Skiing ranks high on the vacation hot list. But, which resorts are the best for families? Snow is only part of the equation. Parents need to think about lift lines and crowds. Whether ski in/ski out accommodations are a possibility. And, the quality of the ski school. Professional instructors that can charm your kid into sailing down the slopes are the special sauce of a family ski trip.
Also of value is a base town with an apres ski scene; ice skating, fire pits and cozy spots for mom and dad to enjoy a few glasses of wine. Bonus points for the resorts that incorporate kids clubs and teen programming into property programming.
Skiing is my favorite sport. Now that my kids can participate, it tops the list as our favorite family vacation. I adore the sport.
Watching my children, ages 10 and 14, whiz down the slopes, digital lives forgotten, is exhilarating. Later, as they relay the day’s activities; each challenge, each triumph, each new friendship with kids from all over the globe, I am reminded how precious real-time engagement is in the lives of tweens and teens, as well as their parents.
Though we ski only a few times a year (if we are lucky), the experiences are family highlights. Here are some of my favorite resorts.
Lake Tahoe, Northstar, California
Parents–especially Californians–who want the charm of a mountain village paired with snazzy five star amenities flock to Northstar in Lake Tahoe. Ski school options abound. Go for the U-4 (Ultimate 4 pairs one instructor with no more than four children). Full day lesson package includes equipment rental, lift ticket and lunch.
Kids start out on the Big Easy beginner area and move on to progression parks to master technique. For younger children who ski half day, or not at all, there is Minor’s Camp, an on-resort childcare facility.
Other perks: Skating rink, tubing, sleigh rides, bungee trampoline (year-round, weather permitting), fire pits, snow play zone and two movie theaters. The nearby Recreation Center has an outdoor heated pool.
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado
There is family friendly, and, there is family fabulous. With hot cocoa served at chairlifts, platters of just-baked cookies at the mountain base each afternoon and ski runs that take kids (or, young-at-heart adults) through a mythical, tree and teepee studded maze, it’s not hard to see which camp Beaver Creek falls into.
Luxury perks that include escalators throughout the village (it’s easier to traverse in ski boots), ski valets, an in-hotel rental process and thoughtful anticipate-every-need minutiae like warmed slippers (in your size, natch) provided during your fireside lunch effectively blunt the hassle of the sport.
The ski program is a draw for families. Kids learn from the pros on North America’s World Cup mountain in a gently sloping area called The Ranch.
The village is another draw. Sophisticated dining options and an ice skating rink (there are weekly jukebox skate nights) make it a perfect post-ski hangout. For non-ski days, there is dog sledding and snow shoeing. For teens, the resort organizes a weekly sunset snowshoe trek capped off with a pizza party at the Nordic Center.
BIG SKY, MONTANA
In travel, more remote destinations often yield larger payoffs. Big Sky, located 50 miles south of Bozeman, Montana, illustrates this point beautifully.
Here, you won’t find the luxurious extras inherent in, say, Beaver Creek. Or a rowdy apres ski scene. But, what Big Sky lacks in glitz is made up for by lower price tags and small town charm.
Moonlight Basin’s entire bottom, left half of the mountain is green trails only. That makes for an excellent beginner experience. The base of the mountain has a Family Fun Zone, tubing and a small terrain park.
The ski school is well-run and laid back. (Parents can sign their children up for classes on the day-of instead of booking far in advance). A huge perk for parents is the fact that the school works with The Lone Peak Playhouse, an on-resort child care center that is part of Big Sky Resort. Kids can do a half day skiing and then spend the afternoon at the kids’ club. This means a few extra runs for parents.
For off ski days, there are zipline tours, snowshoe tours, high ropes course, dog sledding, family fun zones and tours to nearby Yellowstone National Park.
TravelingMom Tip: Big Sky offers a la carte pricing. That means kids can attend for as little as two hours or as long as the full day with pricing based on how many modules are selected.
Telluride feels like a well-kept secret compared to the buzz of Beaver Creek.
Hotels are luxe but low key. Lift lines are nonexistent. And, because it is a hike from any metropolitan area, there isn’t a glut of day skiers.
But the lack of crowds does not mean a lack of vibrancy. There are 50 restaurants, espresso bars, three skating rinks and dozens of shops between Mountain Village and historic Telluride.
Skiing, of course, is the focus. Nearly one quarter of the mountain is devoted to beginner skiing, a key selling point for families. Ski school divides children by age and has classes in the morning or all day.
Off the slopes, families go sledding, snowshoeing, and ice skate. Teens can go ice climbing. Even winter horseback riding or a sleigh ride can be arranged. Should parents want to extend their ski time (or, have a champagne fueled apres at swanky alpine boîte Bon Vivant), the resort offers Kids Happy Hour, an afternoon of indoor arts and crafts.
WHISTLER Blackcombe, CANADA
Home to the Winter Olympics in 2010, Whistler-Blackcombe is North America’s largest ski resort. Its size can be daunting.
Four child care programs, on-mountain adventure zones, a multi-lane tubing course and indoor Nintendo gaming lounges lend an inviting energy to this massive resort. To kids, the mighty peaks and bowls are made less daunting by the resort’s well regarded (they instruct more than 140,000 kids each year!) ski program.
Whistler Village is chock full of activities: indoor rock climbing, a trampoline park, a skateboard park and a movie theater. The resort’s Peak2Peak gondola (the largest and highest lift in the world) affords stunning panoramic views.
What is your favorite family ski resort? Tell us in the comment section below.
About the Author
This post was written by Amy Tara Koch. She is an author, journalist and television personality. Koch contributes to Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Travel + Leisure, Men’s Journal and Food & Wine. She has appeared on Today, Access Hollywood, Fox & Friends, CBS Early Show and Steve Harvey. Her first book, BUMP IT UP (2010) has retained its position as the gold standard in pregnancy style. She is currently working on her second book, a memoir. Among her recent posts for Travel + Leisure: