Planning a family ski vacation is a daunting task given the sheer number of ski destinations. While some are more kid-friendly than others, skiing is an family sport and most ski areas cater to them in one way or another. The planning challenge isn’t identifying family-friendly ski areas, it’s choosing between the long list of seemingly good — i.e. overwhelming — options.
Tips for planning the best ski vacation with kids
As always, step one when choosing a destination is to evaluate your wish list together with any constraints and parameters, noting that this will vary from trip-to-trip.
Number of vacation days
Most ski enthusiasts will want to ski more than for a single week in a season which means you’ll need to plan few-day getaways in addition to week-long trips. Some destinations are better suited for the former, meaning they are relatively easy to access.
Tip: Understand full transportation logistics before any booking commitments are made. Places like Steamboat Springs in Colorado that are more remote are much better suited for a week-long trip than a weekend getaway. Although there is a local airport that may cut down on driving time, these types of airports are more expensive to fly in and out of so you’ll want enough time on the ground to make the expense involved in getting to that kind of venue worthwhile.
The day of the week or period you are traveling will deeply impact the ease of accessing a ski destination. Take Lake Tahoe for example. The main highways that access both shores of the lake are 3-4 hours from the San Francisco Bay Area over summer months. Try this drive on a Friday night from December through April and the drive can take 6-7 hours, and that’s in good weather! The Sunday night drive home is similar.
Tip: If you are driving to any popular ski destination and the access roads are limited to just a few highways, do whatever you can drive on off-peak hours. I’d rather drive on a Saturday morning at dawn and leave Monday at dawn than drive any of the popular ski routes on a Friday or Sunday.
On a related note, there are some ski areas that have very easy to access from an airport. Utah ski areas come to mind. Both Park City/Deer Valley, as well as Snowbird/Alta, are within an hour’s drive of the Salt Lake City airport. If I had to travel on a Friday and Sunday, expense aside, I’d rather fly to Salt Lake City than drive to Lake Tahoe from San Francisco.
Age of kids
Ski school age minimum age requirements vary but for the most part, real ski lessons start at ages 4 and up. Some ski areas will have childcare programs with some snow play time or even a few runs on a magic carpet for potty-trained kids under 4. I wrote a comprehensive post last year on things to consider when evaluating a family ski resort with kids of various ages — a good read as a first step in understanding what you need to consider and questions to ask.
Tip: Understand the exact ski school set up before making final plans. If you want to ski and/or have your heart set on having your kids learn to ski, you’ll need to ensure that the venue you choose has the right infrastructure.
Family ski resorts and hotels
Once you’ve narrowed down the destination, it’s time to choose accommodations. Condo-style hotels like the Resort at Squaw Creek are common in ski venues—an ideal option with kids of all ages. FamilyGetaway has a Top Ski & Snow Destinations page listing discounted packages. Current offers include Sunriver in Oregon, Park City, Whistler, Vail/Beaver Creek — all are in or near tremendous family ski areas. Some of the packages include lift tickets, this is very key!
Last year we published a list of ski resorts where kids ski free. Many of FamilyGetaway’s packages are located in/around these ski areas. We will publish our 2011 list soon but I think it is safe to assume that those resorts offering these kinds of programs do so year-after-year. Bottom line is that if your kids ski free or at a heavily discounted rate and you’ve booked a great package for accommodations, you will have made significant progress in making an expensive sport more affordable.
For younger kids or anyone on the vacation that doesn’t ski, it’s important to find destinations or resorts that offer other activities too. Options may include a year-round heated pool, sledding/tubing, ice skating, dog sledding, and sleigh riding to name a few.
Tip: If you hotel doesn’t offer activities onsite, check the local tourist board website for a list of seasonal special events and things to do.
This post was sponsored by FamilyGetaway.com, the first advertiser on the Family Travel Ad Network, a partnership among Ciao Bambino, Delicious Baby, Travel Savvy Mom, The Vacation Gals, Trekaroo, and Traveling Mom.
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