Across the U.S., snow reports are showing that this may be one of the best seasons ever for skiers and snowboarders. Here’s a quick look at conditions and fun attractions at some of America’s most family-friendly ski resorts.
Cue the family ski vacation. Early snow reports are confirming that there has never been a better year to plan a hot chocolate-drinking, board game-playing, slope-schussing trip to a ski resort to bond with your brood. And forget the scenes from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Today’s resorts are rolling out the Magic Carpet (a conveyor-type lift for beginners) in the name of family friendliness, offering something for everyone from junior on up to Mom.
Resorts across the country, from California’s Sierra Nevada to the Green Mountains of Vermont, are reporting the best early season conditions they’ve seen in years, thanks to great conditions for snowmaking and some of best natural snowfall in decades.
Back East, resorts such as Mount Snow and Wildcat Mountain, recorded their earliest openings in history, while resorts in the Rockies opened terrain normally inaccessible until mid-winter. Throw in new amenities catering to families, and money-saving deals like multi-resort, Epic and Ikon ski passes, and you have ample reason to load up the kids and head to the mountains. And for those looking ahead, the forecast for winter and spring break has never looked better.
Here’s how the snow (and fun) report is shaping up for skiers and snowboarders this season.
What to Expect: With more than seven feet of snow in November, there’s no better time to hit Vermont’s Stowe Mountain Resort, whose 12 lifts offer more miles of carrying capacity than any other resort in the East. The Lodge at Spruce Peak also offers amazing accommodations, right at the base of the mountain. Throw in a vertical drop of 2,360 feet, with 314 inches of annual snowfall, and its 485 skiable acres will keep your family of shredders busy from bell to bell.
Hot Spots to Hit: And that’s only if you can keep them out of the resort’s new on-mountain Kids Adventure Zones—well-signed areas designed to access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. But don’t tire the kiddos out too much.
Also new is Stowe’s $25 million Kids Adventure Center, a state-of-the art learning hub, joining an outdoor ice skating and entertainment plaza, zip-line tours (yes, in winter!), an indoor rock climbing center and more. Add a sunset casting alpenglow on a historical New England village beneath majestic Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest peak—and your lodge’s crackling fire will never seem more welcome.
What to Expect: After a slew of improvements over the summer ($25 million, in fact), Killington, known as the “Beast of the East,” is calling this year the “Season of More.” Mother Nature got the memo as well, with 62 inches of snowfall marking the resort’s snowiest November in 50 years. Blanketed with 250 inches of such fluff annually, the resort’s seven regions include Killington Peak, the second highest point in the state at 4,241 feet, and Pico Mountain, giving it 1,977 skiable acres, 3,050 feet of vertical, and a whopping “Where are we now?” 92 miles of trails.
Hot Spots to Hit: Beginners can try their learn to ski/ride program, while the rippers of the family can air it out on one of six terrain parks sporting 150 high-flying features.
Bonus: Looking for something different? Try a snowcat-drawn sleigh ride to the Ledgewood Yurt for a five-course, locally sourced dinner.
Quick Tip: Two Great Deals: Want to take the family on more than one ski outing this winter? There’s never been better incentive. Two multi-resort passes—the Ikon Pass and Epic Pass—offer lift tickets for one low price to a slew of resorts. The Ikon Pass provides access to 38 destinations around the world, and the Epic Pass lets you schuss 66 resorts worldwide.
What to Expect: Boyne Mountain might be in the Midwest, but it’s far from middle of the road as a ski resort—especially this year, when Mother Nature helped it open before Thanksgiving. With 60 trails strewn over 415 skiable acres and 500 feet of vertical, the family-owned resort is located in the village of Boyne Falls, offering a mountain of dining and lodging options.
Hot Spots to Hit: After your day on the slopes, tire the kids out for good at the 88,000-square-foot Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, the largest indoor waterpark in Michigan, and reward your own efforts at 19,500-square-foot The Spa at Boyne Mountain, also Michigan’s largest spa facility, offering views of the slopes from its salon and pools (hint: try such treatments as the Hot Toddy for the Body, Alpine Body Bliss, and Ski Boot Relief).
Bonus: Check out the Twin Zip Ride along with crafts and story time in Fritz's Snow Fort, featuring a bonfire with s'mores, family movies, and horse-drawn sleigh/wagon rides.
