This Year's Best Ski And Snow Family Vacations

It’s time to introduce the kids to the great outdoors at North America’s top mountain resorts where, no matter their fitness or ability level, there are snow activities to do together.

The industry is full of big news this season. Even as they work to combat climate change, resorts are investing in low-energy snowmaking –- Vermont has funded a $15 million project state-wide to buy back old snowmaking equipment and replace it with towers which make snow at higher temperatures using less water.

In other big news, several resorts have consolidated or changed management, increasing the value of season passes for many families. In Utah alone, Vail Resorts took over both The Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort, and Deer Valley purchased the much smaller Solitude.

The latest trend is Terrain Based Learning, an innovative approach to teaching which contours the bunny slope and beginner terrain into the proper curves, turns and bumps to gently force novices to experience ski moves at a controlled speed. Designed for ages 6+, 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.

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.

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Plan the Right Mountain Vacation for Lodging & Activity Savings

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. For suggested brokers, check out our vacation rentals guide with tips on finding the best lodging and short stay condos for your needs, at any time of year. That home-away-from-home feeling is easier to achieve if you can stay connected, and companies like Xcom Global rent small, easy to pack units that can provide internet access for up to 10 devices at once. That should take care of all of you, in the car or at the condo -- or even in your European chalet -- with rentals that begin at a flat fee of US$14.95 per day. Very handy, trust us!

Some families like to save at local ski hostels, an easy way to save if you don’t crave a Jacuzzi for après-ski.

Alternatively, you can find all the warm water you want – indoors too – at the dozen Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resorts, some near ski areas. In addition to wild waterslides, wave pools, and aqua play, their holiday Snowland festival brings on the indoor snow, with room rates starting at $199/night. It’s an ideal base for your youngest learners, who won’t have as much stamina for the cold as older siblings.

Families with teens often 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; visit New York skyscrapers then hit The Northway to Lake Placid; tour Seattle before skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb; head to Maine and New Hampshire via Boston – all fun cities for all ages. 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.


 

Ski & Ride Discounts, Tour Packages & Special Services

If you’re avid skiers, you’ve probably got a season pass to your local mountain. But nomads and powder hounds can find even better deals like Vail’s Epic Pass that allows you to ski at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Eldora in Colorado; Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan and, for reciprocal days, at several top European resorts and at Niseko, Japan.

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 developments and deals at dozens of destination resorts. With so much consolidation in the past year, you’ll need an expert to keep track of the latest kids-ski-free deals and ever-changing airfare specials. In another example, if you’re interested in one resort’s Kids Stay Free discounts, Ski.com Mountain Vacation Specialists can find the best participating hotel or condo to meet your family’s needs at that resorts.

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 Southwest Airlines, which accepts up to two checked bags free of charge. You can also pre-order rental equipment online 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 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, 2014 to February 28, 2015. 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; 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 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, and Vail Resorts are among the many now offering special gal-pal learning programs.

 

 

The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - From Alta to Aspen

Our thanks to Eileen Ogintz at TakingtheKids.com for their 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 Wild West feel, retro style, and ban on snowboarding belong to Throwback Thursday.  You can purchase a combined ticket to ski the best expert terrain in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon and stay in an old-fashioned Alta Lodge that will entertain your kids after ski school and feed them early. There’s a great restaurant and cozy bar scene that draws many repeat visitors. 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 so beginners can save, too.
 
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 and Highland Lodge. 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 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 a new Hideout childrens center, as well as a 22-foot superpipe. The most family-focused of resorts, Snowmass, is listed separately, below.

 

The Top Family Mountain Resorts - Beaver Creek 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 (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 merged with nearby Moonlight Basin Montana to offer the biggest ski and ride terrain in the US and, by grooming more glades, they now offer 5,804 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. Nearby, 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 Wednesday through Saturday nights. Its 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. 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 2014-15 season -- with no blackout dates. Here’s what TakingtheKids.com wrote about Bolton Valley and how snow sports can change kids’ lives.
 
