Family-Friendly Ski Resorts

By Roland Leiser

Most ski resorts think of themselves as family-friendly. So remarks Penny Smith, president of Daman-Nelson Travel, a member of the Ski Tour Operators Association. That said, a consensus of tour specialists suggests that a family-friendly resort should:

1. Accept snowboarders.
2. Provide plenty of trails for beginner and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. To win points with their offspring, parents might locate a resort with designated snowboard parks that feature half-pipes and various jumps.
3. Offer lodging on the mountain or at its base.
4. Limit ski and snowboard classes to 8 to 10 students per instructor.
5. Schedule after-ski activities for teens, pre-teens and day care for toddlers.
6. Offer snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, tubing hills, sleigh rides and other non-alpine recreation.

Planning a family trip can be complex, experts say. For example, dad skis, mom doesn’t or it might be the other way around. Or each skies at different skill levels. The oldest child snowboards, the second requires ski lessons and a toddler needs day care. Consider, too, that certain resorts are best for families on their first ski trip while others are better suited to parents and children with experience on the slopes. If a resort includes a base village, that’s even better.

Meanwhile each resort’s central reservations service can offer lodging deals or else all-inclusive packages that cover lodging, lift tickets and airport transfers. If you find a ski-savvy travel agent, he or she can customize a trip or else book an off-the-shelf package. Keep in mind the bargains for early booking.

Lodging near ski trails saves preparation time for youngsters eager to get on the slopes but it’s pricey. Known as ski-in, ski-out accommodation, it carries a premium. Otherwise, look for lodging within a short walk of a chair lift or book a condo no more than a 15-20 minute shuttle ride from the slopes.

The quicker that families can reach the slopes, the better, says Ted Curtin, vice president of Rocky Mountain Tours. A father of two young skiers, he should know.

Sound planning also calls for economical meal arrangements. Feeding a family of four or five in ski resort restaurants over a week’s time can demolish a budget. Book a kitchen-equipped condo that is close to a grocery store.

Useful web sites for reports on ski areas include Daman-Nelson’s www.skirun.com, www.onthesnow.com and www.skimaps.com. For tips on winter ski vacations and travel with children, log on to www.snowlink.com of the Snow Industries Association, a manufacturers’ trade group. More than 300 resorts will participate in SIA’s Take Your Daughter to the Snow Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2003.

The following list represents some top picks of ski tour experts in the U.S. , which vary widely by size and elevation.

THE EAST

Bretton Woods Mountain Resort (NH)

With 375 skiable acres on two mountains, Bretton Woods Mountain Resort claims to be N.H.‘s largest ski area and boasts a name associated with a world monetary summit in 1944. The ski area and the Mount Washington Hotel & Resort across the road are owned by the same company.

For a splurge, book rooms at the classic Mt. Washington Hotel where the summit was held. Other nearby lodging includes Bretton Arms Country Inn, Bretton Woods Motor Inn and condos of up to five bedrooms.

The hotel offers Kids Kamp for children five to 12 with arts, crafts, movies, sledding, animal tracking and an indoor pool plus game rooms for the teens. Check out Family Fun weeks, Dec. 26-28 and Feb. 17-23, with after-ski parties for children of up to 12. Children five and under ski free.

The Red Carpet Introduction to Skiing on the hotel grounds is worth checking out. Regardless of the members’ ages, families can learn to ski or snowboard together and learn about proper boot fit, clothing and equipment and even how to carry their skis. The program is offered through the hotel and the Bretton Arms. If you don’t drive, rent a car at the Portland, ME airport or at Manchester, NH., as there are no airport shuttles.

Nearest airport: Portland, ME
Miles from resort: 90
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert:29/39/32
www.mtwashington.com
800-258-0330
Opens: Thanksgiving

Holiday Valley (NY)

Yes, ski life in the Empire State exists beyond Hunter, Gore and Whiteface mountains. Holiday Valley in western New York is popular with midwest families but welcomes eastern visitors. Count on driving time of up to five hours from most cities, up to 8.5 hours from New York City. If you prefer not to drive, fly on Southwest Airlines or other carriers to the Buffalo airport and rent a car for a 50-mile ride. Amtrak also serves Buffalo.

