Family Friendly Ski Resorts

by Dan Giesin | December 14, 2016

The family that skis and snowboards together is a family that, well, knows how to have a great time.
But it’s not all face shots and ball-room groomers when trying to get a bunch of individuals to cooperate, particularly when said individuals happen to be of single-digest ages. There are several factors to consider when planning a family ski outing, especially if it is a first-time excursion of this sort.
Perhaps the most important consideration is how well-suited the mountain is for the children’s safety. Do all the trails funnel to a single strategic gathering area, mitigating the possibility of the little rippers getting lost. Are the kids’ trails and/or teaching area segregated from the rest of the resort’s trails.
Other factors include the ease of access to the resort, which cuts down drive time; off-slope diversions, particularly if one or more of the family doesn’t ski or snowboard; the intimacy of the resort’s setting; apres-ski activities, and budget.
With the above in mind, the following, in alphabetical order, are 10 resorts that can be listed among our favorite family-friendly ski hills.

Brighton, Utah

This brown-bag-lunch-friendly resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon has been a nursery of sorts for many skiing and snowboarding residents of the Salt Lake City area. The vibe is friendly and many of its 66 runs are mellow, but don’t think it’s just a bunny hill. With six lifts and 1,875 feet of vertical, there’s a little something for everyone over Brighton’s 1,050 acres of terrain. Other pluses:  200 acres of night skiing; kids under 10 stay free at the Brighton Lodge, and downtown Salt Lake City is less than 30 miles away.

Copper Mountain, Colorado

This 2,490-acre resort, which rises to the south and just above Interstate 70 as the freeway heads west to Vail Pass, has naturally divided terrain, with a pod for black skiers to the east, a big section of blue runs in the middle, and the beginner-friendly confines of the western sector. A big plus for families: The Kids Night Out program, which includes three hours of free child care that includes games, crafts and movies. Also, don’t miss the indoor playground (ramps, foam pits, trampolines, etc. for skaters and bikers) at Woodward at Copper’s Barn.

Keystone, Colorado

The most easterly of Vail Resorts’ five Colorado resorts, it’s also Vail’s most family-centric, which means it strives to keep your holiday within your budget. Witness: The Kids Ski Free program, which allows rippers 12 and under to explore the resort’s 3,148 acres for free when their families book at least a two-night stay at one of Keystone’s three base villages. Also check out Kidtopia  which feature many cost-free youth programs such as nonstop snow play, adventure walks, cooking and pottery classes, ice skating, etc.

Kicking Horse, British Columbia

Known more for its sublime bowls, gnarly chutes, stunning vistas and 4,133 feet of vertical, this eastern B.C. resort just outside the historic crossroads town of Golden has recently made inroads in luring families to its powder playground with increased beginner and intermediate terrain, including the Family Fun Zone and the Horse Play Corral. With the lower third of the mountain’s 2,800 pitched at a relatively gentle grade, families with young children can find a multitude of fun paths through the woods. There’s also a dedicated children’s teaching arena and the TELUS Kicking Horse Kids Club at the base.

Northstar, California

For most of its five-decade history, this 3,170-acre resort just outside Truckee has been known as Tahoe’s most family-centric area. And for good reason: With relatively gentle terrain and most trails orienting riders toward the base area, it’s tough for even the smallest child to get overly intimidated at Northstar. The resort also offers such programs as Kids’ Night Out (evening childcare service with dinner and activities) and a FamilyFest Package (lifts, lodging, activities and more). Off-hill attractions include ice-skating, snowmobiling and Airboarding; there’s also a Teen Alley, a village venue that has video games, music, movies and organized events structured for Northstar’s adolescent guests.

Okemo, Vermont

This 667-acre resort outside Ludlow off Vermont’s famed Scenic Route 100 Byway has teaching terrain and children’s programs that are specially designed to build confidence and teach new skills in a fun way. During weekends and holiday periods, Okemo puts on such youth- and family-oriented events as a raptor encounter with the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, disco ice-skating parties, evening snowshoe hikes, snowcat excursions and Kids’ Night Out programs. And don’t miss Okemo’s signature tabletop s’mores.

Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont

Located just south of Jeffersonville in northern Vermont, Smuggs, as it is affectionately known, has won multiple awards and citations for its family-friendly nature. It even bills itself — proudly —  as “America’s Family Resort”. One of the reasons for this is that its two-lift, 1,200-vertical-foot teaching hill, located on Morse Mountain, is well away from the blue and black runs that make up the bulk of the ski hill. Other factors that contribute to Smuggs’ family-first ethos are its Kids’ Night Out program (childcare with dinner and activities) and FamilyFest Package (lodging, lifts, activities, etc.).

Snowmass, Colorado

With 3,400 skiable acres, a bit more than 4,000 feet of vertical and a good-size base village, this Aspen-area resort has something for everyone in your family. Among the amenities for the children, there’s the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center (which includes a gym and teen-oriented activities), the kids-only Lizard Lodge and such daily off-hill activities as storytelling, bowling, wildlife treks and pool parties. And for the adults, there’s the ever-populate Kids’ Night Out option, which provides childcare while the parents can sample the Aspen-area nightlife.

Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia

 The venue for the Alpine events of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, this huge, double-mountain resort (at 8,171 acres and with 5,280 feet of vertical the largest in North America) is surprisingly kid and family friendly with a separate Family Zone on Whistler Mountain and such amenities as a Children’s Adventure Park, Big Easy Terrain Park (for beginning park rats) and family play areas (Tree Fort on Whistler and Magic Castle on Blackcomb) spread throughout the resort. There’s a tubing hill for kids of all ages and other off-piste diversions in the village. Whistler also has a variety of family-oriented stay-and-play packages.

Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, California

 Once known as Badger Pass, this small area (800 vertical, five lifts, 10 runs) is a prime place to bring beginning skiers and snowboards to learn the intricacies of the respective activities. The  resort is locally famed for its Badge Pups program, which designed for riders aged 4 to 6. As for other diversions there’s cross-country skiing, ice skating, Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Wawona big trees et al.

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