Skiing with your buddies is always a blast. A weekend-long expedition of sick lines, craft beer and an overindulgence of calorie-laden foods. But a buddies trip can be unrealistic to pull off on a regular basis, especially when you have a growing family. As a married working father of three little girls, I did what any ski bum dreaming father would do: I created a ski-loving family and haven’t looked back.
Skiing and riding together has become our passion. Something that we look forward to; enjoying the experience together and making memories that will last a lifetime. But there is one small caveat: not all ski resorts are created equal in the family-friendly department.
That’s fine; everyone has their niche but it becomes a challenge when choosing a desirable family ski location. Keystone, Northstar, Smuggler’s Notch, Beaver Creek all come to mind, which are the usual suspects, so to speak. Family-friendly and great, by all means, but not necessarily attainable for all.
Lift ticket prices, ski school costs and, most importantly, finding a resort where everyone feels comfortable all play a major role when it comes to making the right choice for your next family ski trip. That can require some out-of-the-box thinking and the potential for choosing a destination that does not appear on every list out there. Think of smaller, lesser known ski areas like the following that have been in the business of serving families for years and are sure to deliver the family oriented experience that you are looking for. Read on to learn more about 10 family-friendly ski areas in North America.
June Mountain – June Lake, Ca
Speaking to the world-renowned Gabe Taylor, you could just feel his energy for June Mountain. Here is a guy that has snowboarded all over the world telling me that his best day on the mountain last winter was at June. Why? Because he was able to share that experience with his kids. June is about that experience from start to finish. Before you even begin, the stage is set on your drive up. The view of the majestic mountains hits you smack in the face at a turn in the road known as Oh Ridge. A view that is only amplified when you arrive by the sight of the lakes as you ride the two-person chair to the top. There, your children – who ski free under the age of 12 – are treated like family by a top-notch ski school and lifties who are some of the nicest people out there. They’ll point you in the right direction as you and your family head up to take advantage of the multitude of groomers that are cruisably wide and totally safe due to their lack of crowds.
Liberty Mountain Resort – Carroll Valley, PA
Anywhere between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours from major metro areas such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC, Liberty is the first choice for families in those areas. Their Children’s Learning Center has smaller, dedicated class sizes and will have your kids up on skis or a board in no time. Then in the off hours, take your pick from a host of activities for all. Ice skate in the middle of the village, send it down their 17 lane snow tubing area with its own dedicated base lodge and then finish up the evening with a delicious meal at the Eagle & Owl.
On top of that, they recently built a brand new $24M hotel in the base area, called Liberty Hotel. It doesn’t get much better.
Monarch Mountain – Chaffee County, Co
Monarch is a hidden gem for families in a state that is filled with some of our country’s top ski resorts. What will strike you right off the bat is how family-oriented the staff is to each other. This behavior is infectious and extends to their guests who are greeted in the parking lot situated a mere steps from the bottom of the mountain. That type of access is crucial to gear lugging parents looking to get their kids to Monarch’s top-notch ski school. They will have them on the mountain in no time where the smaller crowds and shorter lift lines make for a safe, stress free environment. Monarch is also not bereft of snow receiving 350” annually which when combined with the area’s affordability makes this a must stop for ski and snowboard loving families.
Sky Tavern Ski Area – Reno, NV
Sky Tavern is as unique as they come and totally dedicated to teaching families how to ski. So much so that they refer to themselves as a training area that happens to be a ski resort. Since 1948 this non-profit club has taught over 100,000 kids to ski and snowboard, including several Olympians. By enlisting the help of 500 certified volunteer ski instructors annually, they are able to keep ski school costs for the season lower than you would pay for a lift ticket at other resorts. But there are actually only a few days the public can buy a day ticket. Most of the time it is limited to season memberships which is why they are really good at converting non-skiers into the next generation of skiers and riders.
Cannon Mountain – Grafton County, NH
Cannon flies under the radar when it comes to family-friendly ski areas, which is a shame since they have one of the largest dedicated learning areas for a mountain their size in the east. At Cannon, it’s all about the Tuckerbrook Learning Area. Whereas many other mountains have easier terrain near the bottom of the mountain for beginners, it is often a cross section for other skiers and riders to get somewhere else. Tuckerbrook has access to the main base but is a completely separate area with 14 trails and glades all served by three lifts. This ultimately allows newcomers to learn on gradual terrain with people of their own ability and since it all funnels down to one main lift, it is nearly impossible to get lost.
