Some kid-friendly packages include equipment rentals. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): Many ski resorts offer special programs just for families. // © 2016 iStock
As temperatures plummet in colder climes, families will be seeking unique ski resort experiences throughout winter. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of the latest family-focused offerings and events from some of the top family ski resort destinations in the U.S.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Colorado
Trading the prevailing “bigger is better” philosophy in favor of focusing on its quiet, rustic charm, Crested Butte Mountain Resort is striving to remain the “Last Great Colorado Ski Town.” To achieve that goal, the resort welcomes families with its no-strings-attached policy, in which all kids 12 and under ski or ride for free. That means no parent ticket or lodging stay requirements or advance reservations — just a free ticket for the littlest rippers — according to the resort’s website.
To get the holidays off to a fun-filled start, on Dec. 10, the resort is sponsoring a “Santa Ski and Crawl” for a chance to beat the world record for the most skiers in Santa costumes. Visitors need to be decked out in a full Santa suit to participate, which will make them eligible for discounts on lift tickets and lodging. Afterward, gather at Mountaineer Square for some holiday hot chocolate, s’mores and photos with the “real” Santa.
The holiday season continues with a Christmas Eve torchlight parade that includes Santa Claus making his way to the base area via snowcat sleigh and a New Year’s Eve torchlight parade and fireworks display.
For clients who want something far beyond the shred, agents should suggest the Snowcat Driving Experience, where clients 18 and older (with a valid driver’s license) can take the wheel in a fully functional Prinoth snowcat, the very machine used in the resort’s grooming operations. Students learn the fundamentals from experts before actually grooming snow on a closed course.
If families crave more apres-ski adventures, they can sign up for the resort’s winter zipline tours. With five ziplines that range in length from 120 to 400 feet and are connected by suspended wooden bridges and towering platforms, the kids are sure to keep warm throughout the adrenaline-charged, guided tour. The minimum weight to participate is 70 pounds.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming
Having just celebrated its 50th season (2015-2016) and its second-best year in resort history, Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is poised to attract even more visitors with the mid-December debut of the new Sweetwater Gondola, set to significantly increase base-area capacity and offer access to a new ski school facility projected for completion in winter 2017. Located in the Solitude mid-station area, the enhancement will result in 12,000 square feet of additional ski-school, rental and dining space.
With nonstop flights from 12 major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Dallas and Newark, N.J. — and only a 30-minute drive from the airport terminal, the destination offers families quick access to wintertime activities.
And now in its second year, Jackson Hole Resort Lodging offers a Kids Ski Free Program, where families booking any condominium or home rental for four nights or more receive 10 percent off their stay, and kids 14 and under ski free with each paying adult (one child per paying adult). Additionally, families starting their holidays before Dec. 23 earn two free ski days per person when booking a four-night minimum lodging and lift package through Jackson Hole Central Reservations.
Keystone Resort, Colorado
It’s no secret that Colorado’s Keystone Resort has nailed the family-friendly vibe with its Kidtopia program, offering daily free activities and events on and off the snow. That includes the “World’s Largest Snow Fort” atop Dercum Mountain — a snow playground at 11,640 feet above sea level with tunnels, slides and mazes — that’s scheduled to open Dec. 10.
And to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Keystone’s Kids Ski Free program — for kids 12 and younger when parents book two nights or more of resort lodging — the property launched Colorado Family Ski Month on Dec. 1, with free skiing for all kids ages 12 and younger (when accompanied by an adult with a season pass or lift ticket).
The celebration also includes the inaugural Kidtopia Mountaintop Spectacular, a weekend of family fun from Dec. 16-18, offering nightly firework displays, free snow tubing, live music, snowcat photo opportunities, hot cocoa and fireside stories with Santa. Bigfoot adventure walks and a special lighting ceremony of the Snow Fort are also scheduled.
Park City Mountain Resort, Utah
Families wanting the full winter vacation experience can find it at America’s largest ski resort — Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort, which has more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain (about triple the size of nearby Snowbird Ski Area or Colorado’s Breckenridge). The resort is a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, so families can ski the same day they land at Park City Mountain or Deer Valley. And young shredders will especially love riding on the Orange Bubble Express — North America’s first heated chairlift, with seats warming up to 55 degrees — located steps from The Grand Summit Hotel.
For parents wanting adults-only ski time, the Little Adventures Children’s Center welcomes kids who are 6 weeks to 6 years old, with included outdoor snow play and indoor arts and crafts. Children ages 2 to 6 can also enjoy a full-day program that provides child care, a one-hour private ski lesson, rental equipment and a lift ticket. What’s more, kids 6 or younger ski and snowboard for free, and kids 6 to 14 in ski school are guaranteed five or fewer students per class with the resort’s Signature 5 Program.
Besides skiing, families can ride the two-person Flying Eagle Zip Line or the Alpine Coaster, and take a horse-drawn sleigh to a gourmet Western-style dinner. Or, clients can head up 1,000 vertical feet on a snowcat-pulled sleigh ride to a yurt and enjoy live piano music, hot-spice glogg and a five-course dinner. Be sure to let clients know that on Dec. 17, the jolly man himself rides into town on a lift for hot cocoa, cookies and photo opportunities with his young fans.
Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
Trademarked as “America’s Family Resort,” Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont ramps up the kid-friendly appeal with FunZone 2.0, a $4.1 million indoor playspace set to open this winter. Offering two levels and 26,000 square feet, the new area features a ninja-warrior obstacle course, bouncy houses, a dual climbing wall, laser tag, slot-car racing, an arcade and more.
This season marks the second year of new-and-improved family offerings at Smugglers’ Notch, starting with the Snow Sport University (SSU) Kids Fun Playground, complete with learning features for riders and skiers ages 3 to 6. With sculpted snow features such as a 100-foot mini-pipe, Smugglers’ mascot cutouts and obstacle courses, young skiers and boarders can practice their skills under the supervision of instructors, called SSU coaches.
Additionally, last season, the resort added three 400-foot lanes in Smugglers’ North Hill community, allowing daytime tubing to complement the property’s already popular evening snow tubing on Sir Henry’s Hill.
Smugglers’ also offers activities such as guided snowshoe treks, crafts and bonfires for all members of the family, both on and off the hill. (Many of these activities are included in the various levels of the resort’s Club Smugglers’ Packages.)
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, California
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, in California’s North Lake Tahoe, is a long-established family-friendly resort, offering more than 65 percent beginner and intermediate terrain throughout 6,000 skiable acres. Further bolstering that reputation is the new first-of-its-kind ski resort app (optimized for iOS and Android mobile devices and wearables), which enhances the ski experience with real-time tracking of each family member’s location (down to the lift or trail), easy group messaging, a performance dashboard, lift-line wait times and more.
For the holidays, guests visiting Dec. 17-31 can celebrate Merry Days and Holly Nights, when the Village at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows transforms into an old-world Christmas celebration. With storefronts resembling Christmases past, festivities include free and ticketed events such as horse-drawn carriage rides, storytelling with Santa, ice-sculpture demonstrations, a Grinch costume contest (judged by Santa) and even farm-to-table dinners with Olympic athletes.
Children ages 6 to 12 who need help unwinding from a draining day on the slopes can check out North Lake Tahoe’s Resort at Squaw Creek’s Kids Chillax Spa. Customized relaxation sessions at the Spa at Squaw Creek include aromatherapy, hand and foot treatments, deep-breathing exercises and stretching, leaving kiddos as relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep as their parents.