There’s a certain magic known only to those who spend time out on the slopes, found in those glorious moments of carving out solitary paths through a snow-clad winter wonderland – it’s only natural to want to pass that enchantment on to the brood. Of course, the littlest ski legs have some way to go before they’ll be shredding black-diamond trails – that’s why our editors have rounded up these 10 family ski resorts, right here in North America. Spread out from the Northeast to the Rockies and up past the Canadian border, these family ski-friendly mountain playgrounds offer not only superior kid-geared instruction and picturesque beginner’s terrain, but snow-centric and off-slope activities that the whole family can enjoy. Check out what these mountains have to offer with our Family Ski Resorts Slideshow.
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Bretton Woods, NH
Located in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire (under a 3-hour drive from Boston), Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods is the state’s largest (and best family) ski area and gets high marks for its consistently good weather conditions: An east-facing exposure protects it from the northwest wind, while exceptionally good snow coverage means parents don’t have to worry (as much) about exposed rocks while teaching their kids to ski and snowboard. Younger children (not to mention their solace-seeking parents) will love the Kids’ Club, which offers supervised games, activities, and kid-friendly dinners like hot dogs or macaroni and cheese on the lower level of the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort. Older kids (ages 12 and over) with parents in tow can alternatively check out the resort’s year-round Canopy Tour (opened in December 2008) – it features elevated suspension bridges and treetop zip lines descending some 1,000 feet to the base of the resort.
Nestled in the shadow of the Niagara Escarpment and bordered by Georgian Bay, Collingwood’s Blue Mountain resort (www.bluemountain.ca), situated about 2 hours north of Toronto, is Ontario’s quintessential family ski destination. A haven for clans whose idea of family fun is a wee bit less intense than tearing down the slopes, ski-bunnies-in-training here can take advantage of the wide variety of lessons and activities available to children in the resort-sponsored Kids’ Camp, while their parents get a much-deserved break. Or, parents themselves can enjoy learning to ski, or brush up on long-forgotten skills, thanks to lessons on offer and the high number of beginner and intermediate runs. After a day of playing in the snow, rally the troops for a dip at the resort’s indoor water park (which reopened last year after a major renovation), before winding things down for a good old-fashioned family powwow by the fireplace.
Crested Butte, CO
Crested Butte’s (www.skicb.com) uncrowded, powdery Colorado Rockies’ slopes come minus the icy patches more common to Eastern resorts, making them a resounding hit with tumble-prone kids (and adults) alike. Youngsters are especially stoked by the children’s terrain park, featuring rails, jumps, tabletops, rolls, and even a mini-halfpipe. Day care is on offer for little ones aged 2 months to 3 years (toddlers aged 2- to 3-years-old can even begin their own 1-hour lessons), with a 1-to-2 caregiver-to-infant ratio for tots under 18 months – ski programs are available for older kids. Tubing, movie, and pizza-dinner evenings keep the young ones entertained, while this historic-mining-town-cum-ski-resort – completely devoid of traffic lights and chain stores – serves to charm the skis right off of the adults. Choose from more than 20 lodgings within walking distance to lifts, including condos, luxury hotels, and ski-in/ski-out buildings. Access is via a 5-hour drive southwest of Denver, or just 45 minutes from the Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC).
The second-highest peak in the Catskills, snowy Hunter Mountain (www.huntermtn.com) is only about 2 hours north of Manhattan in Hunter, New York, making its scenic slopes a popular weekend destination for New Yorkers (so plan a weekday trip to avoid the crowds). Hunter has long attracted Burton-clad snowboarding hipsters looking to perfect their ollies and butters, but it’s equally well-known for its state-of-the-art family ski facilities, including user-friendly lifts and terrain designed specifically with the novice in mind. Ski and snowboard lessons are on offer for adults and kids, including a daycare program (ages 6 months to 6 years) that can be combined with a short ski program for 3-year-olds (Just for Me Because I’m Three). Downhill enthusiasts can also enjoy Hunter’s popular snow-tubing park, with two tows and up to nine chutes (42-inch minimum height). Since 2010, visitors can also zip off along North America’s longest and highest zip line and canopy tour for guaranteed thrills.
With over 50 miles of skiable terrain, 100-plus acres of off-piste routes, and four terrain parks, Jay Peak (www.jaypeakresort.com), located 60 miles from Vermont’s Burlington International Airport (BTV) in Jay, Vermont, offers a nice mix of options for skiers and boarders of all ages. The recently revitalized Jay Explorers program is aimed at skiers ages 3-10 of all levels of skill, and makes use of an indoor ramp, moving carpets, and special kids-only ski areas. On-property guests can take advantage of free daycare (ages 2 to 7), part of a package that includes complimentary lodging for kids 14 and under (non-holiday periods only). Tip: If you’re traveling from D.C. or New York City, consider hopping aboard the Amtrak Vermonter, which terminates in St. Albans, Vermont, about 45 minutes from the resort; children ages 2 to 15 are eligible for a 50-percent fare discount and children under 2 ride for free when accompanied by a fare-paying adult. A bonus for everyone: Nearly all of the resort’s lodging options are within skiing distance to the mountain.
