I started my son skiing at 3 years old, first in a wedge between my legs, then quickly progressing to reins as he screamed “Faster, faster!” My aching back told me that there had to be a better way for him to learn, and not always with me. Enter ski school — the right program, tailored for the right age, makes a world of difference in kids’ skills on the slopes.
The list below includes a personal selection of vetted ski resorts that my family and friends have experienced and enjoyed. Many of these resorts also have kids-ski-free options, depending on the age of the child, the number of adults skiing, and the time of year.
During the toddler years, seek out resorts that are willing to accept a child under age 4 in a ski school program. Many such programs extend all the way up the age ladder. The availability of these programs has expanded over the last few years, so many of the resorts listed below for older children now offer options for younger ones as well.
Deer Valley, UT
Deer Valley’s ski school (no snowboarding) is well known for catering to little ones while parents range far and wide over the mountain. There are three main lodges, but toddlers start from the children’s center at Snow Park, the lowest altitude. We loved the extra sets of hands that were always there to help carry equipment or load up cars as part of the area’s service. The instructors take out one or two children at a time, depending on their ages, and have them ski for an hour before they came in to warm up and play, with an outdoor playground as well. It’s delightful for someone else to bundle and unbundle your bundle of joy. The mountain has some of the best grooming and best on-mountain food I have experienced, including their salad bar, and also limits the number of skiers per day. TIP: The resort has recently been acquired, so there may or may not be changes in the future.
The majority of the accommodations at Snowmass are ski-in/ski-out, which worked well for my brother’s family of five. For the youngest child, a toddler, they took the shuttle to the base for the Treetops Adventure Ski School. At the end of the day, the older kids would ski directly back to their lodging while one of the parents went to pick up the youngest. Everyone could also stop in for a quick lunch, a true money-saver. Despite the toddler-friendly setup, my brother’s eldest son, an aggressive teen skier, found enough to challenge him here as well. There are buses to take you to Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk (also family-friendly) or Aspen Highlands, all owned by the same company and a short distance away.
Smugglers’ Notch, VT
Known for its child-focused programs, this is the place for families in the Northeast, although it’s quite a trek to northern Vermont. There is a range of accommodations, both at the base and ski-in/ski-out from the mountain with shuttles available. Smuggs also has après-ski programs, indoor adventure centers and a waterpark that are suitable for a variety of ages. The amount of non-ski activities is breathtaking for those who don’t want to point their feet down the hill. Lesson programs for kids, starting with the youngest, have a well-deserved reputation for excellence.
This is the peak age where it’s easy to find a combination of family-friendly resorts, good instructors and ease of access. We skied a variety of mountains when my son was at this stage, because so many resorts have really zeroed in on that target group, resulting in higher levels of service and good deals on lift tickets for families.
Beaver Creek, CO
One of the well-recognized family mountains in Colorado, Beaver Creek has a compact pedestrian village that makes it easy to stay by the base without a long trek to the slopes. The lodging, besides the usual variety of condos, has several upscale hotels and suites to cater to the largely luxe crowd. Roughly a 20-minute drive from Vail and part of the Epic Pass community, this mountain has it all, from challenging runs to kids’ glade areas — all serviced by the well equipped ski school. There is also a skating rink right at the base, where I had less success with my husband than on the slopes (to the resounding amusement of our son).
At Steamboat we chose a five-day ski camp for consistency with instruction and newly made friends, culminating with a ski race on the last day. Following this, my son insisted on showing us around the mountain, including those areas best suited for someone four feet tall — never mind the size of parents! There is lodging both on and off the mountain, and shuttles to get you back and forth. The lively cowboy town of Steamboat is 4 miles from the ski area; you can take a shuttle, a bus or a taxi to visit it. There are restaurants and shops at the pedestrian base of the mountain as well.
Big Sky, MT
The resort has completely revamped their ski school program since we were there, but we loved the low crowds during our visit. The lack of pretension and simple approach was refreshing. Lines were minimal, and the accommodations at the base of the mountain (a short walk through the plaza to the lifts) suited our needs, with breakfast available, a pool and a spa. Big Sky also has a nice medical clinic, which we needed when my son showed up with a fever of 102. There is a second, more elegant lodge and condos on the resort’s Moonlight Basin side, where we stopped for lunch and enjoyed the skiing as well. We benefited from a private family lesson with a wonderful instructor.
