This Year's Best Ski and Snow Family Vacations

With a snow-packed season ahead, it’s time to warm up to snowsports family vacations. You can introduce the kids to the great outdoors at North America’s finest ski and snowboard resorts, where even weekend getaways are filled with fun and learning.  And we mean for every ability and fitness level. Review this guide to the top family destinations, lay out your school calendars next to some resort calendars, and you’ll see how easy it is to book a value winter mountain vacation.
 

Plan the Right Mountain Vacation for Lodging & Activity Savings

 

I Love NY
Waterville Valley Ski Vacations
Go Breck
Vacation Rentals
Gunnison Crested Butte
Ski.com
Mesa Verde Lodge
Lake Placid
Omni Holidays
Hyatt Escala Park City
CityPASS Tickets
 

Are you looking for snow without the rigors of alpine skiing? Sundance Bear Lodge (866/529-2480) in Mancos, Colorado along the San Juan Skyway is a winter reunion destination that sleeps 20 in three different buildings. No need to fight about who gets which room; there’s a Western style three-bedroom house and a romantic log cabin that both accept pets. Be sure the elders in your clan reserve the peaceful lodge rooms. In addition to nearby Mesa Verde National Park, you can visit the Ute Tribal Parkand ride the colorful, historic Durango Silverton train. Skiers in your group can visit Telluride, Purgatory, or Wolf Creek Pass.

Traveling with a mix of snowsports abilities? 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 isn’t necessary if you’re traveling with little novices. To save money and guarantee the comforts of home -- such as a kitchen, dining area, laundry, separate bedrooms, ski storage and usually a fireplace – rent a condo or private vacation home.  Wyndham Vacation Rentals has properties ranging from luxurious mountain houses to ski-in/ski-out and other condos, making vacations to ski towns such as Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, Beaver Creek, Park City and Sun Valley affordable.  We like their “Vacation Rental Bill of Rights,” a service pledge from the world’s largest professionally managed vacation rentals business, so you don’t have to worry about broken appliances or being locked out if you arrive late at night. (It’s happened to us!)

Of course, some families want to mix their snowsports with urban sightseeing for a two-in-one vacation that really appeals to multigenerational groups.  It’s easy to start in San Francisco and drive to Lake Tahoe; tour Seattle before skiing at WhistlerBlackcomb; head to Maine and New Hampshire via Boston – all fun cities for all ages. Treat the family to affordable luxury with the Elves and Eggnog package at Omni Hotels & Resorts; their 20% off winter special includes a fun holiday turndown service delivered by hotel elves. Be sure to pick up CityPASS ticket booklets in advance so you can skip the lines at the top attractions, meanwhile saving up to half off on individual admission prices.  Beginning December 15, CityPASS is waiving their nine-day rule and extending the passes’ usage period, so that travelers to Boston, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle will have until February 28, 2014 to redeem all the included attraction tickets. That means if you cut out early to ski, you can come back through President’s Day and have admission tickets all sewn up.
 

Ski & Ride Discounts, Tour Packages & Special Services


If you’re avid skiers, you’ve probably got a season pass to your local mountain, or one like Vail’s Epic Pass that allows you to ski at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Eldora in Colorado; Canyons in Park City, Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan and, for five free days each, at several top European resorts. Perhaps you want to sample some of the world-class resorts represented by the Mountain Collective. This option has become affordable thanks to the classy collaboration between four top independent resorts: Alta in Utah, Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado, Jackson Hole Wyoming and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows in California. Passholders get 50% off on lift tickets and 25% off on lodging as well as other savings noted on their website.
  
If you know what type of experience you want but aren’t sure where to find it, turn to the experts at Ski.com who keep up with the latest developments and deals at dozens of destination resorts.  For example, if you’re interested in Aspen’s Perfect Storm deal that offers discounts for advance booking, Ski.com Mountain Vacation Specialists can find the best participating hotel or condo to meet your family’s needs.  We talked to Alex de l’Arbre recently about her top family picks for the 2013-2014 winter season; you can see her video below.

