Author: Family Travel Forum Staff
Tags : Winter Getaway
Winter is a great time to introduce kids to the great outdoors, whether you're at one of North America's top mountain resorts, snowmobiling on local trails, or throwing snowballs at a national park. Not only is it healthy to take some vacation days and get the whole family away from their screens; it’s also easy to find snow activities to do together, regardless of age or ability level, and enjoy a mug of hot chocolate. Before you’re couchbound watching the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics (Feb. 9-25, 2018), please review this guide to the top family snow fun destinations, and you'll see how easy it is to book a value winter vacation loaded with memories to warm you up.
What's New in the World of Snowsports
The big news in the snowsports industry this year is consolidation. Several mountain resorts have traded hands – notably, Whistler-Blackcomb in B.C. and Stowe in Vermont joined the Vail Resorts family -- and several have come together through acquisitions and mergers to stay competitive. For example, ultra-luxury Deer Valley is joining Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings in a new 13 resort entity, though changes to operations and annual ski passes won’t take effect till the 2018-2019 season.
Real estate investments and off mountain experiences have expanded, as snow-reliant industries come to grips with climate change, and look for ways to diversify their appeal to travelers. Having second homes for Boomers, mountain condos for affluent young families, and year-round facilities such as golf courses, water parks and ziplines are more important revenue sources than ever before.
The other trend is the widespread interest in backcountry skiing, or alpine touring. While heading out of bounds has long been a cherished ritual for townies, weekend visitors are now seeking opportunities to hike uphill to virgin snow -- to enhance their workout, maybe find fresh powder and, perhaps, take better selfies. That’s increased interest in splitboards, snowboards that snap apart into short skis that can climb uphill after adding “skins” so you can snowboard down. Alternatively, locals keep a pair of AT skis that work on all terrain because the free-heel style used in telemarking enables them to climb uphill. Elite resorts like Aspen Snowmass are offering clinics in skinning as well as Dynafit rental gear for visitors.
Skiing has come of age and several resorts are celebrating milestones. Smugglers Notch marks its 60th anniversary in northern Vermont boasting the #1 resort in the East and Canada award from Ski magazine readers, with emphasis on service and kids programming, plus a new indoors FunZone 2.0 for family activities. Trapp Family Lodge, the Austrian inn with America’s first cross country ski center, is commemorating their half century with night skiing tours to the local Bierhall. At Snowmass in Aspen, 50 years is being celebrated the weekend of December 15 with a $6.50 lift ticket that day, plus retro parties, vintage signage on mountain, and monthly fireworks.
Prepare for snow sport vacation challenges, like ice canoeing on the Saint Lawrence River of Quebec, with the right insurance coverage from Allianz Assistance. Photo c. Ron Bozman, Media Noche.
Does anyone remember the great polar vortex of 2014? More than 20,000 flights were canceled and travelers' plans were derailed during the record-breaking cold snap. If you're traveling during the winter holidays or you're planning a ski trip, Allianz Global ski travel insurance can reimburse you for costs if your travel is delayed, changed, interrupted or canceled for a covered reason, such as unforeseen severe weather. (Note that once a storm is recognized and named, claims are not covered.) It also provides peace of mind with emergency medical and dental benefits, plus emergency medical transportation. While most policies won’t cover extreme sports or playing out of bounds, a basic family policy is a must.
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 an Airbnb, home exchange, or motel that's close to the slopes, so you can sleep there (and save), and ski or ride every day.
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 -- check out our vacation rentals guide with tips on finding the best lodging and short stay condos for your needs.
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 44 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 slopes from Colorado to Vermont, and to Australia in 2018. Perhaps you want to sample some of the world-class resorts represented by the Mountain Collective. Their pass costs $489 (kids 12 and under pay $99) and is good for two days at 16 ski areas in North America, Australia and New Zealand. 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.
Ski Gear Tips
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), use this handy ski equipment cheat sheet to help safeguard it.
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. 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 in January
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. Vermont, for example, runs a $49 special daily in January except holidays that includes a professional lesson, lift ticket and gear rental. More than 600,000 children and adults have learned through LSSM venues (find this year’s locations) since the program began in 2009, and you can follow social media for giveaways that include ski gear and merchandise.