What to Expect: Want snow and sun? Mammoth has you covered on both fronts, making it perfect for the whole family. The resort receives 400 inches of snow annually, while also recording 300 sunny days a year—the perfect combo for next year’s Christmas card. At 3,500 acres and 28 lifts, it’s indeed mammoth (its longest run is three miles), offering terrain for all abilities, from wide open groomers to steep gullies and bowls.
Hot Spots to Hit: Turn the kids loose in one of its seven industry-leading Unbound Terrain Parks, whose 80 acres of features boast 100 jibs and 75 jumps on any given day, and they might even see resort ambassador and Olympic gold medalist Shawn White in action.
For dining, try the Warming Hut for made-from-scratch fare or a breakfast burrito from Powder Dan’s First Chair food truck parked in the Footloose Sports lot. This year, also look for more than $20 million in improvements to the resort’s Canyon Lodge.
What to Expect: Want to play a game with your kids where you never ski the same trail twice? Heavenly Mountain, the fifth-largest resort in North America at 4,800 acres, is the place. Oodles of trails spread over 3,500 feet of vertical, from groomed cruisers to effortless tree skiing, will have you pointing at the map and saying, “Let’s go here.” Because it’s on the east side of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly’s snow has less moisture than resorts closer to the Sierra, making it lighter and easier to ski.
Hot Spots to Hit: The resort is great for intermediates, with half of its vast terrain rated as blue square, many of which are groomed daily for fresh, carve-able corduroy. Look for the grooming report and get your skis on rail.
You’ll also want to save enough energy afterward for the resort’s great nightlife, including a vibrant base area and Tahoe’s casinos. And the kids might bug you to ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, snow tube or take a guided UTV tour.
What to Expect: Surrounded by Colorado’s Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges, and founded by members of World War II’s 10th Mountain Division, Vail serves up 5,200 acres of ski and snowboard terrain, including its legendary Back Bowls that will have your quads quivering.
Hot Spots to Hit: Take a special family lesson, put your daughter in its special Ski Girls Rock program (for girls ages 7-14) or explore the mountain on your own. For the latter, make sure to hit its many Kids Adventure Zones, marked with wooden corbels or archways (try Chaos Canyon, Sherwood Forest and Porcupine Alley), where carved animals greet you around banked corners and behind trees. (You can even ski through a 50-foot-long teepee.)
For a break from the slopes, visit Adventure Ridge at the top of Lion’s Head gondola to snow bike, jump on a trampoline, snow tube, ride a mountain coaster and more; or enjoy a snowcat ride to a gourmet dinner at Game Creek Restaurant.
Bonus: The Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum recently reopened after a year-long, $2.6 million renovation.
What to Expect: As Colorado’s second largest ski resort at 3,339 acres, it seems like Snowmass might be better at losing kids than wooing them. But filled with more secret passages than Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Castle, it’s easy to see why Ski magazine has billed it as the country’s “Best Family Ski Area.”
Visit and your kids can revel in secret passages lined with Disney characters and wooden animals, wide-open groomers, a kids’ crafts center, cowboy crooners and more. To make things even easier, 95 percent of the lodging at Snowmass is ski-in/ski-out, meaning quick hand-offs and access to hot chocolate.
Hot Spots to Hit: Ski through a tunnel under a fort topped by a bellowing ape, hit a free kids slalom course, ski past real, live reindeer on Rudolph’s Run, and race through Lizard Lodge, featuring a giant crab-shaped snow cave. Also, look for alligators coming out of the snow under the Village Express lift.
A free Kids Mountain Guide pamphlet highlights all its family amenities, including the 25,000-square-foot, $17 million Treehouse Kid’s Adventure Center, a ski school base including a climbing gym, teen activities, kids’ retail store and kids-themed rooms (i.e. Butterfly and Trout Haven), each tailored for a different age group.
Bonus: Campfire sing-a-longs with s’mores, sled dog puppies, a winter zipline where you take off on skis, and a new ice skating rink at newly opened Limelight Snowmass Lodge.
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About The Author: The 14-year editor-in-chief of Paddler magazine and founder of www.paddlinglife.net, Eugene Buchanan has written about the outdoors for more than 25 years, from covering the X Games for ESPN.com to working for NBC at the Beijing Olympics. With freelance articles published in the New York Times, Men's Journal, Sports Afield, Outside, National Geographic Adventure and more, he’s a member of New York's Explorer's Club and the author of five books, including Brothers on the Bashkaus, Comrades on the Colca and the recently released Tales from a Mountain Town. Learn more at www.eugenebuchanan.com.