Learning to ski in Colorado

If you thought heading to the slopes this winter would be a budget buster or no fun for mom, think again.


Not only has there been so much snow, but large and small resorts across ski country are pulling out all the stops for families, featuring increased programming off the slopes as well as on, free or discounted lift tickets and even free flights. Visit http://ttk-old.o2dev.net/snow-sports-resorts.aspx  to see what resorts have on tap for families this ski season.


Ski.com’s Dan Sherman suggests that there are more lift ticket specials in general than in past seasons, especially tied to lodging — close to 1,000 listed on their site — but the key is to choose wisely to maximize your ski buck. For example, at The Canyons in Park City (www.thecanyons.com), certain packages include free lift tickets, in Aspen book the right package and kids ski free in March and April. And they ski free all season at Steamboat (www.steamboat.com).


January is National Learn a Snow Sport Month and more than 200 resorts are offering free or discounted ski, snowboard, and cross-country ski and snowshoe lessons for beginners. Find packages and deals at www.skiandsnowboardmonth.org. You can also follow on Twitter and Facebook.


Cheapflights.com has created a list of the Top 10 Ski Destinations in the U.S., Canada and Europe, along with a helpful guide on “How to Pack for a Ski Vacation,” which also features a table outlining the costs of carrying skis on flights on various airlines. (I typically ship ours via UPS or FedEx ground — easier as well as cheaper.)

Kudos to Okemo (www.okemo.com) in Vermont where first-time skiers and snowboarders can take part in the free program that includes a lower-mountain lift ticket, beginner group lesson and rental gear — available for ages seven and up every Monday through Friday.


In California, Northstar (www.northstarattahoe.com) offers kids’ single-day lift tickets that are valid for two out of three consecutive days and, if you enroll the kids at any two-day Ski and Snowboard School lesson — except during the holidays — you save 50 percent on the second day.


And in Utah, Park City Mountain Resort (www.pcski.com) promises there won’t be more than five children in your kid’s ski or snowboard class (three kids per instructor for the preschoolers) or your classes either. At other resorts, you pay a premium for small classes. (Check out Park City Mountain Resort’s new site, www.snowmamas.com, designed so real snow-loving moms can give you tips on making the most of your trip to mountain climes. Full disclosure: I’m helping to oversee the site, which is the first of its kind in the industry.


Look for family snow festivals around the country like Kidtopia at Keystone Resort (www.keystoneresort.com) with its awesome mountain top snow fort, the children’s festival at Sunday River, Me., (www.sundayriver.com) or Mount Snow, Vt., (www.mountsnow.com).


If everyone in your gang is a beginner, consider smaller mountains near where you live — Hunter Mountain in New York (http://www.huntermtn.com), for example; Crystal Mountain in Michigan (www.crystalmountain.com); Brian Head Resort in Utah (www.brianhead.com); Bolton Valley in Vermont (www.boltonvalley.com) and Mount Rose on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe (www.skirose.com). At Ski Sawmill in North Central Pennsylvania (http://www.skisawmill.com/) Friday nights are “family nights with adult lifts for just $17; kids tickets for $15 and rentals for $15. Stay at the new Mountain Inn and get free lifts!


No worries either if you’d rather play in the snow off the slopes. There’s the chance to soak in hot springs (Steamboat, Colo., www.steamboat.com) and for the kids to ride mini-snowmobiles (www.stratton.com), try out a pint-sized climbing wall (in Snowmass’ Treehouse Children’s Center, www.aspensnowmass.com), learn to snowshoe (Appalachian Mountain Club, www.outdoors.org), explore a mountaintop nature discovery center (www.vail.com) or an ancient pueblo (www.taoskivalley.com). You can even have breakfast with a mountain mascot (Northstar, www.northstarattahoe.com) or snowmobile (great learn to snowmobile deals at Zephyr Cove on CA www.zephyrcove.com).  Tubing hills and ice-skating are de rigueur it seems at ski resorts these days. Ditto for spas that are just the ticket for parents’ aching muscles. The spa at the just-opened Montage in Deer Valley is a standout (www.montagedeervalley.com).


If any in your family face special challenges, don’t discount a winter vacation to the mountains  either. There are many affordable adaptive programs around the country, including the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colo., (www.nscd.org), the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (www.boec.org), also in Colorado, the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah (www.discovernac.org) and Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports (www.vermontadaptive.org).


 Several states also offer “passports” all season for kids of certain ages, allowing them to ski free — once you have filled out the paperwork and paid a small processing fee. Check out the list at http://www.kidznsnow.com/7954. The passports are available for fourth-graders in New York (www.44free.com), fifth-graders in Colorado (www.coloradoski.com) and Vermont (www.skivermont.com/events-and-deals), fourth- and fifth-graders in New Hampshire (www.skinh.com), fifth- and sixth-graders in Utah (www.skiutah.com), and fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders in Maine (www.winterkids.org/passport).


Just be forewarned: the kids will beat you down the mountain before you know it.