Winter is a great time to get outdoors with the kids, whether it’s a ski and snow family vacation at one of North America’s top mountain resorts, snowmobiling, snowboarding or snow shoeing on local trails, fun in the snow on a tubing run or seeing wildlife at a national park.
But this pandemic year, expect the experience to be very different. Yes, snow resorts are opening — most by Thanksgiving — and they are promising many additional protocols to keep us safe.
The New Pandemic Normal at Ski Resorts
There will be fewer food options on the mountain (this may be the season to brownbag your lunches), longer waits to ensure social distancing in food venues and fewer apres-ski options. You will need to make advance reservations for lift tickets and you may not be able to score lift tickets for the most popular holidays.
Resorts promise smaller ski school classes, new rules on who can ride gondolas and lifts together, and limited capacity on the mountain so that it will be possible to social distance outside as well as inside. Lodging may also operate with limited capacity.
There is a Ski Resort for your Family
There is good news: With more families driving rather than flying and with remote work and school, we aren’t as tied to traditional school vacation weeks. Ski and snow family vacations are possible. There are many lodging options in condos and houses with kitchens and room to spread out with plenty of deals, especially if you opt to stay longer, like at The Antlers at Vail. We don’t have to head to the mountains when the resorts are most crowded—and expensive, regardless of snow conditions. This year, you might actually be able to let the snow be your guide! With our annual Fun in the Snow guide – in partnership with The Family Travel Forum, you’ll see how easy it is to book a value winter vacation that is safe and guaranteed to please everyone… most of the time anyway.
The National Ski Areas Associations has a new “Ski Well, Be Well” website designed to reassure skiers and riders that the industry is committed to providing safe outdoor recreation that will promote health and reduce the risk of infection with “acres upon acres of wide-open natural space,” said Kelly Pawlak, President and CEO of the NSAA.
Many believe that smaller resorts — those in the Midwest and Pennsylvania, for example — will have a well-deserved rebound with families opting for places that offer significantly cheaper lift tickets, less people and cheaper lodging. (Consider that with a GEMS card that covers smaller resorts — see Colorado Gems below — you can get two-for-one lift tickets for just $35.)
Trends in the World of Snowsports
In good news for multigenerational groups with non-skiers, off slope experiences continue to expand as resorts work around climate change and diversify their appeal. Expect take-out from an ever-growing locally-sourced food scene and off the slope activities from alpine coasters to ziplines, tubing, dog sledding and star gazing.
Passes — whether for the season or for a week — are the way to go this season as resorts won’t be selling day-of lift tickets. “We will tightly regulate the number of daily lift tickets that will be available,” said Rusty Gregory, CEO of Alterra Mountain Company, with 15 resorts including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in California, Deer Valley in Utah and Stratton and Sugarbush in Vermont. Priority will be given to their IKON season pass holders.
Vail Resorts, which operates 37 resorts in the U.S and abroad, including Stowe in Vermont, Breckinridge in Colorado and Northstar in California, is capping ski school classes at four for 5- and 6- year olds and six students for older kids and adults. Advance reservations will be required for ski school as well as for specific-day lift tickets. (If guests plan to only ski a few days, consider the Epic Day Pass, with which guests can choose the number of days they’d like to ski – from one to seven.)
“For the vast majority of days, we anticipate we’ll be able to accommodate everyone who wants to ski and ride at our resorts,” said Vail Resorts spokesman Sara Lococo.
That’s assuming the resorts can stay open despite the Pandemic. (They are offering various guarantees to pass holders should they have to close.) Nor can anyone anticipate how much snow we will have with more than 45% of the continental U.S. experiencing drought.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Vacation Resorts A to Z
ALTA SKI AREA is adjacent to the contemporary, upscale Snowbird but its vibe is a little more natural, with the idea that the experience offered is all about skiing (no snowboarding at Alta). Purchase a combined Alta Snowbird ticket to ski more than 4,700 acres in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. Stay in the traditional, European style Alta lodge, hosting guests since 1940. In addition to a kids stay free offer that includes meals over certain dates, Alta offers yoga to start your day, a complimentary kids-club (and getting them to and from the slopes), breakfast and dinner daily (the kids can eat early with their pals) and an expanded kids-free program this season. Lift ticket prices are priced competitively and the two base area rope tows (Grizzly tow and Alta Lodge tow) and the new Snowpine lift are free all day so beginners can save, too.
