Family Ski Resort Choices, in Six Regions

  • 01 of 08

    Get on the Slopes!

    Alta Mountain, Utah - Photo © Teresa Plowright
    Alta Ski Resort, Utah. Photo © Teresa Plowright

    short-cut to: Family Ski Resorts in New England, Pennsylvania, New York State, Colorado, Utah, Canada.

    Forget "Old Man Winter": for families who ski or board, "Winter"'s a buff guy in gortex, and a chance to get onto white slopes under bright blue skies.

    So, where to go? The next pages have suggestions in six regions. Keep in mind that regions differ in some key features that are important for family skiing:

    • Vertical lift: small mountains are great for learning but as kids get older, the family may crave longer runs at bigger mountains
    • Quality of the snow: for many of us, skiing on ice is not so nice, while champagne powder is sweet. Utah, Colorado, and the interior area of BC are great spots to try.
    Also take a minute for some Points to Consider in Choosing a Family Ski Resort, such as:
    • advantages of non-celebrity ski resorts
    • airport-to-slope-time
    • "Kids Ski Free" opportunities
    • kids' programs: some ski resorts go all out not only with kids programs but also teen programs and deluxe child-care centers.
    For any trip planning, always check the destination's website for the latest updates, and be sure to read recent visitor comments at a site like TripAdvisor.com.

    --On to Region #1: New England

  • 02 of 08

    New England: Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire

    Photo courtesy of Smugglers' Notch.
    Photo courtesy of Smugglers' Notch.

    Learn to ski in the mountains of the eastern US, and you'll know how to handle ice and be able to ski anywhere with confidence.

    Smuggler's Notch, VT is the embodiment of "Family Ski Resort", with family packages, myriad kids programs, slopeside childcare center, teen centers, Night School for boarding and jibbing...* Guests can snowshoe, skate, tube-slide, snowmobile, horse-ride, sleigh-ride, swim in a heated pool, do an art workshop; enjoy bonfires, fireworks, family games nights, indoor FunZone, minigolf. Lodgings are condo's or vacation homes. The biggest of three mountains, Madonna, has a vertical drop of 2610' and some darn steep slopes.

    Okemo, VT
    -is another place that makes a specialty of family skiing, with excellent kids' programs, lots of intermediate runs, many different types of lodging; kids six and under ski free*.

    Killington, VT
    A dominant mountain in the northeast, with seven peaks, and plenty for the party crowd; but a good place for family skiing too, with programs from daycare (from 12 weeks old) to "Camp Freeride" for real keen teens.

    Meanwhile, in Maine, is Sugarloaf: it's a trek (8-9 hours from NYC, four from Boston), but once there, you've got hotel, inn, condos, buses, restaurants, shops, and Maine's second-highest peak, with 2820' vert and an area above the treeline (-double-diamond, though!) Family skiing extras include a tube park, Outdoor Center, family games nights. Look for well-priced packages; kids are free during Children's Festival Week.*

    In NH, Bretton Woods is the biggest ski area with 430 acres; it's partners with the historic Mt. Washington Hotel. Child care center takes babies from two months old.

    • check out Powder Passport: deal for sixteen of the Northeast's ski resorts.

    --Continue to Pennsylvania

    *Always check ski resort sites for updates!

  • 03 of 08

    Pennsylvania

    Photo courtesy of Camelback Ski Resort.
    Photo courtesy of Camelback Ski Resort.

    For family skiing in Pennsylvania, the better-known slopes are in eastern PA in the Poconos Mountains (a mere 90 minutes drive from New York City), but western PA has some action too. Note that, in this state, a vertical drop of 1000 feet is good (compared to say, Vermont slopes with 2000+ drops, or dare we mention the numbers at Colorado ski resorts, with 3500 feet); but what the heck, you get to slide down slopes and these are drive-to destinations for many families.

    None of these resorts is building up the family fun to the extent of, say, Vermont's Smugglers' Notch, but these destinations are enjoyed by many families and prices are generally reasonable.

    Camelback Ski Resort is the largest ski area in the Poconos, with a ski and snowboard school and childcare for ages 12 months and up*. Jack Frost/Big Boulder dual mountain has terrain parks geared to beginners,and kids programs for ages 3 to 10. Blue Mountain: has the biggest vert, at 1082 feet, and has kids' programs; Elk Mountain has the highest peak (2600 feet), and 1000' vert, kids programs for ages 3 to 12 plus babysitting services; Shawnee Mountain is a small ski resort with a vertical drop of 700 feet, and it's closest to NYC.

    Western Pennsylvania has ski resorts too: for example, eight ski resorts within a hundred miles of Pittsburgh, ranging from small slopes such as Boyce Park (150-foot vertical, $8 lift ticket), to Blue Knot ski resort, in the Alleghany Mountains, which tots up the biggest vertical at 1072 feet, and is family-friendly and affordable.