If you prefer to travel with your own gear (and expert families usually carry boots but often leave behind skis which can be rented), consider United Airlines, which transports equipment free f charge to its major hubs. You can also pre-order rental equipment online with services like Black Tie Rentals so it’s delivered right to your accommodation and adjusted to fit on the spot. Many locations offer a kids-rent-free package throughout the season for kids 12 and under; check out See n’ Ski in Utah or Ski Butlers in Colorado, where kids rent free if you do an adult rental for five or more days.
 

The Whole Family Can Learn to Ski or Snowboard Free


January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM), a nationwide program that encourages snowsports with reduced price and even free lessons, lift tickets, and rental gear.  Last year, we sampled beginner programs at three Utah resorts, had a great time, and even learned something as you can see in our video.  LSSM Special Features offers a quick overview of all of the resorts that participate, and you can also follow their deals on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t forget the Bring a Friend Challenge, open to all current skiers and snowboarders (including members of the industry) from December 1 to March 14, 2014. The Challenge offers incentives for snowsports lovers who introduce newcomers to lessons from professional instructors this winter; you can win prizes and even a free trip.

Several states have programs that introduce snowsports to grade school children free of charge to support that next generation of resident snowsports fans. See “Free Learn To Ski Passes And Statewide Programs” for more information about these and how to find one near you.

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 White Mountain Adaptive Ski School 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.




The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts


Our thanks to Eileen Ogintz at TakingtheKids.com and Alex at Ski.com for their input on the top ski areas in North America.

In alphabetical order, we recommend:

ALTA SKI AREA in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon is adjacent to the chic Snowbird (you can purchase a combined ticket) but its retro style, lack of commercial development, and ban on snowboarding transport families back to the days before ski areas were all about glitz. Stay in an old-fashioned Alta Lodge that will entertain your kids after ski school and feed them early so you can enjoy a gourmet meal after hitting some of the best expert terrain in Utah. Lift ticket prices are less than at other major ski resorts, too, and the three base area tow ropes (Grizzly tow, Transfer tow and Alta Lodge tow) are free all day, every day. 
 
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB in New Hampshire offers snow-loving families cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating are the winter sports here. Custom adventures are available at both AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge and Highland Lodge in the White Mountains, where families pick the activity, time and skill level and take off with their own guide. AMC offers self-guided and guided cross-country skiing tours on its groomed, backcountry ski trails in a 100-mile wilderness region of Maine. Guests can ski from lodge-to-lodge and enjoy home-cooked meals, private cabins, and gear shuttles; more information can be found here
 
ASPEN has a long, rich history as a mining town, 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 glamor. This four-mountain resort offers plenty of terrain options for skiers and riders of all abilities.Aspen Mountain, with its famous black-diamond terrain for experts, promises a variety of glades, bumps and steeps; Aspen Highlands has plenty of backcountry and is the locals’ favorite. Buttermilk has terrific beginner terrain as well as a 22-foot superpipe. There’sendless fun on Snowmass’ dashing-through-the-woods kids’ trails(see separate listing for Snowmass below). Good to hear there’s a Kids Ski Free promotion in March and April, but you’ll have to book soon for the popular Spring Jam if you’re planning a March visit.
 
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 (fresh-baked cookies served on Lift #6 daily) and pedestrian base village’s ice skating, casual dining options, and fireworks at day’s end. Moms will find terrific spas at the Beaver Creek hotels (the Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch which has just reopened after a big renovation), as well as "me" time on the Women's Social Ski Tour, a complimentary two-hour mountain tour followed by a sociable group hot cocoa break. There’s extra family programming during “Beaver Creek Loves Kids” weeks: Winterfest December 21–January 4, PrezFest February 15-21 and SpringFest March 8-April 19, 2014.
 
BIG SKY RESORT Montana has completed its merger with nearby Moonlight Basin to offer the biggest ski and ride terrain in the US -- you can now access 5,750 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, nine terrain parks ranging from novice to big air, all covered in 400+” 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. Within the region, 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.
 
BOLTON VALLEY RESORT, the only Vermont resort to offer night skiing and riding, is teen central on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. You can also give your kids a lesson in being green—the wind turbine near the top of Vista quad produces an eighth of the resort’s energy needs. You’ll run into a lot of locals from Burlington here because everything is within walking distance -- lodging, lifts, pool – making it easy to navigate with kids. Bolton’s three terrain parks, the 300 acres of trails and glades are divided almost equally for novice, intermediate and advanced skiers and riders. 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 2013-14 season -- with no blackout dates.
 
