Fresh Tracks: What’s New and Noteworthy at Colorado Ski Resorts in 2019 for Families
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A family ski trip in the Colorado Rockies conjures up images of snuggling up with the kids in front of a roaring fireplace, drinking hot cocoa, with rosy cheeks flushed with cheery memories of a satisfying day on the slopes. There’s truly nothing quite like experiencing the fresh mountain air as a family.
If you’re on the hunt for a family-approved ski destination, there are about 26 ski resorts across Colorado, each with its own unique personality and offerings. The out-of-state skier who attempts to compare all the options may feel overwhelmed with just how many dot the state.
Living in Denver with my own two kiddos (aged 2 and 4), I’ve had the chance to check out many of the resorts within a reasonable driving distance from Denver, everywhere from Breckenridge, Aspen, Keystone to Telluride. So what’s the best resort to take the kids, you ask?
Whether you’re an expert snowboarder looking to shred in the backcountry or a newbie skier learning to navigate the bunny hill with your little ones, the following resorts have something for everyone — and in the 2019 ski season, they have more than ever to offer the family traveler. From new hotels, to renovated ski terrain, new lifts, off-slope adventures and special kid-centric events, here’s what’s new and noteworthy in 2019 for families bound for select ski resorts in Colorado.
New Beginner Terrain
At the Meadows, a beginner’s area in Telluride, a 320-foot covered surface lift was recently installed. It helps keep your little shredders warm as they head up the mountain to take their first turns (or “pizza wedge stops”) down the snow.
Rebranded Family-Friendly Hotel
Stay in a European-style chalet and enjoy ski-in, ski-out access at the Madeline Hotel & Residences. While this hotel is about seven years old, the Madeline rebranded the property in 2017. Surrounded by the 14,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains, this 83-room hotel is in the heart of Mountain Village. On property, kids can go ice skating at the Madeline Ice Rink, play games in the 3,000-square-foot M Lounge, hang at the 20 Below kids club and get a sugar high at Dylan’s Candy Bar. In the evenings from Dec. 21 to April 5, The Madeline offers a weekly live magic show called Mind Blown, hosted by magician Ty Gallenbeck, which is sure to wow guests of all ages.
In other Telluride hotel news, TPG’s Mommy Points recently checked out the Dunton Town House in Telluride (opened in 2016) and found it to be a very charming bed and breakfast just steps from the base of the town’s (free) gondola.
Telluride Is Now Part of Epic Pass
New for the 2019 season, Epic Pass holders will receive seven days of skiing or snowboarding with no blackout dates at Telluride. If you’re not familiar with the Epic Pass, it offers unlimited access to 19 mountain resorts (Colorado resorts include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte and Arapahoe Basin Creek) plus additional access to over 40 more across the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and parts of Europe. Full adult passes (which are no longer available for this season) price around $949 and a child pass (ages 5–12) is $499. It can pay for itself in fewer than five days of skiing, so it’s a great value if you’re planning on hitting the slopes multiple times in a season.
Top Local Pick: Ah Haa School for the Arts
Release your inner Picasso and sign your family up for a private art lesson at Ah Haa School for the Arts. Choose from a variety of workshops, everything from printmaking to watercolor painting, ceramics to jewelry beading. For youth (ages 3–15), the cost is $65 per hour for one person, not including materials. For adults (ages 16+), it’s $75–$100 per hour for one person. All additional students, regardless of age, are an extra $25 per hour per person. Introducing the kids to this creative hub is a fantastic way to cultivate an appreciation for the arts and get a feel for Telluride’s local community and culture.
Ice, Ice, Baby
From Jan. 21 to 30, take the kids to the 29th International Snow Sculpture Championships. Stroll through this free outdoor gallery as teams from around the world hand-carve 25-ton blocks of ice into massive art sculptures.
