Planning to take your kids on a ski vacation? Choose wisely! When it comes to skiing with kids, all ski resorts are not created equal. Sure, most will have a few bunny slopes and usually even a children’s ski school, but that doesn’t mean they are the kid-friendly ski resorts where you should take your family on vacation. How can you tell the difference between ski resorts that go through the motions with kids and ones that are a family-friendly ski and snowboard paradise?
My husband and I have skied all over North America, both before and after kids – Vermont, the mid-Atlantic, Colorado, the Canadian Rockies, Utah, Lake Tahoe, and more. We’ve noticed distinct differences in the culture and amenities of various ski resorts. Some resorts that were great fits for us in our 20s are definitely not places we’d go back with kids. Others that didn’t work for us a decade plus ago have turned out to be ideal destinations now that we have young kids who ski.
So how do you find a ski resort that is truly kid-friendly and family-friendly? There are a few shortcuts I use to look for places where my kids will be wanted rather than just tolerated. Here’s my ski resort cheat sheet to help you pick the right ski resort for your family too.
Tips for Finding a Ski Resort That is Good For Kids
1. Find Resorts Where Kids Ski Free
Resorts that want families court families by making skiing more budget-friendly when bringing kids. Specifically, many kid-friendly ski resorts offer generous kids ski free programs. As expensive as skiing is, who doesn’t want to save money on their next ski vacation for as long as possible?
Nearly every major ski resort allows toddlers or preschoolers to ski free. Look closely, however, at the age that a ski resort begins charging for lift tickets. This age varies considerably, starting as early as 3 or 4 years old at many places, but quite a few ski resorts only start charging several years later.
Even if a ski resort doesn’t have a blanket kids ski free policy, keep digging around. Quite a few ski resorts will offer kids ski free packages if you buy a certain adult pass or book on-property lodging.
Diamond Peak Resort near Lake Tahoe, for example, allows children to ski free until their 7th birthday. Steamboat in Colorado allows kids 12 and under to ski free the same number of days as their parents when parents purchase a 5-or-more day adult lift ticket. Keystone, also in Colorado, allows kids 12 and under to ski free when families book two or more nights of lodging.
2. Look for All-Day Ski School Programs.
Most major ski resorts offer ski school for children, but ski school experiences can vary dramatically. Resorts that are really committed to teaching children have all day programs that enable kids to immerse themselves in learning. These programs also make plenty of time for fun at an age-appropriate level. After all, too much skiing can be exhausting for kids and result in frustration rather than skill improvement.
My 10-year-old and 5-year-old have both had a number of amazing ski school experiences. The best ones include scheduled time for snow play, tubing, and even character mascot visits. Hot chocolate breaks, lunch, and sometimes movies for a mid-afternoon break help make ski school feel like a vacation even while skill-building.
One more factor to consider is what ages a resort’s ski school accepts. In my experience, resorts that offer ski school programs for kids as young as 3 and 4 years old are usually very committed to teaching kids to ski.
3. Make Sure Other Resort Activities are Available.
Even if you have kids who love to ski, chances are they would love other activities too. Many resorts take non-ski activities to a new level with snow play centers, tubing, ice skating rinks, snowmobiling, and more. One of my family’s favorite ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, Northstar California, even has a movie theater in its village. Kid-friendly and convenient restaurants are another bonus.
Don’t just look at the skiing when you pick a ski resort if you have kids, especially if you are going for longer than just a weekend visit. Look at all the entire resort experience so your kids can have fun on and off the slopes. This is especially true if you are a first time ski family and aren’t sure whether your kids will take to the sport yet!
4. Ask About Interchangeable Parent Passes.
As a parent who has had a toddler/preschooler in tow on ski trips the last several years, one of the challenges my family has faced skiing is caring for our little one who has been too young and not ready to ski. If we aren’t traveling with family or willing to hire a babysitter, my husband and I had to trade off skiing and child care duties.
Resorts that offer “interchangeable parent passes” or “parent switch” tickets have been a lifesaver during this period in our lives. These programs allow two parents to share a single day lift ticket and trade off skiing and caring for young kids at no extra cost. Not making two parents each pay full price for a half day of skiing is a hallmark of a ski resort that gets it.
Note that sometimes these passes are not well-publicized or listed on the resort’s website, so always call and ask before a trip. Fewer and fewer resorts seem to be offering this benefit as time goes by so snag it while it lasts. For example, about half the resorts in Lake Tahoe offered this benefit in 2018, but only one ski resort in the area does now in 2023.
5. Search for Resorts with Kids Clubs and Day Care.
Another ski resort amenity that solved my family’s toddler dilemma the past few years is on-site child care. Only a very few ski resorts have day care centers for babies, toddlers, and younger kids just not quite ready for ski school. Because it is less commonly available, it is truly a sign of an extra family-friendly resort.
I’ve spotted these centers in current times at family-friendly resorts like Heavenly in California, Deer Valley and Park City in Utah, Vail in Colorado, and Stowe in Vermont – to name a few. These centers are state licensed and usually have programming that encourages kids to get outside and enjoy snow play during the day, helping to familiarize little ones with snow clothes and cold weather. Some even offer hybrid daycare/ski school programs that help preschool age kids get introduced to the sport without the exhaustion of a full day of skiing.
Note that quite a few resorts closed their childcare centers in 2020 and have not reopened them (and may never do so), so check the latest information on resort websites or call to confirm availability.
6. Hunt for Resorts with Ski-In/Ski-Out Slopeside Accommodations.
One of the hardest parts about skiing with kids, especially little ones like I have, is lugging their gear. The closer my family’s lodging is to the slopes, the better. Ski-in/ski-out locations are ideal choices for families because they require so little transport time and logistics. And nothing beats having home just steps away when a young child is exhausted from a day on the slopes.
Not every resort has on-site lodging or lodging with slopeside access, so search carefully and always take a peek at resort maps beforehand. Resorts that score even more family-friendly points are ones that offer condo accommodations in addition to the usual hotel rooms. Having a kitchen at the end of the day to cook a simple dinner or having separate bedrooms is a life-saver for families.
Have you found a ski resort that works well for your family? Leave your recommendations in the comments.
For more family travel ski advice, check out these related articles:
- 7 Mistakes Not to Make Skiing with Kids
- Why Ski School is Worth it for Kids
- Skiing Tahoe with Kids: Comparing Every Ski Resort
- Tips for Skiing with Toddlers and Preschoolers