A family weekend of skiing is a wonderful way to enjoy the great outdoors and beauty of the Colorado mountains, and to create memories. Our family of five (three boys ages 10, 15 and 17) had the wonderful opportunity to experience two amazing family-friendly ski resorts in Colorado: Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek.
Both resorts offer activities on and off the mountain that are perfect for a family ski experience. And the best thing? They are located within a 20-minute drive from each other, so you can take full advantage of each.
Both owned by Vail Resorts, Vail and Beaver Creek offer very different experiences. Vail Mountain, which opened in 1962, covers 5,000 acres of skiable terrain. With 195 named runs, it is one of the largest ski resorts in the USA. It is also famed for its “back bowls,” and our two older boys had a fabulous day skiing in them with 8 inches of fresh powder. The variety of runs at Vail kept them entertained and challenged while they skied — they declared it one of their best days of skiing ever.
The pedestrian-friendly village of Vail resembles a European mountain town with a wide variety of high-end restaurants and shopping. We stayed just outside Vail and enjoyed convenient access to the Vail and Lionshead areas of the extensive resort via a complimentary shuttle service, which we used to reach the slopes and the village restaurants during our stay.
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Beaver Creek, opened in 1980, is just a third of Vail’s size, and as a result the mountain seldom feels crowded. One of the advantages is that everything is centrally located and easy to navigate. There are distinct areas for beginner, intermediate and advanced skiers, and beginner-friendly runs atop the mountain as well as areas for expert skiers.
Our family had a great time skiing Beaver Creek the day after 12 inches of fresh powder. The weather was beautiful with clear skies, no wind and mild temperatures. My youngest son especially enjoyed skiing amid the trees with our mountain guide. He said, “I don’t want this day to end — this is a blast!”
A highlight of our weekend was having our own private mountain guides for both resorts for the first full days of our visit. This service, for up to six people, is an ideal way to make the most of your visit to the mountains. It is similar to hiring a private guide when visiting a tourist site in Europe.
We met our guides (Betsy in Vail and Ellen in Beaver Creek) at the base of the lifts. Each asked us how we would like to use our time and how to make the experience worthwhile, as well as inquiring about our ski ability levels, preferences for runs and what we wanted to see and do for the day. Both guides carefully evaluated the weather conditions and crowds and came up with a customized plan to experience the mountain.
There are many benefits to using this service, but one of the biggest is that the guides are experts at helping guests get familiar with the mountains. We were able to skip the lines at lifts with our expedited ski school pass as well. Betsy and Ellen, who each have more than 20 years of mountain guiding and ski instruction experience, offered us ski tips and mini lessons, and were very friendly and patient with our family of varied ski abilities. Both shared interesting facts and stories about Vail and Beaver Creek. As there was inclement weather moving into Vail in the afternoon, Betsy designed our day to visit the back bowls in the morning, as she knew they would be closed later.
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Another great way to enjoy your ski time as a family is to participate in private and small-group lessons. Vail and Beaver Creek ski and snowboard schools are known for their high-quality instruction, which starts as early as age 3, and offer full- and half-day workshops with a maximum of four skiers of similar ability. Or choose a private family lesson, which can include up to six people of varying abilities and instruction tailored as you see fit. Ski lessons for the children provide parents the opportunity to ski on their own, feeling secure that their children are safe, happy and gaining confidence.
Vail and Beaver Creek have ice skating rinks located in beautiful settings in the center of their villages where you can rent ice skates and enjoy the mountain atmosphere. On our last day, our family enjoyed taking a break from the slopes and having some fun on skates. Families can sample the thrill of snow tubing at Adventure Ridge atop Vail Mountain near the Eagle Bahn Gondola. Additional non-ski activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing as well as dog sledding and snowmobiling.
Both Vail and Beaver Creek offer a wide array of dining experiences that are great for families. There are numerous options for on-mountain and off-mountain dining. In Vail we enjoyed a mountainside lunch at Two Elk Lodge, which offers a beautiful setting with cafeteria-style food choices. The location is ideal for meeting up with others who might be skiing on all sides of the mountain. If you prefer tableside service, try the casual, relaxing Bistro 14, conveniently located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. The menu offers a plethora of kid-friendly items, and you’re only steps away from the Adventure Ridge tubing area and mountain coaster for some family fun afterward.
Located in the middle of Vail Village, overlooking Gore Creek, the White Bison offers a welcoming and cozy atmosphere with family-friendly cuisine. We and our kids had fun strolling along the creek in the festively lit village after our meal. Another great option, especially for après-ski, is Tavern on the Square at the base of the Eagle Bahn Gondola. The boys had hot chocolates and we all relaxed on the expansive outdoor patio while watching skiers ski into the village.
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Beaver Creek has numerous on-mountain dining options, depending on the service you are seeking and how quickly you want to eat, and all are welcoming to families. Those looking for a gourmet experience should make reservations at Saddle Ridge Restaurant, which houses one of the largest private collections of Western American artifacts and art in the U.S. outside a museum. We skied down the mountain and were transported by snowmobile to the restaurant. Upon entering, the staff welcomed us with cozy slippers and led us upstairs to the beautiful open-beamed dining area, where delicious regional specialties are served as guests relax.
After a full day of skiing, we enjoyed an early dinner at Toscanini, located next to the Beaver Creek ice skating rink (it’s fun to watch the skaters as you eat). This casual yet stylish Italian restaurant serves a variety of fare that appeals to kids.
Both resorts cater to families and offer amenities that create a worthwhile and positive experience. Vail and Beaver Creek each host a nature discovery center and a ski ecology program developed in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. The program includes signs along ski runs that offer interesting and educational facts about the mountain.
One of the most special Beaver Creek experiences is at Red Buffalo Park, where beginner and intermediate skiers can enjoy a 200-acre family learning area. Although this family-friendly ski area sits at the resort’s highest elevation, a state-of-the-art quad lift makes it easy for beginner skiers to reach. A “cookie cabin” at the top of the lift welcomes ski school students with freshly baked cookies and hot chocolate.
Beaver Creek Village has information guides who walk throughout the village offering assistance. A series of escalators throughout the village makes it easy to traverse with clunky boots and skis. Firepit lounge areas scattered around are a welcome sight when you need a place to sit down, warm up and take a break. And of course, a great day of skiing at Beaver Creek wouldn’t be complete without chefs in their white hats handing out complimentary, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to all visitors!
Browse all tips and ideas for family-friendly ski vacations on Ciao Bambino
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Mountain-style comfort in an amazing location for families at the Lodge at Vail
Old-world charm for families at The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort
5 reasons to plan a summer vacation in Vail, Colorado
A great family ski vacation at Beaver Creek Resort
Where to stay in Beaver Creek with kids: The Osprey
Condo-style suites with ski-out hotel pampering at Beaver Creek’s Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa
Editor’s Note: Melissa received a media package to review Vail and Beaver Creek for families. As always, all opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Melissa Rosdahl.
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Skiing is truly a fun family activity. This is an awesome review. Looks like the whole family had a lot of fun with the snow.