Awesome Ski Vacation for Family
November 21, 2015 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a awesome ski resort in the U.S. or Canada. My kids are 5 and 7 and have never been skiing. I would love to give them an amazing experience in February. I don't mind paying a premium for awesome lodging / amenities. We would be traveling from Austin Texas. Any recommendations for a kid friendly resort?
posted by jasondigitized to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Deer Valley in Utah and Beaver Creek in Colorado are the traditional answers to your question, and for good reason. Both are big, gorgeous, luxurious resorts. Both have great restaurant and lodging choices. Both have great instructional programs for kids.
posted by MattD at 8:24 AM on November 21, 2015

My 2 cents as a child skiier and watching my own kid ski each winter, every Saturday, ages 4-6...
İs your plan that the kids are in lessons and grown ups are hitting the adult slopes?
They may not have a ton of fun skiing for a whole week. It may be too cold. They may not like it. So have a plan B. Friends did a week at Whistler over winter break and one kid hated it so one parent had to be back at the lodge daily and all in all it sucked because the parents didnt get to ski together and they had to take turns.
My kid only got good enough to leave the bunny slope after a full winter. Maybe something more intense would work differently.
My kid only grudging enjoy skiing at the beginning.

So yeah, it might be fun but go in cautiously. Go to a place with other stuff to do. Go somewhere warmer.
posted by k8t at 8:27 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The last couple of years, my son (now almost 13) and I have stayed and skied at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Copper has "naturally separated terrain" which means the bunny slopes are far away from the expert terrain. They also have a freestyle skiing program (perhaps your kids aren't ready for it this year :) but it is cool) where kids spend the morning doing flips and jumps into foam pits in a converted barn and then go to the slopes. My son loved that.

Copper is beautiful. The lodging is ski-in/ski-out. There are restaurants and shops there or you can drive 15 minutes or so into Frisco.

My only recommendation -- and this will be true of any Colorado or Utah resort -- is that you make sure your kids get bundled up well. The summit at Copper is over 13,000' and it can get damn cold, especially in the morning. Also, make sure you and the kids stay well hydrated -- the air is thin and there is not nearly as much oxygen up there.

Have fun wherever you go!
posted by elmay at 8:28 AM on November 21, 2015

I'd actually give the edge to Beaver Creek. The instructional programs are EXTREMELY good. And as great as the St. Regis and Montage are at Deer Valley, they don't approach the insane convenience to slopeside and kids instructional programs of the Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek.
posted by MattD at 8:31 AM on November 21, 2015

Smuggler's Notch in VT has been in the top 5 best ski schools for decades. We've been going there for one week, once a year for 5 years now. The kids have gone from complete novices to black diamond skiers thanks to the amazing instruction in the ski school. Can't recommend it highly enough!
posted by LittleMy at 8:59 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

The fact that you're from Texas and that skiing is cold lends me to suggest you look at skiing around Lake Tahoe. I'm from Chicago and ski in Tahoe every year and I'm almost never cold up there. That's can be an advantage over Colorado or Utah for new skiers or people not used to winter.

There are always lots of kids at the resorts (Kirkwood, Northstar and Heavenly) around there and Heavenly has a lot of nonskiing activities (skating, sledding hills, horse rides) for the kids who turn out to hate it. But I've never taking a child skiing, so I don't really know what the classes are like for the kids or any of that.

It's incredibly beautiful at the top of the slopes but I think the town is sort of blah. While Heavenly has not got much to offer from a resort perspective, Northstar does (don't know about Kirkwood). They've already got snow--despite the drought--so it should be decent up there this year (unlike last year). The greens and teaching slopes at Heavenly are not expansive and the ones at Northstar are a little steeper (but much wider)
posted by crush-onastick at 9:06 AM on November 21, 2015

If you're trying to decide whether to do ski school/lessons or teach them yourself, think about your kids' personalities w/r/t learning to ride bikes, and then imagine you were trying to teach them to learn to ride a bike on a slope in the cold while also riding a bike yourself. Your family might be the type that can roll with that kind of challenge, but as a child often frustrated with learning physical activities, I mastered skiing long before I mastered riding a bike (and enjoy skiing way more than I enjoy bike riding) because my parents foisted the pedagogy onto other people. A lot of ski schools release the kids in the early afternoon so they can show of their skills to their parents for a few runs at the end of the ski day, so you'd still get some family time on the slopes.

If you're going that route, from a kid perspective, the quality of the ski school experience (group size, ability to separate kids both by age and by ability level, instructor experience patiently managing elementary age kids as they put on massive amounts of gear, trudge out into the snow and flail around, then come back in and take it back off again) may trump everything else in terms of their enjoyment of the days.

Also, I know you're in Austin, but re temperature: I get uncomfortably overheated pushing myself on sunny high altitude mountains in Colorado in a way I never did in Virginia except when I was a kid learning to ski in above-freezing weather. Being warm enough is good, but skiing is a seriously intense cardio workout if you're just learning, so don't go crazy on bundling/layering them up if it's 40+ degrees out.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:50 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm thinking Lake Tahoe and Northstar resort in particular. Ski in/ski out, cute village, condos.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:15 AM on November 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you’re willing to fly all the way to Western Canada, Silver Star Resort wins a lot of “Best Family Resort” awards. It has a big kid’s program. The dollar is strongly to your advantage right now. You’ll want to fly into Kelowna International Airport, code YLW.
posted by at 10:16 AM on November 21, 2015

Squaw at Tahoe is also great, but I enjoyed Northstar with my kids a lot the time we went. I rented a hillside condo on VRBO and it was great. Ski in/out and we had access to the pool & hot tub complex for owners.

