How to Choose the Perfect Family Ski Resort

In North America, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to ski resorts that welcome kids. But the flip side is that the options can be overwhelming, especially if you have only a week or weekend to hit the slopes. Where to go? Here’s how to break down the possibilities to find the perfect family ski resort for your next vacation.

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Best Family Ski Resort Destinations and Tips

> Pick a resort based on your travel dates. Why does this matter? If you’re planning your ski vacation for early or late in the season, you’ll want to select a resort in a geographical region with consistent snow, or a resort known for its snowmaking abilities, just to stay on the safe side. Where to find the most consistent (and earliest) snowfall: Alta, Utah; Keystone, Colorado; and Lake Louise, Alberta. The best snowmaking facilities are at Northstar, California; Sunday River, Maine; and Okemo, Vermont.

> Once you know when you’re skiing, it will be easier to select where you’ll go. If you’re planning to drive to your destination, you may have already narrowed down your choices in terms of geography. But if you’re flying, you have decisions to make: east coast, west coast, mountain region? The quickest, most painless commute from gate to lift line is from Salt Lake City to Park City-area resorts. Commutes from the smaller airports outside Vail, Colorado; Bozeman, Montana; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Mammoth Lakes, California can be equally short, but typically far more expensive in terms of airfare. Commutes from Denver to most Colorado resorts can be long and expensive. Weigh all these factors when deciding where to fly for snow.

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> Now that you know when and where you want to ski as a family, it’s time to narrow down your search to a particular resort. Start by making a list of what’s most important. Factors to consider: Do you want a property with all the amenities, from ice skating rinks to indoor pools, or will you only utilize the slopes? Do you have young kids? If so, you may want ski-in, ski-out lodging for less schlepping of gear and cranky toddlers. Are you beginners? Some mountains are “greener” than others.

> Decide whether you want a traditional ski resort village, a ski town or a remote ski resort. There are pros and cons to each. Obviously, a remote resort will lack conveniences, but will be quieter and more relaxed. Our favorites in this category are Alta, Utah and Sugar Bowl, California. Both have onsite lodging, but not much else in walking distance. In contrast, a resort located in a ski town will offer just about everything you need, and have a bustling, busy atmosphere — think Jackson Hole or Breckenridge and Steamboat, Colorado. A resort with its own ski village strikes a median balance: You can walk to amenities like restaurants, spas and shops, but without all the cars and crowds. Our family’s favorites: Whistler-Blackcomb and Big White, British Columbia; Northstar, California; and Keystone, Colorado.

> Decide if luxury is a must. Families will be able to find luxury accommodations at nearly every major ski resort, but if you want this experience to extend beyond the hotel and onto the slopes, pick a resort known for service from the bunny hill to the black diamonds. Resorts where we’ve felt pampered include Deer Valley and Sundance, Utah and Beaver Creek, Colorado.

> If ski school will be a focal point of your trip, choose accordingly. Most resorts have strong programming for families, but some definitely stand out above others. Look for a resort that lists ski-level criteria online so you can find the right fit for your child ahead of time; resorts that offer family lessons; and resorts that allow early drop-offs so you can get to your lesson too. Resorts with excellent ski schools include Big White; Big Sky, Montana; Sierra-at-Tahoe, California; and Smugglers’ Notch (aka Smuggs), Vermont.

> Take a resort’s personality into account. Admittedly, it can be hard to get a sense of a resort’s general vibe without experiencing it in person, but online research can paint a fairly accurate picture. Ciao Bambino’s expert Family Vacation Advisors are also well-versed in the nuances of different ski destinations and can work with you to find the right fit.

Some resorts, like Steamboat, Smuggs and Northstar, feel all about the kids, while others, like California’s Heavenly, can have a “dad’s weekend away” feel. Stowe, Vermont and Sundance are more refined, focusing on cuisine and culture; Kirkwood, California; Alta; and Killington, Vermont tend to be all about the business of good skiing.

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The best places to stay for a vacation on the slopes with kids >

> Don’t discount small, local resorts. Mom-and-pop resorts can offer great value, particularly for families who plan to stick to the basics and don’t need tons of acreage. Resorts like Jiminy Peak, Massachusetts and June Mountain, California can offer exceptional skiing for a fraction of the price of larger resorts. In our neck of the woods, we love Hoodoo and Mt. Ashland, Oregon.

> If you have serious skiers and riders who are all about the snow, select a resort with plenty of variety, especially in glades, gates and bowls. Off-piste options are a must for our crew. We love the hike-to terrain at Breckenridge and the gates at Park City; Squaw Alpine, California; and Whistler-Blackcomb.

> Choose a turnkey resort for multigenerational groups. If you have a wide range of ages on your ski trip, you’ll need something for everyone, from grandparents who want to snowshoe or lounge at the spa to babies and toddlers who need daycare. Select a resort with shuttle service that connects to your lodging (many multigenerational groups use vacation homes) so family members can come and go easily. Our favorites for a multigen vacation: Northstar; Big White; and Smuggs.

Relevant Links:

See all family ski vacation ideas and accommodations on Ciao Bambino

Tips for planning the best family ski vacation

10 ways to make a family ski trip less expensive

Kids’ ski school best practices

Editor’s Note: Photos by Amy Whitley.

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