Author: Family Travel Forum Staff
Tags : Canada, Christmas Holiday, Couples, Disabled, Kids, Multigen, Snowsports, Spring Break, Teens, USA, Winter Getaway
Winter is a great time to introduce kids to the great outdoors, whether you're at one of North America's top snowsports resorts, visiting Yellowstone, or snowmobiling at a dude ranch. Not only is it healthier to get kids away from the screens that consume them an average of 7 hours per day, but it's also the season to find snow activities to do together, regardless of age or ability level, and enjoy a mug of hot chocolate.
Please review this guide to the top family snow fun destinations, lay out your school calendars, and you'll see how easy it is to book a value winter mountain vacation.
What's New in the World of Snowsports
The mountain resort industry has been seeing consolidation and investment in infrastucture -- especially environmental initiatives -- for the past few years, and you'll find special upgrades noted at each resort. The ski and ride industry has focused successfully on improving the beginner experience, too. Terrain Based Learning remains a popular ski instruction method. It requires contouring the bunny slope and beginner terrain into the proper curves, turns and bumps to gently force novices to experience ski moves at a controlled speed. These techniques have been applied to slow-and-easy terrain parks as well. Designed for ages 6+, many resorts have invested in snow forts, sculpted trails with banked turns, mini-pipes and rollers that introduce the excitement of advanced skiing and riding without the fear of falling.
Take Advantage of Lodging & Activity Savings
Some families like to save by staying at local ski hostels, the ideal budget lodging if you don't crave a Jacuzzi for apres-ski. Another wallet saver is basing your family at a cheaper base camp, at a motel that's so close to the slopes you can sleep there (and save), and ski or ride every day.
Some families want to double team snowsports with urban sightseeing, shopping or even campus visits when they travel -- especially important if not everyone in the family wants to hit the slopes. It's easy to spend a few days in San Francisco, then drive to Lake Tahoe; visit New York skyscrapers and take The Northway to Lake Placid; tour Seattle before skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb; head to Maine and New Hampshire via Boston. These are only some of the cities where all ages can save up to 50% on sightseeing (and no waiting in line) at the top attractions with a CityPASS discount ticket book.
Traveling with a mix of snowsports abilities? Avid skiers who want to pack in extra runs will prefer ski in/ski out accommodations on the mountain slopes, but this more expensive lodging won't work well if you're traveling with little novices who can't conquer those slopes. To save money and guarantee your toddlers the comforts of home -- such as a kitchen, dining area, laundry, separate bedrooms, ski storage and, usually, a fireplace -- rent a condo or private house. For suggested brokers, check out our vacation rentals guide with tips on finding the best lodging and short stay condos for your needs, at any time of year. Full service, on-mountain resorts are the ultimate in pampering.
Ski & Ride Discounts, Season Passes & Special Services
If you're avid skiers, you've probably got a season pass to your local mountain. At larger resorts, season passes have evolved, becoming sophisticated smart cards that track every run you're on, as well as being electronic wallets with RFID tags that can be read without opening your jacket. The new M.A.X. Pass has given families who seek variety a cost-efficient way to ski 38 different resorts. Nomads and powder hounds can also find deals like Vail's Epic Pass. With more than 32,000 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, it features unlimited, unrestricted access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Wilmot Mountain outside of Chicago; Afton Alps, Minnesota; and Mt. Brighton, Michigan. The Epic Pass also grants five free days at Whistler Blackcomb in 2016-2017 (with holiday restrictions), limited access to several snow resorts in Europe, and to Perisher, Australia for 2017.
Perhaps you want to sample some of the world-class resorts represented by the Mountain Collective. Their pass costs $419 pass (kids 12 and under pay $99) and is good for two days at 14 ski areas: AltaSnowbird, Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Stowe, Sun Valley, Taos, Telluride; Whistler Blackcomb, Revelstoke, Ski Banff/Lake Louise/Sunshine in Canada; Thredbo in Australia; Ski Queenstown/Coronet Peak/The Remarkables in New Zealand in New Zealand; plus a few extra perks. Additional day lift tickets are 50% less for passholders; available while supplies last.
If you know what type of experience you want but aren't sure where to find it among so many options, check out Ski.com, an online agency with a large inventory of mountain accommodations and lodging and lift ticket deals.
Technology Hacks & Ski Gear Tips
One thing we’ve learned about kids and snowsports moments – they’re usually Instagram-worthy but hard to share while you’re out in the cold. That makes an end-to-end photo solution, the new app Ever, a very handy tool for the whole family. The Ever app will pull photos from your smartphone, social media accounts, Dropbox, Amazon, and email inboxes for automatic backup. Because it’s a more intuitive and intelligent organization of images sorted by people and places, with multiple backup redundancy, it captures your winter holiday and any vacation with ease. You can use it to make funny flipbooks of faceplants or a variety of printed products that become ideal gifts. It’s also creative enough to send you throwbacks, resurface your best moments with automatic album creation, and compile its own month-in-review videos. Available in free and premium versions; for iPhone, Android, or desktop: https://app.adjust.com/l1q0ke.
In terms of ski and snowboard gear, let us share some wisdom. As critical as your gear is, most of it can be rented. If you prefer to travel with your own (expert families usually carry boots and rent the latest model performance gear), consider Southwest Airlines, which accepts up to two checked bags free of charge. You can also pre-order rental equipment online from most resorts, so it's delivered right to your accommodation and adjusted to fit on the spot.