BOYNE RESORTS, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, are Michigan’s two largest ski areas with a combined 850 skiable acres and 115 trails. This year’s on-hill investments include a new Burton Riglet Park, spa, winter fly fishing trips and an expanded Tubing Park.  At Boyne Mountain’s Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark kids are sure to love the new Extreme Body Slide, and at Boyne Highlands there’s a winter zipline. Resort lodging guests receive discounted waterpark admission but anyone can buy a ski and splash ticket providing all-day access to slope gliding and waterpark sliding. 
 
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT is celebrating more than 50 years of skiing (and was the country’s first resort to accept snowboarders.) It’s still ideal for teens who will appreciate the 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. It’s 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, larger-than-life snow sculptures and ice play on the Riverwalk Center lawn (International Snow Sculpture Championships take place Jan. 21-Feb 2, 2014.)  In addition to mostly condo housing, One Ski Hill Place is a newer Rock Resort complete with its own bowling alley that exemplifies how upscale Breck has gone in the past few years. Yet, with the “Breck for a Buck” deal you score a free lift ticket and a free night of lodging if you stay and ski three days.

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 mountain because it is more intimate with varied terrain including four terrain parks (one just for kids) and plenty of off-the-slopes action including outlet shopping, ice skating, sleigh riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing! Combine Bromley’s $49 midweek/non-holiday ticket with Bromley’s fantastic Family Friday deal, where each paying adult pays just $15 per kid for up to three kids, except for holidays, and a family of four skis for just $128.  Top online deals: 2-fer Tuesdays (non holiday) so you and a guest ski for less than $25; buy a Multi-Day pass and save $15 on each consecutive day.  when you purchase your Multi-Day ticket online. One day advance purchase required.


 
COPPER MOUNTAIN terrain is naturally divided for all abilities and families can take advantage of fantastic bowl skiing, free Snowcat rides to Tucker Mountain, FreeRide electric car service and free snowshoe tours daily.  Copper is also home to the only year-round ski and snowboard program in the state. Offering winter day camps and week-long summer camps, Woodward at Copper has the Barn, the first indoor ski and snowboard training facility with trampolines, foam pits, and jumps dedicated to terrain park and pipe progression. The Woodward at Copper Barn recently spent $500,000 to accommodate skateboards, BMX and slopestyle mountain bikes as well. All Snowflex surfaces were replaced with a surface designed for wheels called Skatelite. Families and amateurs alike are invited to experience the expanded offerings with additions including a new beginner foam pit with a 2-foot and 4-foot jumps, a pump track designed for the development of park skills, and new programming.  Check out the Youth Four Pack from Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School and Woodward at Copper: buy 4 lessons at once and use them later.
 
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT is in the heart of Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley, Colorado, and both Gunnison and Crested Butte, founded in 1880, are known for their Victorian-era charm, friendly Western hospitality and free-spirited nature. Closest to the ski resort of the same name, Crested Butte combines plenty of steeps and deeps with a new base area Adventure Park.  New direct flights from Chicago, plus Denver, Dallas and Houston make it easier to get to than ever before and Gunnison Getaways is packed with value lodging and lift ticket options.Note that kids 12 and under ski and stay free when you book lodging and lift tickets from March 14 to April 6, 2014.  Freestylers love this place. In addition to new kids trails groomed in between the trees at Painter Boy, and new intermediate glades, there are bungee trampolines, a climbing wall, and a zip-line that you can ski to, as well as a 20-foot jump with a cushioned air bag landing. Look for newly scheduled Snowmobile and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Championshipsas well as the first Western Waffle Cabin this winter.

