With everyone in holiday mode, the major and minor ski areas want us to start dreaming of winter sports and a family ski vacation. Now’s the time to to look ahead (while rates are super reasonable) and plan that long-awaited and perhaps inevitable march to ski country.
Ready with those poles, mittens, helmet? Here’s what’s new on our SkiandRide-dar.
Consolidation of Resorts Brings Consumer Bargains
The big news that’s seen more often in other industries is: Consolidation. This season, several mountain resorts have been taken over or changed management. While we mourn the loss of some family-owned businesses and the occasional rope tow still seen at smaller hills, this consolidation will increase the value of season passes for many families.
In Utah alone, Vail Resorts took over both The Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, adding them both to their already top value Epic Pass. Also, in Utah, the posh Deer Valley purchased the much smaller Solitude, with few changes expected till the 2015-2016 season.
Vermont Takes the Lead in Snowmaking
Even as they work to combat climate change, mountain resorts are investing in low-energy snowmaking. Through a buy-back program with Efficiency Vermont, an energy and environment conservation program, this state has funded a $15 million project to buy back old snowmaking equipment and replace it with HKD towers which make snow at higher temperatures using less water. Those in the know credit better snowmaking with enabling Vermont to maintain its number three position behind Colorado and California in skier visits last year, despite colder than normal weather.
Better snowmaking and water and energy conservation are big issues for the entire industry, especially in regions like northern California’s Lake Tahoe, whose economic and environmental woes were chronicled recently by the New York Times. Expect to see a lot of innovation in this area, one of largest line items on most resorts’ operational budgets.
Easier Snowsports Learning Means Repeat Guests
In good news for snowsports learners, the industry’s shifting big time to Terrain Based Learning. This innovative approach, pioneered by Joe Hession at New Jersey’s Mountain Creek, has taken over because it’s spurred a return rate among new skiers and riders as high as 65%.
Basically, novices are taught on contoured trails, where the bunny slopes are carved into the proper curves, turns and bumps to gently force them to try ski moves at a controlled speed. Designed for ages 6+ (ages 3 and up at some family-focused resorts), 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. While costly to create and maintain the trails, buy new rental equipment, and retrain instructors; resorts are finding that the higher guest satisfaction rate makes the investment worthwhile.
At Cranmore in New Hampshire, they’re paying it forward in another way. Never-evers who sign up for the $299 Guaranteed Easy Turns three-lesson package, get ski lessons that include rental equipment, instruction and lift tickets on each visit. To sweeten the deal, those who complete all three lessons will receive — free — a brand new pair of Rossignol skis and bindings, plus a discount on Rossignol ski boots, for future use. They’ve also made special Terrain Based Learning days free of charge; this season December 21, 2014, and January 19 and March 15, 2015 are free to beginners. And of course, the annual Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month promotions honored country-wide in January are still in full force.
Emphasis on Women in Snowsports
This may be the winter when women and girls really come onto the snow. Despite years of courting them with gal-pals classes, only 40% of alpine skiers and 32% of snowboarders are female, according to the SnowSports Industries America (SIA). In October, Vail Resorts announced a new company initiative to increase women’s participation in skiing and snowboarding. By providing all-women’s classes, more flexibility in start times so moms can tuck their kids into ski school, and family-together classes, they aim to dispel the most widely held femme concerns.
For the 2014-15 winter ski and ride season, Lake Tahoe’s Ladies Only program is running at Kirkwood as single day or weekend sessions open to intermediate and above skiers and riders. Guests will tackle a variety of terrain and snow conditions in the company of like-minded women, at a resort known for its amazing powder conditions. Elsewhere, Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons with female coaches will be offered at <a data-cke-saved-href=”https://myfamilytravels.com/content/14167-arrabelle-vail-square%2C-colorado’ target=” href=”https://myfamilytravels.com/content/14167-arrabelle-vail-square%2C-colorado’ target=” _blank”=””>Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, as well as “Mommy & Me” lessons. Interestingly, their focus group studies also led the company to establish Prima, a personalized concierge service for Brazilian guests of Vail and Beaver Creek that assists families in pre-planning lessons, activities and dining, among other needs.