BOYNE RESORTS, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, are Michigan’s largest ski areas with a combined 850 skiable acres and 115 trails. To cater to their drive-to market, they have improved the chair lifts, widened lanes on the tubing hill and  added lighting to their NASTAR course.At Boyne Mountain’s Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark kids are sure to love the 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. 19-23, 2015.)  Breck has seen some really upscale development the past few years, yet you can still 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 top value, small mountain because it has variety:  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 a $41 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.

CAMELBACK in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is a four-season resort without steeps or moguls, that offers beginner runs serving a Terrain Based Learning program and lots of off-slope fun. Weekenders love the mountain coaster ride, Camelbeach Waterpark, and the longest tandem Zip-Flyer in North America. The nearby Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark hotel makes it a well rounded winter getaway.

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. (It also accommodates skateboards, BMX and slopestyle mountain bikes.) New this year are the Sherpa 2.0 audioguide and app that guide visitors around mountain features. Check out the Youth Four Pack from Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School and Woodward Freestyle at Copper: buy 4 discounted lessons at once and use them later.

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. Closest to the ski resort of the same name, Crested Butte combines plenty of steeps and deeps with a new base area Adventure Park Freestylers love this place. In addition to the new magic carpet at the kids tubing hill, Camp CB for kids, and 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. Gunnison Getaways 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 1-March 15, 2015. Also, kids 12 and under ski and stay free on lodging and lift tickets packages from March 19 to April 5, 2015. 

DEER VALLEY in Park City, Utah (more about Park City below) does it again, winning top awards from Ski Magazine, World Ski Awards, OntheSnow.com, you name it, for their excellent service and on-mountain experience. Snowboards are not allowed – a big plus for some – and limiting the number of high-priced 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 Resort.) 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 a red brick barn.

 

The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - Heavenly 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. For 2015, all three have enhanced snowmaking and new skills and play areas. The 500-foot-long tubing hill at an altitude of 9,100 feet, Adventure Peak, makes snow fun easy for the non-skiers in your group. Athletes love the 34 miles of wide-open, groomed cruisers; dedicated backcountry guides; inbound tree skiing off every lift, as well as sightseeing, ski bikes and snowshoeing. The 2014 Heavenly Holidays features professional iceskating shows, ice sculptors, carolers, local artists and a 16-foot interactive snow globe – a huge Santa photo op – followed by a New Year’s blowout.

 
JACKSON HOLE Wyoming not only offers stunningly scenic skiing and snowboarding, but having the authentically “cowboy” town of Jackson, and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks 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. Winning consistent awards has brought the crowds who have brought the airlift, and for 2014-2015, Jackson’s expanded airport supports non-stop flights from 13 cities.

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 Stube serving 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, standing 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, variety of farm-to-table foodie options, and a fun bar scene when 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.

 

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.  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, families with young kids can build a snowman and enjoy the snow play area. With Mammoth’s recent acquisition of Big Bear and Snow Summit mountains in southern California, area families will get even more season pass bargains and upgrades.

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 is approaching its 60th anniversary with the largest installation of snow guns in North America, guaranteeing ski and ride thrills every day of the season. This family-friendly mountain 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. Check their site for specials such as the annual Youth Pay Their Age Day (January 4, 2015) for everyone age 6 to 18, and 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 used terrain-based learning, 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. Their ski and snowboard teams have adopted Vail Resort’s EpicMix photography and video capture for kids to track their progress.

OKEMO, located in southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points, is an upscale family-focused choice with the country’s first six-passenger high-speed lift with a retractable dome and heated seats. If you’re not ready for that, take advantage of free carpet lifts all season long, and select kids-ski-free deals when parents buy a regular priced lift ticket in advance -- up to age 18. They always offer $66 Beginner packages 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, 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 more than 9,000 skiable acres. Just a short shuttle ride from Salt Lake City airport are three major kid-friendly resorts, two of which are now Vail–managed and on their Epic season pass -- Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR) -- with all of the terrain features your riders and free skiers could want. (The third resort, Deer Valley, is reviewed above.) Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City offers families a chance to try an Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park. You’ll also find plenty to do in the Western town, as well as hotel bargains. The chic Canyons has its own premium base lodging, including a Kosher restaurant that makes box lunches for ski-schoolers on the slopes, plus a beautiful Waldorf-Astoria Resort & Spa. The youthful 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 any group lesson. It’s the base for night skiing and riding for your teens, and the National Ability Center designed to help those with special challenges.

