Ahhh, winter holidays. The kids count down the days until the break, as soon as Halloween is over. The morning alarms are silent; hockey practices and music classes are on hiatus, and pajama days have finally arrived. Life couldn’t be better, right? Well, in our family, this holiday honeymoon period doesn’t last very long. Cabin fever inevitably manifests itself. Symptoms include: buggy eyes from too many video games, bickering siblings, frequent utterances of “I’m bored” and “What can I eat?”, and waves of irritability that spreads to each member of the family.
The cure: get out of the house, preferably to do something active outdoors. So this year, despite colder-than-usual temperatures, we packed up our bags, and most of the contents of our kitchen cupboard (we have a 16-year-old teen, after all), and headed to Peek n’ Peak Resort in New York state. We had the pleasure of trying out the 2018 Ford Explorer, which proved to be a safe and warm ride for our mini-winter road trip.
Here are the highlights:
Day 1 -- Peek n’ Peak Resort
Situated in Chautauqua County in western New York state, this family-friendly ski resort has no shortage of snow. Though it’s only a 3.5-hour drive away, it receives an average of 200 inches of snow annually, almost double that of Mississauga. This is because of the lake effect, created by the cold wind blowing over warmer Lake Erie.
Whatever the reason, we found plenty of ways to enjoy the white stuff, starting with a day of skiing on the resort’s 27 slopes and trails at the 42-hectare property. We lucked out with a blue-bird day, and the snow-adorned pines sparkled in such a postcard-perfect way that my hands froze as I stopped frequently to take pictures. And though we were in the middle of the kids’ holiday break in Ontario, it was uncrowded with no lineups at the chair lifts.
Another highlight was the proximity of the ski lifts to the accommodation, which worked out well when I needed to sneak away to thaw in our room for a bit (the rest of my family are hardier skiers than myself). Though I have to say the indoor/outdoor hot tub in the resort’s large pool complex was my favourite option for warming up.
Snow tubing is another popular winter activity on the property, and the kids were eager to try it out, even after spending a full day skiing. I would have been content to watch, but under duress from the kids, I braved a couple of runs before taking refuge in the heated seats of the Ford Explorer, where I happily watched my kids riding up and down, oblivious to the cold, with energy I could only dream of.
Day 2 –Mayville & Westfield
With so many activities and food options, it would have been easy to spend all our time at Peek ‘n Peak, but we wanted to explore more of Chautauqua County, and so we headed to Evergreen Outfitters in Mayville, New York for a guided snowshoe hike.
“Welcome to Narnia!” said Mike, our guide, as we trekked along the Westside Overland Trail. It was an apt comparison, as it felt like we were in a truly magical setting– a winter wonderland of pure, white snow, blanketing the forest and evergreens and decorating the hardwood branches with fluffy cotton balls.
Every good hike deserves a reward, and we found ours in the nearby town of Westfield at Five & 20 Craft Spirits and Brewing. Beer, wine and spirits, all under one roof, and all produced by the Mazza family, can be found at this combination of winery/distillery and brewery. The tasting room sits on 80 acres of farmland used to grow grapes and grain that go into the libations, and provide a lovely view to enjoy them. For dinner, we drove over to Larry Cantina, a local watering hole, known for its mouth-watering wings and friendly atmosphere.
Day 3 – Jamestown
About 40 minutes east of Peek n’ Peak is Jamestown, which as it happens is the birth place of Lucille Ball. The Lucy-Desi Museum honours the memory and legacy of America’s beloved redheaded comedian and her partner, Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo), with both exhibits of their personal lives and memorabilia from the show. At this impressive center, we walked through the original Studio A door, and attempted to re-enact the famous ‘vitameatavegamin’ commercial episode, which proved to be quite the thespian challenge. Other highlights included Lucy’s polka-dotted dress, a recreated set from the ‘Lucy sets her nose on fire’ episode and personal stories told by Lucy’s childhood friends.
After our tour, we had one more item on the agenda we needed to check off before finishing our road trip –try a beef on weck sandwich.
Besides hockey, food is the favourite topic of conversation for my always-hungry, 16-year-old-old son, Justin. During our unforgettable snow shoe hike in Mayville, Justin struck up a conversation with Mike, our local guide.
“You never heard of poutine?” Justin gasped and proceeded to tell Mike all about the gooey Canadian concoction of fries, cheese curds and gravy. In turn, our guide described western New York’s signature sandwich.
“You don’t know what a beef on weck is?” retorted Mike, and described the thinly sliced beef piled high on a kimmelweck roll. After this cross-cultural bonding over mutual love of artery-clogging dishes, Justin couldn’t wait to try out the dish. Luckily, it was also the speciality of The Pub, a popular local eatery in Jamestown, and I’m happy to report that the sandwich lived up to its hype and was a scrumptious way to end our snow adventure in beautiful Chautauqua County, New York.
The Ride: What We Loved about the 2018 Ford Explorer
As glad as we were to escape the house, winter driving is always cause for some trepidation. I remember one car we owned that used to shake so much going over the Gardiner Expressway on blustery days that I was half-convinced I’d be blown away and my white-knuckled hands pried from the steering wheel. Driving the Ford Explorer was exactly the opposite of that experience. It felt solid. Even when we were caught in a snow storm in Buffalo, we never skidded or lost control.
What really helped traction in those conditions was the vehicle’s engineering and features, like the all-wheel drive and the Terrain Management System (TMS). When the view outside the windshield changed to look like a snow globe being shaken too hard, and the bare highway turned white, we tried out the ‘snow mode’ on the TMS. This was as simple as turning a knob to the snowflake icon (other options included mud/ruts, hills and sand). But on this wintery drive through Buffalo, there was no doubt which setting we needed. So what happened when we turned this dial? It beamed us to our destination at light-warp speed. Well, that was what we fantasized it would do as we crawled along the I-90 interstate, but it did control engine, transmission and brakes to match the conditions. How?
“It changed the acceleration reaction, making the throttle less sensitive,” said Grant Houston, engineer, car enthusiast and road-trip partner. “It also increased engine torque to the rear-view wheels.”
And what all this means is that the vehicle stayed on the road more reliably in those slippery conditions, which is always important, but even more so when two kids were in the backseat (not that they even noticed we were driving through a snowstorm, with their headphones on, immersed in their devices.)
Superior traction control is not the only reason the Ford Explorer is a safe choice for family travel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the vehicle a 5-star rating (the highest possible) for its crash test performance and safety choices, which include seatbelt airbags for passengers, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist. Another safety feature we appreciated was the Auto High Beams as our route took us down dark, country roads. This system’s sensors detect cars coming and automatically turns off the high beams. Even more importantly, the vehicle also brakes extremely well, especially considering its weight and size.
“It’s responsive to any input you give it,” said Houston.
Of course, safety and road handling take priority, but I would be lying if I didn’t mention how much pleasure we took in a few of the more frivolous features of the Ford Explorer, especially those involving warmth (I’m sure I don’t have to remind you how frigid this January has been). The remote starter worked like a dream as it not only started the car from inside, but activated the heated steering wheel and seats, which were as wonderful as they sound.
Spacious cargo space meant everything fitted easily in the back, especially when the third row was folded down. A deep console storage unit and generous front pockets provided plenty of room for snacks, water, passports and cameras. In other words, it held everything we needed to hit the road and cure our cabin fever, at least until next time.