Advice on rental packages: While it's super convenient and often comes with an overnight gear locker on-mountain, renting equipment at a mountain's base village will cost the most. In contrast, many in-town locations offer a kids-rent-free package throughout the season for kids 12 and under. Do the math: to rent in town, you'll also have to a rent a car, so the price may work out the same.
The Whole Family Can Learn to Ski or Snowboard Free
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM), when U.S. ski and snowboard venues nationwide offer special deals for beginners of all ages who want to take lessons from professional instructors. Most packages include the lesson, lift ticket and rental equipment. More than 600,000 children and adults have learned through LSSM venues (find this year’s locations) since the program began in 2009. One year, we sampled beginner programs at three Utah resorts. Beginners can post photos to social media of their first day on snow using #firstdayfaces and maybe win a prize. The Bring a Friend Challenge, open to all current skiers and snowboarders, encourages you to introduce a newcomer to lessons for a chance to win a complete ski or snowboard ensemble. Another must: taking part in the “World’s Largest Ski and Snowboard Lesson” on January 6, 2017.
Several states have programs that introduce snowsports to grade school children free of charge or with minimal fees, to support that next generation of resident snowsports fans; checkout our directory of freebies.
Don't let a family member with special needs miss out on an unforgettable winter vacation. There are many adaptive programs around the country for those with physical and mental challenges including the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in Colorado; the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and White Mountain Adaptive Ski School at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.
There are lots of opportunities for moms and grandmas to learn with friends or just hone their skills at women's ski clinics around the country. At the same time, a growing number of resorts are offering scheduled women-only classes -— a great way to spend a stress-free few hours.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - From Alta to Aspen
Our thanks to Eileen Ogintz and TakingtheKids.com for their expertise and input on the top ski areas in North America. In alphabetical order, we recommend:
ALTA SKI AREA is adjacent to the contemporary, upscale Snowbird, but its Wild West feel, retro style, and ban on snowboarding belong to Throwback Thursday. You can purchase a combined ticket to ski 4,700 acres of the best expert terrain in Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon and stay in one of five old-fashioned Alta Lodges. Staff will entertain your kids after ski school and feed them early. Room and board is included; the great restaurant and cozy bar scene draw many repeat visitors. Also, don’t forget to check out their spa. Lift ticket prices are competitive with other major ski resorts, and the three base area tow ropes (Grizzly tow, Transfer tow and Alta Lodge tow) are free all day so beginners can save, too.
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB in the White Mountains of New Hampshire provides groomed trails for cross-country skiing and wilderness for snowshoeing, plus guided custom adventures at both AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch and Highland Center Lodge at Crawford Notch. The AMC's 100-square-mile wilderness in Maine can be toured via groomed, backcountry ski trails on day trips. Many families enjoy trying to ski between rustic lodges and private cabins, where home-cooked meals are served to overnight guests.
Ready to run the slopes? Take advantage of Kids Ski Free deals at Aspen Snowmass. Photo courtesy AspenSnowmass
ASPEN/SNOWMASS has a long, rich history as a mining town, even before it struck gold with Hollywood celebrities and international athletes drawn to its pristine terrain, gourmet restaurants and shops, world-class hotels and annual X-Games glamor. This four-mountain resort offers plenty of terrain options for skiers and riders of all abilities. Snowmass, by far the largest of the four mountains in Aspen, has long been rated one of the best family ski areas in North America because of its wide-open, groomed cruising and family-friendly activities. Don’t miss dash-through-the-woods fun for kids on the winding Prospector’s Trail off Adams Avenue, the recently added tubing area at Elk Camp Meadows and Friday night Ullr Nights at the top of the mountain. Aspen Mountain, with its famous black-diamond terrain for experts, promises a variety of glades, bumps and steeps; Aspen Highlands, offers experienced skiers/riders the opportunity to test their ability in the epic Highland Bowl while still taking advantage of rolling blue trails for the more casual run down the slopes. Buttermilk has the Hideout children’s center, as well as a 22-foot super pipe. To encourage the newest generation of winter enthusiasts, there’s a great Kids Ski Free at Aspen Snowmass deal at all resorts, valid January 1 - April 2, 2017. The giant four-mountain resort is pairing with select lodging partners to offer complimentary lift tickets to ages 7 – 12, with each daily purchase of rentals from Four Mountain Sports. Kids also receive discounted ski and snowboarding lessons with the purchase of seven day or longer packages. Families will have to book through select tour operators by the 15th day of each respective month, and at least 30 days in advance of arrival; more details here.