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. As at other Vail owned resorts, kids enjoy their own gladed adventure zone and an entry-level terrain park with small rails, gentle jumps and boxes that are used by the excellent ski school instructors. There’s also a 500-foot-long tubing hill at Adventure Peak with snow fun for the non-skiers in your group.  Athletes love the 34 miles of wide-open, groomed cruisers; Heavenly’s dedicated backcountry guides; inbound tree skiing off of every lift, as well as sightseeing, ski bikes and snowshoeing. A nice deal:  When you pay for four days lodging and three days of lift tickets, your fifth night and fourth day are free. From December 19 to January 5, experience “Heavenly Holidays,” a holiday winter wonderland in Heavenly Village with lights, decorations, carolers, magicians, jugglers, live ice sculpture making, a Ripperoo Parade, and more family-friendly events.
 
JACKSON HOLE Wyoming not only offers stunning skiing and snowboarding, but having the authentically “cowboy” town of Jackson and Yellowstone National Park nearby can extend your family winter vacation to a week. First-timers should take the free Mountain Host tour of JHMR’s 2,500 acres (there’s 5,000 acres of backcountry) to find the groomers among the deep, fresh powder, then board the red aerial tram for an overview during the 10-minute uphill ride.  Their pro teaching staff guarantee that beginners will be able to ski after one lesson (repeat lessons free) and their state-of-the-art Kids Ranch offers age-specific activities and lessons for ages 6-months to 17-years when they’re not out at the Fort Wyoming and Wild West Woods snow zones.  JHMR has four Burton Stash Parks, which use natural elements to build terrain park-like features, as well as beginner and expert terrain parks.  They have good early season ski/stay deals till December 20 and for 2014, fly roundtrip to Jackson Hole with any airline and receive $200 credit per person when booking a package with lodging and activities.  

KEYSTONE, just two hours’ drive from downtown Denver, is Vail Resorts’ dedicated family mountain with the largest night skiing operation in the U.S. Each of Keystone’s three mountain peaks has a base village where families can find condos, shops and restaurants; the on-mountain Alpenglow Stubeserving fondue is one of ski country’s finest restaurants. Kids will love Keystone’s ice fort, the Adventure Point recreation area with its snowtubing, air boarding and snowbiking toys, and the daily Kidtopia Festival programming throughout the season. All season (no blackout dates), kids 12 and under receive free lift tickets with minimum two-nights’ stay at Keystone’s owned/operated lodging units. To facilitate the learning, Camp Keystone guarantees kids who come three days in a row that they’ll have the same instructor, parents get free family parking at River Run, and they provide more than 100 wagons to pull your gear.  Note that the first rate nursery, ski and snowboard school are at a high altitude of 9,280 feet, so allow time to acclimate.
 
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, nearly 5,000 feet tall in the heart of the Adirondacks, and its new Rand’s Last Stand glade, attract skiers and riders from the region. But we love this town for its variety of outdoor winter recreational activities. 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-calibre ski jumps, bobsleds, and toboggan chutes for the spectators in your group. And throughout the day and night there are outdoor gear and fashion boutiques, a wide variety of farm-to-table foodie options and a fun bar scene if you want 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.
 


 


MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN is California’s highest resort, topping out at just over 11,000 feet, with 150 trails and 3,100 feet of vertical.  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 Adventure Summit Tube Park where families with young kids can build a snowman and enjoy the snow play area.

MT. BACHELOR outside the very hip town of Bend, Oregon is the largest ski resort in the Cascade Range, boasting 3,683 acres and more than 370” of dry, light powder each season. Tucked into the verdant Deschutes National Forest are two tubing lifts and two beginner carpets, five terrain parks, 56kms of groomed and tracked crosscountry trails, snowshoeing, tubing, sled dog rides and more. Kids, 12 and under, can ski free if an adult with them purchases a multi-day ticket.  Their value ‘Ski or Ride in 5′program ($199 per person) gives the whole family five lessons, five rental packages, five lift tickets and reserved parking spot close to the lodge. Upon completing the program, ages 6-18 earn a free season pass (adults get a free 12-day pass), 50% off the following season's full time Winter Season Pass, and a 25% discount the second year after graduation.

MOUNT SNOW RESORT in southern Vermont has a trail system that keeps the entire family together whether they’re racing down its 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 beginner park and tubing park for afternoon fun. Mount Snow is also home to North America’s only six-passenger bubble lift. January 5, 2014 is the annual Youth Pay Their Age Day for everyone age 6 to 18, and families that book ahead can get 10% off lift tickets during Martin Luther King Weekend and President’s Week with the Fan Fare Card.  Other specials include Kids Ski & Learn Free Weeks.


NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA RESORT, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe, is a short drive from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport. The most family oriented among the many Lake Tahoe area resorts, Northstar has 3,170 acres of skiing and riding featuring seven award-winning progressive terrain parks and the Riperoo Riglet Park for snowboarders 3 to 6-years old. With a halfpipe designed by Shaun White and a Burton Snowboard Academy (terrain-based method for teaching beginner snowboarders), this is the place for little shredders.  The Ice Arena surrounded by cabanas and fire pits for relaxing, roasting s’mores and telling stories about mountain adventures is in the heart of the car-free Village at Northstar. Since becoming a Vail Resort, they have adopted EpicMix Academy for kids to track their progress in the Ski & Snowboard School using photography and video capture with Vail’s RFID technology.

OKEMO is located in Southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points. Okemo offers free use of its carpet lifts all season long and kids ski free on select days throughout the season when parents buy a regular priced lift ticket in advance—up to age 18. They offer $29 Beginner packages during January and 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, skating, swimming, an alpine coaster and even a giant snow mound where kids like to play king of the mountain.
 
PARK CITY, Utah is one of the easiest-to-reach and best Western ski areas with more than 9,000 skiable acres. Just a short shuttle ride from Salt Lake City airport are three major kid-friendly resorts in Park City:  Canyons Resort (now managed by Vail Resorts and with its own Kosher restaurant), Deer Valley (Ski Magazine’s Best Ski Resort – no snowboards allowed) and Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR).  PCMR and its helpful Snowmamas.com site are TakingtheKids.com favorites; learning programs are great and there are never more than five kids or adults in group lessons. You’ll find plenty of bargains (especially at the Canyons), service and gourmet meals (especially at Deer Valley and its famous Montage Resort) and all of the terrain features your riders and free skiers could want (Park City Mountain Resort) which also offers night skiing and riding. The National Ability Center is designed to help those with special challenges. With so much choice in slope style, we suggest staying in the heart of Park City at the Hyatt Escala Lodge, a AAA four-diamond resort with ski-in, ski-out access to the Canyons and a short ride from the others. Accommodations range from guest rooms with kitchenettes to four-bedroom suites sleeping 12. A good choice for multigenerational travelers, this luxurious lodge features an outdoor heated pool and hot tubs, underground valet parking, and complimentary scheduled transportation to Historic Main Street.  Take advantage of their shuttle to explore the great shops and restaurants; you can even ask your kids to hunt for the Banksy mural. Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City also offers families a chance to try an Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park.

SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH in Northern Vermont, not far from Burlington and Montreal, is known in New England for its top-notch children’s facilities (including infant care) and off-the-slope activities including a zip line canopy tour.  Look for early season deals plus Club Smugglers packages that include lift tickets, lodging, use of the indoor pool and hot tubs, unlimited use of cross country and snowshoe trails as well as the FunZone Family Entertainment Center, tubing and more. Snow Sport University provides expert instruction for children and adults in skiing, snowboarding, crosscountry skiing and snowshoeing on 1,000 acres across three mountains. For young snowboarders ages 3-6, Smugglers’ Notch has the Burton Riglet Park, an on-snow play area on Sir Henry’s Learning Hill with fun learning features. One of the most exciting parts of the park is the “treehouse,” an elevated platform with ramps that children can ride down, a balance area inside the treehouse and a lift chair that swings to help kids practice getting on and off the lift.

SNOWMASS, by far the largest of the four mountains in Aspen, is family snow sports central with its $17 million Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center featuring a climbing gym, themed rooms, and teen activities. From March 8-April 20, 2014, kids ages 7-12 ski and stay free with purchase of lodging and adult lift tickets for three or more days, giving you plenty of time to book their high-quality group lessons programs for young children or teens – or the fun option of a private lesson for the whole family together. Check the Snowmass website for details on the new Elk Camp restaurant and upcoming deals. Don’t miss a free sighting the resident Golden Eagle at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies or the prehistoric mastodons at the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center.

