Families Hit the Slopes
By Jeannette Moninger
If you've been lamenting that having little ones signifies a halt to your skiing days, think again! Your magic mountain vacation may be just a few plans away.
When our children were born, my husband and I thought our white powder ski days were over (at least until our boys got their ski legs), but we couldn't have been more mistaken. Hoping to hook skiers at an early age, many ski resorts now offer a wide range of family-friendly programs, including on-site child care, ski and snowboard lessons, and special discounts such as kids-stay-or-ski-free programs. With so many options, spending quality family time in the mountains is as easy as schussing down a green run.
Where to Ski
Go west, they say, for the nation's best skiing: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, California, and Montana are known for their awesome terrain (Be sure to check out our family ski resort article on Alta.). Easterners agree that Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have majestic mountains (Be sure to check out some of our family ski resort articles for the Northeast.), but Pennsylvania and New York also have great ski areas. Our northern neighbor Canada also has some fine skiing at affordable prices. Just keep an eye out for the travel costs, which can sometimes be high. For the beginners in your family, look for resorts that offer classes in an area isolated from busy trails, and that have plenty of gentle, open slopes ideal for practice runs.
Now that you've decided to go for it, start to think about lodging. Your two best bets are renting a condominium or staying at a hotel. The biggest benefit to renting a condo is that you can find one with up to five bedrooms so there's plenty of room for an entire family (or families). Most condos offer all the amenities of home: fully-equipped kitchen, family room, laundry facilities (nice for drying out wet ski clothes at the end of the day), and garage parking.
Hotels offer numerous benefits too; many hotels partner with airlines on great combination travel and ski packages. When traveling with children, it's wise to book accommodations with a kitchenette and separate sleep quarters. On-site concierge and room services can be a vacation must for some parents, while hotel babysitting services are an added bonus. In case a day of skiing wasn't enough of a workout, you can take advantage of the swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas, and exercise facilities that most resort accommodations offer.
Whether you choose a condo or a hotel, you can often save on lodging costs by staying a short distance from the base of the mountain (where lodging prices tend to be higher) and taking a public shuttle bus to your ski destination.
What about the Kids?
The vast majority of resorts now offer daycare programs filled with a variety of fun indoor and outdoor activities, healthy snacks and meals, and even a quiet area for that much-needed naptime.
Once your child turns three, he can hit the slopes with the help of ski lessons specially designed to fit a young child's learning style and short attention span. Schools generally offer half- and full-day group and private lessons for children of all ages on downhill and cross-country skiing, as well as snowboarding (Because children have weaker leg muscles, most schools recommend that a child be five years of age or older for snowboard lessons). A number of resorts have qualified instructors, trained to help physically or mentally-challenged children enjoy the exhilaration of snow sports.
Learning to ski is challenging and often frustrating. Your child will start off learning the basics: the snowplow or braking wedge for stopping, and the parallel position sometimes referred to as "French fries" for downhill skiing. Since children tend to learn from trial and error, most ski schools have kids mimic an instructor's maneuvers.