By CARY ORDWAY
Ah yes, the holidays. That time of year when the relatives make a bee line for your house so you can feed them, entertain them, regale them with your endless wit and then get them out the door as soon as possible so you can have a pleasant, quiet, relaxing few hours with your immediate family.
It doesn't have to be that way. You can skip all the preliminaries, gather up your family and pretend for one Thanksgiving or Christmas that you're in the Witness Protection program, far from anyplace Uncle LeRoy and Aunt Matilda will ever be able to find you. Gas up your car, blindfold your kids, deactivate all electronic devices and assure the family this will be the best holiday ever. Then drive.
If you're trying to decide exactly where to drive to, then here are three excellent possibilities:
It's not often that a resort gets put on a map just as if it were a town, but there it was on our Rand McNally map: Sorensen's, a little berg near the intersection of Highways 89 and 88, deep in the Sierras southeast of Lake Tahoe. There are eight souls, give or take, who call this place home. And on any given holiday, there are another 33 cabins full of people who have come from places like Los Angeles and San Francisco to put some distance between them and the steel, glass and asphalt of everyday life in the big city.
Out here where the mountains are high and the stress is low, Sorensen's Resort the magic of the surrounding wilderness area. In fact, this wilderness is like staying in a national park without the bumper-to-bumper RVs. A network of trails and lakes are just minutes away in any direction, with the Carson mountain range always close at hand, just waiting to provide the perfect backdrop for your next family photo.
During the holidays, there is also snow. Not to scare you, but it WAS in the mountains near Lake Tahoe that the Donner party ate something other than turkey for Thanksgiving. Snow can fall pretty heavy out in these parts which is what makes a stay at Sorensen's all that much more enjoyable. A cozy cabin in the woods with four feet of snow is ideal for a holiday adventure.
Our log cabin at Sorensen's had an incredibly comfortable, fluffy bed that was perfect for a quiet, restful sleep in the woods. After all, that really is the Sorensen's calling card: the "cabin in the woods" experience that just happens to have a few extra amenities -- such as gourmet dining. As you might imagine, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiles are all in abundance around here, so be sure and dress warm.
We were staying in a simple, but modern log cabin with a loft and bathroom area. The kitchen, complete with microwave, two-burner stove and a small refrigerator, was along one wall of the main cabin area. Nearby, a queen bed was covered with charming home-made quilts. The main room also included a sitting area and a dining area, as well as a free-standing wood stove with plenty of firewood. The resort itself is actually a village of cabins, joined by meandering pathways, but separated by mature aspens, creeks, ponds and lots of natural vegetation. In a normal winter, snow covers most everything – just the atmosphere you want for your holiday getaway.
To make reservations, call (800) 423-9949 or visit www.sorensensresort.com.
Okay, you want more people around you during the holidays – we get it. Just not the relatives. Well consider a visit to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Olympic Games and still, after all these years, basking in the lifetime PR that comes from being an Olympics venue.
Located near Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley now refers to itself as Squaw Valley USA, a not-so-subtle reminder of the national pride that goes with hosting - and competing in - the Olympics. Over the years, this ski area has steadily grown, developing into one of the country's top ski destinations. Cable cars, gondolas and numerous high-speed detachable quad chairlifts have been added to dramatically increase skier lift capacity while, at the same time, new first-class accommodations, restaurants and retail facilities make the skier's time off the mountain feel just like a ritzy vacation.
Lake Tahoe has no shortage of excellent ski mountains but Squaw brings one thing to the table that the others can't: Olympic tradition. It's evident today in the symbolic Tower of Nations and Olympic flame that still greet Squaw Valley visitors as well as the Olympic rings clear visible on buildings near the Village — in some cases, the same buildings used in the actual Olympics.
Our visit to Squaw Valley reminded us of previous vacations at great ski resorts like Sun Valley and Whistler-Blackcomb. The relatively new Village at Squaw Valley is what immediately lets you know that this is a true destination ski area - the kind of ski area where you block a week off your office calendar and just stay put on the mountain exploring new ski trails each day and finding plenty to keep your vacation interesting in the Village.
