FTF's ski experts rate the family-friendliness and ski-ability of the popular Vail ski and summer mountain resort in Colorado.
Vail has one of the single biggest ski mountains in North America, with terrain to please every taste and ability. Its many diverse areas attract families and people of all ages, sustaining its popularity throughout the years.
But popularity doesn’t have to mean long lift lines and crowded slopes; at Vail, lift ticket sales are regulated to give each snowsports lover approximately four acres of their very own terrain within the seven-mile-wide playing field.
This region of Colorado plays host to some of the world’s finest family-friendly ski resorts, including easy-to-get-to Vail, right off Interstate 70. Vail Resorts manage several other Colorado mountain resorts including the nearby Beaver Creek and, in Summit County, Keystone and Breckenridge. If you come back in summer, you’ll see what a mecca they have become for hikers and mountain bikers who seek the crisp, clean mountain air.
When my family pulled the mini-van into a supermarket parking lot near Vail, we counted 27 different U.S. license plates. Since we were playing the license plate game, we had a field day coloring in states from New Jersey to Florida, California to Indiana and beyond.
We usually start out our Vail family skiing vacation by skiing the front side, which is evenly divided into trails for beginners, intermediate, and advanced skiers, allowing our family of different abilities to stay together.
Then we cruise on over to the endless acreage on the back side, most of which is fantastic intermediate and expert open-glade skiing serviced by high speed quad chair lifts. In recent years, in response to demand and the seasonal vagaries caused by climate change, snowmaking and grooming facilities have been greatly expanded all over the mountain, nearly guaranteeing great groomed runs all season long.
Base Villages offer Different Family Amenities
Vail’s lodging, restaurants, shops, and services are spread out across several different base areas, so it’s important to select the most convenient spot for your family to headquarter.
If your children are young, stay near Golden Peak. At present, it has the only branch of the Small World Nursery (970/754-3285), fully renovated in 2008. Small World welcomes tiny travelers from 2- to 15-months (and non-skiers to 6-years) to a daycare setting with a caregiver to child ratio of 1:3. Staff are trained in CPR and 1st Aid, and all staff who work with the 3 to 6-year-olds have a background in early childhood education. The spotless play areas and crib rooms take only 12 babies so you have to book ahead. Ironically, many of Vail’s guests are upscale families from South America and Europe who travel with their own nannies and use the nursery as a way to give nannies time off.
Older kids and teens may want to stay close to the newly renovated and revitalized Lionshead which the gondola that whisks you to Adventure Ridge, a snow play park with eight lanes of lift-served tubing, laser tag, ice skating, snowbikes, and all kinds of other daytime and nighttime fun.
Posh Vail Village is a charming pedestrian-only area filled with hotels, shops, bistros, and nightlife that is also popular with families. This is the best bet for families towing tribal elders like grandparents, or other non-skiers and non-snowboarders who need off-slope diversions.
Convenient and free shuttles connect all areas and allow older kids to access a movie theatre, library and more.
Toddlers through Teens Learning & Fun
At the Golden Peak village, in addition to the babies, 16 toddlers from 16 to 29-months can be accommodated (1 caregiver: 5 kids) along with 24 preschoolers from 2.5-years to 6-years (1:8). To get kids into the ski groove, a supplemental Micro Mite half-hour private lesson introduces plastic skis, snow play and the magic carpet conveyor belt. Little ones not partaking in snowsports can stay and play in the small but attractive facility; call ahead for current rates.
The ski school classes that depart from Lionshead can go mid-mountain for scenic terrain and their own Lookout lunch spot. Kids play/learn in Chaos Canyon, Porcupine Alley and other trails-within-the-trees that have been specially groomed and decorated with animal characters. Skicology programs bring nature to skiers of all ages.
Vail ski schools and snowboard lessons are world famous, varied and suitable for all ages and all abilities. There are an estimated 1,200 instructors on staff in high season. For a premium, you can enroll kids in a class guaranteed to have four or fewer students, choose an Adventure Session which pairs six skiers or riders of similar ability with a top instructor for a round-the-mountain casual clinic, or sign up for the popular private lessons, in which up to six participants go off together. Privates are very popular with families who want to be together yet have skiers and rider of different abilities. Check out the Ski School Website for detailed information, rates and reservations; there’s a school for kids at both Golden Peak and Lionshead, but only adult classes are given in Vail Village.
Resort Report Card
|P.O. Box 7
|$$ – $$$$
|Choice of Activities:
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|Town library has kiddy room with cushions for snow days.
|Ski museum in town is a must-see.
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