SQUAW VALLEY USA is one of the largest Lake Tahoe resorts, but it’s great for beginners because they rule the mountaintop, with their own Belmont Terrain Park complete with kid-friendly jumps, mini cross-course and more. Kids 4 and under ski free and the resort recently added new mini snowmobiles and revamped snow tubing at the resort’s base area. At Squaw, you can hit the slopes until 8pm on on weekends and holidays. The nearly 500” of annual snowfall makes it possible to guarantee great spring skiing, with warm temperatures, fresh powder and a mountaintop pool that opens in March. Spring 2014 will bring the return of the US Alpine Championships to Squaw Valley, where guests can join Julia Mancuso, Jonny Moseley, Tamara McKinney, Travis Ganong along with other favorite skiers and snowboarders.



STEAMBOAT in northern Colorado is recognized as a top family ski resort in North America thanks to its Wild West themed play area and well-trained children’s staff at the Kids Vacation Center. There are five kids-only lifts and two beginner teaching areas with special Magic Carpet lifts. More advanced kids access the entire mountain, including kids-only terrain at Rough Rider Basin, complete with dedicated lift plus teepees, a frontier-style fort and the Beehive terrain park. Check out the special Billy Kidd Race Camps held throughout the winter; the STARS Kids’ Adaptive Camp in March 2014 is a fun ski camp for youth (age 6-20) with physical disabilities, whether they’re new skiers, beginner skiers who need private lessons or intermediates.  For the 2013-14 season, Steamboat will unveil significant on-mountain improvements such as a Four Points Lodge located in the Storm Peak/Four Points area of the mountain, with a 200-seat restaurant, outdoor BBQ, flat screen TVs, indoor bar and over-sized restrooms. Since it has the ambiance of an authentic Western town and an 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 is home to Vermont’s highest Peak, Mt. Mansfield and one of New England’s prettiest towns. Infamous for its Famous Front Four trails (double-blacks), Mt. Mansfield also has some of the longest intermediate cruisers in the East and a group of beginner trails in the Toll House area. Lower Spruce near the Spruce base area complex is a great place to learn and Spruce Peak is for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders. Stowe has invested over $8 million in new snowmaking in the past two years, as well as on-mountain improvements. While you’re there, make time to visit the Ski Museum, and take a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory nearby. Stowe Mountain Lodge welcomes dogs as well as kids and is known for its farm-to-table cuisine; TopNotch has a great spa and pretty rooms; Go Stowe has current lodging deals. Many families like to snowshoe or crosscountry ski at the Von Trapp Family Lodge of “Sound of Music” fame.

STRATTON in southern Vermont is a favorite for East Coast families with its tree-lined well-groomed slopes. Parents love the village atmosphere of the pedestrian only base area, the 45-acre Learning Park and EZ Street, a 3- mile green run from the summit that all family members 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 are also other activities ranging from dog sled tours, yoga, and more. Teens like the Wreck teen club with indoor skate ramp. The old Inn at Stratton Mountain is now known as the Black Bear Lodge and features a new look with classic Vermont ski lodge vibes. Check out the Long Weekend Deal: book three nights and guests can ski Friday or Monday for free; available from $169/N non-holiday all season in select properties. Other packages such as kids 17 and younger ski and stay free when two adults purchase two-night minimum lift and lodging package, or kids get free rentals when an adult purchases a rental, available periodically.

SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts a 50-plus year history, eight interconnected peaks, 12 hour skiing and riding Fridays, Saturdays and select holidays, a White Cap Fun Center with a tubing park, and a Sugaring House so you get an up close and personal look of exactly how maple syrup is made—complete with samples. Many families come to Sunday River because of the Perfect Turn Ski and Ride School manned by friendly local staff. During the annual Children’s Festival Week (January 13 to 17, 2014), there will be scavenger hunts, live entertainment, movies, pajama parties, teen parties, and themed Perfect Turn kid’s lessons – all for free when families stay three nights or longer.

TELLURIDE, a tiny safe southwestern Colorado mountain town, is a favorite snowsports destination because of its century-old downtown architecture and 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. Repeat guests appreciate that the vast majority of instructors are veterans who remember their kids from previous visits, and that they pitch in with gearing up young ones for their lessons. 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.   Eileen Ogintz just loved her family visit to Telluride.