PENNSYLVANIA makes it easy by using the Pennsylvania Ski Association to promote 22 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 4th and 5th graders to ski free all season with a paying adult, and novices of any age are open season, so to speak. Guests from toddlers to grandparents can learn to ski in Pennsylvania 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 $49. That's what we call a bargain.

 

The Top Family Ski and Snow Resorts - Smugglers Notch to Winter Park

SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH in Northern Vermont, not far from Burlington and Montreal, is known 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, cross-country 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, with a balance area inside 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 Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center featuring a climbing gym, themed rooms, and teen activities. During March and April of 2015, 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 Kids Mountain Guide to steer learners to special themed trails, and the Snowmass website for 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 at their own Belmont Terrain Park complete with kid-friendly jumps, mini cross-course and more. Kids 4 and under ski free, and have mini snowmobiles and snow tubing to play at the resort’s base area. Families have tons of other activities, including yoga, sky jumping and climbing walls if you don’t want to remain on the slopes, open until 8pm 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 2015 will bring the return of the US Alpine Championships to Squaw Valley, where guests can join their favorite skiers and snowboarders on the runs.

STEAMBOAT, Colorado is recognized as a top family ski resort 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 2015 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. 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, while Spruce Peak is for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders. Stowe is now leveraging a three-year, $10 million dollar snowmaking upgrade as well as on-mountain improvements to turn itself into a luxury ski destination. 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; deluxe TopNotch has a great spa and pretty rooms; Go Stowe has current lodging deals. Many families like to snowshoe or cross-country ski at the Von Trapp Family Lodge of “Sound of Music” fame.

STRATTON in southern Vermont is a favorite for East Coast families for its tree-lined, well-groomed slopes and pedestrian village base area. Parents love the 45-acre Learning Park and EZ Street, a 3-mile green run from the summit 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. Teens like the Wreck teen club with indoor skate ramp. There are also other activities ranging from dog sled tours to yoga, and more. 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 all season in select properties. On any night, purchasing a lift ticket and equipment rental package at the same time as a room gets you 25% off.

SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts a 55- 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. Many families come to Sunday River because of the Perfect Turn Ski and Ride School manned by friendly local staff. The annual Children’s Festival Week (January 12-16 in 2015) fills the calendar with PJ parties, scavenger hunts, live entertainment, movies and teen events, 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. 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’s 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 a magic carpet transports kids up 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 seven famous Back Bowls spanning 7 miles. Add high-touch service to a terrific ski school, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing, and even some cliffs to see how quality rules and why prices are high. There is a bungee trampoline and multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge  (big expansion plans are underway) 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. When it comes to lessons, the resort is offering a 2015 World Championship lesson experience, a new Women’s Ultimate 4 lesson, and the return of the popular Ski Girls Rock program.

WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT in New Hampshire offers 220 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 13 weekends this season, plus the Christmas holiday week, designed for ages 4-12 and 13-16 who enjoy skiing or snowboarding. The resort also offers special programs on the fundamentals of competitive racing and freestyle skiing. Guests 5 and under or 80+ get in free every day, and childcare is available for ages 6 months to 4 years. Look for weekly 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, scenic traversing Peak2Peak Gondola.  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, 16 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, such as the seven-lane Coca-Cola Tube Park, a wide variety of restaurant options, and several top après ski destinations including the popular Summit Lodge & Spa Boutique Hotel, where you can rent a fish for your guestroom. To explore BC, check out how Destination BC is using very cool Oculus Rift technology to virtually showcase their region.  

WINTER PARK RESORT is only an hour from Denver and, at 75, is the state’s longest continuously operated professional ski school. The Private Lesson Center allows your family to learn together, and prepare to tackle the 3,000 skiable areas. Real snowsports fans like this mountain’s seven unique regions: steeps can be found on The Cirque, huge bumps over at Mary Jane, and groomers on Winter Park Mountain where the beginner terrain is centered. Freestylers will find five terrain parks 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. 



Special thanks to Stacy Shepherd for her research assistance on this story.

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