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Any skier worth their hand-warmers understands the sacred duty to raise the next generation of powder hounds. But the journey beyond the bunny hill isn’t all hot chocolate and bluebird ski days— it inevitably includes a few years of pricey ski school and completely wasted adult lift tickets along the way. The best family resorts get this, catering to your “learning seasons” by plying you with good deals, great snow and made-for-kids activities — because the sooner the kids catch the shredding bug, the sooner you’ll be shushing down the double blacks as one big happy ski family.

Here are the best US ski resorts to check out — kids in tow — this season.

THE WEST

Beaver Creek, Colorado

Beaver Creek Village. Photo by Jack Affleck
Beaver Creek Village. Photo by Jack Affleck

Family skiing has always been part of Beaver Creek’s DNA, but the resort is upping the ante this year with the opening of Red Buffalo Park, a new 200-acre, 13-slope “family learning area” accessed by a brand-new high-speed lift — just 4.3 minutes to the top. Make sure to stop at the Cookie Cabin while you’re visiting; the old-timey sweets store (located 11,000 ft. above sea level) is famous for fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. For apres-ski, make a reservation at Allie’s Cabin Family Dinners where an open-air sleigh (!) picks up your brood and whisks you to the restaurant. Lots of great stay-and-ski options here too, like the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek (rates start around $549 or 30,000 Hyatt points), the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch (rates start around $599 or 70,000 Marriott points) and the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa (rates start around $399 or 20,000 Starpoints).

Keystone, Colorado

Photo courtesy Keystone Resorts
Photo courtesy Keystone Resorts

Free lift tickets for kids 12 and under when you stay at one of the resort’s properties for two nights or more, with no blackout dates, is a lovely family perk. Plus, the resort’s Kidtopia activities include free special daily programing like fireworks, snow forts and meet ‘n’ greets with Keystone’s adorable and hardworking Ski Patrol rescue dogs. There’s a new points play, too — this year the Inn at Keystone becomes Hyatt Place Keystone, which means stays start around $219 a night or 7,500 Hyatt points + $100 and you get Hyatt perks like free breakfast for the whole clan.

Deer Valley, Utah

Photo courtesy Deer Valley Resort
Photo courtesy Deer Valley Resort

When kids are just getting their bearings making big side-to-side turns down an incline, snowboarders, speeding straight for the bottom, can be scary. Thankfully, there are no boarders to heed at Deer Valley, which is a ski-only resort, allowing cautious parents everywhere to exhale. The mountain limits its ticket sales each day, which keeps crowds (and lift line waits) at a minimum. Stay at the St. Regis Deer Valley (rates start around $949 or 30,000-35,000 Starpoints per night) or the Park City Marriott (rates start at $166 per night or 40,000 Marriott points).

THE EAST

NY State

Got a 3rd or 4th grader this year? Then they’re eligible for New York State’s Learn to Ski or Ride Passport program — including a free lift ticket, lesson and equipment rental at more than 20 ski areas, including Hunter, Belleayre, Windham and Whiteface. Once they learn the ropes they can still get up to three free lift tickets at participating mountains when accompanied by a skiing adult. Check the schedules since blackout days (around the holidays, especially) and a $27 “processing fee” may apply. For hotels, try the modern Scribner’s Catskill Lodge (rates start around $166 per night) near Hunter; at Whiteface, try the Hampton Inn and Suites Lake Placid (rates start around $103 or 26,000 Hilton Points).

Mt Sunapee, New Hampshire

Our favorite of the southern New England options, Sunapee has a dedicated beginner peak (with a couple lovely blue runs) which means nervous novice skiers can exit the lift and pick any way down they choose. What’s more, nothing helps with early confidence like good snow, and Sunapee does some of the best snow-making in the east, covering 97% of the terrain — important in more southerly climes where nature doesn’t always cooperate with the kids’ school vacations. Stay at the Mountain Edge Resort & Spa (rates start around $233 per night).

Stowe, Vermont

Photo courtesy Stowe Signature Shots
Photo courtesy Stowe Signature Shots

Newly purchased by the Vail Resorts group — Stowe has a world-class ski school and plenty of long beautiful blues to keep your not-yet-expert skiers and boarders engaged. After a great family day on the slopes, take in a free pre-dinner skate at the new Spruce Peak outdoor ice rink (open 11am to 9pm daily) or do a guided twilight snowshoe tour through the woods. Want to skip the “are we there yet?” choruses in the car? Jump on a Tradewind Aviation flight from Westchester County Airport directly to Stowe Morrisville State Airport (December through March). Rates start at $350 plus tax per one-way flight on the Friday/Sunday flights — no extra charge for all your ski gear. Stay at the Trapp Family Lodge (yes that Trapp family), where rates start around $200 per night).

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