Mont Tremblant, Canada
Just 90 minutes northwest of Montreal in Mont Tremblant (www.tremblant.ca), this Canadian resort is considered by many to be the best in the Northeast. With a festive village in the base area and more than 45 lodging offerings within walking distance to the slopes, it’s often favorably compared to resorts in the Alps (expect 95 runs and 14 lifts, including five high-speed quad lifts and two panoramic gondolas). Most importantly, for those looking for a place that will virtually guarantee a snowboarding teenager’s happiness (no small feat, perhaps), rest assured: The family ski resort’s 30-acre terrain park, which includes modules, rails, ramps, and a tunes-blasting sound system, is a sure bet. Don’t be afraid to let the pre-teens tag along, as well; there’s a daycare for kids ages 1 to 6, as well as an ice-skating rink and evening tubing. Kids ages 7 and up can take advantage of snowboarding lessons while 3 is the minimum age for ski lessons. New for 2011-2012, Mother Nature Camp combines a half-day of skiing with a half-day of daycare for tots aged 3 and 4, while kids also can now tag along on a private lesson with their parents.
Tucked away in the shadows of Wasatch Mountains in Big Cottonwood Canyon, this private Utah ski lodge, located just 40 minutes from Salt Lake City in Solitude, Utah, offers groups on family ski outings a barrage of kid-friendly activities. Parents can enjoy a day shushing through Solitude Mountain Resort’s (www.skisolitude.com) 1,200 acres of fresh powder, while the little ones are enrolled in the resort’s kids’ programs – the Play Academy caters to kids age 5 and under, and features activities like snow play and storytelling, while the Children’s Snowsports Academy brings ski instruction to children ages 5 to 12; group snowboarding lessons are reserved for youngsters ages 7 and up. Ice-skating, fireside s’mores roasts, and a terrain park (dubbed the Fun Park) round out the family-friendly experience.
Revered for its decided lack of glam, Steamboat, Colorado (www.steamboat.com), continues to hold out against the trend of local, homey ski towns turning ritzy resort. It’s true Colorado Rockies’ cowboy country up here (160 miles northwest of Denver, but a mere 25 miles from the closest airport in Hayden), combining Old West-ranching heritage with wicked tree skiing and copious amounts of champagne-powder snow cover. Adults adore the town’s authenticity (and the more than 50 lodging options within 400 yards of the slopes), while youngsters dig the kids-only terrain and lifts (with areas for both novices and the more advanced), small group lessons, and weekend dinners at the mountaintop Western BBQ buffet-style restaurant (complete with live music and dancing). Parents will especially delight in special family deals (like free kids rentals and lift tickets), as well as top-notch daycare for children as young as 6 months.
Sun Valley, ID
Sun Valley, Idaho, was the first major ski resort in the Rockies, hosted the range’s first ski school, and was the first to install a chairlift – it’s fitting then, that Sun Valley Resort (www.sunvalley.com) is among the first destination choices for families in search of an optimum ski outing. Managing to avoid the bulk of the more commercial and flashy elements common to other Rockies’ resorts, the mountain – and Ketchum, the town at the resort’s base – maintain a distinctly Western charm and relatively unpretentious feel. Camp-style, full-day group ski lessons can be arranged for skiers ages 4 to 12 and for snowboarders ages 6 to 12; even tots aged 2 to 4 can enroll in a private lesson with Mom or Dad in tow (daycare can also be arranged). Off the slopes, professional-skater ice shows, sleigh rides, tubing, and ice-skating offer more fun ways to enjoy the snow and scenery.
Families comprised of beginning or intermediate skiers and snowboarders should look no further than Truckee’s Northstar-at-Tahoe (www.northstarattahoe.com), in California’s Lake Tahoe area, where nearly three-quarters of the resort’s 3,000 acres are designated as green or blue trails. Extras like Kid’s Night Out pizza and activity evenings for those aged 4 to 12, après-ski ice skating and s’mores roasts, and moonlight snowshoe tours get rave reviews from parents and youngsters alike. Also worthwhile, for more adventurous young skiers, is a visit to Adventure Parks, which offer an outlet to practice elementary jumps to both beginning skiers and snowboarders.