    Mystic Mountain rates a mention here, as part of the family-friendly Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa. With five slopes, eight trails, and 25 acres, the place is wee, but fun.

    --Continue to New York State

    *Always check destination web sites for updates!

  • 04 of 08

    New York State

    short-cut to: family skiing in New England, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, Canada.

    Family skiers in New York state can head to two mountain ranges "upstate", the Catskills and the Adirondacks; plus some smaller slopes, too.

    Lake Placid, in the vast Adirondacks, was the site of the 1980 (and 1932) Winter Olympics; Whiteface Mountain ski resort is at the head of Lake Placid, with great views and highest vertical drop in the east, at 3430 feet. At Whiteface, Kids Kampus is a "one stop shop" with lift tix, rentals, kids programs; teens can do an all-day Whiteface Teen Experience.

    Lake Placid also has an Olympic Center where you might see a Ski Jump competition, or ride up to the skydeck, or try some virtual reality ski-jumping yourself; or try the Olympic bobsled course. Or simply ride the town's giant old-fashioned toboggan run that shoots you onto Mirror Lake.

    Further south in the giant Adirondack Park is year-round tourist area Lake George; families can ski at nearby smallish Gore Mountain, with 347 skiable acres in North Creek NY. Lake George has a Winter Carnival in February.

    Closer still to NYC (just a hundred miles), in the smaller Catskills Mountains is family-friendly Bellayre: small, with 171 skiable acres and vert of 1404 feet; operated by the state of New York on "forever wild" land. There's a Kidscamp, Nursery/Day Care, and a bus from NYC that includes your lift ticket.

    Meanwhile, in western NY state there's Holiday Valley: "Consistently rated by visitors as the best ski resort in Western NY, Holiday Valley is a small, charming resort." Vert is 750 feet.

    The I Love NY site covers skiing and other winter activities in NY state.

    --Continue to Colorado

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Colorado

    Beaver Creek Ski Resort, Strawberry Park. Photo © Jack Affleck, Beaver Creek Resort.

    Jack Affleck 

    Ah, the Rockies. Half a dozen states have Rocky Mountain ranges (-such as Utah, next page) but Colorado is the marquis state, thanks to celebrity spots such as Aspen and Vail. Colorado has other great ski resorts too, some of which come with quaint mining towns.

    It comes as no surprise that the mountain stats are big: a ski resort base might start at 9000' elevation, and have 3000+ acres of terrain. Vertical drops of 3000+ feet are common.

    Tip: if timing or money is tight, think twice about places that need connector flights to small airports. Flights can get canceled if the weather's bad, and airfares tend to cost more too. Read more about Family Skiing: Airport to Slope Time.

    Aspen / Snowmass
    This mega ski resort, 162 miles from Denver, has four mountain areas. Aspen has been synonymous with status and wealth for decades: think Victorian buildings, top shops and eats, and private jets delivering guests. Snowmass has a whopping 4400 vertical feet, a giant children's center, and teen programs. Aspen-Snowmass gets good Airport-To-Slope Time thanks to a local airport.*

    Beaver Creek, CO
    This upscale Colorado ski resort is known for kids programs: kids even have their own gondola and restaurant. Beaver Creek is just a few miles from Vail: lift passes are good at all mountains owned by Vail Resorts. Guests can fly into nearby Eagle County Airport.

    Breckenridge
    104 miles west of Denver airport, Breckenridge ski resort has many family-friendly features and a quaint Victorian town.

    Crested Butte
    Known for x-treme skiing, Crested Butte also has lots of easier acreage. Location is 230 miles southwest of Denver. Visitors can enjoy great snow and a cute former mining town with shops and restaurants.

    Keystone Ski Resort, CO
    90 miles from Denver airport, Keystone is one of several Colorado ski resorts owned by Vail Resorts, and lift passes are good at all. Keystone's annual Kidtopia features a Snow Fort and fun activities.

    Steamboat Ski Resort
    157 miles northwest of Denver, Steamboat has kids programs, kids-only terrain and lifts, and often offers Kids Free deals.

    Vail, CO
    This giant ski resort -- with over 5000 acres of terrain-- has nightlife, kids' programs, a tube park with covered lift, and legendary "back bowls". Vail is near Beaver Creek and lift passes are good at several ski resorts owned by Vail Resorts. Guests can fly into nearby Eagle airport.

    Winter Park
    Just 67 miles NW of Denver, this family-friendly ski resort has 3000+ skiable acres and five mountain areas, and is a leader in accessible skiing.

