A family ski vacation with teens can be a wonderful time … they’re well past the age when Mom and Dad break a sweat trying to bundle them up in the lodge, and they can carry their own gear (I should hope!). There are challenges that arise when your skiers and riders become older and more independent, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Here’s how to make the experience smooth and fun for everyone.
My teens don’t like being enrolled in group lessons with other kids they don’t know, but they do like meeting cool local skiers (aka private ski instructors). At first glance, private lessons can seem wildly expensive … until you break down the cost of group lessons for multiple kids. Private lessons can be shared by family members, sometimes making them even more affordable, and more fun if your teens enjoy skiing or riding together. Private guides take the kids where they want to go; ours went on cat-accessed terrain at Keystone (more on that to come), found gated skiing at Park City and challenged themselves on powder bowls at Squaw Valley.
Not sure about lessons? Almost all major resorts now offer a guided “tour” experience for free, to help families orient themselves on the mountain. These guides usually meet any interested parties at the base area in the morning and afternoon, and ski or ride for about an hour with a small group. If your teens consider themselves too good for lessons, this can be a fun and budget-friendly alternative. Why go? The guides know the mountain inside and out, and since many guests don’t utilize their free services, you could have their undivided attention. Use the opportunity to ask about lesser-known runs or backcountry terrain, and ask them to show you areas your teens are most interested in, such as the best tree-skiing glades or a favorite terrain park element.
Some ski resorts, even large ones, have a single central base lodge area, into which all lifts and runs eventually funnel. (The alternative: resorts with multiple base areas, like Heavenly, Mt. Bachelor or Breckenridge.) When families ski these resorts, it’s easier to give teens a long leash, since everyone will eventually ski or ride down to the same central point. Allow teens to do laps until lunch, knowing you can see them approach from the lodge deck. Resorts with a good funnel effect include Sierra-at-Tahoe, Sundance and Stowe.
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If you allow teens to ski without you, insist on the buddy system. This is especially important if they will be accessing off-piste terrain like bowls and gated glades. If you only have one teen in your life, consider allowing him or her to bring a friend on your next ski trip.
We love it when resorts promote an app that tracks laps or facilitates check-ins at various on-mountain locations — not because we want to spam our friends with Facebook updates, but because it allows us to keep track of our teens. Vail Resorts, for instance, uses the EpicMix app, through which parents can see where their kids are on the mountain at any given time (it’s also fun to compete as a family on vertical feet skied). The system isn’t perfect, as you can often only see which lift your teen last visited, but it’s a start to figuring out why they’re late to lunch.
… And teach them the importance of swinging the packs around to the front when loading onto chairlifts, to avoid snagging straps. Teens should carry anything needed for backcountry skiing if they might go outside the boundary (more on that below), plus extra gloves, hand warmers, snacks and water. This way, they won’t have to find Mom and Dad while skiing independently.
Many teens love to listen to music while they shred the slopes. That’s cool, but encourage them to use helmets that are designed to wire music in, instead of listening directly through earbuds. Many helmets now have that feature. (And while we’re at it, your teen does wear a helmet, right? Of course he/she does!) It’s unsafe to listen to music through earbuds, because you just can’t hear what’s going on around you. The last thing you or your teen wants is an accident in which someone gets hurt because they didn’t hear another skier approach from behind.
Whether your teens ski with you or on their own, they’re old enough to be ambassadors for teen skiing. Teach them the unwritten rules of any ski resort: Look uphill when you merge, never cut in line, ski under control, don’t spit off the chair (yes, this happens). By following all the rules, they’ll be doing their demographic a favor, and you won’t be called to the lodge when their pass is yanked for unsafe skiing. Now that would be embarrassing!
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If you ski and stay at a resort with a central village, and book lodging that’s either ski-in/ski-out or connected via shuttle system to the main lodge area, you can give teens the freedom to walk to evening entertainment. They can head to the movie theaters or ice skating rinks while you soak in the hot tub back at your accommodations. Even after a long day, they’ll have the energy for nightlife … trust me.
Resorts like Copper Mountain and Keystone offer what I like to call DIY snowcat-accessed skiing. These resorts have a cat shuttle, so to speak, in which skiers and riders can thumb a ride. At Copper, a ride up on the snowcat is free; find it at the base of the Mountain Chief chair for access to nearby Tucker Mountain and Copper Bowl. At Keystone, there’s a fee of $10 cash per ride on the snowcat to the Outback area. Reservations aren’t required; just be sure to keep an eye on the daily schedule for the cat and get there when it’s operating. Cat skiing is for experts; have teens go first with a parent to gauge skill level. Not sure about cat skiing? Start with a guided experience, like this one at Homewood, California.
And a bonus tip …
Sounds extreme, but if your teens are extreme skiers or riders, they should get some training before accessing backcountry terrain. No one should duck the ropes against the rules, but some resorts allow skiers access to terrain outside the boundary (at their own risk), and others have gates for hike-to access. All skiers and riders heading into these areas should carry a beacon and shovel at minimum. Find backcountry ski clinic and avalanche safety courses here. Consider gifting a course to your teens as a holiday present.
Editor’s Note: Photo by Trekaroo/Pit Stops for Kids.
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