Kids Can Learn To Ski Or Snowboard Free
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 New England Disabled Sports 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 vibe is a little more natural, with the idea that the experience offered is all about skiing (no snowboarding at Alta). You can purchase a combined AltaSnowbird ticket to ski more than 4,700 acres in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon and stay in one of five traditional, European style Alta lodges where staff will entertain your kids after ski school and feed them early. Each have a great dining room (breakfast and dinner are all part of the room package) and cozy bars scene that draw many repeat visitors. Lift ticket prices are priced competitively and the three base area rope tows (Grizzly tow, Transfer tow and Alta Lodge tow) are free all day so beginners can save, too. Don’t miss the spas at Snowbird and at Rustler Lodge.
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.
ASPEN SNOWMASS has a long, rich history as a mining town and cultural mecca, 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 thrills. This four-mountain resort headquartered in Aspen, Colorado offers plenty of terrain options for skiers and riders of all abilities. Nearby Snowmass, by far the largest of the four mountains, 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 new Breathtaker Coaster, opening December 2017, part of the greater Lost Forest, slated to open Summer 2018. The construction you might see is the start of a $600 million base village to include a hotel, event plaza with skating rink, condos, shops and an indoor family Discovery Center by the end of 2018. 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 massive 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. This pricey region does have some offers if you book their lodging: if you rent equipment for ages 7-12 from Four Mountain Sports, they get a free lift ticket for each day and 30 percent off group lessons booked 7 days or more in advance; valid January 1-April 16, 2018 when booked by the 15th of the month, at least one month prior to arrival. In more welcome news, American Airlines is adding flights to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) from Phoenix, Dallas and Chicago making Aspen even easier to get to.
The Top Family Mountain Resorts - Beaver Creek To Europe 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 fresh-baked cookies served daily at 3pm throughout the pedestrian base village, and at the base of Centennial Express and Buckaroo – the dedicated children’s ski school gondola. In addition to on-site ice skating, casual dining options, and fireworks at day's end, families will enjoy the new 200-acre family learning area, accessed by Red Buffalo Express, a new high-speed lift. Moms will find terrific spas at the Beaver Creek hotels (the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch) and can opt up to join the private White Carpet Club, a concierge-led lounge with snacks and ski lockers. Offered on select weekends, Allie’s Cabin Family Dinners welcome guests to savor gourmet fare which caters exclusively to children and families. Guests are whisked to the cabin via an open air sleigh, welcomed with cozy lodge slippers, and treated to a three-course buffet dinner (complete with kid’s favorites) by a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. There's extra family programming to celebrate the holiday spirit during Winterfest (December 23, 2017-January 6, 2018).
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.
Cross country skiers in Vermont will find a good workout and pretty rest stops like this one for hot chocolate. Photo c. Ron Bozman, Media Noche.
BOLTON VALLEY RESORT, which hosts a March Splitboard Festival if you want to try skinning, is being repurchased by its original family owners, and renewing its commitment to family-friendly nighttime skiing and riding (until 10pm Tuesdays through Saturday nights). You’ll run into a lot of regulars from Burlington here as the mountain really caters to the local families. Bolton is great for a family getaway because of that local vibe and best of all, everything is within walking distance – lodging, lifts, pool – making it easy to navigate with kids. Powder Passes are great for families too; for just $199/ adults and $149/ youth-college-seniors, you’ll get five lift tickets that you can use any day during the 2017-18 season — with no blackout dates. Here’s what TakingtheKids.com wrote about Bolton Valley and how snow sports can change kids’ lives.
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT 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 and larger-than-life snow sculptures during the annual International Snow Sculpture Championships (Jan. 22 – 29, 2018). “Breck” is celebrating its 55th year of skiing (and was Colorado's first major resort to accept snowboarders) after the recent 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. New for the 2017-18 season, the Falcon SuperChair is being upgraded to a high-speed, six-passenger lift, offering an easier and faster ride up Peak 10. Guests with a sweet tooth will welcome the Candy Corner to Breck’s Ten Mile Station, offering an array of your favorite chocolates and sweets.
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 in nearby Manchester including outlet shopping, ice skating, sleigh riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Sun Mountain Cards offer great value for families, including one free lift ticket, plus discounts on lift tickets up to $30 each day all season long. 6-Packs of Kidsrule Mountain Camps lessons are on sale, saving repeat visitors 25% off the retail rate. Bonus – any child that completes 6 Kidsrule lessons in a season earns a Bromley full season pass.