Lodging options are The Inn at Holiday Valley and the Telemark Inn at the mountain base and nearby condos and B&Bs. Midweek packages include free skiing and lodging for up to two children, 17 and under.

At the Mountain Adventures school in the new Creekside Lodge, parents may drop off their children at the day care center. There the staff dresses them for the snow and transports them to the ski school. On Saturday nights, six to 12-year olds are offered pizza, movies and entertainment.

Similar in size to some New England resorts with 266 skiable acres, Holiday Valley has set aside more than a third of its terrain for beginners and spreads out skiers and snowboarders over 52 trails. One of the state’s 51 ski areas, the resort customarily receives generous snowfalls. The town of Ellicottville a mile away provides lodging, restaurants and shops.

Nearest airport: Buffalo
Miles from resort: 50
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 35/27/38 www.holidayvalley.com
800-323-0020
Opens: Nov. 29

Smugglers’ Notch (VT)
If it lacks the vast New England terrain of a Killington or a Mt. Snow, the 270-acre Smugglers’ Notch attracts families for its well-regarded ski school, after-ski activity and access by both air and Amtrak.

This year 18 condominiums have been added at The Sycamores, a slopeside lodging, enlarging the on-mountain bed base to impressive numbers. The Treasures Child Care Center, a new 5,400 square foot facility for toddlers up to three years, will open in December.

Smugglers’ Learn-to-Ski Development Center is located at the novice-only Morse Mountain, one of three interconnected peaks. At Smugglers’ ski school, one instructor will remain with the same students throughout their visit. The school allows one parent at the intermediate ski level to accompany a instructor and a child during private lessons.

Adventure Rangers Ski Camp for six to 10-year olds offers all-day supervision in ski school, guided treks and races. For older kids, the Mountain Explorer program provides daily instruction and apres-ski programs up to midnight. Worth noting is that Smugglers now accepts children as young as four for snowboarding lessons.

A Club Smugglers’ package includes slopeside lodging, daily lift tickets, a cross-country ski pass and daily group lessons for $109 per adult, based on a seven-night stay ($99 for youths 17 and under). Holiday restrictions apply.

A 48-hour advance notice is required for shuttle service from both the airport and from Essex Junction, Vt., a stop for Amtrak‘s Vermonter.

Nearest airport: Burlington
Miles from resort: 30 miles
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 22/53/25
www.smuggs.com
800-451-8752
Opens: Nov. 29

WEST

Big Sky Resort (MT)
Several tour operators have good reason to recommend this uncrowded resort with its massive terrain of 3,600 skiable acres. Skiers and snowboarders don’t wait long to ride up the mountain in this southwest Montana resort. Its remote location is part of Big Sky’s appeal, however.

Big Sky

At Mountain Village at the base of the slopes, there is ski-in, ski-out lodging, shops and restaurants. At the luxury end are Shoshone Condominiums and the Summit at Big Sky. Bargain accommodation is available in Meadow Village about nine miles down the road and just beyond in the Canyons, a spokesman remarks. The 90-room Mountain Inn opened last season, increasing the bed base to more than 2,600 in the village.

Up to two children 10 and under ski and stay for free with one paying adult. Check out Great Ski Weeks packages.

The resort shows movies nightly in its Kids Club plus breakfast is free for children 10 and under at the dining room of the Huntley Lodge, a mid-price hotel in the village. For snowboarders, instruction is sensibly given at six different skill levels.

One of two destination resorts in the state, it was developed by the late Chet Huntley of Huntley-Brinkley news team. Future plans call for adding 1,800 acres and building six new lifts as part of a master plan. A bonus is that Yellowstone National Park is only an hour‘s drive away.

Nearest Airport: Bozeman
Miles from Resort: 45
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 17/25/58
www.bigskyresort.com
800-548-4486
Opens: Nov. 27

Northstar-at-Tahoe (CA)
This is another big western area with more than 2,400 skiable acres and reliable snow.. One of the six major destination resorts around Lake Tahoe, Northstar offers lodging on mountain and at the base and provides a good percentage of terrain for novices and intermediates.

A Family Adventure Package includes two adult lift tickets, two lift tickets for children, tubing for four, a pizza dinner, lodging in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo from $350 a day plus tax. Certain restrictions apply.

