East vs West: Kid-Friendly Ski Resorts in North America
Best family-friendly ski resorts in North America By Mara Gorman
Whistler Blackcomb (Toshi Kawano Courtesy of Whistler)
On one side of the continent you have rugged mountains, high altitudes, huge open bowls, soft-as-a-pillow powder, and plenty of bluebird days. On the other you have softly rounded peaks, glades and waterfalls, cozy villages, and packed snow for those of us who really like to carve an edge.
And in both you’ll find so much outdoor fun for families – ski schools with enthusiastic teachers, trails designed just for kids, winter roller coasters, tubing, and snow forts, and more hot chocolate than you can shake a stick at.
We don’t mean to pull a bait and switch, but the truth is that there are lots places for families to ski in North America on either side of the continent. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
Top Western Skiing Destinations for Families
Northstar Ski Resort (Northstar California)
Northern California has its share of great ski resorts for families. Northstar at Tahoe has lots of family-friendly terrain including six terrain parks and two half pipes (one of them is where Shaun White trains). Kids will especially love freestyling in the Burton Progressive Terrain park, where the challenges increase as the trail descends.
Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb is one of the best places to ski with kids anywhere. With an unparalleled ski school offering a wide range of camps for kids, vast amounts of terrain, fun ranging from dogsledding to tubing to ice skating, and awesome childcare programs it’s no surprise this resort consistently tops lists of family-friendly destinations.
Salt Lake City, Utah offers a truly unique skiing experience – it’s possible to stay in the city and use public transportation to get to one of four local ski areas. Old-school resort Alta has 2,200 acres of skiable terrain, two-thirds of which is beginner or intermediate. Alta gets tons of snow over a long season and offers affordable lift tickets.
Another great family destination in Utah is Park City where both Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort are now owned by Vail Resorts. Families can buy Epic Passes for four or seven days that are good at both mountains.
Keystone Resort (Keystone)
In Colorado, you can’t beat Keystone Resort’s Kids Ski Free policy – stay at least two nights in any resort lodging and all kids under twelve get free lift tickets. In addition to free skiing, Keystone has tons for families including a great tubing hill, sleigh rides, and a fantastic ski school.
Tips When You’re Skiing the West
Tip #1: Altitude is a factor at some Western resorts, especially in the Rockies. Anytime humans get above 8000 feet we face the possibility of altitude sickness, which can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, or shortness of breath.
Tip #2: To help combat altitude sickness, try planning your ski vacation so you have time to acclimate before hitting the slopes. Make sure everyone in your family drinks lots of water and take it easy on those first few runs each day.
Top Eastern Skiing Destinations for Families
Saddleback Mountain (Saddleback Mountain)
Maine is often overlooked as a ski destination, but the southwestern corner of the state has some of the best resorts in the East. Shawnee Peak is a smaller, cozy ski area that’s easily accessible from both Boston and Portland and has a large number of beginner and intermediate trails. Saddleback Mountain offers one of the highest peaks in the East and lots of tree skiing – but also miles of beginner terrain that’s separate from the rest of the mountain. All children aged 3 to 6 receive one-on-one instruction in their ski school programs.
At Whiteface Mountain in New York children also have their own special learning area called the Kids Kampus. With its own lift, trails, and log cabin lodge, it’s the perfect place for kids to learn to ski. There’s also a daycare for kids ages one to six who aren’t skiers.
Smugglers’ Notch (Dennis Curran Courtesy of Smugglers' Notch)
Vermont is known for its classic skiing and gorgeous views. Okemo Mountain Resort in the south and Smugglers’ Notch in the north offer families not just great ski school programs and comfortable on-mountain lodging but lots of fun extras at well. Kids can ride a mountain coaster or a snow cat at Okemo and then come inside for some table-top s’more making.
Smuggs (as it is affectionately known) has some of the best kids’ programs anywhere at its Snow Sport University. They not only offer great instruction but some of the best terrain for kids with special lifts and trail elements like the Schoolhouse (complete with a bell to ring) that are just for them. At the end of the day families can hang out at a magic show, Bingo game, sing-along or at the huge indoor FunZone.
Tips When You’re Skiing the East
Tip #1: Have you ever heard the New England adage “Don’t like the weather, wait five minutes?” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that saying. What this means is that conditions at East Coast resorts are famously “variable.” Warmth followed by extreme cold leads to icy surfaces; the opposite may mean some slushy skiing days.
Tip #2: Many resorts now have truly phenomenal snowmaking capabilities and grooming equipment, which makes these changes in weather somewhat less challenging. But it’s safe to say that having a flexible attitude towards conditions is best when you’re skiing the East.
Save Money No Matter Where You Ski
An insider tip for parents of school-age kids are fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade passport programs in both the U.S. and Canada. Although the exact details of these programs vary from state to state (and sometimes resort to resort) the basic premise is that children who are about 10 years old can ski for little or no cost. In most cases you don’t have to live in the state for your child to be eligible. Check with the tourism board or ski association of the state where you will be skiing for more information.
And if you’ve got new skiers or riders in your family, you’ll want to know about Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. Every January resorts in 34 U.S. states have special programs for anyone learning to ski or ride. Get discounts on equipment rentals, lift tickets, and lessons.
Mara Gorman, the author of the The Family Traveler’s Handbook featuring everything you need to plan a fun family skiing vacation, contributed this to MiniTime.
More family-friendly ski resorts:
- Best Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in Wyoming
- New Mexico’s Best Family-Friendly Ski Resorts
- Best Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in New York
- Spectacular Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in Utah
- California’s Best Kid-Friendly Ski Resorts
- Best Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in Colorado
- Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in North Carolina’s High Country
- Best Family-Friendly Ski Resorts in Europe