CAMELBACK in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania, welcomes families this winter to stay on site and add surfing and sliding to a mini ski break. 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 more than 20 ski resorts in Europe, many family oriented, with the pioneer of all-inclusive vacations. At Club Med, everything from lift tickets to instruction at age and ability-appropriate levels, rental gear, excellent meals, drinks and a variety of wintersports like snowshoeing and tobogganing, are included in rates. Its first-ever resort in Canada, in Quebec’s Le Massif de Charlevoix ski region, will open in 2020. 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 has three pedestrian-friendly village areas 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 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, six 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 for your Olympics-bound family members.
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 Mountain Resort combines plenty of steeps and deeps with 40 acres of recently added extreme terrain in Teocalli 2 Bowl. In addition to Camp CB for children age 3 and under, lessons for under 3s through teens, plenty of intermediate glades and the daily Kids’ Night Out program, kids will love the bungee trampoline, a climbing wall and the winter zipline of the resort base area’s Adventure Park. Those with special challenges have terrific opportunities for fun in the snow at Crested Butte’s Adaptive Sports Center. CrestedButte Vacations 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 8, 2018. Also, kids 12 and under ski for free November 23-December 15, 2017 and April 1-8, 2018. CBMR has one base area, ensuring easy accessibility and problem-free meeting arrangements post-run or post-ski day.
DEER VALLEY in Park City, Utah (more about Park City below) has won several awards for excellent service and on-mountain experience, and is looking forward to a new partnership with Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. Snowboards are not allowed – a big plus for some – and limiting the number of lift tickets sold guarantees no lift lines. You’ll find plenty of great terrain, ski valets, perfect service and gourmet meals (especially at the famous Montage Deer Valley). Real estate investments continue. The legendary Stein Eriksen Lodge, Utah’s only five-star, has become part of the Stein Collection, a luxury complex including 54 residential units at the lodge, another 140 rooms mid-mountain at The Chateau, and the private club, Residences at The Chateau. A family pool, kids center and 60-seat movie theater with special family movie nights add to the appeal. Don’t miss a visit to Park City’s Historic Main Street with its great shops and restaurants, you can even ask your kids to hunt for the Banksy mural on the side of an ice cream shop.
The Top Family Snow Fun Destinations – Lake Tahoe 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. The 500-foot-long tubing hill at an altitude of 9,100 feet, Adventure Park, makes snow fun easy for the non-skiers in your group. Athletes love the 34 miles of wide-open, groomed cruisers; 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 at East Peak Lodge as well as at the base, so that guests can request a ski or ride coach on the fly and enjoy a custom lesson with up to five friends or family members, from $545 for a half day.
JACKSON HOLE in Wyoming, operating for over 50 years, offers non-stop airlift from 12 major cities throughout the country, a full calendar of 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 9, 2018 with some blackout dates. 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 Wrangler Daycare and Kids Ranch offers age-appropriate activities and lessons for ages 6-months to 17-years. Take the free Mountain Host tour of JHMR’s 2,500 acres (there’s 5,000 acres of backcountry) to find groomers, deep fresh powder or your preferred terrain. Snowboarders can learn at four Burton Stash Parks with natural terrain-like features, or at beginner and expert terrain parks. 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.
Family enjoying a bluebird day together at the summit of Keystone Mountain Resort, where kids ski free with a two-night ldoging package. Photo c. Keystone, Vail Resorts, photographer Daniel Milchev
KEYSTONE RESORT, recognized as a top family resort destination, is located in Summit County, Colorado and just 75 miles from Denver. Families find more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain including three peaks, five above-tree-line bowls, night skiing and an in-bounds cat skiing program. Home to the industry’s leading Kids Ski Free offer, kids 12 and younger can ski and ride for free every day, all season long with just two or more nights of lodging booked through the resort, no blackout dates. Keystone’s signature Kidtopia programming elevates any visit with a variety of free, daily family offerings throughout the winter season, such as arts and crafts events, scavenger hunts, a parade and fireworks, and the world’s largest Snow Fort. New for this season are three Kidtopia Signature Events: the holiday-themed Kidtopia Spectacular Dec. 15-24; the savory and sweet, first-ever Kidtopia Culinary Festival Feb. 9-17, 2018; and the Kidtopia Music Experience March 2-10 when kids can rock out on the snow and in the village. We love the convenient touches like free designated family parking and complimentary red wagons to help parents tote gear, and excited kiddos, to and from the slopes because they really help make a winter family visit to Keystone easy and hassle-free.
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 at almost 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 and a new partnership with a dozen other destination mountains. 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.
