dozen over 13,000 feet. Among them, the tiny town is tucked into a crevice in what must be one of the most magnificent spots on earth. The peaks of these San Juans are more dramatic and breathtaking than anything you've seen anywhere else in the Rockies. And they're made of rock, not plastic and metal.

Checking In At Disney, we have a smooth check-in at the Yacht Club Resort. Our all-access passes are waiting for us, but the clerk does advise us to make dinner reservations for most nights right now. Well, not quite reservations, actually. Disney offers "preferred seating," meaning your reservation entitles you to wait in line for a table. Without a reservation, you can't even do that.

Then my husband opens his well-thumbed Disney guidebook and starts in on what will be his mantra for the entire trip. "First, we have to get over to the (name of ride here) and get a Fast Pass. Then we'll run across that park to the (name of show here) and try to get a seat in time to see it and get back to use the Fast Pass. Then (and only then) you can go to the bathroom. Then we'll go to the (name of restaurant here) and get in line." And so on. Forty minutes into the first day, the kids and I were already stressed. My 9-year-old secretlhatched a plan to seek and destroy Dad's little guidebook.

At Telluride, we stay at the Peaks, where at the door they take our skis and boots and store them away. For the remainder of our trip, whenever we want to ski, the valet fetches our boots from their warmers. While we put them on, he lays out our skis and poles so all we have do is step in and cruise. To be sure, there's the trail map, and that gives my husband the chance to plan us to death. But the lifts are so simple, we just decide to go with it, taking on trail after trail in excellent spring conditions. The distance to Telluride from Denver is too far for day skiers, so even on this perfect morning, liftlines are nonexistent. This, I think, is too good to be true.

The Rides The Rock 'n' Roll Roller Coaster at MGM is amazing. You blast from 0 to 60 mph in two seconds, then fly loop-de-loops through the coolest, Aerosmith tune-driven coaster I've ever seen. But you only get one Fast Pass per day, rigidly scheduled for a certain time. We get one for four hours after our arrival, ride once, and then decide the 80-minute line just isn't worth another trip. We wake up quite early one other morning and get on again, but that's it in a week's time for our favorite ride. We also ride the big white golf ball thing at Epcot (a slow ride with an interesting presentation on technology), and, of course, Space Mountain, the once-heralded ride that now seems silly and aged. "So," my teen quips, "we sit in a cart and ride through the black insides of a plastic mountain?"

At Telluride, I fall in love immediately with Plunge, a steep black that takes you from the very peak of the mountain all the way down into the tiny hamlet that is the town. I love the descent; I love the views; I love the change from top-of-the-world to tucked in below. And Lift 9, the best access to Plunge, never has a line. We all love See Forever, a nice intermediate that throws in steeps to get your quads going and winds around to show you the San Juans from every angle. From the top, you can see all the way to Utah, which looks like a range of mountains floating atop puffy clouds. There are also plenty of well-nurtured bump runs to take on, with bailouts that allow mom to rest her knees while the kids keep ripping. And then there's Sundance, a sweet, wide, groomed softie spiced up by the gazillion-dollar homes all the way along it. I take it three times just to tour the real estate. It's like some sort of otherworld. Nicer than the Magic Kingdom, even. Never mind Mickey's house; I saw Oprah's.

Animal Kingdom At Disney we go on "safari" in a car on tracks. In the distance we can see real giraffes and even kissing hippos, but we are disappointed in two things: The animals are too far away, and it's all a little cheesy. Disney feels compelled to make up a side story about "poachers on the loose," with a fake hunting camp set up along the way. Why, I wonder, can't they just let the majesty of the animals speak for itself?

At Telluride during lunch, a local animal preservationist comes in to show off a horned owl that has been nursed back to health. She carries the owl around on her arm (protected with a heavy glove), and tells the true and amazing story of this owl's life. She teaches as she speaks, and even lets diners touch the giant bird. A room full of hungry skiers sits captivated. Maybe a single owl doesn't match hippos and giraffes for exoticness, but it gets points for being so up-close and accessible. I score it a draw.

International Flair Epcot is pretty cool. We love walking from "country to country," and we have an incredible dinner in "France" as a street mime performs right outside our window. It is Epcot we feel most drawn to each day. We love the Viking Ship ride in Norway and the street café feel of Italy.

Telluride is definitely America. You can walk by the first bank that Butch Cassidy ever robbed (netting $25,000, a fortune in that day). You can bump into a local cowboy or hippie on just about any corner. But we do find international flair. Hankering for sushi, we head to Honga's for dinner on the advice of our concierge. Inside, we sit on soft cushions at our floor-level traditional Japanese table. The kids are already thrilled. We order sushi and tempura, knowing the kids will eat at least the tempura. But the chopsticks, the low table and water served in sake glasses egg on the kids and before we know it, they're converts. We leave feeling like we've really stepped into another world.

Transportation At Disney there's the Monorail, that amazing electric train that zips you everywhere. (Remember when you were 12 and sure that some day even your small town would have one?) It's great. Quiet, quick and easy to access.

