You see it all too often. As a couple, you two traveled everywhere. In the winter, there was at least one trip to your favorite ski hill. What was it? Aspen? Snowbird? Breckenridge? Then there were three; and the thought of hauling a screaming baby and ski gear through airport terminals, car rentals, and ski lodges held no appeal. Not to mention the added expense. You stayed home through the winter months and waited for the thaw.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Family friendly ski resorts are everywhere and for every ripping skier that might tell you a hill is no place for a kid, there are hundreds of marketing departments that will tell you otherwise. If you both love skiing or, more appropriately, ski vacations, your kids will too. Putting your kids on skis early opens them up to a world of adventure, laughter, fun, and scenery they could never recreate with other sports. Wouldn't you want to be the reason for their coolest memories and active lifestyle when they're older? Kids who learn winter sports are also more likely to develop confidence to last a lifetime.
Where Do You Start - Best Family Friendly Resorts
The key to finding the best resorts for families is to steer clear of the hard-core, double-black diamond, remote or luxury hotel intensive areas. Look for places that are easy to get to, that are filled with activities both on the hill and off; ones with large children's ski schools for smaller kid to instructor ratios, with free lift tickets and lodging for kids under 12, family packages and Kids' Night Out evenings where you can drop off your child and have a night on the town to yourselves.
Those gargantuan resorts that claim to be the largest 'wherever' are overwhelming to families who want to keep track of their kids. You just don't need that much or that difficult of terrain. Yet a small resort with a bunny slope right next to that steep blue groomer won't solve their dilemma either. The best family resorts are the ones developed to keep everyone safe; where beginners and experts rarely cross paths. For families with young kids, you'll want beginner-friendly designated sections, places with “Magic Carpets,” those slow-moving conveyor belts that carry beginners up an easy slope.
Big Sky Resort, Mont., though it's not so easy to get to, offers a vast, friendly environment that overjoys parents. It's because of the remoteness that the small number of skiers can spread out over 3,812 acres. Families don't have to deal with crowds, lines and whizzing, reckless skiers. Nearly every run gets you back to base area so parents won't worry letting the tweens and teens ski alone.
At Beaver Creek, Colo., kids can look forward to terrain parks, mountain adventures, Skecology and treasure hunts. The designated Kids Adventure Zones make it easy for little ones to enjoy themselves in safety, or check out a hibernating bear cave, an old ghost town, and even an abandoned mine.
Deer Valley Resort, Utah, rules with families who are scared of snowboarders. The skier only, mostly groomed terrain is filled with whoopdeedoos around aspen trees and safely detailed "forests" for little ones.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, Calif., is immense but kids will have no trouble finding their four Adventure Zones with smaller runs, jumps and berms for them to practice and ski/ride in, and the on-mountain igloos created out of solid snow that are strong enough to withstand the weight of a Snowcat. They are a perfect play spot for kids. If you're not ready to let your offspring lose on the hill there are three Secure Kids’ Areas for small children to play in a safe, fenced-in spot away from everyday traffic. Mammoth Mountain is also hip for skiing and snowboarding teenagers.
For families with more advanced riders in their gang, terrain parks and half-pipes are destined to be deal breakers. At Squaw Valley Resort, Calif., parents and kids can warm up in the smaller Belmont Park on gentle jumps, rollers, and petite features. The Monster Park at Riviera is packed with tabletop jumps, rails, fun boxes, volcanoes, a cross course, and other features designed for all abilities.
Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, Calif., has a 2.5 mile green run, Sugar N’ Spice, located at the top of the mountain so beginners can share those photogenic views of Lake Tahoe and ride the same chairlift with more experienced family members. The four Adventure Zones are interactive areas of the mountain that teach kids about the local history of the area (the Pony Express, the Gold Rush, Bear Cave, and Teepee Town).
Why are we going to school when we're on vacation - Best Ski Schools
There's something about the word 'school' that automatically turns kids off. However, just like in real life, knowledge is power. The more you learn, the more freedom you will have to roam, to play on your own, and to experience more of the hill. So a good ski school is as key as what ski outfit to wear.
When you decide on a place for your ski trip, call the ski resorts in the area and research how each area's children's ski school programs work, and ask about the number of kids in the class. Find out what happens to your little one if they get cold or too tired to ski. Is there a fun playroom and attendants for them? How will they reach you (or will they reach you) if there's trouble? Keep in mind, if you stick your kid in a group situation during a holiday period it's not uncommon to find eight, 10 or even more kids crashing into one another.