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Park City/Canyons, UT
At Canyons (now part of Park City), we stayed at the ski-in/ski-out properties right at the mountain, ideal for retrieving forgotten items before ski school dropoff. My son loved his instructor there, and his group of kids got along so well that they would meet at the pool after ski school. Needless to say, he slept soundly those nights! Now that the resort is joined with Park City, the territory is huge and the accommodation selection is vast, covering the two mountains and the town with its free shuttle bus. This is a favorite with a close friend who doesn’t ski, since ease of access (only 45 minutes from Salt Lake City) and the diversity of Park City offer enough to keep her engaged each year that her family returns.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada
In March one year, we drove up through New England to this area, leaving the pouring rain behind as we crossed the border. This is where my son first learned to ski with poles (as well as enjoy beef fondue). Many of the accommodations are in the family-friendly pedestrian village, and there are ski-in/ski-out options at all levels of budget, although from ski school they do require a short walk back up the mountain (guess who carried the skis?). The food is good, such as the crepes at the peak lodge, and even the market has wonderful raw-milk cheeses not allowed into the USA. There’s also a pool/waterpark area, the AquaClub, that you can visit for a few hours for a small fee. You could also spend a few days in Montreal for an alternative to skiing; it’s about 90 minutes’ drive from the mountain.
Bretton Woods, NH
Who can resist staying at the iconic Mount Washington Hotel, now owned by Omni? With a free shuttle to take you to the lodge about 5 minutes away, plus nearby restaurants accessible by shuttle, it’s a perfect escape. The mountain is geared to families, with a central lodge that often offers free hot cider on cold days. And when your little sidekick seems reluctant to head back out in the cold, there is a candy shop at the top of one of the lifts, which is a great enticement throughout the afternoon. My son learned to ski the glades in Bretton Woods’ kid-friendly teaching area, gradually working himself up to the more challenging tree runs as his skiing progressed. To this day, his love of tree skiing remains, as well as the admonition of “no one-turn wonders” to get through it!
Okemo is popular with East Coast residents, and the Jackson Gore area is particularly family-friendly. The ski school is right beside the Jackson Gore Mountain Lodge; a set of stairs alongside the slope leads to additional condo units, from studios on up. Families gather in the main lodge for après-ski and order s’mores platters while kids beg for change to play in the game room. Stay for dinner in the onsite restaurant if you prefer not to cook. A pool and a skating rink keep the kids occupied off the slopes. This worked well with my brother’s three kids and their various ages and abilities.
What to do on a family vacation with a teen who has no siblings and who can outski his father, if not his mother? It’s not fun for a kid to ski alone, nor be held back by a lagging parent. Ski camps, or even teen single-day classes, provide a solution to give us all a break.
Whistler, B.C., Canada
Whistler’s Ride Tribe teen group lessons and five-day ski camp for 13 to 17 years old take place all season, not just at holiday periods. The program was designed to fit a niche often overlooked by other ski resorts — it is as much about having supervised fun on the mountain with peers as it is about improving skiing ability. My son participated in the younger ski camp as a tween after a ski accident the previous year resulting in a broken leg. The staff were amazing at restoring his confidence, and increasing his speed. The mountain is large enough to provide skiing for all levels, and there’s lots to keep kids happy off the slopes: tubing, ziplining, a snow play area and a youth center, to name just a few diversions. You can also book private lessons directly with WBMyConcierge.com.
Jackson Hole, WY
Jackson Hole has a reputation as an expert’s mountain, but we found plenty of less challenging options as well. The ski school is excellent, with classes for kids through 9th grade. Many of the hotels and condos are grouped at the base of the mountain, making them easy to access with kids of all ages. Additional condos are a short shuttle ride away. And with only one base area, it is easy to meet up at the end of the day. Après-ski is active but not impossibly rowdy, and the vibe is relaxed. The pedestrian center is a good place to let teens wander on their own, and it is “cool” enough for them not to feel as if they are in familyland. We also enjoyed taking an afternoon to visit the Elk Sanctuary and travel into the fields on a sled to see the animals up close, plus going into the town of Jackson for dinner and a walk in the evenings.
This has been on my bucket list for years, and my neighbors, whose teens are older than mine, have raved about it. The Stowked ski camp offers full-day lessons geared to the teenage crowd. There is a luxury mountain lodge with ski-in/ski-out access and many other options are within easy reach by shuttle or car. The mountain can be challenging and cold, but the attraction for independent teens is undeniable. The town of Stowe, a short drive from the slopes, is a classic New England town, full of charm, good shopping and nice restaurants. You could easily drop off older teens for a few hours and know that they are safe to explore on their own. Stowe also offers many non-ski activities, including cross-country at the Trapp Lodge (of The Sound of Music fame).
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