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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where To Go This Winter*

Thanks to climate change, it's likely that this winter is once again going to be long and brutal. Even the hardiest cold-weather enthusiast is likely, at some point, to be driven to get the heck out of Dodge. And if Punxsutawney Phil decides the cold will extend six weeks beyond Groundhog Day, a winter getaway will go from a maybe to a must.

From January through March, people usually seek out the sun. Naturally, thoughts turn first to islands or cruising. But don’t forget, if you go south of the border….south to the Southern Hemisphere that is….it’s summertime. South America is often overlooked as a winter destination, but with archaeological treasures like Machu Picchu and Easter Island, along with natural wonders like IguazĂș Falls and the Galapagos Islands, it’s a continent that should definitely be placed on the map of winter possibilities.
While flights to South American countries can be lengthy, jet lag is rarely an issue, as the continent shares most time zones with the United States.

If you don’t want to go beyond the equatorial beltway, however, a tropical escape to the Caribbean or Hawaii can be the perfect elixir to whatever SAD symptoms you may be feeling. Aside from escaping the cold, another advantage of traveling to islands in January and February is a lack of crowds and shoulder season rates. Even five-star resorts are known to discount during these months, which fall between the busy holiday travel season and spring break.

The same season delivers value on the high seas. The big news in cruising these days is the proliferation of home ports outside of Florida. That is particularly helpful in the winter, as cruisers can avoid the potential of airport delays by driving directly to their ship of dreams. On the East Coast, winter port options now extend from Florida to Charleston, South Carolina to as far north as New York City (with Baltimore in between). Most of the ships sailing from these ports during the winter are Bahamas-bound. If you want to sail farther into the Caribbean, the Florida ports are still the best option, although there are also winter trips scheduled out of Galveston, Texas.

Winter golf getaways are par for the course in some of the country’s southernmost states. If you want to shoot for a multi-sport winter getaway, remember that it’s easy to hit the greens and then sample the succulent fruits of baseball during Grapefruit League season in Florida and Cactus League season in Arizona.

Of course, for some folks, a winter sports vacation can only mean one thing--skiing. The good news about ski resorts in places like Colorado, Utah and Idaho is that while the weather is cold, it’s also generally sunny and dry. So the cold doesn’t feel as intense. If you want to go to a legendary ski resort without the crowds, Sun Valley, Idaho may be America’s best-kept secret. Although it lays claim to being the country’s very first ski resort (thank you, Averill Harriman, circa 1936) and a former mecca for Hollywood movie stars (circa the 1940s and 1950s), most folks nowadays find it challenging to locate on a map. While the Hollywood scene is far more low-key these days, star power still exists in the form of present and former winter Olympians who call the town home. And if these moguls of the mountains consider Sun Valley a gold medal winter sports destination, the peak is worth the trip.

*A version of this article appears in The Weekly Standard's December 19 issue.

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