The Top Family Mountain Resorts - Beaver Creek to Deer Valley
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado is a favorite of well-heeled families because it's smaller than Vail, while offering that resort's first-class service and terrific ski school. Families appreciate extra little touches such a fresh-baked cookies served daily at 3pm throughout the Beaver Creek Village, at the base of Centennial Express and at the base of Buckaroo Express – the dedicated children’s ski school gondola. The pedestrian base village's ice skating, casual dining options, and fireworks at day's end are welcoming traditions. Moms will find terrific spas at the Beaver Creek hotels (the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch), as well as "me" time on the Women's Social Ski Tour, a complimentary two-hour mountain tour followed by a sociable group hot cocoa break. The new White Carpet Club, an exclusive, private retreat within the heart of Beaver Creek Village, welcomes resort guests to join for the duration of their vacation. Located step from the escalator leading to Centennial Express Lift, the White Carpet Club hosts spacious lockers for storing apparel and accessories; boot dryers; a continental service island offering coffees, teas, cocoa, and decadent morsels; an intimate lounge adorned with soft, cozy seating; and personalized concierge services. Offered during select weekends this winter, Allie’s Cabin Family Dinners welcomes guests to savor gourmet fare which caters exclusively to children and families. Guests are whisked from the Beaver Creek Village to the cabin via an open air sleigh, welcomed with warm, cozy lodge slippers, and treated to a three-course buffet dinner (complete with kid’s favorites) aside the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. There's extra family programming during Beaver Creek Loves Kids weeks: Winterfest (December 17- 31, 2016); President’s Day Weekend Festival (February 17-20, 2017) and SpringFest (April 1-16, 2017).
BIG SKY RESORT merged with nearby Moonlight Basin Montana to offer one of the biggest ski and ride terrains in the US and, by grooming more glades, they now offer 5,800 skiable acres and endless ways to navigate 4,350 feet of vertical drop with rarely another skier in sight. Runs up to 6 miles long, glades and bowls, seven terrain parks ranging from novice to big air, all covered in 400+ inches of annual snowfall make a day on the slopes something different for everyone. Off slope adventures suited to teens include a Giant Swing, Bungee Trampoline, climbing wall and nearby, some night tubing, guided snowshoes tours, a challenging High Ropes Course and Zipline tours. Not too far from the resort, families can snowmobile or snowcoach through Yellowstone National Park, try Nordic skiing or horse-drawn sleigh rides through Lone Mountain Ranch, and test their skills at winter fly fishing, rock and ice climbing throughout the Gallatin Valley. Montana is great in the winter!
BOLTON VALLEY RESORT, the only Vermont resort to offer night skiing and riding (Tuesdays through Saturdays until 10pm), is teen central. Its wind turbine near the top of Vista quad produces an eighth of the resort's energy needs. You'll run into a lot of locals from Burlington here because everything is within walking distance - lodging, lifts, pool - making it easy to navigate with kids. Powder Passes ($199/ adults and $149/youth-college-seniors) provide five lift tickets usable on any day. Here's what TakingtheKids.com wrote about Bolton Valley and how snow sports can change kids' lives
BOYNE RESORTS, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, are Michigan's largest ski areas with a combined 850 skiable acres and 115 trails. The 2016/2017 season brings expanded night skiing terrain, a fully renovated spa salon, and a new activity fort for kids with crafts and games inside the resort’s Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark. Boyne Highlands tubing park is being expanded and the resort also has a new snowshoe and dinner excursion.
Families will find lots of winter fun in Breckenridge -- even those who don't want to ski or snowboard. Photo courtesy Go Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT is celebrating its 55th year of skiing (and was the country’s first major resort to accept snowboarders). Recent upgrades are the 2013 Peak 6 expansion that includes 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, giving Breck high-alpine, intermediate level bowl skiing and more black and double black diamond terrain. Additionally, the Colorado SuperChair has become a high-speed, detachable six-chair and Peak 7 is welcoming Pioneer Crossing, a large restaurant with a variety of fresh entrees and salads, décor that recalls the region’s mining history, and great views over Peak 6 and Summit County. Breckenridge is set in the middle of a historic Colorado town of the same name, where heated sidewalks make it easy to stroll for hours past more than 200 restaurants, shops and après ski hangouts. Around the town are off-slope activities such as dogsledding, winter zip lining, larger-than-life snow sculptures and ice play on the Riverwalk Center lawn (International Snow Sculpture Championships takes place Jan. 28- Feb. 5, 2017.
BRETTON WOODS in New Hampshire offers 464 acres of alpine trails and glades, over 100 kilometers of Nordic trails, ziplining over the snow covered trees, and the chance to stay in the historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel where you’ll also have a spa, indoor pool, ice skating and snow tubing, the chance to go dog sledding, among other adventures. Recognized for the third year in a row for the Best Snow in the East by readers of SKI magazine, Bretton Woods remains a top choice for skiers and riders in New Hampshire and among the best in Grooming, Service, Scenery and Kid Friendly offerings.
BROMLEY MOUNTAIN RESORT is the only ski area in Vermont that faces totally south which means it could be warmer at your visit. Families love this top value, small mountain because it has variety: three terrain parks and plenty of off-the-slopes action including outlet shopping, ice skating, sleigh riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing! Combine a $74 midweek/non-holiday ticket with Bromley's fantastic Family Friday deal, where each paying adult pays just $20 per kid for up to three kids, and a family of four skis for just $186. 6-Packs of Kidsrule Mountain Camps lessons are currently available, saving you up to $315 on six all-day lessons. Bonus – any child that completes 6 Kidsrule lessons earns a Bromley full season pass!