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB in the White Mountains of New Hampshire provides hundreds of miles of trails to hike or snowshoe, plus guided custom adventures at both AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch and Highland Center Lodge at Crawford Notch. The AMC’s 100-square-mile wilderness in Maine can be toured via groomed, backcountry ski trails on day trips. Many families enjoy trying to ski between rustic lodges and private cabins, where home-cooked meals are served to overnight guests. Read about a weekend getaway to an AMC club.
ASPEN SNOWMASS has a long, rich history as a mining town and cultural mecca, even before it struck gold with Hollywood celebrities and international athletes drawn to its pristine terrain, gourmet restaurants and shops, world-class hotels and annual X-Games thrills. This four-mountain resort headquartered in Aspen, Colorado offers plenty of terrain options for skiers and riders of all abilities. Nearby Snowmass, by far the largest of the four mountains, has long been rated one of the best family ski areas in North America because of its wide-open, groomed cruising and family-friendly activities. Don’t miss dash-through-the-woods fun for kids on the Breathtaker Coaster, part of the greater Lost Forest in the base village. Aspen Mountain, with its famous black-diamond terrain for experts, promises a variety of glades, bumps and steeps; Aspen Highlands offers experienced skiers/riders the opportunity to test their ability in the massive Highland Bowl while still taking advantage of rolling blue trails for the more casual run down the slopes. Buttermilk has the Hideout children’s center, as well as a 22-foot super pipe. Read about the Snowmass Mastodon discovery here.
The Top Family Mountain Resorts – Beaver Creek to Europe to Deer Valley
BEAVER CREEK, smaller than Vail, offers unparalleled service, a terrific ski school, and experiences geared towards families. Beaver Creek Resort is the number one luxury family resort in the world and its Signature Experiences keep families coming back year after year. Beaver Creek’s intimate alpine village located at the base of the mountain provides a seamless experience from ski to relaxation, and the perfect place to warm up by the fire after a day on the slopes. This season, Beaver Creek Resort celebrates its 40th Anniversary, celebrating 40 years of providing world-class skiing and riding, legendary attention to detail, rarefied experiences, and serving as perpetual hosts. Celebrate all season long with endless groomers, exploring powder stashes, and laps on signature runs like Centennial and Gold Dust (or Golden Eagle, if you’re feeling brave!). Beaver Creek Wonder is an artistic playground of photo-friendly, oversize sculptures providing unique experiences scattered throughout Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek’s new art installations will bring to life a sense of adventure and discovery in the heart of the village. With the village serving as an open-air gallery, these installations will bring Beaver Creek Village to life. Consider a stay at the Westin Riverfront Resort, a good bet with or without kids.
BIG SKY RESORT is home to the”Biggest Skiing in America,” offering 5,850 skiable acres, 300 acres of skiing off Lone Peak, and endless ways to navigate 4,350 feet of vertical drop with rarely another skier in sight. Runs up to 6 miles long, glades and bowls, seven terrain parks ranging from novice to big air, all covered in 400+” of annual snowfall make a day on the slopes something different for everyone. Off slope adventures suited to teens include a giant swing, bungee trampoline, climbing wall, guided snowshoes tours, and two zipline tours. Not too far from the resort, families can snowmobile or snowcoach through Yellowstone National Park (read about our visit to Yellowstone in Winter), try Nordic skiing or horse-drawn sleigh rides through Lone Mountain Ranch, go dogsledding in nearby Moonlight Basin, and test their skills at winter fly fishing or rock and ice climbing throughout the Gallatin Valley. This pandemic season, visitors will be glad that there is, on average, more than one acre per skier and on-mountain and village dining has been reconfigured with more space for social distancing.
