Ready to take your kids on a ski vacation? Choose wisely! Many ski resorts are excellent fits for families, but others just go through the family-friendly motions. How can you tell the difference between ski resorts that offer the bare minimum to kids and ones that are a kid-friendly ski resort paradise? Learn how one mom who skis often with her kids spots destinations that are truly a good fit for families.
When it comes to skiing with kids, all ski resorts are not created equal. Sure, most will have a few bunny slopes and usually even a children’s ski school, but that doesn’t mean they are the kid-friendly ski resorts you should take your family on vacation.
My husband and I have skied all over the country, both before and after kids – Vermont, the mid-Atlantic, Colorado, Utah, Lake Tahoe, and more. We’ve noticed distinct differences in the culture and amenities of various ski resorts. Some resorts that were great fits for us in our 20s are definitely not places we’d go back with kids. Others that didn’t work for us a decade ago have turned out to be ideal destinations now that we have young kids who ski.
So how do you find a ski resort that is truly kid-friendly and family-friendly? There are a few shortcuts I use to look for places where my kids will be wanted rather than just tolerated. Here’s my kid-friendly ski resort cheat sheet to help you pick the right resort for your family too.
Find Resorts Where Kids Ski Free
Resorts that want families court families by making skiing more budget-friendly when bringing kids. Specifically, many kid-friendly ski resorts offer generous kids ski free programs.
Nearly every major ski resort allows toddlers or preschoolers to ski free. Look closely, however, at the age your ski resort begins charging for lift tickets. This age varies considerably, starting as early as 3 or 4 years old at many resorts. Others start several years later. Still others offer kids ski free packages if you buy a certain adult pass or book on-property lodging.
Diamond Peak Resort near Lake Tahoe, for example, allows children to ski free until their 7th birthday. Steamboat in Colorado allows kids 12 and under to ski free the same number of days as their parents when parents purchase a 5-or-more day adult lift ticket. Keystone, also in Colorado, allows kids to ski free when families book two or more nights of lodging.
Look for All-Day Ski School Programs
Most major ski resorts offer ski school for children, but ski school experiences can vary dramatically. Resorts that are really committed to teaching children have all day programs that enable kids to really immerse themselves in learning. These programs also make plenty of time for fun. Too much skiing can be exhausting for kids.
My 7-year-old has had ski school experiences with scheduled time for snow play, tubing, and even character mascot visits. Hot chocolate breaks, lunch, and sometimes movies for a mid-afternoon break help make ski school feel like a vacation even while skill-building.
One more factor to consider is what ages your resort’s ski school accepts. In my experience, resorts that offer ski school programs for kids as young as 3 and 4 years old are usually very committed to teaching kids to ski.
Make Sure Other Resort Activities are Available
Even if you have kids who love to ski, chances are they would love other activities too. Many resorts take non-ski activities to a new level with snow play centers, tubing, ice skating rinks, movie theaters, and more. One of my family’s favorite ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, Northstar California, even has a bungee trampoline. Kid-friendly and convenient restaurants are another bonus.
Don’t just look at the skiing when you pick a ski resort if you have kids, especially if you are going for longer than just a weekend visit. Look at all the entire resort experience so your kids can have fun on and off the slopes.
Ask About Interchangeable Parent Passes
As a parent of a toddler, one of the challenges my family has faced skiing the past few years is caring for our little one who has been too young to ski. If we aren’t traveling with family or willing to hire a babysitter, my husband and I have to trade off skiing and child care duties. Resorts that offer “interchangeable parent passes” or “parent switch” tickets have been a lifesaver. These programs allow two parents to share a single day lift ticket and trade off skiing and caring for young kids at no extra cost. Not making two parents each pay full price for a half day of skiing is a hallmark of a ski resort that gets it.
Look for Kids Clubs and Day Care
Another ski resort amenity that solves my family’s toddler dilemma is on-site child care. A very few ski resorts have day care centers for babies, toddlers, and younger kids just not quite ready for ski school. Because it is less commonly available, it is truly a sign of an extra family-friendly resort.
I’ve personally spotted these centers at family-friendly resorts like Vail, Northstar California, Heavenly, and Deer Valley, to name a few. These centers are state licensed and usually have programming that encourages kids to get outside and enjoy snow play during the day, helping to familiarize little ones with snow clothes and cold weather.
Ski-In/Ski-Out Slopeside Accommodations
One of the hardest parts about skiing with kids, especially little ones like I have, is lugging their gear. The closer my family’s lodging is to the slopes, the better. Ski-in/ski-out locations are ideal choices for families because they require so little transport time and logistics. Not every resort has on-site lodging or lodging with slopeside access, so search carefully.
Resorts that score even more family-friendly points are ones that offer condo accommodations or resort residences in addition to the usual hotel rooms. Having a kitchen at the end of the day to cook a simple dinner or having separate bedrooms is a life-saver for families.
Sometimes it can be hard to find these kinds of accommodations, which is why I am happy that search site Vacatia just added a number of ski destinations to its rental portfolio. Whether your family is looking for a resort residence in Vail, a resort residence in Park City, or one in several other popular US and Canadian ski destinations, you can find larger and more convenient accommodations that make a ski vacation easier with kids.