Courtesy Beaver Creek, Vail/ Daniel Milchev

What does it take to rank high as a kid-friendly mountain? A nice mix of gentle and advanced terrain, a killer ski school, and family-fun events. Perks like ice skating and free cookies sure don’t hurt, either

Stephanie Granada  – December 3, 2019 | Updated December 12, 2019

Dashing through the snow is a whole lot more fun when the entire clan is involved. For that, you need to scout the family ski resorts with diverse offerings to hook everyone in your crew. Snow-loving adults are easy: give ’em some solid ski conditions and gear, a good après bar, and a cozy place to crash, and they’re all set. But little ones can be a little more, um, discerning. Fortunately, with runs that lead to playgrounds, slopeside ice cream sundaes, and free skiing for tots, these winter wonderlands know how to cater to the next generation of powderhounds. Kiddos learn the ropes on the expansive, gentle terrain at places like Park City and June Mountain, while tweens and ‘rents find a challenge on both resorts’ advanced runs. Moms and dads can rest easy leaving little ones in the best hands at top-notch ski schools on iconic mountains, like Jackson Hole and Beaver Creek, where the programs are like winter versions of summer camp (complete with a farm-to-table mess hall in Wyoming and crafts and yoga in Colorado). And, who says après is just for grown-ups? These resorts pull out all the stops to entertain tots off the slopes through kid-only parties, sweet treat stations, tubing and ice skating, and even fireworks. This year, get the entire family on board for an unforgettable ski getaway at any of these Western resorts.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY

Courtesy Jackson Hole Mountain Resort

Hop on the Sweetwater Gondola for the two-minute ride to Jackson Hole’s new Solitude Station. The 12,000-square-foot, lodge-like learning basecamp is complete with two modern mess halls, one of which is just for kids. Whether you helicopter—er, watch—from the grown-ups’ dining room bar or from a chair around the firepit outside, you’ll have a solid vantage point to see little ones’ progress on the magic carpet. Set high up on the mountain, the Station’s beginner riders enjoy views typically reserved for advanced runs or gondola rides, pretty much guaranteeing any newbie in your group will get hooked. And, because everything from gear rentals to lockers to class sign-ups is now in the same area, you might just be inspired to take a pro-led course yourself. Make it a week-long trip: If you book a stay of four nights or more at a Teton Village hotel, each traveler age 14 and under can ski on one of the adults’ tickets. 

Crested Butte Mountain Resort, CO

Courtesy Copper Mountain Resort/ Tripp Fay

What draws repeat visitors to this Colorado Rockies resort is the village—a former coal town with a charming main street filled with false-front buildings and no national chain stores. Though there are lots of family activities in town, Crested Butte excels on childcare for travelers who want to get spurts of solo time on the slopes. At the nursery (which takes babies as young as two months old), parents can add the Snowy Bear option for babes 2 or older to get a private ski lesson while they’re being taken care of. Plan a date around the Kids’ Night Out babysitting program at the base’s Adventure Park, where mini-me’s play on the mini-golf course, bungee trampolines, and a climbing wall. Next day, get everyone on the Painter Boy lift to access beginner-friendly terrain parks. Once everyone gets their fill,  the whole fam can explore the backcountry on horseback (or on a horse-drawn sleigh) at Fantasy Ranch, where you’ll stop to warm up with cocoa and a bonfire and you’ll also likely spot elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep along the way. 

June Mountain Ski Area, CA

Steve Casimiro/ Getty Images

There’s a reason this Mammoth-neighboring resort is nicknamed “California’s Family Mountain.” At June, kids under 12 always ski and snowboard free—doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend, holiday, or peak season. Though only 15 percent of the terrain is marked as beginner, that’s plenty when you consider the 1,500 acres remain virtually crowd-free at this stellar, under-the-radar ski area. Lessons cost about half of what you’d pay at bigger resorts, offering a solid deal for newbies, too. On Saturday afternoons, make your way up to the cozy on-mountain chalet where Bucky, the deer mascot, leads a bonfire party with free cookies and face painting. Make time to defrost at any of the many natural hot springs tucked around the Eastern Sierra

Keystone Ski Resort, CO

Courtesy Vail Resorts/ Jim Purdum

If there’s a ski resort that seems tailor-made for kids, it’s Keystone. Sure, with three peaks and more than 3,000 skiable acres, the place is vast and varied with runs and terrain parks to suit all levels and ages. And, yes, kids under 12 ski free when adults books two nights or more at a local hotel. However, the resort packs the biggest family punch with its amenities. There’s the free, front-row parking near the lifts for kid-carrying clans; the complimentary red wagons to tote tykes and gear; no-cost night skiing on arrival; and free ice skating and yoga. Be warned: It’ll be a struggle to pull snow bunnies away from the country’s largest snow fort (an ice castle with tunnels and mazes) or from the Rockies’ highest, fastest tubing experience at Dercum Mountain. But kids happily oblige when they learn they’ll meet the ski patrol’s avalanche dogs during the resort’s not-at-all-lame Kidtopia program—daily activities and events that go beyond the standard face painting and milkshake socials (though those are available, too) to include enriching activities like the Super Snowy Science hour, where youngins learn about the white stuff outside, not to mention avalanche safety. It’s never too early to build awareness!