CAMELBACK in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania welcomes families this winter to stay, surf, slide and ski. The Lodge is located at the base of the Camelback Mountain and features 453 guest suites in 16 different room styles. The 84-degree year-round Aquatopia Indoor Camelbeach Waterpark is home to 13 slides, seven pools, and a myriad of water play, including surfing and a giant wave pool. Just outdoors, families can hit the 34 slopes or lean to ski with the Terrain Based Learning program. If skiing and snowboarding isn’t your thing, Camelback features the largest snowtubing park in the country and plenty of other outdoor activities including zip lines and the longest tandem Zip-Flyer in North America.
CLUB MED SKI Take your pick of 20 French, Swiss and Italian upscale mountain resorts with the pioneer of all-inclusive vacations with everything from lift tickets to instruction to meals, drinks and a variety of winter sports like snowshoeing and tobogganing included in rates. Look for special offers that include significant discounts for kids. Each resort is ski-in ski out.
COPPER MOUNTAIN features naturally divided terrain for all ages and abilities. Located just 75 miles west of Denver, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Copper Mountain Resort is an ideal vacation destination with a laid-back inclusive feeling for all. Three pedestrian-friendly village areas provide a vibrant atmosphere with lodging, retail outlet, restaurants, bars and family activities. Families can take advantage of world class skiing and riding, free Snowcat rides to Tucker Mountain, free snowshoe tours and more winter activities. Woodward Copper is a year-round action sports training facility with progression-focused programming. Offering winter day camps and week-long summer camps, Woodward at Copper exclusively features the Barn, a 19,400-square-foot indoor playground with Skatelite jumps into foam pits, a pump track, multiple skate areas, a 54’ x22’ spring floor, 6 Olympic fly-bed trampolines, and a 16’ x 16’ Super Trampoline. Check out the Lesson Four Pack from Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School and Start with Woodward Lessons.
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT is in the heart of Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley, Colorado, and both towns, founded in 1880, are known for their Victorian-era charm and friendly Western hospitality. Crested Butte combines plenty of steeps and deeps with 40 new acres of extreme terrain in Teocalli 2 Bowl. In addition to the magic carpet at the kids tubing hill, Camp CB for children age 3 and under and plenty of intermediate glades, kids will love the bungee trampoline, a climbing wall, and the winter zip-line. Those with special challenges have terrific opportunities for fun in the snow at Crested Butte’s Adaptive Sports Center. Gunnison Getaways provides value lodging and lift ticket options all season; for example, three days lodging and lift tickets earns you a 4th day free between January 2-March 9, 2017. Also, kids 12 and under ski free from November 24-December 16, 2016 and April 1-9, 2017. Another ski and stay free package is available from March 17-31, 2017. Additionally, CBMR lends itself to positive learning and snowsports encounters for kids, families, first-timers, beginners and intermediate skiers and riders. With one base area, ensuring easy accessibility and problem-free meeting arrangements post-run or post-ski day. Kids programs range from the under 3 set through teens and anyone over age 18, with a driver’s license, can take a Snowcat for a spin.
DEER VALLEY in Park City, Utah (more about Park City below) does it again, winning top awards from Ski Magazine, World Ski Awards, OntheSnow.com, you name it, for their excellent service and on-mountain experience. Skiers love it: snowboards are not allowed and they limit the number of lift tickets sold each day so there aren't any lift lines. You'll find plenty of great terrain, ski valets, lots of service and gourmet meals. Check out their new sibling Solitude (below), where the new high-speed quad Summit Express chairlift provides access to the Honeycomb Canyon backcountry. Don't miss a visit to Park City's Historic Main Street with its great shops and restaurants, a fun place to let teens roam around apres ski and look for the Banksy mural.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - Heavenly to Lake Placid
HEAVENLY RESORT is so big that when you're at the peak overlooking Lake Tahoe, you can ski or ride down into California or Nevada, so be sure the kids have their cells turned on. As at other Vail owned resorts, there are kids-only learning zones like the Enchanted Forest at the California base and the Bear Cave at the top of the gondola, so little learners won't be overwhelmed. Adventure Peak, the 500-foot-long tubing hill at an altitude of 9,100 feet, makes snow fun easy for the non-skiers in your group. Athletes love the 34 miles of wide-open, groomed cruisers; dedicated backcountry guides; inbound tree skiing off every lift, as well as sightseeing and ski bikes. Heavenly is excited to introduce On-Demand Private Ski and Ride School Lessons. Kiosks are now conveniently located on the slope as well as at the base., so that guess can request a ski or ride coach on the fly.
In Jackson Hole, stay right in Teton Village or on mountain and enjoy savings for kids under age 14. Photo courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
JACKSON HOLE in Wyoming is celebrating its 50th anniversary with more airlift, special events and offers such as Kids 14 and Under Ski and Rent Free, which gives families 10% off on Jackson Hole Resort Lodging and free kids lift tickets with a minimum 4-night stay; valid through April 29, 2017 with some blackout dates. There’s terrain to suit all levels; take the free Mountain Host tour of JHMR’s 2,500 acres (there’s 5,000 acres of backcountry) to find groomers or deep fresh powder. The brand new Sweetwater Gondola serves intermediates as well as the bunny hill, and the red aerial tram provides great views up Rendezvous Mountain. Snowboarders can learn at four Burton Stash Parks with natural terrain-like features, or at beginner and expert terrain parks. The Mountain Sports School at JHMR guarantees that beginners will be able to ski after only one lesson (repeat lessons free) and their state-of-the-art Kids Ranch offers age-appropriate activities and lessons for ages 6-months to 17-years. In addition to the great skiing and snowboarding in Teton Village, families like the authentically “cowboy” town of Jackson, and the National Elk Refuge, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks nearby, which offer unparalleled opportunities to see wildlife in the winter.
