Fun on the slopes at Big Sky in Montana

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Media Services

Forget the beach. Bridget Kerr, 10, would rather play in the snow.

“Winter is my favorite season,” declares the fifth-grader from Shelburne, Vt.

Eleven-year-old Nate Gourd, an avid snowboarder from Manchester, Vt., couldn’t agree more. “You feel like you’re flying when you come down the mountain,” he says, adding that kids “definitely should wear helmets.” Meet Vermont’s vice presidents of fun. Bridget — who says she’s always waiting at the bottom of the mountain for her “slowpoke” family — and Nate, the proud, sole snowboarder in a family of skiers, won their posts through an essay contest sponsored by Ski Vermont. The lucky duo will blog about their exploits at Vermont ski areas this winter at and let kids know that all fifth-graders — whether they live in Vermont or not — can ski free three times each at 18 of the state’s ski areas, as long as they sign up for a Fifth Grade Passport at the kids zone at

There are similar Fifth Grade Passport programs in Colorado ( or e-mail passport(at) and Utah ( or e-mail skiinfo(at) These programs may also include deals for equipment rentals and lessons.

The leaves aren’t even off the trees but snow sports-loving kids — like mine, Nate Gourd and Bridget Kerr — are counting the days until they can get out on the mountains to try out their latest tricks. Let’s not let the dire economic news deter us from having some fun in the snow this winter either. Sure mountain sports can be pricy, but they can also prove to be wonderfully memorable family times, whether kids are preschoolers who are seeing snow for the first time, fifth-graders who are showing off a new trick on their snowboards or college students bringing their significant other to meet the family.

There are also many terrific opportunities for those with special challenges to enjoy winter sports at deeply discounted prices with adaptive equipment and specially trained instructors at programs like the National Ability Center ( in Park City, Utah, the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center ( in Colorado and Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports (

If we plan smart — and in advance — we can hit the slopes with the kids without busting the budget. In fact, there are more deals than ever to choose from — everything from kids fly and ski free, deeply discounted lesson packages for first timers to free nights and credits for airline baggage fees that will allow you to stay and ski for little more than the cost of a lift ticket. Before you book anywhere, check online to see what special deals and value-added amenities the resort is offering. For example, if you are heading to Stowe, Vt., ( buy your lift tickets online a week ahead and save 15 percent — even at holidays — and save even more on kids’ ski school. Get a free lift ticket the day you fly in at Park City, Utah resorts. Visit ( for details. Get a $50 gas card with the Green Package at Northstar-at-Tahoe in California ( Book a four-night package at one of Vail Resorts’ five resorts, including Heavenly in California, by Dec. 1 and qualify for a $50 “baggage bailout” for each guest to defray airline fees. (Call 866-949-2573 to book.)

If you are flying, check packages from companies like Rocky Mountain Tours ( and, which specialize in snow getaways.

Look for kids-ski-free deals at resorts like Steamboat in Colorado ( and Snowbird in Utah ( Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire ( invites grandparents over 60 to bring their grandkids and get half off the kids’ lift tickets. Other resorts, like The Canyons in Park City, Utah (, are throwing in two adult lift tickets — and discounted tickets for the rest of the gang — for each unit you book for each day you stay. Consider that adult lift tickets cost $79 each this season. Kids six and under always ski free.

At neighboring Park City Mountain Resort (, where kids six and under also ski free, the Extraordinary Family Package allows a family of four to stay and ski for three nights for under $400 a night, as long as they can come early or late season. That adds up to more than $500 in savings. And since Park City Mountain Resort has night skiing, you can stretch your day into the evening.

Book by Nov. 23 at Copper Mountain Colorado ( and you will not only save 20 percent on your lifts and lodging package, but kids 12 and under ski free. At Winter Park in Colorado (, they’ll throw in a fourth night of lodging and lift tickets, if you book by that same date, while for much of the season, the Family Package at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia ( gives the kids free airport transfers, as well as lifts and rentals.

Avoid the holidays and head to the snow before mid-February, you will find that kids 12 and under not only ski free, but fly free (one child per adult) — from Steamboat to Jackson, Wyo., ( to Vail Resorts ( If you’re a beginner, look for deals during the month of January, the designated Learn-a-Snow Sport month (

You can also save some bucks by opting for smaller resorts — often a good bet for beginners and those with younger children. For example, check out the E-Z price Bolton Valley packages in Vermont (, which offer lodging, lifts, even breakfast. Packages start at $79 a night for adults — less than the cost of a lift ticket at some places. At Powder Mountain ( in Utah, night lift passes are being rolled back to 2002 rates — just $15 for adults and $12 for kids. And night skiing starts at 3 p.m.!

Look hard enough and you can find deals even for holiday weeks this season. Spend Thanksgiving on the slopes and leave the cooking to the chefs at the historic Alta Lodge ( where the kids, including teens up to age 18, stay and eat breakfast and dinner free the entire weekend. Book by Nov. 15 for Christmas at Aspen’s new kid-friendly Limelight Lodge ( and save 20 percent, while Crested Butte Mountain Resort ( offers a four-night Grandest Christmas Package for “under a grand” for a family of four and the Rock Resorts ( promise a free night of lodging on the most popular holidays, when you book four nights. Stay five nights, Jan. 15 to Jan. 19, 2009, at Smugglers’ Notch Resort ( in Vermont and get packages for $430 a night for a family of four, including lodging, lifts and all-day programs for kids and adult beginners.

“Give it a try,” urges Bridget Kerr. “Even when it’s cold, it’s really fun to be outside in the winter.”

Absolutely. See you on the lift line.