Deer Valley Resort, Utah, is world renowned for their kids ski school but it's the private lessons that rule there.
Copper Mountain, Colo., hosts programs for kids from three to 15 that include a lift ticket, lunch, and real-time GPS tracking for superior safety and peace of mind. For the older kids who can't get enough in the parks and pipes, Copper has Woodward at Copper - a 19,400 square foot indoor freestyler's training center complete with trampolines, foam pits, Snowflex surface and other jibbing features. Take a day or week with coaching or drop in for an hour before you try your moves on snow.
Sun Valley's Snowsports School in Idaho is a kid's paradise. The Tiny Tracks private lessons for three and four-year-olds are taught by highly trained kids specialists who turn skiing into play. Lessons are held on Dollar Mountain for beginners and low intermediates, and Baldy for more advanced kids. If you want to share in their experience the Parent/Child Private Lesson lets you observe ski instruction so you can continue the process on your own.
Park City Mountain Resort limits the number of kids per instructor so there will never be more than three, 3-5 year olds in a class, or more than five, 6- 14 year olds in a group.
Ask any skiing family where their number one spot for ski school and Steamboat Resort, Colo., will pop out of their mouths faster than a scream on a rollercoaster. As pioneers of 'Kids Ski Free' concessions - like rental gear, lift tickets and accommodations- Steamboat is tops for value. Their Kid's Vacation Center offers comprehensive daycare and starter lessons for kids as young as 2 with a new slopeside entrance to gentle terrain. Eight new registration kiosks will whisk riders into a redesigned kid-friendly, western-themed facility with the overall goal of expediting check-in, streamlining functionality, augmenting security and delivering a better family experience.
Vail is the grandfather of Rocky Mountain ski resorts (circa 1962) with Golden Peak as the family ski hub. A Small World Play School, Vail ski and snowboard lessons, and Vail ski camps emanate from here. The Micro Mice Ski Program for kids ages 20 months and older is a 30-minute real skiing experience with snow boots and learning skis that focuses on games that teach balance and beginning technique, with low student-teacher ratio for optimal fun.
Jackson Hole's Kids' Ranch tames the beast of the Rockies. The well-known gnarly terrain at Jackson is in soft focus when your kid is a Pioneer, Rough Rider or Explorer. The little ones even get a storytime after lunch, before they go back on the hill.
Sierra-At-Tahoe Resort is one of the only ones with a Burton Progression Park for learning jibs, jumps, rails and boxes just inches off the snow. They also have a Family Private Lesson which lets groups of up to 5 take a private lesson together no matter what ability level. The most innovative feature is a Parent Predicament ticket, which is the same price as an adult all day ticket. Parents can share the ticket so one can take a few runs while the other spends time with the baby, and then switch!
Life Beyond The Slopes - Best Kid Friendly Activities
A family ski vacation is only as good as its après offerings for the younger set. What’s on tap once the skis are off? Movies, arcades, ice skating, snowtubing? More resorts are building family-friendly activities into their master plan.
Look no further than Squaw Valley Resort for on-hill hijinks. Not only are lift tickets for kids 12 and under $10 but they can take free mountain tours with Squaw’s Chief Mountain Host and Olympic Gold Medalist, Jonny Moseley. Parents can outfit their little ones with a Squaw Cash Card so they won’t be fussing with bills and change when they stop for hot chocolate, activities or handwarmers and Squaw increases the value by offering 10 percent extra every time guests re-load money onto the card. Squaw has mountaintop Full Moon Snowshoe tours, an indoor climbing wall, outdoor bungee trampoline, cross country and snowshoe center, sleigh rides, dog sled tours, a video arcade, aerial cable car rides, the Olympic Ice Pavilion, and the 1960 Olympic Museum. In addition, each season in mid-March, the High Camp Swimming Lagoon and Spa opens for afternoon swimming…on top of the mountain! The outdoor firepit and events plaza also frequently stages ongoing festivities and events. If you are really all about your kids, don't miss KID O’ Rama Week, Feb. 13 – 21, 2010.
Park City has got to be next in line for family activities. You name it, you can find it somewhere in this Olympic resort town: hot air ballooning, snowmobiling, snowshoe and cross-country skiing, two state of the art megaplex theaters with at least one screen devoted to G-Raters, two ice rinks (one indoors, one out), bowling alley, homemade ice cream shops, the Park City Historical Museum and Swaner Nature Preserve with fun, indoor interactive displays, sleigh rides, and two tubing hills within 20 minutes of all three ski areas (Deer Valley, The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort). At PCMR itself, they've got a gravity-fed alpine coaster which is an absolute hoot.
