Women hit the slopes as part of Vail’s Ski School

Women hit the slopes as part of Vail’s Ski School

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

How about a nice walk in the woods?

No matter that it’s dumping snow, freezing and 9,400 feet above sea level. We’ve got snowshoes strapped to our boots, goggles, the right clothes and we’re all still smiling from the gourmet lunch we devoured at the Pine Creek Cookhouse at the base of the Elk Mountain Range after our initial trek in the White River National Forest outside Aspen.

We even snow-shoed through a bona-fide ghost town — Ashcroft — where some 2,000 people lived and mined in the mid-1800s. Now there are just a few wooden shacks left standing. It was gorgeous! (TIP: The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies offers a naturalist-led snowshoe tour here.)

There’s nothing more fun than trying something new — wasn’t that one of your new year’s resolutions — especially in such spectacular country? And there’s no better time than January, which is designated Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Whether you want to downhill or cross-country ski, snowshoe or snowboard, there are opportunities across the country for everyone at deeply discounted prices. Just make sure to dress in layers and have a snack bar in your pocket, suggests Olympic Gold Medalist Kelly Clark, who has recently signed on as ambassador for Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. “I usually have food in my pocket,” the famous snowboarder says, “So I don’t have to go in when I need a snack.” She adds that when trying a new snow sport, “stick with it!” And remember “Everyone has to start somewhere!”

Anyone who helps a beginner sign up for lessons from a pro can also win prizes by entering the Bring a Friend Challenge, and newbies can win prizes by entering the (hashtag)firstdayfaces social media campaign. And take it from me, no one should try to teach their own kids or significant other. Leave it to the pros!

Check out our Fun in the Snow section, created jointly with Family Travel Forum to see what resorts are offering families this winter. If your kids are in third through sixth grade, see which states offer “passports” for free lift tickets and discounted lesson packages. You don’t have to live in that state — just apply in advance.

Over 100 locations across the country offer WinterTrails events

Over 100 locations across the country offer WinterTrails events

Maybe the young skiers in your family want to learn to snowboard, maybe you do. Maybe you are looking for a new sport to share with your teen. Maybe you want to trade your downhill skis (I say I’m going to do that every season) for cross-country skis or snowshoes. Over 100 locations across the country are offering Winter Trails events this month with educational workshops, equipment demos and a variety of fun activities to introduce families to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Early-season snow, consistent storms and snowmaking have created excellent conditions for learning to ski or snowboard out west.

The best part: You won’t have to spend a bundle in January, whether you want to head to the mountains in New England, Michigan or the Rockies. The majority of the Vermont Ski Areas Association resorts are offering a $49 beginner lesson during the month of January, (excluding Holiday periods) including rental, lesson and access to beginner terrain. Ski New Hampshire member resorts have a $39 beginner lesson/lift deal while Nordic areas are touting a $19 beginner lesson/lift/rentals package.

Some of the offerings aren’t limited to January either. Alta, Utah offers first-timers the chance to choose up to four days of discounted ski lessons (no snowboarding here) and rental packages for $45 for a two-hour lesson and rentals. Register (there is a $20 fee) by Jan. 31 and take your lessons weekends during the rest of the season, except holiday weekends. Beginner lift tickets are just $26. (Check special discounts in January at other Utah resorts.)

For moms, grandmas and teen girls out there, consider a women’s-only class, like the Ultimate 4 offered at Breckenridge and other Vail Resorts where you ski with just four women and are taught by a female instructor. You can find a class based on your ability, whether beginner or advanced.

Check to see what a snow resort near your home, or one you want to visit — will be offering this January. Consider that at some resorts, including Keystone, Steamboat and even Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado, kids may be able to ski or ride free, which can save you hundreds of dollars. Discounts on lessons and rentals are also a bonus. If your family are all newbies — maybe you want to share a new adventure with a college-aged son or daughter off this month — the historic Limelight Hotel in downtown Aspen (one of my faves) includes three full days of adult beginner lessons and for nights at the hotel including rentals, lessons lodging, breakfast and lunch (starting at under $1,800 per person). You’ll be escorted to the slopes each morning and you can even rent the rest of your gear if you don’t want to invest. Talk about your exploits during Happy Hour while listening to favorite local bands.

Here’s a sampling of what other January deals are out there:

Alpine Meadows, Calif., has a $59 first-time skiers and riders (13 and over) beginner package on weekdays that includes lift ticket, lesson and rentals.

Copper Mountain, Colo., Ski and Ride School University has got a $199 package (16 and over) that includes three ski or snowboard lessons; lift tickets; equipment rentals; close-in parking; and even lunch on the second and third day. Upon graduation and completion of the third lesson, Copper provides participants with a free season pass. Quantities are limited!

Mt. Brighton , Mich., includes a Discover Michigan beginner ski or snowboard lesson, rental equipment and a beginner-area lift ticket all for just $35.

Steamboat, Colo., has a Learn to Ski/Ride Package with two days of lessons, rentals and lift tickets for just $199 from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 for adults and for kids from first grade onward.

Who says only kids can have fun in the snow? See you on the mountain!

(For more on fun in the snow, check out www.taklngthekids.com Follow @takingthekids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And if you are heading to Colorado Ski Country, pack Eileen’s Kid’s Guide to Denver and Colorado Ski Country with lots of tips from local kids.)