Travel agents can help plan a stress-free family vacation in the snow. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Winter can mean snowy fun for families, but the season does pose its fair share of challenges. Despite every parent’s desire to keep things hassle-free, snow play requires extra clothing and bulky equipment, not to mention the logistics of getting from one place to another in the cold.
Don’t let the ifs, ands and buts keep you from the trails, though. According to Michael Pierson, executive director of Mountain Travel Symposium, owned by TravelAge West parent company Northstar Travel Media, ski destinations and resorts are going out of their way to cater to families.
“The winter family vacation is a staple of virtually every mountain resort, and ski schools, board parks and other family-friendly amenities are all designed to attract travelers with children,” Pierson said.
Of course, some resorts are more approachable than others, and that’s where a good travel agent comes in. Agents familiar with the world of winter vacations can steer clients toward programming and amenities that best suit the ages of the children traveling, ensuring that everyone has the best ski trip possible. Following are five mountain destinations that parents and agents favor when the powder’s piled up high.
For Tom Cintorino, a father of two and executive vice president of digital media for Northstar Travel Media, there’s no better place to ski than Vail. Families will find multiple Kid’s Adventure Zones on the mountain — fun (and safe) spaces where children can glide around banked turns, through tunnels and around obstacles in order to build confidence and skill. Then there’s the weather, which cooperates more often than not in Vail. In Cintorino’s experience, the evenings can be cold and snowy, but by morning the blue sky is back, and that’s a plus when traveling with kids.
“Skiing as a family is the best thing to do,” Cintorino said. “You’re outdoors, there’s fresh air, and you’re exercising all together. And Vail provides duck-into-the-woods, rocket-ride fun.”
Pro Tip: Once the kids are more advanced skiers, don’t miss Over Yonder, a beautiful powder run on the back side of the mountain that Cintorino’s family loves. And when it’s time to take a break, The Red Lion in the village is a great spot for burgers, chili and other apres-ski comfort foods.
Lake Tahoe, California
Sometimes a great travel agent is also a great athlete, as is the case with Sara Baughman. Baughman is the owner of Nevada City, Calif.’s ABC Travel Services, an independent agency of Avoya Travel. She’s also a black-diamond skier. One of Sara’s top recommendations for family ski vacations is Lake Tahoe because of the range of skill levels the area welcomes.
“Tahoe is a great family ski destination, with beginner resorts like Donner Ski Ranch and Homewood Mountain Resort, plus world-class spots such as Heavenly Mountain, Squaw Valley and Northstar,” she said.
Melissa Durkee, a travel consultant for Moraga Travel in Moraga, Calif., puts Tahoe at the top of her list as well, citing the number of condo-style accommodations in the area.
“Marriott’s Timber Lodge and Grand Residences by Marriott offer one- to three-bedroom units that include a kitchenette or full kitchen,” Durkee said. “Kitchens are great amenities for families; they can help cut food costs or just provide the option to eat in. After a long day on the mountain, little ones might not be so restaurant-friendly.”
Pro Tip: For winter fun that doesn’t involve strapping on skis or a snowboard, head to Squaw Valley and ride the aerial tram up to Olympic Ice Pavilion. Not only is it a great place to practice your spins and jumps, it’s also a phenomenal spot forgetting a panoramic view of the region.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Another resort bound to please parents and children is Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole. The upscale Wyoming property is situated a short walk from the Eagle’s Rest and Teewinot chairlifts of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. At the top of Teewinot, parents will find Bronco Park, an area that’s just right for beginners. And if simply getting to the lift with the kids and their gear is tricky, resort staff members are ready to help.
“Our ski concierge will have skis and poles waiting out on the snow just steps away from the lifts,” said Nina Braga, public relations manager for the property. “We also offer a terrific ski school and private lessons for those who arejust starting.”
Kids can sharpen their skills at Kids’ Ranch, a licensed child care facility for children ages 3 to 17 that offers ski lessons in winter, in addition to other programming. Children ages 3 to 6 can learn to ski with one-on-one attention from specially trained instructors, while kids ages 7 to 17 can explore the mountain and improve skills alongside expedition leaders who know the coolest trails and keep on the lookout for moose, eagle and other native wildlife.
Pro Tip: The property’s 75-foot outdoor heated pool is a wintry oasis for children and parents, and the resort offers complimentary smores and hot chocolate to warm up snow bunnies, too.
Deer Valley, Utah
Set in the Wastach Range just east of Salt Lake City, Deer Valley is a ski-only resort area, ideal for ski enthusiasts who prefer to avoid bulleting snowboarders. Kara Slater, a travel agent for SmartFlyer in Los Angeles and a Travel + Leisure top family agent, points her skiing families to Montage Deer Valley, a picturesque chalet nestled in Empire Canyon.
The resort’s ski-in/ski-out setup makes getting on the mountain easy for families, and the staff is happy to warm clients’ boots throughout the night — a very nice perk on colder days. Accommodations here are also family-friendly. Slater recommends the Residences, multiroom layouts that range from 1,200 to 6,800 square feet and offer kitchens and laundry rooms.
Slater’s clients also love the non-ski options at Montage. There’s a four-lane bowling alley and a tubing park with a magic carpet, so Mom and Dad don’t have to haul the kids uphill.
The hotel also offers Paintbox, an incredible indoor/outdoor kids’ program. Families visiting the resort during the holidays will find it even more festive than usual, thanks to sleigh rides, an ice castle and life-size gingerbread houses. And to make the whole experience feel more like home, guests are often greeted by Monty and Jonas, the resort’s two Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Pro Tip: Ask about the property’s Ski With a Pro experience, which pairs guests with Shannon Bahrke, a two-time Olympic medalist and Montage Deer Valley’s ski ambassador, for a day on the mountain.
Club Med European Ski Resorts
For families looking to ski internationally, Durkee of Moraga Travel recommends Club Med’s European ski resorts. Properties in France, Switzerland and Germany follow the brand’s all-inclusive model, and Durkee says that simplifies the entire vacation — because a trip to the Alps isn’t always an easy venture.
“Lift tickets, lessons, kids’ clubs, gourmet cuisine, premium beverages, entertainment and other on-site activities are all wrapped in,” Durkee said. “That makes for a super stress-free way to experience a new and exciting ski destination.”
Tanya Ansaldi Sacchi, public relations and partnership manager for Club Med, points travel agents planning family ski trips toward Club Med Valmorel in France and Club Med Pragelato Vialattea in the Italian Alps. Both offer kid’s clubs and all-inclusive ski instruction for children 4 years or older, as well as international cuisine and a multilingual staff, which Durkee counts as added learning experiences for kids.
Pro Tip: Book at table in advance at Valmorel’s signature restaurant, La Laiterie, which specializes in regional favorites such as fondue. This is part of the all-inclusive experience, but reservations are necessary.
HOT TIPS FROM COOL MOMS
Barbara Palmer, mother of two: Brian Head is a great, though lesser-known, mountain resort for families skiing Utah. It’s affordable, low-key, kid-friendly and easy to get to from the Southwest. Plus, the Brian Head Winter Sports School recently introduced Terrain Based Learning, which uses shaped and sculpted snow to make skiing and snowboarding practice easier, quicker and more fun for kids. There’s also Navajo, an entire mountain dedicated to beginner and intermediate runs.
Joanah Greenspan, mother of one: From The Village at California’s Mammoth Mountain, skiers can ride a gondola directly to Canyon Lodge, where there are many beginner runs. The Village also has many kid-friendly shops, including Lakanuki, the world’s first apres-ski tiki bar.