TAOS SKI VALLEY is near the artsy, northern New Mexico pueblo of the same name, and not far from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Long an alpine favorite, Taos now accepts snowboarders on its pristine terrain. Family owned and operated, the resort has a well-run children’s center. There’s plenty for the non-snow sports lovers in the group to do. Experience the newly expanded Strawberry Hill tubing park, open several afternoons each week, where Magic Carpet transports kids up to several lanes of tubing. Culture vultures will love the opportunity to explore Native American dwellings nearby at the Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. 

VAIL thinks big; the flagship mountain resort of this snowsports empire has more than 5,200 skiable acres including the famous Back Bowls and another 645 acres of wilderness terrain at Blue Sky Basin. With a terrific ski school, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing, and even some cliffs, no one in your gang will get bored. There is a bungee trampoline and multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge above the base village of Lionshead, as well as kids snowmobiling and ski biking. On mountain, kids love Coyote’s Escape, a 50-foot-long wooden ski-through feature and the teepee in Sherwood Forest. Also, check out the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle’s Nest with frequent nature walks and programs led by naturalists. You can even take a moonlight snowshoe tour. When it comes to ski lessons, for an extra fee as at all Vail resorts, you can opt for the Ultimate Four, a small group lesson for ages 3-15 with no more than four children per instructor.

WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT in New Hampshire offers 250 acres to ski or ride, a big Nordic Center that is groomed daily and a Town Square just a short walk from most of the resort accommodations. There’s even an indoor ice rink to guarantee fun no matter what the weather. Look for seasonal programs like the Junior Instruction Programs given 15 weekends this season, plus the Christmas holiday week, designed for low intermediate level kids ages 4-16 who enjoy skiing or snowboarding. The resort also offers special programs for 4- and 5-year-old skiers, alpine and snowboarding groups for 6 to 12-year-olds, and specialized groups for kids ages 8-12 who are interested in learning the fundamentals of competitive racing and freestyle skiing. Book online 24 hours in advance and you can get a Learn to Ski or Ride package for just $75 including a two hour-lesson, equipment and a lower mountain lift ticket. Look for Town Square events that include fireworks.

WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, a few hours from Vancouver, towers over British Columbia with its two side-by-side mountains connected by the long and scenic traversing Peak2Peak Gondola. Blackcomb’s Crystal Ridge Express has been upgraded to provide seamless access for the 2013-14 season.  Perhaps best known as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, this long popular resort has 200 marked runs, 8,000 acres of terrain, 14 alpine bowls, and three glaciers that enable late spring visitors to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Spring is a great time to find vacation packages, including discounted airfare from certain cities and lodging deals -- though the slopes can be foggy on top. There's also plenty to see and do beyond the slopes, including the Coca-Cola Tube Park, a wide variety of restaurant options, as well as several top après ski destinations. 

WINTER PARK RESORT is only 67 miles from Denver and offers the state’s longest continuously operated professional ski school. The Private Lesson Center allows your family to learn together. There is an incredible variety of terrain with over 3,000 skiable areas. Real snowsports fans like to spread out over this mountain’s seven unique territories: steeps can be found on The Cirque, huge bumps over at Mary Jane, groomers on Winter Park Mountain where the beginner terrain is centered. Terrain Parks come by the handful as the resort has five, including the limited access park, Dark Territory. Look for packages that include free nights and free lift tickets. The Resort is also home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which offers a variety of programs for those with special mental and physical challenges. 

This special FamilyTravelConsulting.com travel section contains advertising and some sponsored content. All opinions are based upon the author’s actual travel experience and knowledge.

Thank you to this section's sponsors: Ski.com, Wyndham Vacation Rentals, Go Breckenridge, Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism, UndercoverTourist.com, Aspen/Snowmass, Hyatt Escala Lodge, Lake Placid, Sundance Bear Lodge, Omni Hotels, Waterville Valley Resort, CityPASS, and I Love NY.

 

Special thanks to Angeli Rafer for her invaluable research assistance with this story.