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT is set in the middle of a historic Colorado town of the same name, known for its award-winning arts and makers scene and culinary experiences with more than 200 restaurants, shops and après ski hangouts. Around the town are off-slope activities such as dogsledding, winter zip lining and larger-than-life snow sculptures during the annual International Snow Sculpture Championships (Jan. 26 – Feb. 7, 2021). The ski resort offers five huge peaks, nearly 3,000 acres of terrain, including some of the best high alpine terrain in the country. The Peak 8 and Peak 9 base areas have recently undergone major transformations. At Peak 8 new conveniences and guest amenities make for an entirely new experience with brand new skier services facilities including new ski school, ticket/pass office, and rental and retail space, in addition to an expanded plaza accessible via escalator, public ice rink and approximately 70 new rooms as a part of the expansion of the Grand Colorado on Peak 8. At Peak 9, the new Gravity Haus boutique hotel property welcomes guests this winter, offering an adventure destination and social haus for outdoor enthusiasts. What else we love about Breck on or off the slopes can be read here. This year, Breck and all Vail Resorts properties are prioritizing safety and their passholders, with a new reservation system and re-imagined winter operating plan.
COLORADO GEMS are 11 smaller Colorado snow resorts that are less expensive and less crowded than the big resorts and, for younger families, easier to navigate. They include Cooper (Eileen Ogintz said this about a visit); Echo Mountain, Denver’s closest ski area less than an hour away; Eldora Mountain Resort where Boulderites traditionally learn to ski; Granby Ranch; Hesperus, 11 miles west of Durango; Kendall Mountain Ski Area, within walking distance from historic downtown Silverton; Loveland; Monarch; Powderhorn in the heart of the Grand Mesa; Sunlight in Glenwood Springs where you can enjoy the world’s biggest hot springs pool. For just $35, the GEMS Card provides your choice of either two 2-for-1 lift tickets or two 30% off lift tickets
COPPER MOUNTAIN features naturally divided terrain for all ages and abilities. Located just 75 miles west of Denver, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Copper Mountain Resort has three pedestrian-friendly village areas with lodging, retail outlet, restaurants, bars and family activities. Families can take advantage of world class skiing and riding, the new Tucker Mountain chairlift and more winter activities. Woodward Copper is a year-round action sports training facility with progression-focused programming. Offering winter lessons and week-long summer camps, Woodward at Copper exclusively features the Barn, a 19,400-square-foot indoor playground with Skatelite jumps into foam pits, a pump track, multiple skate areas, six Olympic fly-bed trampolines, and a 16’ x 16’ Super Trampoline. Check out Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School and Start with Woodward Lessons for your Olympics-bound family members.
DEER VALLEY in Park City, Utah continues to win nearly every top award for excellent service and on-mountain experience. Owned by Alterra Mountain Company, skiers can access the mountain (among 44 resorts) via their Ikon Pass and Ikon Base Pass (seven and five days respectively). Deer Valley Resort limits the number of daily lift tickets sold to guarantee short to non-existent lift lines, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll find plenty of great terrain, ski valets, perfect service and gourmet meals. To find the most up-to-date information on their COVID operating plan, click here. The legendary Stein Eriksen Lodge, a multigenerational favorite, is Utah’s only five-star hotel and spa. Don’t miss a visit to Park City’s Historic Main Street with its great shops and restaurants; you can even ask your kids to hunt for the Banksy mural on the side of an ice cream shop. NOTE: Deer Valley is one of the very last ski areas to say ”NO” to snowboarders. Read about it here.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Vacation Mountains – Grand Targhee to Mammoth
GRAND TARGHEE in Idaho is only 50 miles from Jackson Hole, Wyoming but it’s worlds away in style and ease of access. Families love the moderate rates, friendly staff and tender daycare for infants and toddlers 2 months to 5 years. It’s hard to get lost in the compact base village no matter your age; on-mountain lodging is very casual and reasonably priced. Not so small, Targhee boasts 2,602 acres of fine terrain and a whopping 500” annually of fresh powder, guaranteeing great conditions almost all season. With plenty of Snowcat-served terrain, experts in the family will stay busy knowing their little ones are well cared for. And note that under-5s always ski free. See our review of Grand Targhee Resort.
HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN RESORT has the most skiable terrain in Lake Tahoe. It’s the only ski?resort in North America to span two states,?allowing skiers to experience the best of both?California and Nevada on one epic mountain. Explore the variety of terrain Heavenly, a Vail Resort, offers, including 97 trails ranging from wide-open cruisers to plunging 1,600-foot chutes. There’s?plenty of space to play with nearly 5,000 skiable acres?and an average of 300 days of sunshine per year.?
HOLIDAY VALLEY may be a surprise to you, because most families don’t realize that New York State has several ski resorts and a dedicated website, ISkiNY.com. One of the most popular and best values is Holiday Valley in tiny Ellicottville, almost equidistant to Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Families like the historic small-town ambiance where strolling past antique shops and cafes is the favorite apres-ski pastime. On mountain, there are friendly instructors and cool trails marked with “treasures” from the local Seneca Nation that highlight the history of Native Americans in the region. Discounts include bargain weekday packages at the end of the season and family of four housing deals.
JACKSON HOLE in Wyoming, operating for over 50 years, offers non-stop airlift from 12 major cities and a full calendar of special events. Special deals include Kids 14 and Under Ski and Rent Free. The Mountain Sports School at JHMR guarantees that beginners will be able to ski after only one lesson (repeat lessons free) and their Solitude Station and Kids Ranch offer age-appropriate activities and lessons for ages 6-months to 17-years. Take the free Mountain Host tour of JHMR’s 2,500 acres (there’s 5,000 acres of backcountry) to find groomers, deep fresh powder or your preferred terrain. Snowboarders can learn at four Burton Stash Parks with natural terrain-like features, or at beginner and expert terrain parks. In addition to the great skiing and snowboarding in Teton Village, families like the authentically “cowboy” town of Jackson, and the National Elk Refuge, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks nearby, which offer unparalleled opportunities to see wildlife in the winter. Also in Jackson, Snow King is Wyoming’s first ski resort and continues to be Jackson’s Hometown Hill just blocks from Town Square – and a great bet this pandemic season with fewer people. The new Cowboy Coaster and Treetop Adventure are can’t-miss activities for visitors and locals. King Tubes is Jackson Hole’s only Snow Tubing Park.
KEYSTONE RESORT, recognized as a top family resort destination, is located in Summit County, Colorado and just 75 miles from Denver. It’s beloved by families for the kidcentric complimentary activities and kids-free deals. Families find more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain including three peaks, five above-tree-line bowls, night skiing and an in-bounds cat skiing program. This year, Ski & Ride School has been reimagined for guest safety. All instructors and guests will be required to take an online health screening ahead of their lesson. Ski and ride school classes will have a maximum size of six, with 5- and 6-year-olds having a maximum size of four. Because 3- and 4-year-olds often spend a good portion of their lesson indoors, Keystone is offering this age group individual one-hour private lessons. We love the free designated family parking and complimentary red wagons to help parents tote gear (and excited kiddos) to and from the slopes, because they really help make a winter family visit to Keystone easy and hassle-free. To help ensure guests have the space they need, this year all guests are required to make reservations to access the resort the week of their visit. Epic Pass holders are able to select up to seven advanced Priority Reservation Days in the early season to lock in that holiday weekend or annual trip. For everyone’s safety, face coverings are also required to access the mountain and in all aspects of operations, including in lift lines, and while loading, unloading and riding in lifts and gondolas. Elements of Keystone’s signature Kidtopia programming will be maintained where possible.
MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN is California’s highest resort, topping out at just over 11,000 feet, with more than 150 trails and 3,100 feet of vertical. Their seasonal Ikon Pass is handy for families wanting to ski California because in addition to destinations around the world, it covers access to Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Big Bear Mountain Resort. Sharing the scenic beauty of nearby Yosemite National Park (hard to reach during the winter snows), Mammoth has dedicated learning centers for kids and myriad off-slope activities including tubing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. At Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play, families with young kids can build a snowman, enjoy playing in the snow and hit the six lift-accessed groomed tubing lanes. Food and beverage offerings this season include the Lincoln Bar at the renovated Canyon Lodge, Fowl Language at Eagle Lodge, the Lunchbox Airstream serving up cheesesteaks at the base of Rollercoaster Express and Sierra Grind in The Village.
