Family Fun on the Slopes
Most big ski resorts offer kids’ programs year-round
If you can’t beat winter you might as well enjoy it. The secret to surviving the long, cold season is to embrace its recreational pleasures and there’s no greater winter wonderland for active families than a mountain ski resort.
Those new to skiing or snowboarding can spend time on the gentle bunny slopes while seasoned veterans can explore steeper terrains – all ages and ability levels are catered to. It only takes a few lessons to get the basic hang of things, and young kids (as early as 3!) are often more fearless and willing to swoosh down the snow than grown-ups. Don’t be surprised to find your little one speeding past you!
Look for a hill with a good ski school, where beginners can establish a solid foundation of skills and safety practices and even experienced skiers/boarders can benefit from the occasional refresher course. When they need a break from the snow, kids can hang with peers at the children’s activity center while the grown-ups get in a few good runs themselves. Note, the smaller, lower-profile mountains are often more economical and less crowded than the big-name resorts, plus there’s not as much schlepping required between lodges and lifts. Ski in/ski out arrangements are worth the splurge if your kids are of the age to whine about boot walking and carrying all that heavy equipment.
Mountains are not just for skiing and snowboarding. Many resorts also offer cross-country trails, tubing, tobogganing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, mountain scavenger hunts, horse-drawn sleigh rides and skating rinks. Older kids might want to try evolving sports like ski biking (aka ski-bobbing) and snow scooting.
Meanwhile, everyone can indulge in winter classics like snowman building, snow angel making and catching snowflakes on tongues. After an active day on the slopes, gather the clan and cozy up in front of a roaring fire with a cup of marshmallow-topped cocoa before indulging in any of the family après-ski activities or kids night-out programs available at the resort.
Most mountain resorts put on a fun summer face, too. Activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and geocaching are often offered. Pools and tennis courts, arts and music festivals and kids camps mean there’s no shortage of recreational opportunities for all ages, all seasons.
A ski holiday helps put a positive spin on the dreary winter months – it’s an exhilarating sport to take up. After a day in the fresh mountain air, your child should have no trouble getting to sleep.
Skiing and snowboarding are relatively pricey hobbies to pursue – by the time you add in transportation, lodging, outfitting, instruction, equipment rentals, meals, extra activities and incidentals, your wallet might freeze. Dig around for discount family passes, rental packages and “kids fly free” incentives offered by some resorts. Note, the slopes tend to crowd up around school holidays so book well in advance if this is your only available time.
Many kiddie ski programs start as young as 3, teaching fundamental skills in a fun, playful, age-appropriate manner. A 1:3 instructor to student ratio is ideal for 3 to 6-year-olds, with the same instructor throughout the program.
If you don’t own your own equipment, try to pre-book rentals online or rent them ahead of time offsite to avoid long line-up delays when everyone’s raring to go.
Don’t let your kids hit the slopes without a proper fitting helmet (parents should model this practice, too). Sunscreen for the face is another mandatory.
Whistler Blackcomb, BC has kids-only lifts, a Kids Adventure Zone (complete with forts and castles!) and adventure camps to keep all ages entertained. An onsite childcare center can watch over 3-month to 3-year-olds who aren’t quite ready to hit the slopes yet.
Lake Louise, Alberta is known as the “birthplace of skiing”. The Wilderness Adventure Park is great for the little ones to learn ski skills as well as mountain animal facts. Kids who need a break from the snow can hang at the Telus Play Station where age-segmented activities and programs are offered. Daycare for as young as 18 days old.
Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont is dubbed “America’s family resort” for good reason. They have programs for all ages and abilities, including 2 ½ year olds on skis and 4 year olds on snowboards, plus they have adaptive equipment for kids with special needs. Childcare, kids programs and teen centers entertain those from 6 weeks to 17 years of age.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming puts a western spin on the ski experience. Their Kids Ranch at the base of the mountain keeps children 6 months to 17 years happy when they’re not partaking in programs on the slopes.
Valmorel, France is an idyllic, purpose-built, traffic free ski village in the French Alps. Family ski packages and children’s programs are a specialty. English speaking instructors are available.