If you’re headed for the slopes this winter, look for kids’-free deals

If you’re headed for the slopes this winter, look for kids’-free deals

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Got Skittles?

Peanut M&Ms are good, too. The Aspen, Colorado, middle-schoolers I interviewed for my “Kid’s Guide to Denver and Colorado Ski Country” opine that it’s always smart to have “power candy,” in your pocket when you hit the slopes. Lip balm and sunscreen, too.

So, what if you’ve never skied or snowboarded. There’s plenty else to do in snow country in winter.

“Go snowmobiling,” Keegan said. “You get a great view and have a good time.”

“My favorite thing in winter is sledding,” said Joana. “And jumping in the snow,” added Leslie.

We’ve just posted our family fun in the snow section, put together with our friends at Family Travel Forum. We think it may be the most comprehensive guide out there to help families plan this winter. If you’re thinking a trip to snowy climes isn’t in the budget this year, maybe it’s time to think again, as long as you plan smart:

Book a package and you are privy to special bundling rates on hotels, transportation and as much as 45 percent off on lift tickets, explains Ski.com’s Dan Sherman, who adds that their mountain vacation specialists can steer vacationers to the best package for whenever they want to travel. Ski.com, based in Aspen, is North America’s largest provider of mountain vacation packages.

Look for kids’-free deals.

In New York State, third- and fourth-graders ski or ride at New York Ski Areas free with the Learn to Ski Passport Program (you don’t need to live in N.Y. either). Kids get a lift ticket, lesson and equipment at more than 20 ski areas — all it costs is a $26 processing fee. (Each state’s program is slightly different and may apply to different age levels — COLORADO, IDAHO, MAINE, NEW HAMPSHIRE, NEW YORK, PENNSYLVANIA, UTAH, VERMONT, WASHINGTON

Enjoying the fireworks at Keystone Resort

Enjoying the fireworks at Keystone Resort

Just in Colorado, there are more than a dozen kids’-free options without age restrictions. Keystone Resort, just a two-hour drive from Denver, however, wins the prize: Every day, all season long, kids 12 and younger ski for free at Keystone with no blackout dates, as long as guests stay two or more nights. There is no limit on the number of kids — or the number of days (a lot of other places require one adult ticket per kids’ ticket). Another plus: There are daily Kidtopia (mostly free) activities all winter long. You gotta love the snow fort, complete with throne and ice slide at the top of the mountain!

Children, 6 and under, always ski free at Aspen Snowmass. For children 7 to 12 years old, Aspen Snowmass allows kids to ski free when booking two or more nights of lodging through Stay Aspen Snowmass, or rent free ski or snowboard equipment from Four Mountain Sports (valid Jan. 1 to April 16, 2017).

Snare a deal at Copper Mountain in Colorado, book two nights of lodging and get a third night free. Kids ski free with the purchase of an adult two-day lift ticket and the deal includes a third day of rentals and free group lessons, plus a secret pass to skip the lines. The catch: It needs to be booked now, but for just $30 down.

Many Utah kids have learned to ski at Brighton because two kids, 10 and under, can ski free with a paying adult; Jackson Hole Mountain Resort invites kids, 14 and under, to ski and rent free, one child per paying adult with a four-night resort condo rental. Sweet deal, as junior tickets can be as much as $80.

Wherever you go, plan your dates strategically — like going before or after the holidays. In Vermont, for example, you can save 30 percent to 45 percent on packages at resorts by bookending the holiday weekend, according to SkiVermont.com. Northern Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch, known for its family programs, says those booking their Family Fest package the week after Christmas will pay approximately 40 percent less than the week of Christmas.

According to Ski.com, the cheapest week to travel this winter (in case you were wondering) will be Jan. 9 through 14. You could save as much as 45 percent at popular western resorts, including Jackson Hole and Beaver Creek, compared to Christmas, February break or Presidents’ Day week. For example, a five-night ski vacation for four people at Beaver Creek would cost less than $1,700 per person for a two-bedroom condo and lifts, as compared to $3,049 at Christmas. Flights are certain to be cheaper than, too. The big question — can you take your kids out of school for a few days? If you’re lucky, they’re not in school yet!

January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month when U.S. ski and snowboard venues offer special deals for beginners of all ages who want to take lessons from professional instructors. Most packages include the lesson, lift ticket and rental equipment. (Join the fun to set a world record for the Largest Ski and Snowboard Lessons ever taught — Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. Most resorts are only charging a nominal fee.)

Don’t let a family member with special needs miss out on an unforgettable winter vacation. There are many adaptive programs around the country for those with physical and mental challenges, including the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in Colorado; the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and New England Disabled Sports, an adaptive ski school, at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.

Wherever you go, said Dillon, a young Aspen snow lover, you can’t help but “look at the mountains and say, ‘Wow!’”

(For more Taking the Kids, visit ttk-old.o2dev.net and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)