Planning a family ski trip this winter? Here's what you need to know
Ski season is officially underway: Many of North America's big-name resorts are either already open for the 2022-23 season — with an assist from a hefty dose of snow in parts of the West — or set to open soon.
For those inclined toward adventure, skiing or snowboarding is the ultimate way to enjoy a family holiday during the coldest months of the year. Whether you get it on your doorstep or have to travel to find fresh powder, the magic of a frozen wonderland is undeniable, especially for small humans.
But, let’s be honest, taking a family ski vacation is not quite as simple as planning a beach holiday. Here are seven things to keep in mind when organizing your family’s next ski trip:
Choose the ski resort wisely
Unless you’re a family of pros, you’ll want a mountain with plentiful beginner terrain — including magic carpets — and a reputable ski school for your children to take group or private lessons so they don't get frustrated or discouraged by intimidating runs. A great selection of on-mountain food options may be important to you, and perhaps you'd like the option of childcare, or at least to know that it’s available. You'll find all these features and more at some of TPG's favorite family ski resorts:
Breckenridge Ski Resort, Colorado
Childcare is available this season for the first time since the start of the pandemic at Breckenridge Ski Resort, and kids under 4 always ski free. This historic Colorado resort also just debuted a major enhancement to its beginner ski and snowboard school experience: a major upgrade of the classic Rip’s Ride chairlift to a new high-speed quad, which kids 3 years and older can ride.
The charming former mining town is full of other attractions (but more on that later). It's also worth noting that it's Colorado's highest ski town, which can pose problems to those prone to altitude sickness. Peak 8 chairlift (at just under 13,000 feet) is North America's highest resort quad chairlift.
June Mountain, California
Southeast of Yosemite National Park, June Mountain remains a well-kept secret in the Eastern Sierras. It has so much to offer every age group that it’s dubbed “California's Family Mountain.” Uncrowded and beginner-friendly, it offers free skiing and riding for all kids under 12 years (no blackout dates or restrictions) across 1,500 acres. It’s safe to expect no lift lines and more palatable prices, with lessons around half the cost of flashier, neighboring resorts (like sister mountain Mammoth). Rounding out the on-mountain experience, the resort hosts weekly bonfires with s’mores — surefire crowd-pleasers.
Stowe Mountain Resort, Vermont
On the East Coast, Stowe is known as an especially friendly place for children. The resort has a dedicated beginner mountain called Spruce Peak and a lively village that keeps kids entertained. Plus, there's the appealing ski-in/ski-out Lodge at Spruce Peak, which is part of the Hyatt portfolio and starts at $566 or 35,000 Hyatt points per night during peak ski season, from January through March. Other options include the boutique-y, adventure-ready Bluebird Tälta Lodge with room configurations that include bunk beds and an indoor pool (from $279 per night during ski season).
Keystone Ski Resort, Colorado
Perhaps the most family-friendly ski resort of all is Keystone — which is just 70 miles from Denver. This much-loved Rocky Mountain resort has a no-blackout-date Kids Ski Free program for those 12 and younger with two or more nights of hotel or condo lodging booked through Keystone Ski Resort. There’s even a Hyatt Place Keystone, an award Category 4 property with rooms from 18,000 points, or $144 cash, per night.
An entire area of the mountain is dedicated to children, and the destination also features the world’s largest mountaintop snow fort, with a second snow fort in the base area. Families get reserved front-row parking (on a first-come, first-served basis), and there are red wagons to help tote both gear and kids, as well as night skiing, skating on a five-acre lake, and eight lanes of mountaintop tubing, along with other thrilling highlights.
Plan other activities beyond skiing
Don’t over-plan. Even if you’re hyped about skiing or snowboarding, you can’t expect kids to remain excited on the mountain day after day with no break to enjoy a different kind of fun. So they don’t get too worn out, pick a place with plenty of other winter pursuits, from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating — a feature of many East Coast resorts — to snow tubing or maybe even an Ice Castle, for "Frozen" fanatics.
In Breckenridge, there’s a new, hands-on Mountain Top Explorium children’s museum, plus two free sledding hills, hot chocolate sleigh rides, heated snowcat tours and dog sledding.
Telluride’s historical mining town is a true gem that is a fun place for kids to wander and explore, plus there's a charming ice skating rink right in front of Madeline Hotel & Residences. Telluride Ski Resort offers The Kids Snow Camp for ages 5 to 12, which includes things like trekking and geocaching, and there are also snow-biking lessons for anyone not keen on skiing.
In Canada, Mont Tremblant, two hours from Montreal, boasts a plethora of winter wonderland activities — ice fishing, fat-tire biking, snowmobiling and sleigh rides. As an added bonus, there are plenty of points properties, including the Le Westin Resort and Spa, a Marriott Bonvoy property offering proximity to both the slopes and all the attractions of the quaint village; rates during ski season start from $255 Canadian dollars ($185) per night, or you can redeem 50,000 Bonvoy points.
Alternative options for off-piste fun in Vail include the Imagination Station, horseback riding through snow, educational winter ecology snowshoe tours (for anyone 10 years and over), old-fashioned sledding (some hotels offer loaners) and even ice bumper cars.