Ski School for (Almost) All Ages
Breckenridge holds a special place in my heart since this resort town was the site of my daughter’s first ski school experience. We signed her up at for a full-day “Quad Squad” lesson, where she joined a group of three other kids her age. The full-day fee is steep at $324 and it costs extra to rent gear. Under the guidance of the qualified and patient instructor, she’s surely on her way to becoming the next Lindsey Vonn … or at least smiling while going down Sawmill.
My 2-year-old, however, wasn’t old enough for ski school, so he spent the day in child care at the Beaver Run, while my husband and I hit the slopes. Beyond your typical child care offerings, there is an add-on experience called Lil Rippers, where kids under 3 can take an hour of private ski lessons for an extra $60. I loved that my son could get a feel for the mountain despite his age. At Breckenridge, you can also book a half-day private lessons for multiple children as an alternative to group ski school lessons.
Parent’s Night Out at Aurum
If you’re looking for a parent’s night out on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday night, drop the kids off at the Mountain Top Children’s Museum. This cool play space has interactive exhibits about nature, science and the human body. My daughter especially loved the bright orange helicopter, complete with pilot headgear. Its Kid’s Night Out program is for kids 4–12 years old and runs from 6–9pm. It costs $45 ($25 per sibling) and includes dinner and activities.
While the kids go wild in the museum, you can check out some of the 200 shops, bars and restaurants this hip mountain town has to offer. One of the hottest new restaurants on the scene is Aurum, an upscale American eatery with mouthwatering dishes such as brazed Colorado lamb shank and lavender honey-glazed duck confit. Cozy and romantic with killer cocktails, it’s decidedly more of an adults-only place; however, during the hours of 4–6pm, Aurum does offers individual tours to their kitchen for children interested in becoming chefs.
Top Local Pick: Sleigh Ride Through the White River National Forest
One of my most memorable off-slope activities with my family was a horse-drawn sleigh ride by Golden Horseshoe Tours through the White River National Forest. As you cozy up with the fam in a red sleigh, a Belgian draft horse leads you through the woods for scenic views of the Swan River Valley. The sleigh ride costs $55 for adults, $45 for kids (4–12) and under 3 are free.
Golden Horseshoe Tours also offers a gold mining-themed dinner theater, which includes the horse ride, a hearty three-course meal and Gold Rush-themed entertainment. For this culinary experience, adults pay $89, kids (4–12) are $69 and kids under 3 are free. You can also take the kids (4-years-old and older) dog sledding with Good Times Adventures, located on the same property. Here you can mush your own team of Siberian Huskies across some 6 miles of winding trails in both the summer and winter months.
Kids Ski Free Program
Known as one of the most family-friendly resorts in Colorado, Keystone makes traveling with kids easier with free front-row family parking and complimentary red wagons to help lug gear to and from the mountain. It has a great Kids Ski Free program, which continues to be available to kids 12 and under every day of the entire season (including weekends and holidays). Just book two nights or more at your choice of Keystone lodgings options and kids ski and ride for free.
Special Events for Kids in 2019
One of the best things about Keystone is its daily Kidtopia programming throughout the village, from après ski socials and fireworks displays to costumed dancers, festive music and free freshly baked cookies. There’s also a Ripperoo Parade on Saturdays complete with elaborate floats that snake through the village. Mark your calendars for Kidtopia’s special food and music-themed events. There’s the second annual Kidtopia Culinary Festival from Feb. 8–15 and the fourth annual Kidtopia Music Experience from March 1– 10, featuring outdoor concerts and a snow pants dance party.
New App to Plan Your Trip
Tech-savvy families may enjoy “Emma,” the world’s first digital mountain assistant, launching in beta at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado. This AI-empowered app offers guests real-time information on everything from snow conditions to line wait times, dining recommendations, parking info and even personal performance stats. This app will be available across Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge later in 2019.
Top Local Picks: Kidtopia Headquarters and Dillon Ice Castle
It’s not exactly a new or a closely held local secret, but let’s face it, for kids, a visit to the “The World’s Largest Snow Fort” is a must. After you’ve finished with the kids’ ski lessons, head up the gondola to go snow-tubing down a multi-lane hill and slide in the ice slides and tunnels at the Kidtopia Snow Fort.
