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20 Ideas for Family Fun in Winter

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LUKE EASTMAN
  • Luke Eastman

Winter in Vermont can feel really long. Sometimes, it's hard to figure out how to pass these cold, icy months. Kids VT to the rescue! We've compiled a list of 20 family-friendly places — perfect destinations on those days when you've got Netflix malaise, you've made your umpteenth pillow fort and you're wearing a hole in your jammies. Consider this your menu of winter activities. Tear it out. Put it on your fridge. And return to it when you're met with that oft-asked question: What are we going to do today?

If you're starved for a swim...

GBYMCA
  • GBYMCA

You don't have to do the Penguin Plunge to get your aquatic fix this winter. Check out these great indoor places to drop in for a dip.

The Swimming Hole in Stowe boasts a lap pool with a diving board and a heated children's pool with a water slide, plus workout areas for adults. (Day pass: $21 for adults, $18 for ages 65 and over, $15 for ages 6-17, $7 for ages 5 and under, additional fee for towels and lockers)

Come January 1, the new Greater Burlington YMCA (298 College Street) will open with a lap pool, a program pool and a splash pad with interactive water features for the youngest swimmers. (Day pass: $12 for adults, $5 for youth, $15 for a family)

White River Junction's Upper Valley Aquatic Center has a kiddie pool and indoor splash park, with water temps hovering in the 86- to 89-degree range. For those 48 inches or taller, a 110-foot covered slide corkscrews riders out of the building and back in again. (Day pass: $15 for ages 19-64, $8 for ages 3-18)

For slides galore, kids' play area with water cannons and a tipping "sap bucket," and an epic Big River (who you callin' Lazy?), check out Jay Peak Resort's indoor water park, the Pump House. The 65-foot-tall La Chute and the Double Barrel Flowrider entertain older kids. Hot tubs — indoor and outdoor — entice all ages. (Day pass: $41 for ages 15 and up, $31 for ages 4-14, free for ages 3 and under)

If you're craving movement...

Petra Cliffs
  • Petra Cliffs

You could hit the slopes or the ice rink when the snow flies, but if your family prefers to burn off energy indoors, you've got some great options.

In addition to drop-in climbing and bouldering, Petra Cliffs in Burlington offers afterschool programs for kids 5-18 and a Friday Night Kids' Club for ages 6 and up that allows parents to hit the town while kids climb the walls — in a good way! (Day pass: $18 for adults, $16 for students, $13 for juniors; Kids' Club: 6-9 p.m. Fridays, $30 per child, includes pizza. Preregistration required.)

Get Air Trampoline Park in Williston boasts thousands of square feet of wall-to-wall trampolines with basketball hoops, ninja obstacles, foam pits and dodgeball. A kiddie court for jumpers under 46 inches ensures junior jumping beans don't get stomped on. (One hour of jumping: $8.99 for young kids, $14.99 for older kids, $3 for jump socks)

Recently opened Monkey Do! Indoor Playground in Williston gives kids ages 1 to 11 a place to frolic, with a preschool play structure, obstacle course bounce house, three playhouses, a craft area and more. An on-site café with pizza, sandwiches and snacks provides post-play sustenance. (Day pass: $15; 10-visit punch card, $130; grippy socks — available for $3.50 — required)

Romp! Indoor Playground in Barre offers open play for ages 8 and under with a bounce castle, tunnel climber and pedal go-carts, plus snacks — not to mention espresso and Wi-Fi for the adults! (Day pass: $10-12 for ages 2-8, $8-10 for ages 12 to 23 months)

For the little movers and shakers, the Wiggle Room in Williston is a play space for ages 6 and under that offers drop-in time on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Find a small climbing structure, play kitchen, ball pit and toys galore. ($10 per visit, $6 for each additional child, free for babies under 9 months)

Middlebury Indoor Tennis, operated by the Addison Community Athletics Foundation, opens its courts for free family play on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to noon. All equipment is provided.

On Thursday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m., the Shelburne Field House offers open play with balls, tunnels, tents and toys for little ones in their artificial-turf covered space. The adjacent lounge provides a spot for a snack break. ($10 for one child; $5 for each additional child)

If you want to be satiated by science...

Fairbanks Museum
  • Fairbanks Museum

Hands-on learning is an engaging way for kids to learn new concepts. These spots enable kids to immerse themselves in science through exhibits that are interactive and fun.

At Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, dozens of stations give visitors a glimpse into the properties of bubbles, the inner workings of musical instruments, the behavior of leafcutter ants, the properties of air and much more. Andy's Space, an enclosed area designated for kids 5 and younger, boasts an aquarium, a "bear den," and spots to explore sound, shapes and colors. Running through spring 2020, "Elements of Glass: From the Workshop of SIMON PEARCE" explores the process of turning sand into glass, from design to finished product. ($16 for adults, $13 for ages 2-17, $125 for four-person yearly membership)

Housed in a red sandstone Victorian building in St. Johnsbury, Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium contains an eclectic cabinet of curiosities — from a taxidermy collection to a herbarium containing more than 1,500 species of Vermont flora to mosaics made with beetles, moths and butterflies. The Exploration Station includes 14 interactive exhibits related to heat, engineering and circuitry, while the 45-seat planetarium offers daily shows about constellations and the sun. ($9 for adults, $7 for ages 5-16, free for kids under 5, $6 planetarium admission, $75 family membership)

ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington features tanks of lake-dwelling fish, turtles and frogs; daily naturalist and live animal presentations; and a deluxe play space for ages 6 and under with a water table, tree house and imaginative play areas. For older kids, the Northfield Savings Bank 3D Theater screens multiple short science films throughout the day. The traveling "Thomas Edison's Secret Lab" exhibit, which runs through January 5, explores STEM topics including electricity, optics, simple machines and coding. ($11.50 for ages 3-17, $14.50 for adults, free for 2 and under, $140 a year for four-person family membership, $3-$5 for film ticket)

At the Montreal Science Centre, seven activity zones let visitors explore geometry, air, motion, light, coding, matter and water. Permanent exhibitions include "Human," an exploration of human evolution and the body; Fabrik Creativity Factory, a workshop for young inventors to create parachutes, catapults and floating vessels; Clic! The Zone for Curious Young Minds, designed for children under 7; and the newly rebooted "Science 26" exhibition, which delves into one scientific concept for each letter of the alphabet. IMAX movies in English and French run throughout the day. ($22 for adults, $17 for ages 13-17, $11 for ages 3-12, free for children under 3, $55 for a family of four, $9-$12.50 for IMAX ticket)

If you're famished for fun and games...

Stowe Bowl
  • Stowe Bowl

The American Academy of Pediatrics tells us that play not only contributes to kids' cognitive, physical, social and emotional wellbeing, it also gives parents and children the chance to fully engage with each other. These places offer amusement for all ages.

The newly opened board game café, The Board Room brings more than 500 games of the nonvideo variety to Burlington. While you're strategizing in Risk or amassing a real-estate empire in Monopoly, partake in one of the unusual grilled cheese or PB & J options (nut butter with crumbed Oreos and Marshmallow Fluff, anyone?), gas-station submarine sandwiches, or beverages of the kid and adult variety. ($6 for unlimited access to board game library)

The first escape, or breakout, room in the United States opened in San Francisco in 2012. Since then, thousands of these attractions, which were inspired by Japanese video games, have sprung up all over the country. The premise is simple: Complete a series of puzzles and challenges before your 60 minutes run out. In Burlington, the subterranean Esc4pe is located just off the Church Street Marketplace. Start with the Gauntlet, and work your way up to the trickier Minimalist or Infiltrator. At Escape Room 60 in Williston, players can attempt to capture an escaped alien in Area 51, find an antidote to an Outbreak, or locate treasure in Pirate Plunder. (Both escape rooms: $25, $10 for ages 9 and under)

Stowe Bowl on Mountain Road creates a boutique bowling experience with swanky seating areas and unexpected menu options like crispy cauliflower, chicken and waffles, and the Cold Hollow Cider donut bread pudding sundae. The Vermonters Club offers special monthly deals for locals. ($35 an hour for lane rental for up to 6 people or $7 a game Monday-Friday; $40 an hour or $8 a game Saturday and Sunday; $4 shoe rental)

Children can delve into four different learning areas — tinkering, open-ended art, sensory play and paint exploration — at Wildflowers Studio in Essex Junction. Open studio — Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and Sundays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. — has themes, like nature, construction and dramatic play, that change weekly. ($15 for the first child, $5 for siblings, $125 for family winter membership, Jan 1-April 1)

— A.N.

Specials

Ice Fishing Day
  • Ice Fishing Day

Need a break from the routine? Bundle up and head out to these fun special events.

North of the border at Montreal's Arsenal Contemporary Art, starry-eyed visitors immerse themselves in "Imagine Van Gogh," a temporary installation that runs Friday, December 5 through Sunday, February 2. Visitors walk through larger-than-life depictions of the famous artist's paintings, projected on the floor and towering walls. ($16-$26, Canadian)

Visitors ooh and aah over tiny abodes constructed from sweet treats at the Vermont Folklife Center's annual Gingerbread House Exhibit in Middlebury. (Thursday, December 5 through Friday, December 20; admission by donation)

Stomp's eight-member troupe bangs out a magnificent beat with wooden poles, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters and hubcaps in Rutland. (Friday, January 3 & Saturday, January 4, $29-$49, paramountvt.org)

Quechee's Vermont Institute of Natural Science fêtes the snowy season at its Winter Wildlife Celebration. A morning of interactive tours and talks is followed by an afternoon of crafting, games and activities. A warm campfire and toasty treats top off the day. (Saturday, January 18, $14.50-16.50, free for children under 4)

A ski town gets the party started during the Stowe Winter Carnival. Events range from an ice-carving competition to a fishing derby for kids. Warm up during the indoor Kids Carnival Kaos on Saturday. (Thursday, January 23-Sunday, January 26)

Expert anglers from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department host the annual Free Ice Fishing Day and Festival at Lake Elmore State Park, with complimentary lessons and use of gear. A fish fry, hot cocoa and a heated hut keep families toasty. (Saturday, January 25, vtfishandwildlife.com)

Great Ice! in North Hero, which bills itself as "Winter Done Right," offers three days of festivities including bonfires, ice skating under the lights, snow building competitions and fireworks. (Friday, February 14-Sunday, February 16)

— B.S.

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