When you live outside Colorado, planning a ski trip to go there is intimidating. There are simply too many options. Moreover, deciphering where to go with kids is a challenge. Skiing is so popular with families that every resort ’says’ they have great facilities and programs for kids.
I decided to get the real scoop from a local. Kara Williams lives in Carbondale, CO with her husband and kids (7 and 9). She is the co-publisher of The Vacation Gals and is an amazing resource and travel writer. I interviewed her a few weeks ago and got the lowdown on skiing in Colorado with kids.
Photo of Kara and her son on his very first ride up a chairlift!
What are the ski areas for toddlers and really young kids that need a great daycare/introduction to skiing program?
I’ve got to give props to my hometown mountains of Aspen/Snowmass, comprised of four ski areas: Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass. Now, youngest children new to skiing won’t ski Aspen or Aspen Highlands, but they can get introduced to the sport at Snowmass and Buttermilk.
At Snowmass, child care called “Snow Cubs” is for babies as young as 8 weeks up to age four. It takes place at the vibrant Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center at the base of the mountain. This is a state-licensed child care program and has a licensed nurse on staff. At age 2½, potty-trained children can enroll in the full-day “Big Burn Bears” program, with a special beginning ski area just for them, including a Magic Carpet ride that brings them up a small hill. A similar program at Buttermilk is called “Powder Pandas,” also with a Magic Carpet; kids here get towed to the top of a “bunny hill” on the back of a snowmobile, as well. Instructors are specially trained and have the patience to deal with small children!
What are the best ski areas for school age kids with fun, well-run ski school programs and ideal terrain for post-lesson skiing with Mom and Dad?
Snowmass and Vail come to mind. Both are huge ski areas, with plenty of varied terrain and top notch ski schools for all levels. Beaver Creek just introduced a new children’s learning area and kid-friendly gondola called the Buckaroo Express, but this resort is also one of the state’s most expensive in terms of lodging and dining (it isnice, though!).
Which resorts areas have the best set-up for skiing with kids? i.e. convenience plus a nice selection of kid-friendly restaurants and accommodations?
All of Colorado’s major ski resorts offer great accommodations for families – and in my book, that means a condominium or vacation home rental. Staying in standard hotel room with all of that winter gear just sounds like a nightmare (even if a hotel ski valet keeps your skis/poles/boots overnight, you’ve still got puffy parkas, wool socks and wet après ski shoes in your room). Better to have plenty of room spread out and have a full kitchen for breakfast and storing snacks in a condominium (save money, too, by eating some meals at “home.”)
Especially overall family-friendly ski resorts include Steamboat Springs, Snowmass (with more dining/lodging options in Aspen, 10 minutes away), Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek.
Do you have any insider Colorado skiing logistics tips to share? i.e. periods of the season to avoid and conversely, fantastic times?
Ski resorts are crowded (and lodging more expensive) during kids’ school holidays: Christmas break, Martin Luther King Day Weekend, Presidents’ Day Weekend and spring break in March. Avoid local crowds by skiing mid-week; early season (between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and late season (April) are other good times to have the slopes to yourselves.
You really don’t need a rental car if your vacation is focused on a Colorado ski resort. In fact, if you are not accustomed to winter driving conditions on snow and ice in the high country, you really shouldn’t be driving a car! Fly into Denver (DEN) and take a shuttle to your ski resort; mountain towns have their own airports, but flights will be more expensive, and again, you can just take local transportation to your mountain accommodations.
You might also consider Colorado’s Gems. These nine resorts are smaller than the big-name ski mountains and have a more laid-back, genuine feel. Ski lodges might be rustic, with fewer bells and whistles, but lift tickets are much cheaper than the large resorts, and they’re less crowded, too.
What are your favorite winter activities with kids in and around the ski resorts other than skiing?
Tubing (sliding down the hill in an innertube) is a hugely popular non-skiing activity for families. Resorts make it super-easy with a tow-lift that takes your tube (and often you, the rider, too) up the hill. Vail, Copper, Steamboat Springs, Durango, and Fraser (near Winter Park ski area) all have tubing hills; there’s also a great hill at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch.
Outdoor ice skating is fun; Keystone and Beaver Creek come to mind for that: their rinks are humongous. A dog-sledding tour would be a real splurge for the whole family – they run about $200 to $250 per person with an included lunch; one spot to do that is Krabloonik in Snowmass. Snowmobiling tours and snowshoeing tours are other fun outdoor options.
We’ve added a dedicated page for Ciao Bambino recommended ski hotels and resorts.