From there, you can retreat to Kidtopia Headquarters that has a free play space for kids and parents to enjoy a variety of activities together, including board games, a foosball table, giant Lego sets, face painting and crafts. It’s open daily from 9:30am to 2:30pm, but parents must stay to supervise their little ones.
Dillon Ice Castle
In its second year, the Dillon Ice Castle (about 10 minutes from Keystone), is a must-visit when you are in the area. While the ice castle conjures up visions of Elsa and Frozen any time of day, we recommend a visit just before dusk so you can see the castle in both the natural light as well as with the multicolor castle lights. Book your tickets in advance online as they do sell out.
Keep your ski clothes on for this trip as the ice slides will get your backside cold and wet!
New Family-Friendly Hotel in 2019
Three words. Limelight Hotel Snowmass. If you’re looking for a hotel with a kid’s room that includes an old-school Pac-Man game for the little ones, plus ski-in, ski-out access for the parents, the Limelight is the coolest new hotel to hit Aspen. In Snowmass Base Village, adjacent to the Elk Camp Gondola, this 99-room hotel is part of the new $600 million mountain-resort development of Snowmass Base Village, and it welcomed its first guest on Jan. 4.
Upon check-in, you’ll see that the hotel has a five-story climbing wall, the largest indoor rock-realistic climbing wall in Colorado. Kids can enjoy complimentary ice skating rentals to practice their double axels at the new rink. There are also complimentary snowshoes and two fat bikes (and tricycles for the kids) so you can bike through the snow as a family.
Every Tuesday from 4–5 p.m, the Limelight Hotel offers family programming in the children’s game room, with activities like storytelling and face painting. Weekly in the Limelight lounge, chef Michael Coco hosts make-your-own-pizza night, also available to non-guests for a fee. This hotel is a great choice for the family looking to experience the luxurious alpine lifestyle.
If you have an IKON Pass, Classic Pass, or Mountain Collective Pass you can save 25% on a deluxe room category or higher by presenting your pass at check-in. Points-fans rejoice, as also coming to the Aspen-area in 2019 is a new W Hotel, set to open in July.
Rebuilt Buttermilk Fort for Kids
Also debuting this winter is a rebuilt Fort Frog, a wooden, frontier-style fort in the nearby woods of Aspen’s Buttermilk. Accessed by skiing or snowboarding, this kid’s play structure will include a swinging bridge, lookout towers, a turbo twister slide and a saloon with a candy bar.
Top Local Pick: Pine Creek Cookhouse
One of my all-time favorite things to do while in the Aspen area is a visit to Pine Creek Cookhouse for a culinary adventure. In the historic ghost town of Ashcroft, about 12 miles outside of Aspen at the base of the Elk Mountain Range, Pine Creek is a high-end restaurant serving gourmet mountain cuisine in an epic rustic setting. This restaurant serves up hearty multicourse winter meals (like Rocky Mountain elk chop and buffalo tenderloin) in a cozy log cabin. Even the kids’ menu is fancy, with items like New York strip steak and ruby red trout for those young foodies in training.
Beyond the delicious food and woodsy atmosphere, part of the thrill of this place is just getting there. Families can either cross-country ski, snowshoe or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods to or from Pine Creek. A gourmet four-course meal is available at $70 for adults, $45 for kids 12 and under. (The sleigh ride costs extra.) Ski and snowshoe equipment rentals are priced at $25 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under. The cross-country skiing option is a sure way to work up an appetite.
Planning your own ski adventure with your family? Check out these resources:
- Best Credit Cards to Use for a Ski Trip
- Maximizing Points and Miles for a Colorado Ski Trip
- Kids Ski Free: Save on Your Family’s Next Ski Vacation
- Best Ski Resorts for Families in North America
- Top 10 Ski Schools for Kids
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Featured image by Summer Hull / The Points Guy