Review of Holiday Valley's Tamarack Club, Sky High Adventure Park, and Mountain Coaster
A family getaway 1 hour from Buffalo, 2 hours from Rochester, 5.5 hours from Albany
by June Santini
It might seem strange to go to ski resort for a summer get-away, but that’s just what we did. And it was great. My family was invited to visit Holiday Valley Resort near Ellicottville, NY to see for ourselves exactly what people do in the spring, summer, and fall at a downhill ski resort. Were we ever surprised!
The Tamarack Club
We weren’t surprised by the great lodging at the Tamarack Club; it is a hotel/fractional (read time-share) resort which opened only two years ago. I love these types of lodgings; with older children, the two-room suites offer more privacy, which both kids and parents (in this family!) enjoy. And being cheap thrifty, I really enjoy the full kitchen. Not that I am opposed to eating out—the Tamarack Club has a really nice restaurant, called John Harvard’s Brewpub (don’t the name fool you, it is very family friendly, more about that below)—but I always appreciate the ability to make a simple meal or have a place to stash some snacks without having to worry about keeping the ice chest filled to keep them cold. Beautiful rooms with great views of the mountain make the Tamarack Club a really nice place to stay.
A Ski Resort in the Summer?!?
My Dear Husband, a bit of a curmudgeon, couldn’t wrap his head around the whole concept of going to a ski resort in summer. “Okay, well if you and the kids want to go, I guess I can go, too. But, don’t expect me to have a good time.” Naturally, as soon as DH was safely ensconced in the Tamarack Club hot tub, with a spectacular view of the green mountain looming before him and a tasty beverage ordered from the cheerful poolside server, his curmudeonliness started to evaporate along with the steam rising from the hot tub. The kids, too, were contented alternately to soak in the hot tub and to explore the three adjacent pools in the swim complex. My 17-year-old daughter made use of the lap pool, while my son cavorted in the activity pool with its slide and diving board. (Though don't let a 12-year-old boy catch you reporting that he "cavorted.") We spotted some cute toddlers wading in the baby pool and splashing in its fountains.
Sky High Adventure Park
The High Ropes course at Sky High Adventure Park is already becoming very popular; make sure you make a reservation, or you might find yourself disappointed. Sessions in the park last three hours. My family arrived 15 minutes early to get geared up and to have a brief orientation. It took longer than 15 minutes because there was a fairly long line, but they also were not very strict about the ending time. My daughter got to finish the course as far as she wanted even though her time was expired. DH and my son decided not to go as far as she did. There are certain points between levels when it is easiest to exit the course, although if you get stuck the staff will help you extricate yourself.
This is a great experience for kids from age 9 or 10 who are adventurous and are of average fitness. My family had a blast. Challenging bridges, ever ascending platforms into the tops of the tall pines, and plenty of zip lines had them exhausted but thrilled! Surly teenagers with “why do I have to do this?” attitudes magically changed into laughing, excited climbers who couldn’t get enough.
The minimum age to go on the high ropes is 7, but my advice is that if you decide to take a 7-year-old, the child should be both fearless and independent. It is also a good idea to position younger children between both parents on the course. You must do this at the beginning; once you are clipped in, there is no changing places. That way, one parent can proceed ahead and be there to “catch” the child while the other is behind to give a gentle, but firm send-off. And if your child requires coaxing to attempt new things, you should probably forego this activity. Remember, nobody behind you can proceed until you do. Kids and adults alike can really enjoy the high ropes course, astounding themselves with the feats they will accomplish along the way.
Falling Waters Spa
While my family was having a blast on the High Ropes, I sacrificed myself for the sake of journalistic thoroughness and went off the Falling Waters Spa. I had decided to have a facial; I was greeted at the front desk and shown to a lovely locker room. I changed into a fluffy robe and slippers and went to wait for my appointment in the Sanctuary room. I could have stayed there all day. Peaceful music played while I sat on a chaise lounge, sipping herbal tea, and looking at the beautiful view. A few minutes later, the aesthetician called me into a room and gave me a facial so relaxing that I fell asleep. It was wonderful. The Falling Waters Spa provides a full range of spa services and it’s worth every penny.
In the afternoon, the whole family headed over to the Mountain Coaster for a thrilling ride down the mountain. The Mountain Coaster is a gravity driven, non-mechanized coaster, in which the rider controls the speed. This is great if you’re a big chicken like me. It is also great if you’re a dare-devil pre-teen. Riders are seated in the coaster cars and towed up to the top of the mountain. It’s a nice, scenic ride to the top. Then, you crest over the top and the tow releases the car and you decide how fast you want to go down by applying (or not applying) a hand brake. Children must be at least 3 years old and 36 inches tall to ride with an adult or 8 years and 42 inches tall to ride alone.
We loved the coaster and could have ridden it over and over. Instead, we started our way home with a stop in the village of Ellicottville for lunch at one of the many cafes. We also stopped by Watson’s Chocolates for some sponge candy. It was just what we needed to console ourselves on the way home, for we wished we could have stayed longer. One night was great. Two nights would have been better. Next time!
For more information about the Tamarack Club, see their web site at http://www.tamarackclub.com.
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