Keystone Resort’s mountaintop snow fort is a staple of the resort’s free daily Kidtopia programming. Photo courtesy Keystone Resort
KEYSTONE, two hours from downtown Denver and Vail’s dedicated family mountain, features the longest ski day in all of Colorado with the resort’s night skiing operation. Their great Keystone’s Kids Ski Free Program -- turning 5 this year-- means that every day, all season long, kids 12 and younger ski for free at Keystone with no blackout dates. All guests need to do to qualify is book two or more nights lodging through the resort, which offers numerous accommodation options from affordable hotel rooms to family-sized condominiums. This year guests can look forward to free Kidtopia programming such as build your own snowman, attend an ice cream birthday party with Ripperoo, catch a movie matinee at Kidtopia headquarters, march in the village parade, play in the World’s Largest Snow Fort (set to open Dec. 17) and much more; here’s a report on a recent visit. In addition to free daily programming throughout the season, this winter at Keystone is also anchored by two signature Kidtopia Celebrations – the Mountaintop Spectacular Dec. 16-18 and the Kidtopia Experience March 5-11. Test your mettle with a Private Family Lesson with instructors who specialize in working with the whole family or grab some adult time with confidence the kids are having fun too at Camp Keystone: Keystone’s Unique Ski & Ride School Experience with three designated teaching areas. We love the 24-foot slide that propels kids from inside the building to the adventure that awaits on the snow.
LAKE PLACID, home to the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980, has a long history as a snowsports mecca. Today, the steeps of Whiteface Mountain, standing 5,000-feet tall in the heart of the Adirondacks, attract skiers, riders and outdoors-lovers from the region. There's great hiking, cross-country ski centers, dogsledding, snowmobiling on mountain bike trails, and ice skating on area lakes or at the indoor arena. You can join the ice fishermen and even compete in popular fishing derbies throughout the winter. This scenic region features snowshoeing at High Falls Gorge and Ausable Chasm for active families, and a bird's-eye view of Olympic-caliber ski jumps, bobsleds, and toboggan chutes for the spectators in your group. Roam Main Street's outdoor gear and fashion boutiques, farm-to-table foodie options, and the fun bar scene when you're ready to come in out of the cold. Check out Lake Placid value packages online for the many inns, B&Bs, condos and hotel specials available in winter.
The Top Family Mountain Resorts: Mammoth to Pennsylvania
MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN is California's highest resort, topping out at just over 11,000 feet, with 150 trails and 3,100 feet of vertical. Sharing the scenic beauty of nearby Yosemite National Park (hard to reach during the winter snows), Mammoth has three learning centers for kids, special clinics and myriad off-slope activities including sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing. At Woolly's Tube Park and Snow Play, families with young kids can build a snowman and enjoy playing in the snow. With Mammoth's recent acquisition of Big Bear and Snow Summit mountains in Southern California, local families will get even more season pass bargains and upgrades.
MT. BACHELOR outside the very hip town of Bend, Oregon is the largest ski resort in the Cascade Range and the 5th largest in the country, boasting 4,318 acres with the addition of a new lift, Cloudchaser, and more than 460" of dry, light powder each season. Cloudchaser adds 636 acres of lift served terrain perfect for intermediate level skiers and snowboarders. Tucked into the verdant Deschutes National Forest are two tubing lifts and two beginner carpets, five terrain parks, 56kms of groomed and tracked crosscountry trails, snowshoeing, tubing, sled dog rides and more. Kids, 12 and under, can ski free if an adult with them purchases a minimum three-day ticket. For families who have never skied or snowboarded before, their value "Ski or Ride in 5" program gives the whole family five lessons, five rental packages, five lift tickets and reserved parking close to the lodge. Upon completing the program, ages 6-18 earn a free season pass (all other ages get a free 12-day pass), 50% off the following season's full time Winter Season Pass, and a 25% discount the second year after graduation.
MOUNT SNOW RESORT in southern Vermont has lined up high output fan guns and miles of new snowmaking pipe, guaranteeing ski and ride thrills every day of the season. This family-friendly mountain has a trail system that keeps the entire family together whether they're racing down its largely intermediate terrain or exploring Carinthia, the only all-terrain-park face in the East equipped with 125 freestyle features in eight parks complete with obstacles like rock jibs and truck tires. Young riders and skiers will appreciate the beginner park and tubing park for afternoon fun. Mount Snow is also home to North America's only six-passenger bubble lift. Check their site for specials such as the annual Youth Pay Their Age Day for everyone age 6 to 18, and Kids Ski & Learn Free Weeks.