At mid-mountain, the gondola-accessible Polaris Park is open to 7 P.M. on most Fridays, Saturdays and holidays for skiing, boarding and tubing. A special half-day program, Startykes, is exclusive for four-year old beginners with classes starting indoors and moving outdoors. Fees are charged. Northstar’s base village with its shops and, restaurants is a bonus.

Nearest airport: Reno/Tahoe International
Miles from resort: 40
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 25/50/25
800-466-6784
www.skinorthstar.com
Opens:Nov. 17

Steamboat Ski & Resort (CO)
Located at Steamboat Springs, this resort is comparable in size to other western areas with nearly 3,000 skiable acres. Daily airline nonstops operate from Newark, Chicago and four other cities.

The Grand Resort Hotel, 200 yards from the base area’s gondola, offers value deals throughout the season. But check out the resort’s 40th anniversary packages available at various lodgings.

If one parent buys four nights lodging, a three-day lift ticket, round-trip air and three days rental, children 12 and under fly, stay and ski at no cost. Valid from Jan. 6 to Feb. 12, the program is subject to availability and specific outbound and return dates. The resort also offers no-charge lift tickets for children six to 12 skiing with one grandparent who buys five or more daily lift tickets. Ski school programs are organized around specific age groups. The Kids’ Vacation Center is a one-stop check-in for clinics, rentals and lift tickets. In the evenings, the resort’s Kids Adventure Club is open until 10 P.M. Tuesday through Friday.

Early French fur trappers gave Steamboat Springs its name when they heard what they thought was the sound of paddle wheels. The sound actually came from mineral springs bubbling away as it turned out.

Nearest airport: Hayden Yampa Valley Regional
Miles from resort: 22
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 13/56/31
www.steamboat.com
800-922-2722
Opens: Nov. 28

The Canyons (UT)

This Park City, UT area resort close to the Salt Lake International airport has been given a makeover by owner American Skiing Co. The recently-opened 360-room Grand Summit Resort Hotel and the 150-unit Sundial Lodge condos are at the base of a 9,990-foot mountain with a total ski area of 3,500 acres. It’s also a big one.

The resort offers $33 lift tickets for children seven to 12 and free tickets for children under six. Kids Central is a state-licensed day care for children 18 months-nine years. Mascots Teddy Bear and Mogul Moose roam the resort village or ski with the youngsters.

From Dec. 7 to Dec. 19, guests pay $179 a night at the Grand Summit, per person, double, or $149 a night at the Sundial Lodge and get two lift tickets for each night spent.

Among other deals, Holiday Week Ski Free Packages, good on Dec. 20-Jan. 4
and Feb. 14-22. are available at the Grand Summit and at the Sundial Lodge. Children’s Weeks, Dec. 7-19 and Jan. 6-Jan. 12, include complimentary lift tickets for children 12 years and under and half off on rentals and school for stays at Grand Summit and Sundial.

Nearest airport: Salt Lake International
Miles from resort: 32
% terrain, novice/intermediate/expert: 14/44/42
www.thecanyons.com
888-226-9667
Opens: Thanksgiving

OTHERS TO CONSIDER
Heavenly, CA/NV
Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, CA
Winter Park, CO
Keystone Resort, CO
Telluride Ski Resort, CO
Taos Ski Valley, NM (no snowboarders)
Park City Mountain Resort, UT
Banff /Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Whistler/Blackcomb, B.C., Canada

Useful Contacts
Aspen Ski Tours: 800-525-2052
Any Mountain Tours: 800-296-2000
Rocky Mountain Tours: 800-525-7547
Daman-Nelson Travel: 800-34-DAMAN
Lynx Ski & Golf Vacations: 800-422-5969
Moguls Mountain Travel: 800-666-4857
Mountain Vacations: 800-775-7995
Ski Vacation Planners: 800-822-6754
Target Sports Adventures: 800-832-4242

Roland Leiser, a Silver Spring, Md.-based journalist, previously wrote for Gallagherstravels.com about Pennsylvania’s’ Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Although he and his wife don’t have children, Roland always enjoyed taking his young niece and nephew to the slopes.

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