Pick your dates strategically
Try to avoid blackout dates, which are over the busiest holidays (i.e. Christmastime, Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Presidents’ Day) to both save money and also experience shorter waits at the lift lines — not to mention fewer skiers on the actual mountain. Early spring tends to be optimal since the snow is fluffier and fresher, which makes learning far easier — and falls less painful, too. Weekday rates at hotels are generally less expensive, too.
Consider a ski pass for savings
If you’re not going to strap on your skis enough times during the season to warrant a full pass, there are still options to save money, depending on your destination. And remember, prices almost everywhere go up as you get into the season, so plan ahead.
The Epic Day Pass, which can be purchased for one to seven days, includes 20% off certain food, lodging, and gear rentals plus other perks at mountains including Keystone, Park City and Beaver Creek. There are three options bestowing access to either 22, 32 or all 38 resorts in North America and Europe. As a general rule, if you are going to ski more than five days, a full pass (such as Epic Local) becomes a worthy investment.
The Ikon Pass, which covers more than 50 mountains, including Aspen Snowmass, Big Sky and June Mountain, has four-day options, but the full blackout-date-free Ikon Pass — though pricey — allows adult holders to purchase a $399 pass for kids 5-12 and $149 for kids 0-4. Pass holders can also buy up to 10 additional lift tickets at 25% off the window rate for friends and family to use. Payment plans are available, and if you plan ahead you can unlock great sale prices by buying your next season's pass half a year early, in March.
Related: What's the best ski pass this season? Comparing Epic, Ikon, Mountain Collective and Indy Pass
Outfit your kids in advance
Skis and snowboards can be easily rented, but for very small children it might be a challenge to find helmets and boots that fit well, which definitely matters. Make sure you look into what’s available well in advance to avoid major snafus with gearing up. The importance of keeping your kids warm and dry cannot be stressed enough as it will keep meltdowns to a minimum, ensure they stay healthy and allow for an overall positive mountain experience.
Stay away from cotton and opt instead for stretchy, water-wicking wool and fleece layers that can go under the waterproof outermost shells. Remember, too, that everything costs more at a ski resort, so go ahead and buy things like gloves before you go.
Also, depending on the mountain you’re visiting, check whether Kit Lender is an option. This rental platform is like Rent the Runway for ski and snowboard gear and features a big selection of top-of-the-line outerwear that will be delivered directly to your destination.
Another convenient service is Luggage Forward, which enables families to ship their ski gear and luggage to Vail Resorts properties.
Related: From picking the perfect mountain to renting winter clothes: How I'm prepping for my 1st ski trip
Book accommodations as close as possible to the lifts
Loading the kids up in the car can be trying enough at home on a school day, but imagine doing it with all that gear and the layers and layers of clothing.
For the best results, stay within walking distance of the lifts. And pro tip: Choose a place with hot tubs — kids love 'em. In Breckenridge, Gravity Haus (which has outposts in a handful of other favorite Colorado ski towns) is perfectly located and has unique room layouts that work beautifully for families — see The Trailblazer with a king room plus two separate twin bedrooms or The Crashpad, which has two queen-sized bunk beds and a queen sleeper sofa. Expect to pay upwards of $400 per night during the ski season, depending on room type.
Condo options can also be a great way to go with kids, since you can prepare food in a kitchen or kitchenette. In the charming town of Breckenridge those include Beaver Run Resort (rates start from $340 per night in winter) which boasts an arcade and indoor mini golf at the base of Peak 9 and is steps from the chairlift. Or try the ski-in/ski-out Grand Colorado on Peak Eight, with a movie theater, ice skating rink and children’s pool; ski season rates from $412 per night. Plus, there's One Ski Hill Place, A RockResort, also ski-in/ski-out, with a two-lane bowling alley; peak rates start from $612 per night and 20% discounts are available for Epic Pass holders.
Another alternative: free shuttles. The Keystone Lodge & Spa has one for its guests, along with a children's welcome amenity, s’mores kits, daily complimentary happy hour with kid-friendly options and a kit with stickers, bubbles and other fun stuff; winter rates from $233 per night. Amenities go a long way: At The Hythe, A Luxury Collection Resort, Vail, every afternoon a buffet of s’mores makings is set out for kids and kids-at-heart to roast over outdoor fire pits. A Marriott Bonvoy property, cash rates in January start from $528 per night, or you can redeem 79,000 Bonvoy points.
When in doubt, schedule lessons or ski school
Chances are it’s been at least six months since you and your kids last hit the slopes, so it’s always beneficial to book a lesson or ski school program to brush up on skills and learn the lay of the land. Try to schedule lessons well in advance, because there’s a limit to availability. Who really wants to be in charge of teaching their own kids to ski? If it’s a resort you’ve never skied before, an instructor will be hugely helpful in sharing advice for not only navigating the mountain but also the destination since they can offer insider tips as a local on other worthwhile activities and delicious restaurants.
Looking for more inspiration for your next ski trip? Check out these stories:
7 ski resorts we can’t wait to visit again
Best ski resorts for families in North America
How to plan your ski trip with points and miles
From hidden gems to big names: Here are 11 of California's best ski resorts