MT. BACHELOR is 20 miles west of the very hip town of Bend, Oregon and, with 4,318 acres of skiable terrain, is the 6th largest ski and snowboard area in the United States. Mt. Bachelor’s newest chairlift, Cloudchaser, opened last December, adding 635 acres of new terrain and 14 new runs across the mountain’s weather-protected east side. As the tallest resort peak in the Cascades with a lift-served summit of 9,068 feet, Mt. Bachelor receives an average of 462 inches of light, dry powder each year, creating among the most reliable snow packs in North America. Moreover, the snow riding season typically lasts from Thanksgiving through Memorial Day weekend.
MOUNT SNOW RESORT in southern Vermont is making big capital improvements, spending $30 million on snowmaking to give it the most powerful arsenal in the East, building a new lodge, and widening some trails. This family-friendly resort has a trail system that keeps the entire family together whether they’re racing down the 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 tubing park for afternoon fun. Check their site for specials such as early season Ski & Stay packages that begin at $100/night per person, Youth Pay Their Age Days for ages 6- 18, and Kids Ski & Learn Free Weeks.
NIAGARA FALLS is illuminated at night year-round, but there’s nothing like freezing temperatures to magnify the beauty of the lighting. When the famous mist freezes into glittering droplets on the grass and trees of the New York state park, it creates an icicle wonderland. Be sure to enjoy the winter fireworks display every Friday night from Nov. 24- Jan. 26. Winter visitors can chill out with some French and British troops at historic Old Fort Niagara, and learn as costumed re-enactors explain how troops kept warm during the harsh winters, how the fur trade began and how food was prepared, cooked and stored over the long, cold months during February’s Snowshoe Patrol event.
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA RESORT, located in the historical logging town of Truckee, California, is a quick 45-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The most family-oriented among the many Lake Tahoe area resorts, Northstar California has 3,170 acres of skiing and riding featuring seven award-winning progressive terrain parks, including the Riperoo Riglet Park for snowboarders 4 to 6-years-old. Already home to the only Burton Snowboard Academy, they’ve added Northstar Kids Adventure Zones with features that tie into the local history and wildlife so families can explore together. Like sister resorts, lessons incorporate the EpicMix platform and app to track vertical feet skied, the number of runs taken in a day, and students’ progress so they may pick up where they left off at any mountain in the Vail Resorts family. 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.
OKEMO, located in southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points, is an upscale family-focused choice with two high-speed chairlifts with a retractable dome and heated seats. Try the new RFID-powered Real.Easy Card so you can keep that lift ticket tucked away and refresh it online whenever you need to. We love this mountain’s policy of allowing beginners to use carpet lifts free all season long, and they 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 several resorts in close proximity. Since Vail merged two of them into a 7,300-skiable-acre wonderland, Park City Mountain has operated under the Epic Pass, and has all of the terrain features – including a mountain coaster -- your riders and free skiers could want. Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City offers families a chance to try an Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park, a Western town filled with chic shops and restaurants; plus condos, hotels and BnBs where you might snag a bargain except during the Sundance Film Festival (Jan. 18-28, 2018). The town is also homebase to the National Ability Center designed to help those with special challenges enjoy seasonal adaptive recreation. (The other major resort, Deer Valley, is reviewed above.)
A family enjoys a fun day on the slopes at Shawnee Mountain Resort in the Poconos, just one of 19 Pennsylvania Ski Area Resorts offering affordable First-Time Ski and Snowboard programs all winter long. Photo c. Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association
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 $59. That’s what we call a bargain.
The Top Family Ski And Snow Resorts - Smugglers Notch To Winter Park
SMUGGLERS' NOTCH is not far from Burlington or Montreal in northern Vermont and is known for its award-winning children’s facilities (including infant care) and off-the-slope activities including a zip line canopy tour. 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 unique Treehouse. Club Smugglers’ ski and stay packages include lift tickets, lodging, access to the brand new FunZone 2.0, use of the indoor pool and hot tubs, unlimited use of cross country and snowshoe trails, daytime and evening tubing and more and, from Jan. 19-28, 2018, they’re encouraging Level 1 & 2 skiers and riders with free beginner group lessons and rental gear, with stays of three nights or more. Other offers like Smuggs’ SuperSaver value weeks and a Winter Experience package that includes a variety of indoor and outdoor activities are ideal for families seeking a winter wonderland experience without skiing or snowboarding.