The mountain itself is an impressive backdrop to the Village. With 4,000 skiable acres and more than 100 runs, Squaw Valley's ski terrain looms over the village like some vast playground just waiting to be explored. On a clear day - and we did get some gorgeous weather at least during part of our stay - the mountain and village are just like a picture postcard.
We checked into our condo in the Village and, even though the Village complex includes several buildings, it was easy to find the check-in area as well as the nearby entrance to the underground garage. This is state-of-the-art ski resort planning; when the Village opened back in 2001, it included an easy-to-navigate color-coded underground parking area that allows you to park your vehicle close to your building's elevator. Instead of snow piling on your vehicle, freezing your wiper blades and icing all your windows, your vehicle can be indoors during your entire visit. The Village shops and restaurants are all within a five-minute walk of your condo.
Our condo was relatively simple, but "right on the mountain" and really at the center of the action. It was just a kitchen, living room area, a bedroom and a bathroom, but it was well appointed with designer furniture, two television entertainment systems and a pretty complete kitchen area.
The skiing at Squaw Valley — as you might expect — is some of the best you'll find anywhere. The variety of trails seemed endless and many of the runs were long and sometimes exhausting. Interestingly, many of the intermediate runs are reached by riding a gondola to the 8200-foot level. Up there you can also access a couple of intermediate runs off the backside of the mountain - in fact, about 45 percent of the mountain is rated intermediate. Everywhere you look are high-speed chairlifts.
During our off time we enjoyed exploring the Village, dining in the Village restaurants and stopping in for some merriment at the local lounges.
For more information on Squaw Valley USA, please go to www.squaw.com or phone 800-401-5471. For information on accommodations at the Village at Squaw Valley, please phone 1-800-545-4350.
Double Eagle Resort and Spa
Let's face it, the holidays will put on the pounds and, if you're not careful, those cookies and candies will be your road to ruin.
So why not plan your holiday at a place that won't let you get fat? Okay, it WILL let you get fat because it's your money, but the Double Eagle Spa and Resort in June Lake is known for being quite health-conscious. It's a world-class spa and fitness center and there's a great selection of meals that are actually good for you.
The Double Eagle happens to be located in one of the state's most scenic vacation spots – the 'June Lake Loop.' This area just east of Yosemite Park probably should have been included in the national park – its dramatic mountain faces, pine forests and sparkling lakes make it just that beautiful.
Just a few miles down the road from the enchanting little village of June Lake, past Gull Lake and just before Silver Lake, we came to the resort, which is a set of modern log cabins and resort-style buildings. The resort apparently was designed to fit in with the numerous upscale log homes in the immediate vicinity. Picture Aspen or Vail and you get some idea of the setting, although this enclave of homes is tiny by comparison.
We stayed in one of the resort's "luxury lodge rooms." Located in a group of two-story buildings, these rooms are especially spacious and so new they still have the unmistakable scent of a new home. They feature such amenities as comfortable lounge chairs, standing fireplaces, work desks, mini-kitchen counters, Jacuzzi tubs and decks that overlook the resort's fully stocked trout pond.
The other buildings in the resort complex also are all designed with this kind of mountain motif. Cathedral ceilings and plenty of windows always remind you of the mountains that tower directly overhead – whether you're in the state-of-the-art spa facility or the Eagle's Landing Restaurant.
The Creekside Spa offers 40 types of spa services, including massages, facials, body wraps and whirlpool treatments. The treatment rooms all have rustic stoves but, in summer, there's no need to have your massage indoors. Just stroll along the stream to a special area where you can have your massage while experiencing the sights, sounds and aromas of the forest. You won't need a doctor's appointment to use the Creekside Fitness Center – Double Eagle guests will find a 60-foot indoor swimming pool, free weights, cardiovascular exercises and special training in Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates.
Lots of winter sports are in the immediate vicinity. Just a few miles away is Mammoth Lakes, the resort community that is a beehive of activity each winter during ski season at Mammoth Mountain. Cross-country skiing and other winter activities are nearby.
If a remote mountain escape sounds like your ideal holiday getaway, the Double Eagle resort experience will definitely be to your liking.
For more information on the Double Eagle Resort and Spa, visit www.doubleeagleresort.com or phone 760-648-7004.