The last time I was at Santa's Workshop at North Pole, USA, was during the summer between middle school and high school. I was 14 years old, had a girlfriend at the time, and thought it would be a good idea to head up for the afternoon. My mom drove us up Highway 24 to one of the strangest, most wondrous places I know.
As we stood in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl, my girlfriend announced she didn't like rides.
"You don't like any rides, or just the rides that spin?"
Spinning rides, she said, made her sick. I managed to get her on to the Dive Bomber by promising that if she started to feel sick I would tell the attendant to stop the ride.
On the Dive Bomber, riders sit in a two-person car suspended above the ground and are whirled around in circles. A vertical wing at the front of the vehicle controls whether you rise higher or fall lower. I found flipping the wing back and forth to be highly entertaining, since I could get the car to swing up and down while spinning. My lovely girlfriend told me to stop or she was going to throw up. I didn't stop. She threw up, and then dumped me.
So skip the rides if you must, but there are many other things at this park that will entertain you.
Santa's Workshop opened in 1956 at the foot of Pikes Peak, modeled after North Pole, New York, just outside of Lake Placid. A few buildings made up the village, including Santa's Workshop and Santa's House. Rides were added in 1960, including a wonderful red-and-white Ferris wheel, the world's highest altitude Ferris wheel at 7,500 feet, perched on the edge of a mountain overlooking Ute Valley.
Every other year the park adds something (last year the bathrooms were remodeled). In 2002, the park installed "Chris the Moose" at the Sugarplum Terrace picnic area. Chris is a robotic moose that has an animatronic seizure every 10 minutes to beloved Disney tunes such as "A Whole New World," "Under the Sea," and "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Da." The kids love him, but for adults there are few things more terrifying than mechanized stuffed animals flopping around to Disney songs and Christmas carols. Beware the Sugarplum Terrace, my friends.
Stick to the good stuff. Take a ride on the gigantic Christmas tree near the center of the park or ride a burlap sack down the three-story Peppermint Slide. See the Magic Show in the Show House. Do not forget to marvel at the "North Pole," a pole of solid ice at the center of the original village that remains magically frozen year-round. Do not lick it.
The park is perfect for young children, catering to childhood fantasies, with unlimited rides and shows included in the ticket price. Kids can visit Santa's House most of the year to sit on his lap and update him on their wish lists; they can feed the goats and llamas with alfalfa pellets from a gumball-style machine for a quarter.
The park boasts more then 25 rides, including a vintage 1919 reindeer carousel. And though the park is geared toward children, older kids and adults can still find fun things to do. Some of the rides are well worth a visit. Check out the Paratrooper and the historic Ferris wheel, go for a quick trip on the train to say hello to the herd of bona fide reindeer, and take in mountain views from the Skyride. Avoid the Dive Bomber if you don't like spinning rides, but make it a priority if you do.
The park is built onto the side of the mountain and is very hilly, so wear tennis shoes and drink lots of water while you're there. Try to come early in the day to avoid the rainstorms that usually roll down the valley in the afternoons. On average, the temperature is about 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the park than in the Springs, so it's nice in the summer, but can be very chilly in the fall. Santa's Workshop is open until December 24, but in the winter it may close due to snowstorms or freezing temperatures. Call first to make sure that everything is open.
Santa's Workshop combines every genre of childhood fantasy and entertainment to create a land where Santa's elves sing "Skip to my Lou" while playing the banjo, magicians pull rabbits out of hats, llamas eat right out of your hand, and you can take a ride on a Christmas tree, even in July.
-- Carson Bennett
Santa's Workshop at North Pole, USA
Take U.S. Highway 24 west to Cascade, about 10 miles. Turn left at the stoplight (you'll see the Wines of Colorado Restaurant on the corner) and follow the signs.
Parking is free in the large lot.
Admission: Ages 2-59, $14.95; ages 60-plus, $5.95; kids under 2, free. Group rates available.
Open daily until mid-August, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; from mid-August through Dec. 24, open Friday-Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., weather permitting, closed Wednesdays and Thursdays