At Telluride, there's the gondola system. Providing transportation in three directions, the gondola can take you anywhere you want to go in and around the town. It's fast, quiet and lovely.

Fireworks Disney, of course, is all about fireworks, and there's some kind of show going on every night. We found the Epcot fireworks/laser show to be the best we'd ever seen. But the downside, as usual, was the crowd. People parked themselves in strategic spots as much as four hours before the show began. I would question the use of four prime hours of vacation time just to hold a spot, but if you don't act early (which we didn't), you get a view, but not the best view.

As we rode the gondola home from our early meal at Huang's, the mountains at once lit up in a fiery light. Each peak had its own shade of orange or pink in an amazing display of alpenglow. And as the minutes ticked by, we were transfixed. In our gondola, unknowing, we'd grabbed the best seat in the house for the show. As we unloaded, an employee asked eagerly, "Will you be awake at around 10?" We thought so, we said. "Well, look in that direction (she points northwest). The aurora borealis is amazing this time of year." We did. It was. Even Epcot was beaten.

Not every family feels the way we do. Travel expert Kyle McCarthy, editor of familytravelforum.com, a site with more than 10,000 members, says in today's dual-income culture, vacationing is often about easy planning. And no destination makes planning easier than Disney.

"It's the whole idea of time poverty," she says. "The average vacation is down to four days (from seven in the past) and is often multigenerational, with grandparents coming along." Disney, she says, makes that easy.

Disney is also a "cultural part of our society," she says. "It's special because it's America. With the product tie-ins, the videos, the toys, the constant reinforcing of the characters, it's just a part of who we are. It's kind of a rite of passage for families, that Disney trip."

But, through her constant research, McCarthy sees hope for families like mine. "While more and more theme parks have been built, the interest in them has leveled off," she says. "And more and more, active family destinations like ski resorts are taking on Disney-like concepts. Look at the characters: All kinds of resorts have on-snow characters for the kids to relate to now."

That's all good news for me, because I love skiing and I want to see it thrive. But ski-resort marketing managers, please take note: If you ever do become as popular as Disney, limit the crowds. And don't ever offer me a fast pass that isn't fast. There's nothing American about that.bump into a local cowboy or hippie on just about any corner. But we do find international flair. Hankering for sushi, we head to Honga's for dinner on the advice of our concierge. Inside, we sit on soft cushions at our floor-level traditional Japanese table. The kids are already thrilled. We order sushi and tempura, knowing the kids will eat at least the tempura. But the chopsticks, the low table and water served in sake glasses egg on the kids and before we know it, they're converts. We leave feeling like we've really stepped into another world.

Transportation At Disney there's the Monorail, that amazing electric train that zips you everywhere. (Remember when you were 12 and sure that some day even your small town would have one?) It's great. Quiet, quick and easy to access.

At Telluride, there's the gondola system. Providing transportation in three directions, the gondola can take you anywhere you want to go in and around the town. It's fast, quiet and lovely.

Fireworks Disney, of course, is all about fireworks, and there's some kind of show going on every night. We found the Epcot fireworks/laser show to be the best we'd ever seen. But the downside, as usual, was the crowd. People parked themselves in strategic spots as much as four hours before the show began. I would question the use of four prime hours of vacation time just to hold a spot, but if you don't act early (which we didn't), you get a view, but not the best view.

As we rode the gondola home from our early meal at Huang's, the mountains at once lit up in a fiery light. Each peak had its own shade of orange or pink in an amazing display of alpenglow. And as the minutes ticked by, we were transfixed. In our gondola, unknowing, we'd grabbed the best seat in the house for the show. As we unloaded, an employee asked eagerly, "Will you be awake at around 10?" We thought so, we said. "Well, look in that direction (she points northwest). The aurora borealis is amazing this time of year." We did. It was. Even Epcot was beaten.

Not every family feels the way we do. Travel expert Kyle McCarthy, editor of familytravelforum.com, a site with more than 10,000 members, says in today's dual-income culture, vacationing is often about easy planning. And no destination makes planning easier than Disney.

"It's the whole idea of time poverty," she says. "The average vacation is down to four days (from seven in the past) and is often multigenerational, with grandparents coming along." Disney, she says, makes that easy.

Disney is also a "cultural part of our society," she says. "It's special because it's America. With the product tie-ins, the videos, the toys, the constant reinforcing of the characters, it's just a part of who we are. It's kind of a rite of passage for families, that Disney trip."

But, through her constant research, McCarthy sees hope for families like mine. "While more and more theme parks have been built, the interest in them has leveled off," she says. "And more and more, active family destinations like ski resorts are taking on Disney-like concepts. Look at the characters: All kinds of resorts have on-snow characters for the kids to relate to now."

That's all good news for me, because I love skiing and I want to see it thrive. But ski-resort marketing managers, please take note: If you ever do become as popular as Disney, limit the crowds. And don't ever offer me a fast pass that isn't fast. There's nothing American about that.

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