Making the Weekend Getaway Easier
Just as the major destination resorts are offsetting the cost of energy and water crises by developing mountain bike trails and water parks for summer recreation; your local, backyard resorts are working harder to maintain weekend crowds during a typically shorter annual season.
In Vermont, the Okemo Resort has always been more about comfort, family time around cozy fireplaces, and a friendly apres-ski bar more than steeps and fresh tracks. For the 2014-2015 season — after one of the coldest seasons on record — they’ve installed the country’s first-ever chairlift with a retractable bubble — with six heated seats.
At Stowe, enormous resources have been invested in upgrading the mountains and developing base with luxury hotels, spas and amenities. More off-the-snow activities like ziplines, more night skiing and free hot chocolate are on offer at many resorts, too.
In New York state, the ISkiNY.com arm of the I Love New York tourism promotion department, recognizes that getting to a ski resort may not be so easy for its huge market of Metro area commuters. They have partnered with Hampton Jitney to offer transportation and one- or two-night lodging to several major mountains as a value snowsports package.
Making stops in Suffolk County on the far east end of Long Island, then in Nassau County, and in Manhattan, the luxury motorcoaches will bring skiers and riders to the mountains upstate. Packages like their weekend getaway to Greek Peak, set for January 23-25, 2015, are priced at $440 per person (family of four) and bundle in transportation, hotel room, breakfasts, and lift tickets in a very convenient deal.
Making Long Haul Vacations Easy with Ski All-Inclusives
We love all-inclusive ski and snow resorts because, let’s face it, this is a very expensive sport. Unless you’re Canadian (no offense should be taken), you can’t really go into your backyard and learn this stuff. Instead, most families are at the mercy of ski schools, kids’ lift tickets and fancy equipment rentals. That’s what makes Club Med, the tropical all-inclusive that families love, so special when it comes to snow.
Since opening their first snow Village in Leysin, Switzerland in 1956, this resort company has grown to 23 mountain resorts across Europe and Asia — the world’s larget all-inclusive snowsports vacation provider. At each, airport transportation, lift tickets, lessons, other winter sports, award-winning children’s programs with multilingual staff, gourmet all-day dining and full open bar, live nightly entertainment and typically, ski in ski out access, is included in one rate. Sadly, their North American efforts at Crested Butte and Copper Mountain in Colorado were short-lived, but that’s given them time to perfect their international resorts… and rumors about a new American ski village abound.
Expect a warm, all-American welcome at their newest European property, the elegant Val Thorens Sensations opening in December 2014 in the Tarentaise Valley, Savoie region of the French Alps. It’s not only the highest ski resort in Europe, but its terrain and grooming are considered the best. Expect really fine cuisine from their two-star Michelin chef, Edouard Loubet — courting foodies is high on the ski-trend-o-meter — and a sophisitcated, adult experience.
If you’re bringing younger children, the Club Med village at the foot of Mont Blanc, Club Med Chamonix Mont – Blanc in France, welcomes all ages, literally. Families with babies from 4 months to 17-year-old teens and older will find special programs and classes and 113 miles of legendary terrain. Not far from Val Thorens, at a comfortable altitude of 5,250 feet, is another family option with an indoor/outdoor pool, Club Med Peisey–Vallandry.
Located in the Espace Killy skiing domain — a name that will resonate with parents — the Club Med Tignes Val Claret supports snowboarders from the age of 8 up. Club Med Valmorel is more upscale, with multi-bedroom luxury Chalet-apartments complete with private butler and a personal chef to make your multigenerational ski vacation memorable. For non-skiers, Valmorel offers alternative activities such as ice skating, hiking, snowshoeing, and even Nordic walking — luxe hotels and off-slope activities being at the forefront of snowsports news.
So, with so much going on, this is your year to hit the slopes. Here’s our roundup of the top family ski and snowboard destinations and what’s newat these resorts for this year.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.