SOLITUDE MOUNTAIN RESORT, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, boasts an average of 500” of annual snowfall, 1,200 acres of incredible terrain, 77 named runs, three bowls, and a Nordic Center with nearly 20 kilometers of trails set for both classic and skating styles of Nordic skiing. In good news, Solitude will not follow former owner Deer Valley into its new partnership, instead remaining an affordable local mountain where children ages 6 and under always ski or ride for free with a paid adult. The heart of the Snowsports Academy at Solitude is the Moonbeam kids’ program, offering children a fun and exciting learning experience with skilled instructors who utilize small group sizes, games and fun to help children develop more confidence on the snow and improve their techniques. The Junior Explorers group now includes ages 5- 6 for both skiing and snowboarding, in classes with a maximum of four students.
SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS, one of the North America’s largest ski resorts with 6,000 skiable acres, has twice hosted the Winter Olympics within view of Lake Tahoe, California. With easy access from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, guests can get their first day’s lift ticket free by presenting a boarding pass at the airport’s Mountain Concierge. All U.S. active duty military can also save big by taking advantage of the resort’s restricted Tahoe Super Pass, available with a $50 donation to the Military to a designated military charity. Skiers and riders of all ability levels are welcomed by over 65 percent beginner and intermediate terrain, 14 easy-to-navigate mountain zones and a custom app to make the most of every visit. This lively resort features upscale slopeside lodging at The Village at Squaw Valley, nonstop events and over 50 bars, restaurants and boutiques plus access to many other Tahoe activities. With an annual average of 450 inches of snowfall and 300 sunny California days, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is also the self-styled Spring Skiing Capital, and opens its outdoor mid-mountain pool (8,200 feet in altitude) each spring to mark one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in Lake Tahoe.
STEAMBOAT, Colorado is recognized as a top family ski resort thanks to its Wild West themed play area, well-trained children's staff at the Kids Vacation Center, five kids-only lifts and two beginner teaching areas with special Magic Carpets. 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, as well as special Billy Kidd Race Camps held throughout the winter. Steamboat, now in partnership with Deer Valley, Mammoth and Intrawest, just opened the Outlaw Mountain coaster, which offers a bird’s eye view of the resort and a great break from the slopes. The resort’s adaptive programs and camps are designed for ages 5+. 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, home to Vermont’s highest Peak, Mt. Mansfield, has just become the only Vail Resort in the East and will start accepting the Epic Pass this season. Famous for its Front Four trails (double-blacks), the longest intermediate cruisers in the East, and a group of beginner trails in the Toll House area, there are also 10,000 acres of backcountry for splitboarding, AT skiing or just getting off the beaten path. In 2017, Stowe Mountain Resort unveiled the $30 million Stowe Adventure Center which expanded the family amenities and services at Spruce Peak with an outdoor ice rink, state-of-the-art children’s center with ski / ride school serving ages 3-12 and 13-16, year-round daycare facilities, and a climbing gym called Stowe Rocks. A new luxury Stowe Mountain Club alpine clubhouse, shops and restaurants were also part of the expansion, with more enhancements to come throughout the season.
STRATTON MOUNTAIN is a favorite for East Coast families for its tree-lined, well-groomed slopes and pedestrian base village -- there’s no need to bring out the car. Learners are accommodated at the 45-acre Learning Zone with its covered Magic Carpet, and at the scenic, 3-mile-long EZ Street green run 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. There's childcare for ages 6 weeks and older, full day ski and snowboard instruction programs, fitness center with indoor salt water pool, snow fun from snowshoes to inner tubes, fireside yoga, dinners by Snowcat mid-mountain and more to come from the partnership with Mammoth, Deer Valley and Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. Stratton also offers big-mountain skiing and riding from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak, and Mountain Safety Ambassadors to remind everyone to take it easy. With a range of accommodations, check out deals, packages and 40 percent discounts for the weeks before Christmas.
SUGARBUSH There's nothing prettier than winter to show off the privately owned Sugarbush resort and scenic, small town base village in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. You can expect lots of snow, naturally, and their recent energy-efficient snowmaking upgrade covers 70% of the terrain on both peaks, good news for the opening of two new lifts that can read the new RFID ticket system. Sugarbush, which joined the Mountain Collective Pass, is a big proponent of terrain-based learning, with programs at Schoolhouse starting at age 3. That’s a good reason to settle into the slopeside family apartments at the classy, barn-like Clay Brook, where you can cook and dine “at home” after their concierge has stocked your refrigerator as requested.