    Many More Colorado Ski Resorts
    Kidznsnow.com overviews Colorado Ski Resorts including less-known places that locals love. For the big picture, see this birds-eye view of Colorado ski resorts.

    Family skiers should keep in mind that with base elevations from 7500 and up, altitude may cause temporary symptoms such as headaches.

    --Continue to Utah

    *Always check for updates!

  • 06 of 08

    Utah

    Alta Ski Resort. Photo © Teresa Plowright

     Teresa Plowright

    short-cut to: family skiing in New England, Pennsylvania, New York State, Colorado, Canada.

    "The Greatest Snow on Earth" - that's the slogan in Utah: Utah's Wasatch Range is part of the Rockies, and we're talking "champagne powder" -- very smooth, light, dry.

    But that's not all Utah's got going for it. Salt Lake City is a major hub for airlines, and pretty much any city in the US has a direct flight of just a few hours to SLC. Once there, seven different mountains are right by Salt Lake City, and two more are under an hour from the airport. This all adds up to: getting on the slopes FAST.

    From your house, to sliding on the Greatest Snow on Earth, in a matter of hours: Sweet. Especially for family skiers, with impatient kids.

    And sweeter: the three Park City ski resorts (Deer Valley, The Canyons, and Park City Mountain Resort) offer Quick START Vacation: ski free on the day you arrive in Utah; convert your boarding pass into a lift ticket.

    Park City, by the way, was home to the 2002 Olympics. Which means there's a cool Olympic Park to check out.

    • read about Utah Ski Resorts near Salt Lake City. You won't believe it, until you've seen it: SLC is flat (there's a big salt lake, right?) yet within an hour's drive are no less than seven very different ski resorts. Variety! Alta Ski Resort and Deer Valley are skiers-only, by the way.

    One point to note, and similar to Colorado: with base elevation at, say, 8530' for Alta ski resort, some people may have altitude symptoms such as headache; usually symptoms are mild and go away in a few days.

    --Continue to Family Skiing in Canada

  • 07 of 08

    Canada

    Photo courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort.

    Photo courtesy of Sun Peaks Resort

    It's not called the Great White North for nothing. The giant country of Canada has some great opportunities for family skiing, in both the east and west.

    Family Skiing in Eastern Canada

    Mont Tremblant is a well-known ski resort in Quebec about 1-1/2 hours from Montreal, with a respectable vertical drop of 2116', and a village with shops and lodgings that include a Fairmont hotel with ski valet.

    Mont-Sainte-Anne, meanwhile, is just a 1/2-hour from the charms of Quebec City -- think mini-trip to Europe. Stay in Quebec City and shuttle over, or stay at the mountain at ski-in, ski-out lodging. A great spot for family skiing.

    And don't worry: you'll have no trouble speaking English even though Quebec is French-speaking.

    Canadian Rockies

    For much bigger mountains, head a few thousand miles west to Banff /Lake Louise, about 90 minutes from Calgary. Sunshine Village has three mountains, 3358 acres skiable terrain, vertical of 3574'. Lake Louise has 4200 skiable acres, major off-piste, and 3250' vertical. Smaller ski resort Norquay bills itself as "Banff's best family ski resort"; vert is 1650 feet.

    British Columbia

    Whistler-Blackcomb -- about 1-1/2 hours from Vancouver -- is often ranked as the top ski resort in the world, with a winning combo of terrain, village, and apres-ski. Mountain stats are huge: over 8000 acres, nearly a mile of vertical drop; and ski season lasts into June. Families will find kids programs, on-mountain Kids Adventure Zones, terrain garden, "Ride Tribe" for teens. Dog-friendly, too!

    Okanagan BC
    Why, then, why do so many Vancouver snowhounds head out of town in another direction? They're driving farther, to a different climate zone with "champagne powder", and four family-friendly ski resorts that are only "smaller" compared to Whistler. Sun Peaks, for example, has 3,678 acres on 3 mountains, and vert of 2891 feet.

    It's also possible to stay right in Vancouver and get on the slopes. The city of Vancouver rarely sees snow in winter, but just a half-hour drive away in the scenic mountains are three local ski resorts. Cypress Mountain has the most runs, and super views over the city and sea. Grouse Mountain has a gondola that's a popular tourist attraction. Seymour Mountain's appeal is backcountry. Visitors can rent gear and clothing at all three mountains. (Check for updates, though.) Read more about Vancouver Skiing.

    See more about Family Skiing in Canada.

    --Continue to More Destinations for Family Skiing

  • 08 of 08

    More Regions...

    Taos Ski Valley, base. Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.
    Photo courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

    Other notable ski areas in the US include Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, Sun Valley in Idaho, and more.

    See a clickable map at About.com's Skiing site. That page covers international ski resorts, too: Europe, New Zealand, Argentina....