The Top Family Mountains – Mt. Bachelor to Park City Mountain
MT. BACHELOR is Central Oregon’s hidden gem and playground in the Cascades offers over 4,300 acres of lift-accessible terrain, located just 20 miles west Bend, Oregon. The 6th largest ski and snowboard area in the United States and the tallest in the Cascades with a lift-served summit of 9,068 feet, skiers and snowboarders can drop 360 degrees off the summit , hike to the adjoining cinder cone, or ski plenty of trees that offer powder stashes well into the afternoon. Last winter, Mt. Bachelor upgraded Sunrise Lodge and all base area facilities, including installing two new on-snow carpets and a new quad chairlift and opening 5 new acres of beginner terrain. The new Woodward Mountain Parks includes terrain park zones that create a graduated freestyle experience – a free Woodward Start Park, to Woodward Progression Parks and Adventure Zones to the Woodward Peace Park and Performance Venue and Halfpipe – offering progression zones for all ages and abilities. More to read about Mt. Bachelor here.
MOUNT SNOW RESORT in Vermont is a family-friendly resort with a trail system that keeps the entire family together whether they’re racing down the largely intermediate terrain or exploring Carinthia, whose 100 acres of terrain parks have obstacles like rails, jumps, creative lines, tree-skiing zone and Mount Snow’s monster superpipe. Young riders and skiers will appreciate the tubing park for afternoon fun and Epic Pass holders will be able to take advantage of their pass for access.
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA, located in the historic logging town of Truckee, California, is a quick 45-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The most family-oriented among the many Lake Tahoe area resorts, Northstar California’s diverse terrain and 100 trails allow families the chance to curate an on-mountain adventure everyone will love. With more than 3,000 acres, Northstar guests can progress together in family learning zones, explore over 400 acres of advanced terrain on Lookout Mountain, or test their legs on Logger’s Loop – the longest run at Northstar, which extends 1.4 miles. The truly adventurous among the bunch can ride bumps and glades on mile-long runs on The Backside and join the unique Burton Snowboard Academy. Northstar includes award-winning progressive terrain parks, and Northstar Kids Adventure Zones with features that tie into the local history and wildlife, so families can explore together. New for this season, skiers and riders can enjoy a revamped version of an existing Kids Adventure Zone, located near Powder Bowl, with wood carved animals such as bears and pine martens located in the trees throughout the zone. The #TahoeTrifecta of Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood — all Vail Resorts — offer more than 10,000 acres of terrain to explore.
OKEMO, located in southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points, is an upscale family-focused mountain resort choice with two high-speed chairlifts with a retractable dome and heated seats. Another Vail Resorts property, it now accepts the Epic Pass. This season, as part of the Vail Resorts COVID-19 Mitigation plan, expect smaller ski classes (reservations required for school and for specific days on the mountain.) Okemo also has plenty of other snow fun options, such as tubing, ice skating, swimming and an amazingly fun alpine coaster, in addition to posh base camp lodging and rec facilities.
PARK CITY, Utah is one of the easiest-to-reach and best Western ski areas with several resorts in close proximity. Since Vail Resorts opened the 7,300-skiable-acre wonderland, Park City Mountain, it’s got all of the terrain features – including a mountain coaster — your riders and free skiers could want, including a new dedicated beginner learning area at the Canyons Village. And Woodward Park City is a brand new Woodward location, the first in Utah that offers all ages (especially adults) a place to enhance or learn skills in a range of sports including skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and BMX among others. Snow tubing is also available. Home to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City offers families a chance to try an Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park, a Western town filled with chic shops and restaurants; plus condos, hotels and BnBs where you might snag a bargain, depending on when you come. The town is also home base to the National Ability Center designed to help those with special challenges enjoy seasonal adaptive recreation and offers the chance for a car-free getaway with free public buses, shuttles, taxis and ride sharing. Young families will find it a fun and romantic destination.