NEW MEXICO SKI AREAS are blanketed with 300" of snow each season (just checkout the video.) New Mexico really is home to eight alpine and three Nordic ski areas. Dotted throughout the various regions of the state, each family-friendly locale offers more than just slopes with a unique charm, history and culture in a quaint, laid back setting. In the northernmost part of the state, the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway includes Red River, Angel Fire (home to night skiing) and Taos Ski Valley. Long an alpine favorite, Taos now has a new lift to 12,400’ Kachina Peak, making it one of the highest altitude skiing and snowboarding destinations in the country, and a world-renowned children’s center and ski-and-ride-school. Recently voted USA Today’s Readers’ Best Ski Town, Taos’ ongoing upgrades include The Blake, an 80-room hotel at the base area. While ski resorts are top of mind for traditional holiday getaways, Red River hosts an annual Mardi Gras in the Mountains, February 22-28, 2017. Along the Rio Grande Valley, Albuquerque’s closest resort is Sandia Peak Ski Area, with the multigenerational favorite, Ski Santa Fe, Los Alamos’ Pajarito Mountain and Sipapu Ski Resort a few hours outside of the city. Nestled in the southeastern part of the state is Ruidoso’s Ski Apache, while Chama, at the edge of the Colorado border, provides cross country options.
NIAGARA FALLS is a wonder in summer, but when its famous mist freezes -- and glittering droplets gather on the grass and trees of the New York state park on its banks -- it's a magical sculptural wonderland. Take a winery tour, tour the Niagara Power Project to see its holiday lights and learn about hydroelectricity, then bundle up and return after dark for the fireworks, Fridays at 9pm from just after Thanksgiving through the end of January. Those who missed the Polar Vortex of last winter should keep their eyes on the weather, since there may be a chance to catch the Falls frozen into 178-foot-tall icicles once again.
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA RESORT, located in the historical logging town of Truckee, CA, is a 45-minute drive from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport. The most family oriented among the many Lake Tahoe area resorts, Northstar has 3,170 acres of skiing and riding featuring seven award-winning progressive terrain parks and the Riperoo Riglet Park for snowboarders 4 to 6-years old, and offers sculpted snow features that allow children to learn to ride through muscle memory. Northstar is also home to an 18-foot superpipe, the largest in Northern California, and the only Burton Snowboard Academy in the country, which uses terrain-based learning for a customized experience tailored to ability and unique learning styles of each snowboarder; this is the place for little shredders. Kids and kids-at-heart are invited to enjoy the 9,000-square-foot ice-skating rink, surrounded by cabanas and fire pits for relaxing, roasting s’mores and telling stories about mountain adventures in the heart of The Village at Northstar – which is conveniently located, allowing families to pack their cars and leave them until the conclusion of their vacation. The Ski and Snowboard School at Northstar California incorporates the Company-wide EpicMix platform, featuring professional photographers on the mountain and in The Village as well as an app which tracks vertical feet skied, the number of runs guests get in a day, and also allows for guests to earn virtual pins and for instructors to track student’s progress so they may pick up where they left off at any mountain in the Vail Resorts family. Head out on snowshoes or pamper yourself at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe.
OKEMO, located in southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points, is an upscale family-focused choice with the country's first six-passenger high-speed lift with a retractable dome and heated seats. Okemo is installing more snowmaking in its South Face area, making terrain under the new Sunshine Quad accessible. If you’re not ready for that, take advantage of free carpet lifts all season long. They always offer $100 Beginner packages (including equipment rental and lesson) and allow children 6 and under to ski or ride free if you ask at the ticket window with your child present. Okemo also has plenty of other snow fun options, such as tubing, ice-skating, kid-sized snowmobile rides, swimming, an alpine coaster and even a giant snow mound where kids like to play King of the Hill, in addition to posh base camp lodging and rec facilities.
PARK CITY, Utah is one of the easiest-to-reach and best Western ski areas with more than 7,300 skiable acres. Just a short shuttle ride from Salt Lake City airport are two kid-friendly resorts. Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort merged last season and will open this winter as Park City Mountain (the largest ski resort in America). Park City Mountain is owned and operated by Vail Resorts under its Epic Pass, and have all of the terrain features your riders and free skiers could want. (The second resort, Deer Valley, is reviewed above.) Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City offers families a chance to try an Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park. You’ll also find plenty to do in the Western town, as well as hotel bargains. The chic Canyons Village at Park City Mountain has its own premium base lodging, including a Kosher restaurant, plus a beautiful Waldorf-Astoria Resort & Spa. The town is also homebase to the National Ability Center, designed to help those with any kind of special physical or mental challenge enjoy all types of seasonal adaptive recreation.
Blue Mountain is only one of Pennsylvania's many great mountain resorts offering First Timer deals. Photo courtesy Ski Pennsylvania
PENNSYLVANIA makes it easy for beginners by using the Pennsylvania Ski Association to promote 19 member resorts (Camelback is one, see above) by highlighting their bargain rates — especially in the January Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. The state welcomes local and visiting 4th and 5th graders to ski free, with a free lesson, rentals and beginner lift ticket package for a minimal processing fee. Novices from toddlers to grandparents can learn to ski with the PSAA’s First-Time Ski or Snowboard Program, which gets you a beginner lesson, beginner lift ticket and all the rentals you need, at any resort, for just $49. That’s what we call a bargain.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - Smugglers Notch to Winter Park
SMUGGLERS' NOTCH in Northern Vermont, not far from Burlington and Montreal, is known for its top-notch children's facilities (including infant care) and off-the-slope activities including a zip line canopy tour. Club Smugglers packages include lift tickets, lodging, use of the indoor pool and hot tubs, unlimited use of cross country and snowshoe trails, tubing and more. Smugglers’ Winter Experience package includes a variety of indoor and outdoor activities ideal for families seeking a winter wonderland experience without skiing or snowboarding . SuperSaver value weeks throughout the winter season offer savings to budget conscious families. Snow Sport University provides expert instruction for children and adults in skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing with 1,000 acres of all terrain access across three mountains. Conveniently located on the Green in the center of the resort Village, a new learning area for children ages 3-6 will accelerate skill development with sculpted snow features like a 100-foot mini halfpipe, rollers, banked turns and obstacle courses, and Burton Riglet Park for young snowboarders with a unique "Treehouse."
