How to Choose a Family Ski Resort
By Candyce H. Stapen
Family ski vacations build bonds on and off the slopes. The key to a successful mountain getaway, however, is to pick the resort that’s right for your family. Here’s a guide to what to consider from trails, to child care to ski schools and off-the-slopes activities.
The runs should challenge, but not overwhelm the best skier or snowboarder while also accommodating the least-skillful person in your group. For some families, that might mean a mountain with gut-wrenching, black diamond runs that also features some wide blue rated trails plus ample bunny slopes for never-evers.
Consider location. For some, skiing in Colorado and Utah is as close to perfection as possible. The peaks top 10,000 feet, the states boast 300+ days of sunshine per year and, most of the time, “champagne powder” covers the trails. No one, however, can predict the weather. Sometimes eastern ski resorts get the most snow.
Then there’s geography. The slopes in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire and Virginia are located within driving distance of such big cities as Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington. Loading a family of four into a car is often cheaper than buying four airline tickets.
Next, consider the resort’s size. Teens favor large scale resorts with lots of terrain parks and just-for-teens ski groups, but if you have young kids or beginning skiers, a small resort where most runs end at the same base makes newbies feel more secure.
Rent a condominium instead of a hotel room. Condo-like units provide added space, kitchen facilities, and many of the comforts of home. For more convenience, look for ski-in/ski-out lodgings. If you can’t book a property near a chairlift, then choose a resort with a good mountain shuttle system. This saves your sanity, allowing your teens and other late sleepers to come and go as they please without you having to make multiple drives to the lifts.
Even the most avid skier or snowboarder, needs some time off the runs. Look for a resort that offers ice skating, sleigh rides, tubing, and nearby dog sledding or snowmobiling.
Look carefully at the activities for kids. Children can come back from a ski program feeling jubilant and proud or defeated and fearful. Find out about the ski school’s philosophy, instructors, and age groupings. Recommended instructor/student ratios are: 1:3 for 3 year-olds; 1: 4 for 4 year-olds; 1:5 for 5 year-olds; and 1:6 for beginning 6 year-olds. For young kids, the program should incorporate snow play and indoor activities and there should be enough staff so that unhappy tots can get off the slopes and go inside for arts and crafts.
With older children, look for engaging, on-mountain, group ski and boarding sessions just for pre-teens and teens. Any off-mountain, evening get-togethers for these age groups is a big plus. For non-skiing little ones, make sure that the nursery and day care programs operate for your age children. Book these well in advance.
Some great ski resorts for families include Park City, Solitude and Snowbird, Utah; Winter Park, Steamboat and Crested Butte, CO; Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont; and Wintergreen, VA. At the right place, you and your kids, whether tots or twentysomethings, will enjoy the mountain magic.