Author: Ron Bozman
When you're counting on good snow plus sunshine for your family vacation, be sure you pick the right mountain resort for your trip.
Since the timing of all our family ski trips is determined by school vacation schedules (New York public schools), spring skiing has earned a special place in our yearly plans. While the Christmas-New Year break is a crowded time at ski resorts, the Spring and Easter breaks are dramatically less so, due mainly to the fact that different parts of the country have offset Spring Breaks, and many families who are done with the cold head straight to the warm.
Depending on the dates of Easter weekend, the choice of ski destinations can be limited. Many Western resorts close around the middle of April and most eastern mountains will close even earlier. Killington is the only East coast choice, with very limited terrain into May. Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia often has good snow into April, but the weather can be gray and rainy.
Spring Skiing: Pros & Cons
We have skied Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek in the spring and enjoyed them thoroughly, though by mid-April the snow can be thin in Colorado, depending on the weather patterns of the year. Other drawbacks to skiing late in the season include less snowmaking and a reduced number of trails; ski in-and-out housing that you can neither ski into nor out of, and a staff whose nerves are frayed by a long season. But the joys of T-shirt skiing and basking in the rays at a slopeside barbecue are immeasurable.
Since it's often open until Memorial Day, sunny -- and generally laid back -- Squaw Valley USA, high above the California side of Lake Tahoe, is a good spring choice. So, it was with high hopes that we returned to Squaw Valley in April of 2006.
It had been a good spring at Squaw with a base of 20 feet (yes, count ‘em, twenty) on some parts of the mountain and a fresh layer of powder from a three-foot snowfall just before our arrival. While the number of trails and staff was reduced from peak season, so was the customer demand. Lines were short and the skiing, well, just plain spectacular.
As with spring skiing anywhere, the best conditions are to be found in the morning, before temperatures climb and nudge the snow into the mush zone. So, we were early to the lifts and skied and boarded fiercely until lunch time, then went out for an hour more and called it a day by 2:30pm. By then, the snow on top was deteriorating and, toward the bottom of the mountain, getting downright gnarly.
Squaw Valley is just a great mountain, with many satisfying runs for every level. While many runs are challenging (it was the site of the 1960 Olympics), there are intermediate trails off almost every lift and plenty of beginner runs. The instruction for all ages is skillful and sympathetic. While one of my teens skied off with his class, the other enrolled in a snowboarding clinic where he ended up being the only (lucky) student. I enjoyed two of the best instructors I've ever skied with.
The Squawkids' Children's Center has a great reputation and a super facility. Children's classes start with Snow Cubs, for ages 3 and young 4-year-olds. Snowsliders cover the 4 to 6-year-olds, while the 7 to 12s join the Junior Mountain group for skiing or the Snowboarding Program. The half-day children's learning program (non-holiday) is $79 with a full-day at $109. During major holiday breaks, add $30 per day to either option.
One of the perks is that parents of Squawkids get preferred parking in the package. And for kids beyond the ski-school age, the $5 lift ticket for kids is the best deal in the country. Equipment is included for Snow Cubs, but an added cost for all other levels. You should reserve early for any of the slots in the programs, as there is great demand and limited availability.
By the way, there is no longer daycare for the 2s and 3s, as before, nor was there ever a nursery for kids under 2. The locally run website www.kidznsnow.com recommends the private care available at Christine's House (530/587-1081), a licensed daycare center.
Family-Friendly & Convenient Accommodations
On our spring trip, we stayed in two very different lodges and enjoyed the strengths of each.
The Squaw Valley Lodge (800/403-0206) is located a snowball's throw from the cable car. It has a real condo lodge feeling pumped up by a AAA four-diamond rating. Nicely furnished -- if traditionally styled -- apartment units all have lots of space and kitchens; it only lacks a bar or restaurant to complete the package. However, food and drink is within easy walking reach (try the Blue Onion for breakfast), and the proximity to the lifts, equipment and Squawkids' Center is a huge bonus.
With moderate rates in spring, this place is good value, ranging from $250 per weekday night for a one-bedroom condo unit (with kitchenette) to $415 per weekday night for a two-bedroom. For weekends, it's $400 and $695 per night for the same one and two-bedroom units.
Further down the valley, seven minutes' by shuttle bus, between woods and streams, lies the luxe Resort at Squaw Creek (800/327-3353), which is the complete resort you've always looked for. You would stay here if only for the view over the large heated pool, which offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the valley and mountains. It's a postcard vista and worthy of a visit even if you've only come for a drink or dinner.
But the delights of this resort go way beyond the postcard. The food offerings are high quality and the bar welcoming and warm. The rooms, whether you choose the deluxe rooms, oversized suites or bi-level penthouses, are well appointed in haute mountain style. There is a spa with the full menu of services (my Sports Massage was the best I've had in years.)
The resort offers a solid kids' program for non-skiers, with a wide array of activities in and outside the resort. There is everything: downhill and cross-country skiing, dogsled tours, snowshoeing, tennis, championship golf and more. The myriad of activties can be priceless for parents whose kids do not immediately take to the snow. The only letdown associated with this otherwise great facility is that the black glass faÃ§ade seems shockingly out of place as you view it rising out of the woods across the valley, so much so that locals call it "The Dark Star."
However, once you're there, the Resort at Squaw Creek makes you never want to leave. When you do, by ski or board, there is a dedicated lift right by the hotel that will spirit you up to a trail that leads over and down to the main base area. Be advised that this trail can be a bit icy on spring mornings. At day's end, you can ski back into the resort. Regular shuttle buses will also take you to the main base camp.
Spring pricing runs from $269 per night for a standard room, $319 per night for a one-bedroom suite, and $618 per night for a two-bedroom suite. Both one- and two-bedroom suites have kitchenettes.
Wherever you stay, you'll find the nearby towns of Truckee and Tahoe City are worthy of visits for both shopping and eating events. In the summer, the melting snow yields to the golf course beneath, the bike trails leading down to Lake Tahoe, tennis courts, and more. It's a real destination getaway any season of the year.
Ron Bozman loves to travel with his son and friends whenever he can get away from real life in New York City as a filmmaker and photographer.