The Top Family Ski and Snow Vacations from Ski Cooper to Sunday River
SKI COOPER is a special resort just a half hour and a world away from Vail and Copper Mountain — and a much less expensive option too with lift tickets less than half the cost at the neighboring big resorts. Just outside of high-altitude Leadville, this resort has 60 trails and five lifts spanning 470 lift-served acres. Families like it here because there are no lift lines and no crowds. In addition to small ski school classes, there’s a long magic carpet — 800 feet — that tows beginners up a very gentle learning slope. The base is at 10,500 feet; the summit at 11,700 feet blanketed with soft all-natural snow. Cooper has a rich history as this is where the 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II; after the war, the ski area was run as a non-profit organization, which makes it different from most ski resorts. Expert skiers can try out the new Tennessee Creek Basin area with double black diamond tree & glade skiing. Or try a more back-country type experience with Chicago Ridge Cat Skiing at the top of the Continental Divide where you are taken up the mountain via a snow cat skiing an entire day with guides on 2600 acres of powder bowls and tree skiing. End the day at the highest altitude Irish Pub for an unforgettable après experience. We visited Ski Cooper on a blue sky day.
SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH (known to locals as ”Smuggs”) in northern Vermont is Ski Magazine’s pick for families in the northeast, because it’s known for its award-winning children’s facilities (including infant care) and off-the-slope activities including a zip line canopy tour. Snow Sports University provides expert instruction for children and adults in skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing with 1,000 acres of all terrain access across three mountains. Conveniently located on the green in the center of the resort Village, a learning area for children ages 3-6 will accelerate skills development with sculpted snow features like a 100-foot mini halfpipe, rollers, banked turns and obstacle courses in a Burton Riglet Park for young snowboarders. Club Smugglers’ ski and stay packages include lift tickets, lodging, indoor pool and hot tubs and many other extras.
SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS is one of the North America’s largest ski resorts with 6,000 skiable acres. Host to the 1960 Winter Olympics it’s popular for its beautiful views of Lake Tahoe, California. With easy access from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, guests can get their first day’s lift ticket free by presenting a boarding pass and matching photo ID at the resort’s ticket office. All U.S. active duty military can also save big by taking advantage of the resort’s restricted Tahoe Super Pass, available with a $60 donation to the Military to a designated military charity. Skiers and riders of all ability levels are welcomed by over 65% beginner and intermediate terrain, while legendary steeps, towering cliffs and heart-pumping chutes continue to be ground zero for boundary breaking skiing and riding. This lively resort features upscale slopeside lodging at The Village at Squaw Valley, nonstop events and over 50 bars, restaurants and boutiques plus access to many other Tahoe activities. With an annual average of 450″ of snowfall and 300 sunny California days, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is also the self-styled Spring Skiing Capital, and will hopefully open its outdoor mid-mountain pool (8,200 feet in altitude) to mark one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in Lake Tahoe. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is on the Ikon Pass, which grants access to 44 iconic destinations across five continents. Read more about why we love Squaw Valley here.
STEAMBOAT is recognized as one of Colorado’s top family ski resort thanks to its Wild West themed play area, well-trained children’s staff at the Kids Vacation Center, and two beginner teaching areas with special Magic Carpets. More advanced kids access the entire mountain, including terrain at Rough Rider Basin, complete with a dedicated lift plus teepees and a frontier-style fort. Steamboat features the Outlaw Mountain coaster, which offers a bird’s eye view of the resort and a great break from the slopes. The resort’s adaptive programs and camps are designed for ages 5+. Since it has the ambiance of an authentic Western town and the Old Town Hot Springs pool and slides, there’s just as much to do off the mountain as on, making it a good choice for the family with mixed interests. And if you want to relax, ride horses, go snowshoeing or X-country skiing, and dine on great food, check out nearby Vista Verde Ranch. Read about our visit here.