SOLITUDE MOUNTAIN RESORT, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, was purchased by its classy neighbor Deer Valley in 2015, but has retained its local charm. The mountain boasts an average of 500" of annual snowfall, 1,200 acres of incredible terrain, 77 named runs, three bowls, and a Nordic Center nearly 20 kilometers of trails set for both classic and skating styles of Nordic skiing. Children ages 6 and under always ski or ride for free at Solitude with a paid adult. New this season, the DEVO and Big Mountain team coaches will be conducting holiday camps in December and February for skiers. Solitude has also expanded Junior Explorer group lessons (maximum size is four) to include snowboard lessons for children age 5 and 6.
SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS is one of the largest ski resorts in California, but it's great for beginners because they rule the mountaintop (where a learning area has views of Lake Tahoe), and at their own Belmont Terrain Park complete with kid-friendly jumps, mini cross-course and more. Kids 4 and under ski free, and have mini snowmobiles and snow tubing to play at the resort's base area. Families have tons of other activities, including yoga, sky jumping and climbing walls if you don't want to remain on the slopes. The nearly 450” of annual snowfall makes it possible to guarantee great spring skiing, with warm temperatures, fresh powder and a mountaintop pool hot tub that opens in the spring. Spring 2017 will bring the return of the FIS Alpine World Cup to Squaw Valley, where guests can watch Olympic athletes race down the steeps of the legendary Reg Dog run, which hosted racing during the 1960 Winter Games.
STEAMBOAT, Colorado is recognized as a top family ski resort thanks to its Wild West themed play area and well-trained children's staff at the Kids Vacation Center. There are five kids-only lifts and two beginner teaching areas with special Magic Carpet lifts. More advanced kids access the entire mountain, including kids-only terrain at Rough Rider Basin, complete with dedicated lift plus teepees and a frontier-style fort. Check out the special Billy Kidd Race Camps held throughout the winter. The STARS Kids’ Adaptive Camp in March 2017 is a fun ski camp for youth (age 6-20) with physical disabilities, whether they’re new skiers, beginner skiers who need private lessons, or intermediates. Since it has the ambiance of an authentic Western town and The Old Town Hot Springs pool and slides, there’s just as much to do off the mountain as on, making it a good choice for the family with mixed interests.
STOWE is home to Vermont's highest Peak, Mt. Mansfield and one of New England's prettiest towns. Infamous for its Famous Front Four trails (double-blacks), Mt. Mansfield also has some of the longest intermediate cruisers in the East and a group of beginner trails in the Toll House area. This winter, Stowe Mountain Resort and Spruce Peak Realty will unveil their latest development. The new building will advance and expand the family amenities and services at Spruce Peak. Several new facilities are opening around a new outdoor ice rink that will double as a community plaza and green in the summer. These amenities include a new state-of-the-art children’s Adventure Center with ski / ride school, year-round daycare facilities, climbing gym and children’s activities center. A new Stowe Mountain Club Alpine Clubhouse will also be delivered as a part of the expansion. New retail shops, restaurants, food markets and a parking garage for Club members, further enhance the Spruce Peak Plaza and base area. While you're there, make time to visit the Ski Museum, and take a tour of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory nearby. There are many fancy resorts, and current lodging deals at ski in/ski out condos, but many families like to snowshoe or cross-country ski at the Von Trapp Family Lodge of "Sound of Music" fame.
STRATTON MOUNTAIN, the tallest peak in southern Vermont is a favorite for East Coast families for its tree-lined, well-groomed slopes and pedestrian village base area. Parents love the 45-acre Learning Zone with a 589-foot covered Magic Carpet, and EZ Street, a 3-mile green run from the summit that all ability levels can take together. Kids love the tubing hill and when they’re 8 or older, they can drive a mini snowmobile in the Sun Bowl Base Area. Stratton offers big-mountain skiing and riding from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak with terrain for the whole family - Mountain Safety Ambassadors are stationed at the top to remind everyone to take it easy. With a range of accommodations at the resort and a slopeside Village - there’s no need to bring out the car. There's childcare for ages 6 weeks and older, full day ski and snowboard instruction programs, Fitness Center with indoor salt water pool, snowshoe tours to snowtubing, fireside yoga and more. Check out Kids Ski and Stay Free (ages 12 and under) available during select periods -- perfect for the weeks before Christmas.
SUGARBUSH There's nothing prettier than winter to show off the privately owned Sugarbush resort because of its scenic, small town base in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. You can expect lots of snow, naturally, and their recent $5 million energy-efficient snowmaking upgrade covers 70% of the terrain on both mountains, Lincoln Peak and Mt. Helen. We love the family apartments at the classy, barn-like Clay Brook, where you can cook and dine “at home” - slopeside - after their concierge ha stocked your refrigerator as requested. Sugarbush is a big proponent of terrain-based learning, with programs at Schoolhouse starting at age 3.
SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts a 56-year history, eight interconnected peaks, 12 hours of skiing and riding on Fridays, Saturdays and select holidays, a tubing park, ziplines, fireworks most weekends and holidays, and family-friendly entertainment for the little ones. Many families come to Sunday River because of the Perfect Turn Ski and Ride School manned by friendly local staff. The annual Children's Festival Week (January 9-13 in 2017) where kids ages 3-12 ski, snowboard, rent, learn, eat (breakfast), and stay for free when staying three nights or longer with an adult, fills the calendar with parties, scavenger hunts, live entertainment, movies and teen events, and themed Perfect Turn kid's clinics.
TELLURIDE, a tiny southwestern Colorado mountain town, is a favorite snow sports destination because of its century-old downtown architecture and mountain views in every direction. It's also an easy ski resort to navigate, since the ski school is right next to the town gondola in the middle of the Mountain Village. At least 60% of the terrain is for beginners and intermediates, and there is at least one intermediate run down from every lift, making it a perfect mountain for families. Repeat guests appreciate that the vast majority of instructors are veterans who remember their kids from previous visits. Backcountry fans love Black Iron Bowl, a hike-to playground set against the dramatic backdrop of Palmyra Peak, which encompasses eight runs, European-style faces, open glades and steep chutes. Great spa too.
VAIL thinks big; the flagship mountain resort of this snowsports empire has more than 5,200 skiable acres including the seven famous Back Bowls spanning seven miles. Add high-touch service to a terrific ski school, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing, and even some cliffs to see how quality rules. There is a multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge above the base village of Lionshead, as well as kids snowmobiling, ski biking, and, new this year, the Forest Flyer alpine coaster. On mountain, kids love Coyote's Escape, a 50-foot-long ski-through cave, and the teepee in Sherwood Forest. Also, check out the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle's Nest with frequent nature walks, snowshoe tours and programs are led by naturalists. When it comes to lessons, the resort is offering a variety of programs for kids and adults, including a new Women’s Ultimate 4 lesson, and the return of the popular Ski Girls Rock program. Lift tickets can be purchased online up to 24 hours in advance for a 25% discount off the walk-up window rate. Plus, with an array of pass options, it is possible to ski at Vail for less than $65 a day.
VISTA VERDE DUDE RANCH Just 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Vista Verde offers all-inclusive vacation packages in a secluded and quiet setting. Guides take guests on a variety of outdoor adventures such as backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, tubing (with a snowmobile ride back up the hill), and sleigh rides. An engaging kids program provides hours of fun and snow play for the kids while parents get a chance to get out at their own pace, and daily horsemanship clinics are held in the heated indoor arena.
WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT in New Hampshire, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with special events in 2017, offers 265 acres for downhill skiing and riding. This season they open Green Peak, the first Resort’s expansion in more than 30 years and the only one on the East Coast. The Adventure Center features Nordic skiing and Fat Bike rentals for use on one of New Hampshire’s largest Nordic trail systems, which is groomed daily. Waterville Valley Terrain Park will accommodate The RevTour Slopestyle event in the beginning of January. This progressive venue is for today’s top junior diers (13-19-years-old). Winners may earn an invite to be part of the U.S. Grand Prix, Junior Worlds, USASA Nationals, and participate in Project Gold camps. Town Square is just a short walk from most of the resort accommodations and features tubing, dogsled and sleigh rides, and an indoor ice rink to guarantee fun no matter what’s the weather. Look for seasonal programs like the Junior Instruction Programs given 13 weekends this season, plus the Christmas holiday week, designed for ages 4-12 and 13-16 who enjoy skiing or snowboarding. The resort also offers special programs on the fundamentals of competitive racing and freestyle skiing. Guests 5 and under or 80+ get in free every day, and childcare is available for ages 6 months to 4 years. Look for weekly Town Square events that include live music and fireworks.
WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, a few hours north of Vancouver, towers over British Columbia with two side-by-side mountains connected by the long, scenic Peak2Peak Gondola. Perhaps best known as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, this long popular resort has 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls, and three glaciers that enable late spring visitors to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. The winter of 2016-2017 will mark Whistler Blackcomb’s 51st year since the resort opened for winter skiing, and Spring is a great time to find vacation packages, including discounted airfare from certain cities and lodging deals. There’s also plenty to see and do beyond the slopes, such as the seven-lane Coca-Cola Tube Park, a wide variety of restaurant options, and several top après ski destinations including the popular GLC, where live music and people watching come together.
WINTER PARK RESORT is only an hour from Denver and, at 76, is Colorado’s longest continuously-operated ski area and boasts the state’s oldest professional ski school. The Private Lesson Center allows families to learn together, and prepare to tackle the resort’s 3,000 skiable acres. Real snowsports fans enjoy this mountain’s seven unique territories: steeps can be found on The Cirque, huge bumps over at Mary Jane, and groomers on Winter Park mountain where the majority of the beginner terrain is centered. Freestylers will find six terrain parks including the limited access park, Dark Territory. Look for packages that include free nights and free lift tickets. Winter Park Resort is also home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled, the largest adaptive snow sports organization in the world, which offers a variety of programs for those with special mental and physical challenges.
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