Maybe it’s the free, fresh homemade cookies doled out every afternoon in Beaver Creek's Village or the centerpiece ice skating rink, that brings families back year after year. There is also a bungee trampoline at the base of the Centennial Express and Friday and Sunday evening Disco Skate parties.
Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort has a brand new Village featuring 35 shops and restaurants that are centered around a 9,000 square foot outdoor skating rink. Skating is free if you have your own skates, and just $5 to rent a pair. The rink is surrounded by fire pits for roasting s’mores (they sell gourmet s’mores kits in the Village). And there are bars on either side of the rink where guests can warm up with a hot toddy while the kids take a spin around the rink. Northstar also added interactive stores in the Village featuring jewelry design, candle and teddy bear making. Children’s stores, Mine and Freckles, offer activities for kids throughout the winter season including things such as storytime and tie-dye shirt making. Beyond the Village, there's a snow tubing hill and a bungee trampoline.
Snowmass' new 25,000-square-foot Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center at the base of Snowmass is the first of its kind in the snowsports industry and well worth planning a vacation around. Boasting teen activities, cooking nights, movie nights, a kids' specific retail shop, and a host of themed rooms for kids ages eight weeks old and older, The Treehouse brings the outdoors inside. Outside (and around Aspen) as well there's cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice-skating, dog sledding, sleigh rides, hot-air ballooning, tandem paragliding, snowmobile tours, sing-a-longs and storytelling by the campfire, snowcat dinners, kids' crafts and nature tours, in addition to year-round cultural activities like concerts, dance performances, a live theater, and museums.
When You Want Some Alone Time - Best Daycare
At home, you have school, babysitters and after school sports to give you space from your kids. Even on vacation we all need a little breathing room and time to ourselves. Jackson Hole's Wrangler Ranch may leave you wondering if you'll ever get your kids back- in a good way. The state-license center takes kids from six-36 months old. There are indoor activities, snacks and outdoor play so your kids aren't just sitting around watching Disney. Being uniquely situated next to the Bridger Gondola means that rides are incorporated into the day. It also means that when it comes time to ski, the kids are already familiar with lifts.
Deer Valley Resort has another topnotch daycare center with integrated snowplay. Their Children's Center, for kids ages 2 months to 12 years, uses storytelling, art projects, imagination activities, singing and a lot of play time and toys to keep kids active. For locals, they even had an accredited preschool with weekly ski lessons included in the price. This one fills up weeks in advance so if you are planning a trip to Deer Valley, reserve a spot for your tyke asap.
Winter Park's daycare is a charming mix of nursery and play for kids as young as two months. They even provide a complimentary beeper/pager for parents. A shining star goes to the inventive "Just Because I'm 3" program that familiarizes preschoolers with snow, their gear and sliding. Once they're comfy, instructors will take them up the tow rope and ski with them. When they tire, they head down for snacks, educational videos or snow play.
The Mountain Village Activity Center in Telluride houses the Children's Center which has a nursery for infants 2-11 months and playroom for toddlers 12 months-3 years.
At Crested Butte, Colo., they have Camp CB with a nursery that also accommodates infants age 2 months to 3 years. It's located near the base of the Silver Queen Gondola for easy pop-ins from mom and dad between runs. The Snowy Bears program is for the 2.5 years to almost 3 who want just a taste of skiing. The Bear gets a one-hour private and then returns to the Nursery for the rest of the day.
Steamboat and Snowmass, too, get nods for their licensed daycare centers.
For "Parents or Kids Nights Out" look to Copper Mountain and Winter Park, Colo., Northstar At Tahoe, Heavenly, Calif., and Jackson Hole to make it fun for everyone. Pizza parties, crafts, dances and give you enough time to enjoy dinner on the town. In Copper Mountain, spend at least $30 in the Village and your childcare, Wednesday-Saturday's, 5:30 p.m. -10 p.m., is free.
When a ski resort nails it, you know. Families return annually and the resort is packed with kids of all ages who know their way around from experience. Whichever ski area you ultimately choose, remember to call ahead or make reservations online for childcare and ski lessons. Plan carefully, research the options, budget wisely, and make your next family ski adventure the best trip you've ever had at any time of year.