STOWE has a vaunted reputation that dates to the mid-1800s when this quaint, Norman Rockwell-style village became the center of a mountain tourism craze in summer. Stowe Mountain Resort opened for snowsports in 1936 but didn’t achieve peak popularity until Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak were connected by gondola in 2006 and Vail Resorts purchased and transformed it in 2017. Today, Stowe rises only 4,395 feet yet has 116 trails, 485 skiable acres, a dozen lifts and 83% snowmaking with non-stop grooming. The resort’s base village is comprised of luxurious, ski-in/ski-out real estate with a spa, elegant outerwear boutiques, high touch service (but not this year), a skating rink, wine bars and its own speakeasy, earning Stowe the nickname “Beaver Creek of the East.”
STRATTON MOUNTAIN is a favorite for East Coast families and holders of the Ikon Pass. With its varied terrain and well-groomed slopes cascading from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak, cozy lodging and base village for shopping and dining, there’s no need to get back in the car once your family has arrived. Learners are accommodated in the Learning Zone complete with easy to ride carpet style lifts and can access the scenic, 3-mile-long Mike’s Way that all ability levels can enjoy together from the summit. Stratton hosts Kid’s Night Out on select weekends and holidays providing dinner and movies for the young ones, while parents can enjoy date night around the fire or in the Village. Kids love snow tubing under the lights in the Coca-Cola Tube Park, which is now offered Friday through Sunday and select weekday nights. Featured activities and amenities include snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing, fat biking at the Nordic Center, now open seven days a week, and ice skating at the Mill House. Look for 99 scenic Vermont ski trails, the great snow guarantee, a wide range of accommodations, dining, ski & lodging packages, renowned learning programs and scenic mountain terrain. Read about a weekend getaway to Stratton here.
SUGARBUSH There’s nothing prettier than winter to show off Sugarbush resort and its scenic, small town base village in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. Sugarbush boasts two mountains complete with everything from beginner terrain to some of the toughest on the east coast, though they offer lessons for all ages and abilities. Beyond skiing, there are several snowshoe trails and plenty of Cabin Cat Adventures like candlelit dinners, first tracks experiences, and sunset rides. After a day on the mountain, settle into the slopeside family apartments at the classy, barn-like Clay Brook, where you can cook and dine ”at home” after their concierge has stocked your refrigerator as requested. Sugarbush is accessed via the IKON Pass.
SUN VALLEY has been the crowning jewel of Idaho since 1936 and it’s still going strong – with extensive if somewhat nostalgic renovations at the jetsetters’ Sun Valley Lodge and posh boutique hotels opening in nearby Ketchum. Sun Valley’s highly regarded ski and snowboard instruction (ski classes begin at ages 4, snowboarding at age 6) uses contoured terrain that helps kids learn. Facilities on Dollar Mountain are tailored to young needs, too, and the computerized snowmaking guarantees quality powder when slopes become worn from overuse. Sun Valley is served non-stop during winter from six major cities.
SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts a 60-year history, eight interconnected peaks, 12-hour skiing and riding Fridays, Saturdays and select holidays, a tubing park, fireworks most weekends and holidays, and family-friendly entertainment for the little ones. Many families come to Sunday River because of the SnowSports School manned by friendly local staff. Bring the kids during Children’s Festival (January 5-10, 2020) when ages 3-12 can ski, snowboard, and stay for free when staying three nights or longer with an adult. As a bonus, you’ll also find fireworks, tubing, nighttime fun, and dinners with Eddy the Yeti. Sunday River is preparing for operating during COVID-19 by implementing safety protocols around the resort, including requiring face coverings, reducing capacity in lodges and restaurants, and more, which can be found on SundayRiver.com/COVID.
The Top Family Mountain Resorts – Taos Ski Valley to Whitefish
TAOS SKI VALLEY is home to one of North America’s highest lifts and is the best known among New Mexico’s eight alpine and three Nordic ski areas. Altitude assures it is typically blanketed with 300” of snow each season. In recent years, new owners have greatly upgraded its facilities, on-mountain experience and four season offerings, starting with a stylish 80-room hotel at the base area and a state-of-the-art Children’s Rio Hondo Center that makes skiing with kids easier than ever. The resort will operate at half capacity this season; even IKON pass holders will need a reservation. Others should get lift tickets in advance online!) Only private lessons will be offered in groups of up to five traveling together. The Blake at Taos Ski Valley will operate at 65% without ski valet service. As the only B Corp ski resort in the world, Taos is leading the entire skiing community with its commitment to sustainability, local and fair economic development, and social justice.