Snowshoe Mountain – Snowshoe, WV
Many people don’t think of the Mid-Atlantic as a prime destination for skiing and riding but if you are thinking family-friendly then you should start. Their ski school is excellent, utilizing an innovative terrain-based learning process that will quickly have your children on the mountain. Once there, they can take advantage of a wide variety of terrain that has a little something for every ability level. When it’s time to après ski, the mountain’s “upside down” layout is what it’s all about. Already being at the summit, you will have unparalleled views over “Almost Heaven” while shopping, dining and playing around in the Big Top, their indoor family fun center. Ultimately, this all makes Snowshoe a magical setting for a family getaway.
Dollar Mountain – Sun Valley, Idaho
Part of the larger Sun Valley and just a short walk away from away from the famous Sun Valley Lodge sits Dollar Mountain. There, you will find one of the finest family-friendly teaching mountains our country has to offer. Always fun and festive your day begins with Sunny the Bear greeting kids as they show up for their lessons. This warm welcome jumpstarts the day for families participating in what has long been considered one of the industry’ finest ski schools. Utilizing their Terrain-that-Teaches method, you and your children will be cruising Dollar’s gentle wider trails or perhaps even some of neighboring Baldy’s steeper terrain in no time. When the lifts stop spinning, the fun does not end. There is always something to do at Sun Valley. Watch movies, bowl and/or ice skate in the Sun Valley village, then hop in a horse drawn sleigh and huddle as a family under the blankets while sipping hot chocolate en route to a delicious dinner at the Train Creek Cabin.
Bolton Valley – Richmond, VT
The family-friendly atmosphere begins with the fact that Bolton Valley is primarily family owned. The DesLauriers built the resort back in 1963 and are now on their fourth generation of siblings being raised there. “It’s an understatement to say that we’re committed to making the place family-friendly,” says part owner Adam DesLaurier. Bolton delivers on this promise in a number of ways. First, they have a long tradition of working with after-school groups in the region and bringing them up to ski at night. This includes lessons, rentals and sharply discounted lift tickets which is a major contributor to Bolton running about 2,500 children through their mountain per season. They also work with the local elementary school in order to provide their students with an opportunity to ski there a few days a year along with having season long ski and ride programs for all kids ages 3-17. After hours, their on-site Sports Facility is a popular attraction for families to hangout, enjoy hot chocolate and fries or have their birthday party. It just doesn’t get more family-friendly than that.
Brighton Resort – Brighton, Utah
In a skiing state like Utah, where a large majority of resorts are within a 45 minute drive of Salt Lake City, Brighton is at the top of the list of where kids go to learn. It starts with their laid back vibe and “everyone is welcome” attitude. This attracts families from the SLC and beyond who visit to take advantage of Brighton’s learning friendly terrain. It also helps that up to two kids 10 and under ski free with every paying adult, virtually guaranteeing that you won’t have to break the bank to get your kids up on skis. With a large variety of terrain, from groomers to steeps, the whole family will most certainly enjoy themselves at Brighton, enjoyment that does not have to stop when the sun goes down. With over 200 acres of lighted runs, Brighton offers the largest amount of night-skiing terrain in all of Utah ultimately giving you and your family even more time together on the slopes.
Mount Peter – Orange County, NY
Owned by the same family for the last 45 years, Mount Peter is the go-to family-friendly mountain in the New York Metropolitan area. Many of their employees have been there equally as long and provide a personal touch that is very rarely seen at other resorts. They are known for starting every day having a coffee at their favorite table in the lodge with whoever happens to be sitting there. The family vibe is in the atmosphere and it carries through to the learning experience at the mountain. With two dedicated learning areas and free beginner lessons every weekend and holiday their focus is on teaching families the correct way to ski. Moms and dads looking to learn right along side their children can do so in their newly created family lessons. For parents who can already ski, there is also the option of enrolling the kids in Mount Peter’s long standing Kids Camp. Either way, the folks at Mount Peter are determined to create generations of happy skiers and ultimately live by the adage, A family that skis together stays together.
Got a favorite family-friendly ski area that we didn’t mention? Tell us in the comments below! And don’t forget to book your next lift ticket on Liftopia.com.