Squaw has a very nice village as well and the hill itself is huge.
posted by GuyZero at 10:50 AM on November 21, 2015

One thing to think about with respect to it being your kid's first time skiing. Before I went skiing for the first time my dad took me to a local sporting goods store that had an indoor practice hill so we could get comfortable standing and balancing on the skis. You might look into whether there's something like that in your area.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:59 AM on November 21, 2015

I also recommend Northstar at Tahoe if you're open to a more snowboarding-focused resort. Beautiful scenery and not overly cold. I've known teachers there who were great (obviously this changes every year). The Northstar village is beautiful and safe, with a good variety of amenities for non-skiiers including an ice skating rink and sledding nearby. The negatives are that it's pricey and that in CA's drought, they may not have predictable snow. Transportation from the nearest airport may also be a concern.
posted by samthemander at 11:10 AM on November 21, 2015

Most of the top tier places in North America is going to have excellent amenities for your kids. Deer Valley and Beaver Creek were previously mentioned because they are the two most service oriented resorts in this hemisphere. They pride themselves on high end service. The Beaver Creek Ski School has its own gondola just for kids lessons. I'd strongly urge you to at least put the kids in lessons for part of the day.

One top place in North American that would be bad for you would be Snowbird in Utah. It doesn't have the low end terrain that will keep beginners occupied/happy. If you end up at Aspen, the Buttermilk resort was designed with beginners in mind and the large Aspen Snowmass is perfect for all skill types. Aspen Highlands and the original Aspen Mountain are to be avoided by beginners.

samthemander raises interesting questions about weather. If the focus is on the kid's skiing than you have nothing to worry about in terms of resorts having enough snow. If you have experts in your group that want high quality snow and lots of it you may want to wait awhile to see which parts of the country are getting lots of snow this year (although February is late enough in ski season that most places will have 100% of the beginner/immediate/advanced terrain open). As long as you aren't planning on traveling over the 3 day holiday weekend in February, you won't have problems waiting awhile to make a booking.
posted by mmascolino at 11:22 AM on November 21, 2015

I've taken my kids to Jay Peak a few times. It is a hit with my small ones because in addition to the ski hill there is a waterpark. There's also a daycare service if you want to sign the kids up for that for a half day (included in packages) so that the grown ups can ski alone for a while too. I found that my kids were usually done with skiing after 2-3 hours while we still wanted to go. After dinner (rooms have kitchens and there's a small grocery store on site, or there are a few restaurants) we hit the waterpark.

It's not Tahoe or Whistler/Blackcomb, but it is very family friendly and the ski school is good. If you go get a room in the hotel that is attached to the waterpark so that you can head back to your room in your suit and towel. Downsides: February weather can be VERY cold. It's in the middle of nowhere - there is a small village nearby, but that's it. Don't count on any fine dining.
posted by Cuke at 11:28 AM on November 21, 2015

Just jumping on the weather train if you're a powder worshipper or are concerned about the weather/great snow - there's a monster El Nino this year that will peak this winter and affect snow pack all over the west, and as it's steamrolling in it's already breaking a lot of records. The farther north you go, the warmer and drier it will be. Montana and Idaho resorts are going to be grumbling. The reverse is also true - the SW will be cold and wet, so resorts in the SW have a good probability for an amazing year (it's already snowed quite a bit in New Mexico).

Conditions in Utah and Colorado fall right in the "equal chance" band for either a wetter or drier year dependent on topography and other factors, but "typically" they get a lot of snow in spring and fall but have mild winters. Of course that varies and is hard to predict for each individual resort. Here's a map from NOAA for this year's predictions, and here's a composite of the precipitation anomalies (wetter or drier) from 1951 -2010 for El Nino events.
posted by barchan at 11:46 AM on November 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

W/r/t to getting to Tahoe, the casinos and the resorts run a couple bus lines from the Reno airport. I don't recall the fare off the top of my head, but I think the South Lake bus is cheaper than the North Lake bus. It adds travel time, but it's very convenient and in the off chance there's heavy weather, the drivers are more experienced getting up and down the mountain than most visitors in their rental cars.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:51 AM on November 21, 2015

The most snow in Colorado
posted by falsedmitri at 6:09 PM on November 21, 2015

Snickerdoodle is right about Steamboat. My Dad has run tours there since the stone age, and the ski school was/is always great. My brothers and I all took lessons there, and we're amazing. ;-)
There's terrain for everyone, it's layed out great, and the base area has everything you need. If you go, make sure to hit the hot springs in town. They've got a couple of waterslides that are fed with/land in the same hot water.
posted by Kreiger at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2015

Wolf Creek has the most snow in Colorado but it doesn't have much in the way of resources for ski school etc., and you can't stay on the mountain. I wouldn't recommend it for this.

Beaver Creek is a good bet, particularly if you want luxury accommodations (and are willing to pay for them, or have a ton of points to use on the Park Hyatt).

Keystone is also a great family-friendly resort. They have one base area that's almost completely given over to the ski school, and they also have mountain-top beginner terrain, so you can ski a bunny slope with a view. Great ski school too. And lots of options for on-mountain lodging, either through a resort or through VRBO/AirBnB. Cheaper than Beaver Creek and some of the mega resorts too, and still close to Denver.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:01 AM on November 23, 2015

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