TELLURIDE, a southwestern Colorado mountain town, is a favorite snow sports destination because of its century-old architecture, free pedestrian-friendly gondola between resort and town, and striking mountain views in every direction. It’s also an easy ski resort to navigate, since the ski school is right next to the gondola in the middle of the Mountain Village. More than 60 percent of the terrain is for beginners and intermediates, with at least one blue run from every lift, making it a perfect mountain for groups with different abilities. Repeat guests appreciate that the vast majority of instructors are veterans who remember their kids from previous visits. Backcountry fans love Black Iron Bowl, a hike-to playground set against the dramatic backdrop of Palmyra Peak, which encompasses eight runs, European-style faces, open glades and steep chutes. Skiing down the “Galloping Goose,” it hit Chris Yemma — Telluride has something for everyone, even the 1 percent A-listers. Read his review here.
VAIL thinks big; the flagship Colorado mountain of this snow sports empire has more than 5,300 skiable acres including the seven legendary Back Bowls spanning across 7 miles. Add high-touch service to a terrific ski school, a new massive snowmaking upgrade and expansion project, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing and even some cliffs, to see how quality rules. Don’t let the size of the resort intimidate you. Vail offers a variety of complimentary mountain tours to introduce you to its expansive terrain. For those wanting to try on-mountain adventures outside of skiing and riding, the multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge, ski biking, and the Forest Flyer alpine coaster are as popular as ever. Families can try the 50-foot-long, ski-through Coyote’s Den cave, checkout the teepee in Sherwood Forest and join the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle’s Nest for frequent nature walks, snowshoe tours and programs led by local naturalists. Opt for family Private Lessons to learn and experience the mountain together; you must reserve and purchase lift tickets in advance online. Read about it here.
WINTER PARK RESORT is a favorite of adventure travelers because of its wide and varied terrain for every skier and rider ability level, and its decidedly unpretentious, authentic Colorado vibe. The resort is close enough to Denver to make it convenient for day-trippers or destination visitors traveling from the airport, yet it’s tucked away just west of the Continental Divide, giving guests a true mountain experience. Winter Park Resort is Colorado’s oldest, continuously running ski resort. Including Mary Jane Mountain, the resort offers more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain with 21 chairlifts. With a base elevation of 9,000 feet and a 3,060-foot vertical rise, the mountain averages more than 313” of annual snow fall, giving visitors access to miles of groomers, cruisers, steeps, deeps, trees and glades. It’s also home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Sadly, the popular Ski Train from Denver won’t operate this season.
WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, towering over British Columbia a few hours north of Vancouver, was the first Canadian resort to join the Vail Resorts family. (Although the Canadian border currently is closed to Americans that could change this winter.) Perhaps best known as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, it has two side-by-side mountains connected by the long, scenic traversing Peak2Peak Gondola and 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls, and three glaciers that enable late spring visitors to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Whistler Blackcomb’s 10-passenger Blackcomb Gondola connecting the base of Blackcomb Mountain to the top of the mountain adjacent to Rendezvous Lodge and the existing gondola. Expect to ride only with your immediate family members. Early season boasts both abundant snowfall and discounted vacation packages, while late season boasts afternoon golf. Read more on Whistler Blackcomb here.
WHITEFISH offers great snowsports plus an Old West style town in Montana, and it’s one of the few top resorts served by train – Amtrak hits the historic Whitefish Depot twice daily in winter. This resort is also just 15 minutes from Glacier Park International Airport, so you can fit in some National Parks touring on those off-the-slopes days. While Big Sky is better known, Whitefish attracts families with its excellent snowmaking and terrain. Rates are reasonable too – there are good two-day, first-timer packages for ages 7 and older and if you graduate – your family will want to stay at least 4 days, trust us – you can take 50% off of lift tickets, lessons and rentals for the duration of your stay.
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