Park City Mountain Resort, UT

Courtesy Park City Mountain Resort/Dan Campbell

 

Convenience is key when traveling with kids, and it couldn’t get much easier than Park City.  With just a 35-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport, your passengers will barely have time to get fussy. Once there, you’ll find a real-deal town and ski mountain wrapped into one picturesque convenient locale, where you can go from an organic chicken finger lunch to the top of a ski hill in minutes. (Nowhere else do you find direct lift-assisted slope access straight from town). At the country’s largest ski resort, spanning 7,300 acres, you can sign up for a private family ski lesson at a school that’s touted to be one of the best. There’s childcare for six-week-olds to six-year-olds and a constant rotation of events on the calendar, from fireworks to parades. Drop the brood off for a half- (or full-) day of childcare at the Little Adventure’s Children Center, while you squeeze in a round and a ride from High West, the only ski-in, ski-out distillery in the U.S. 

Winter Park Resort, CO

Courtesy Carl Frey/Winter Park Resort

The journey is part of the magic when you take the two-hour train ride on the Winter Park Express from downtown Denver to the resort. After being defunct for eight years, the legendary Colorado ski train, which ran from the ’30s until 2009, kicked back up two years ago, sparing passengers of the grueling I-70 weekend ski traffic. Kids get coloring books for the ride, but the scenery offers enough entertainment. It’s easy to have a perfect snow day and be back in Denver in time for dinner, but you’re better off booking a family-friendly stay, like the slopeside Zephyr Mountain Lodge, to take full advantage of the village. Snag one of the many Radio Flyers stationed around the base to shuttle kids between the epic tubing hill, music-making stations, and lifts that access 166 trails and more off-piste terrain. Snowmobiling, sleigh rides, and snowcat tours are also on tap. Visit on a weekend, when ski school is accompanied by a party with Willie the moose, during the Mascot Parade. While the children’s program is impressive, the resort stands out for its lauded adaptive ski school, which opened in the ’70s and introduces thousands of disabled kids and adults every year. Back at the base, Friday or Saturday evening can be date night, as the little ones hang at Camp Idlewild for Kids’ Night Out with crafts, movies, and pizza, while parents head up to a mountaintop dinner at Sunspot. One fun way to top off your trip? Sign up for a twilight snowshoe trek for stunning views of the Fraser Valley.

Beaver Creek, CO

Courtesy Beaver Creek, Vail/ Daniel Milchev

Beaver Creek is like the (very posh and cool) Willy Wonka of skiing with its designated candy cabin stocked with gummies and chocolates, a cookie cabin for ski and snowboard students, and an ice cream parlor with shakes and build-your-own-sundaes (fret not, parents—you can indulge in the spiked hot chocolate). In the center of the village, you’ll walk on heated sidewalks to the mountain-framed ice skating rink and kids’ activity zones, which are scattered throughout. For maximum tyke comfort, Beaver Creek has the heated Buckaroo Express gondola, valet ski service, hot cocoa at the lifts, and escalators so you don’t have to carry kids up big flights of stairs in clunky snow boots once you’re already wiped. Not to mention, the ski school consistently ranks as one of the best in the country, more so now since the team keeps improving on its offerings: after adding a 200-acre, family adventure area for intermediates in 2018, last season B.C. introduced a new learning area last with SmarteTerrain, sculpted runs that allow skiers to hone skills like turning and speed control. Once the slopes shut down, families go back to the base for outdoor movies, demos by ice sculptors, fireside story times, and other kiddie après-ski fun. 

Northstar California Ski Resort, CA

Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Home to the only official Burton snowboarding school, Northstar in Lake Tahoe is ideal for newbies learning the ropes and daredevils gunning for the superpipe. Evenings are best spent on the ice skating rink in the village center, pausing to warm up around one of the firepits with a cup of hot cocoa. Adults can start their après as early as 2pm, with a complimentary glass of bubbly at the ski-up Champagne bar. Kids have their own version with snow tubing and freshly made s’mores, which get handed out every afternoon in the Village. Time your trip for one of the Sundays when the resort hosts a family snowshoe tour, a three-hour trek along kid-friendly trails through the meadows. You’ll be well-rewarded at the end of the walk with a red caboose waiting with winter treats like hot chocolate and cookies. For ski-in/ski-out ease and luxury, book The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, where accommodations come with a ski concierge, Mercedes Benz Sprinter shuttle service, and activities like Stars & S’mores (fireside astronomy sessions with sweets). During the holidays, ask for an in-room tree to complete the cheer. 

Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, B.C.

Courtesy Vail Resorts/ Robin O’Neill

Whistler Blackcomb may be famous for its Guinness World Record-breaking PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which extends from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountains, showing off long-range views of B.C. (wait for a glass-bottom cabin), but there’s plenty more for kids to ooh and ahh about when they’re here. There’s the Fire & Ice show, where world-class athletes stun the crowd flipping through rings of burning fire; and the Enchanted Woods ski area, which leads to outdoor play areas, where kids explore between rides. Book the little ones a multi-day camp where they’ll learn to ski and play, while mom masters her skills during an all-women North Face ski camp, led by top female coaches. Everyone can reunite to swap stories about the day at the giant, activity-packed village with every form of entertainment, plus Nintendo gaming stations and ziplining over a canopy of snow-covered trees.