There's nothing like swapping trail tales and decompressing around the firepits at the end of a good day. Sunday River, Maine photo c. Ron Bozman, Media Noche.
SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts a 58-year history, eight interconnected peaks, 12 hour skiing and riding Fridays, Saturdays and select holidays, a tubing park, fireworks most weekends and holidays, and family-friendly entertainment for the little ones. Many families come to Sunday River because of the SnowSports School manned by friendly local staff. Bring the kids during the annual Children’s Festival Week (Jan. 8-12, 2018), when ages 4-12 can ski, snowboard, rent, learn, and stay for free when staying three nights or longer with an adult. As a bonus, you’ll find parties, scavenger hunts, live entertainment, movies, teen events, and themed SnowSports School kid’s clinics.
TAOS SKI VALLEY, recently voted USA Today’s Readers’ Best Ski Town and home to one of North America’s highest lifts, is the best known among New Mexico’s eight alpine and three Nordic ski areas, typically blanketed with 300 inches of snow each season. Under new ownership since 2014, the resort has committed to upgrading its sustainability practices, on-mountain experience and four season offerings, starting with The Blake, a stylish 80-room hotel at the base area. Long a holdout against allowing snowboards, they now welcome all snow sports and feature a terrific lesson program for all abilities.
TELLURIDE, a tiny southwestern Colorado mountain town, is a favorite snow sports destination because of its century-old architecture and striking 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. More than 60 percent of the terrain is for beginners and intermediates, with at least one blue run from every lift, making it a perfect mountain for groups with different abilities. 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. In addition to a variety of lodging, Telluride is known for its four major spa resorts.
VAIL thinks big; the flagship mountain of this snowsports empire has more than 5,200 skiable acres including the seven famous Back Bowls spanning 7 miles. Add high-touch service to a terrific ski school, a slew of on-mountain lift upgrades, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing and even some cliffs, to see how quality rules. Vail has just replaced the Northwoods chairlift with a six-pack, making it the 10th new chair in the last 11 years. The multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge, kids snowmobiling, ski biking, and the Forest Flyer alpine coaster are as popular as ever. Families can try the 50-foot-long, ski-through Coyote’s Den cave, checkout the teepee in Sherwood Forest and join the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle's Nest for frequent nature walks, snowshoe tours and programs led by naturalists. To save, the resort is offering a variety of programs for kids and adults, Family Private Lessons to learn and experience the mountain together, and online lift tickets that can be purchased 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 for early planners to ski at Vail for less than $65 a day.
WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT is a four-season destination set in the heart of White Mountain National Forest, just 2 hours from Boston. Sitting atop 4,004 foot Mt. Tecumseh, it features 265 acres of downhill skiing and riding on 62 trails, including 45 acres of expanded terrain on the new Green Peak. This season, the new All-Mountain Progressive Programming will be used to teach all ages, along with seasonal weekend programs to improve skiing and riding. Childcare is available for ages 6 months- 4 years so older siblings and parents are free to ski, try one of New Hampshire’s largest Nordic trail systems, go cross-country skiing, fat biking, snowshoeing, and dogsledding. Shuttles provide easy access to year-round events, shopping, and dining in Town Square. The quaint pedestrian village also offers a variety of lodging, plus activities like ice skating, tubing, and fireworks each weekend throughout the winter season. As part of the Phase II resort-wide, multi-year $7.5 million capital improvement plan, enhancements will debut throughout the 2017/18 season.
WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, towering over British Columbia a few hours north of Vancouver, just became the first Canadian resort to join the Vail Resorts family. Perhaps best known as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, it has two side-by-side mountains connected by the long, scenic traversing Peak2Peak Gondola and 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. This year, families will find aspects of Vail’s Kidtopia program, which consists of a Snow Fort with sculpted slides, organized snow fights, festivals and, on Sunday nights, a live “Fire & Ice” show with ski acrobatics and dramatic special effects. Spring is the best time to find vacation packages, including discounted airfare from certain cities, and lodging deals.
WINTER PARK RESORT, at 77, is Colorado’s longest continuously-operated ski area with 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. Winter Park, an hour’s drive from Denver, is also the only ski resort in North America that has direct train service from a major city. Beginning in January and running every weekend through March, visitors can ride Amtrak’s Winter Park Express, which departs from Denver Union Station and drops off passengers within yards of the nearest chairlift. 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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