Since my family lives just three hours away from Lake Tahoe, we head up to the mountains fairly often to ski in the winter. While we have always carefully considered cost with a hobby as expensive as skiing, price is all the more important now that we have two skiing kids. We also love to do more than just ski on a Tahoe vacation, so we also carefully scrutinize other offerings, from amenities available to lodging to other logistics. The bottom line? Not all Tahoe ski resorts are created equal, especially when it comes to kids and families.
Editor’s Note October 2020: If you are already scoping out ski vacations for winter 2020-2021, be advised that this year is going to operate a whole lot differently. Many kid-friendly amenities at ski resorts will be closed or have special restrictions. Find out exactly what’s changed during the 2020-2021 winter ski season before you book.
Skiing Tahoe with Kids: How to Pick the Right Ski Resort?
After visiting most of the resorts in the Lake Tahoe area and spending hours researching all the little details relevant to skiing them with kids, I’ve learned that there are vast differences. Some resorts really make skiing for kids a priority, with well-located and well-staffed all day ski school programs. Others make sure kids aren’t bored off the slopes, with kid-friendly apres ski activities like tubing, ice skating, and more. (Related: How to find a truly kid-friendly ski resort).
Most important for many families, of course, is price. The price differential between the Tahoe resorts can be huge with skiing and riding kids. Some ski schools at Tahoe cost nearly twice the price of ski schools at other resorts. If you are headed up for a few days of skiing and plan to enroll your child or children in several days of ski school, the difference can mean hundreds and hundreds of dollars.
Even if you don’t plan on putting your kids in ski school, other costs for kids vary greatly. Quite a few ski resorts allow the youngest of kids to ski free, but the age cutoff varies. If you have 4-6 year olds, you could find a resort that allows your kids to ski free or you could be on the hook for a pricey lift ticket every day. In short, there are a lot of budget variables in play.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to compare all these variables to see what works for your family’s specific situation and skiing preferences? Well, now you can! I did all the research so you don’t have to. I’ve compiled all the features and costs of skiing with kids in Tahoe at each and every resort into a multi-page printable below. Now you can check features like:
- Age cutoffs for kids ski free programs
- Ages your kids are eligible for ski school or lessons
- Cost of child lift tickets
- Cost of child ski school programs
- Availability of interchangeable lift tickets for parents taking turns caring for young kids
- Non-ski amenities that kids will love
- and more!
A Few Kid-Friendly Tahoe Standout Ski Resorts
Before you dive into the chart, I think it is important to highlight a few resorts that stand out in certain ways for skiing families. The bigger resorts like Squaw and Northstar California are well-known for having amazing luxury amenities and excellent ski schools (and we love them for it), but that comes at a big price. I think there can be a lot of value in trying smaller resorts on some occasions too, especially when you have younger kids just learning to ski and are just going for a short weekend trip.
That doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own ski experience either – while some of the resorts on the list below are truly not much more than ski hills, some of the medium sized places have very challenging slopes. My black-diamond-loving husband found plenty of challenge at Diamond Peak, for example, and there are runs even he won’t attempt at Sugar Bowl.
Here are a few ski resort “winners” for certain types of kid-friendly amenities that may matter to your family:
Least Expensive Full Day Ski Schools (Under $200): Boreal, Diamond Peak, and Tahoe Donner
Ski school can be the priciest element of a family ski vacation, but I ultimately think ski school is worth it. So getting it for less is essential.
While most Tahoe ski schools top $300 a day with rentals, lunch, and lift tickets, these three resorts offer a substantial opportunity for savings with full day ski school prices starting under $200. Diamond Peak’s is the absolute cheapest for 7-12 year olds at $169 if you can visit on a weekday (find out how my son’s first time in ski school at Diamond Peak went!)
Boreal’s ski school is another value, at just $179 for all ages offered (4-12) on all non-holiday dates. Tahoe Donner’s prices start at $199 on all non-holidays as well. Honorable mention to Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood, and Homewood for both offering pricing starting in the low $200s.
One word of advice: when comparing ski school prices, be sure to price out your specific travel dates. Many Tahoe resorts now have 2 or 3 tiered pricing depending on whether you are visiting weekdays, weekends, or peak holiday periods. And always, always book early. An increasing number of ski schools sell out early and most also give you a discount for advance bookings.
Oldest Ages Where Kids Ski Free: Diamond Peak
Once your kids have learned enough skills in ski school and will be skiing with you, resorts that let kids ski for free or cheap for longer are a great value. Diamond Peak is now the only ski resort in Tahoe that allows kids to ski free up until their 7th birthday. Most other resorts in Tahoe charge at 4 or 5 years old (or even a nominal amount even younger). Runner up status in this category goes to Sugar Bowl, where kids ski free until they turn 6.
Resorts Offering Childcare for Non-Skiing Kids: Heavenly, Northstar California and Sierra-at-Tahoe
Only three resorts in Tahoe offer daycare for younger kids not ready to ski. This service is so important if both parents want a little time skiing together without having to worry about a younger child and hiring a sitter in an unfamiliar location.
Heavenly’s Day Care and Nursery takes the youngest kids of the three daycare centers, accepting babies as young as six weeks old. Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Wild Mountain Daycare takes toddlers 18 months and up. The minimum age is 2 years old for Northstar Childcare (formerly known as Minors Camp).
Both Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe also offer a hybrid ski school/day care for preschoolers who are ready to ski but not for a full day.
Tahoe Resorts that Take 3 Year Olds in Full Day Ski School: Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Northstar California, Kirkwood
Not all three year olds will be ready to ski – my daughter was at that age but my son was definitely not! (Related: Tips for skiing with toddlers and preschoolers). But for those of you with kids who are ready for the slopes at a younger age, resorts that offer programming for 3 year olds are truly a find. This is where the bigger resorts really do shine because they have the staffing levels to handle the littlest ones, even for a full day.
If a full day isn’t a good fit for your 3 year old (especially younger ones who may still need naps), Tahoe Donner is now the only Tahoe resort to offer a half day program for 3 year olds. The hybrid ski school and day care options available at Sierra-at-Tahoe and Heavenly, both of which take 3 year olds, are another way to test the waters. And many resorts do accept 3 year olds into private lessons – 1 hour may be all your preschooler is ready for!
Resorts with Interchangeable Parent Lift Tickets: Boreal, Diamond Peak, and Tahoe Donner
When I first published this guide way back in 2016, more than half of the resorts in Lake Tahoe offered a parent switch ticket of some sort. This is a lift ticket that parents can swap back and forth on a single day to trade off taking care of younger kids. In short, you pay for one person but two people can each get a few hours on the slopes.
Unfortunately, each time I update and republish this guide, I find a few more Tahoe resorts have discontinued this benefit. So major kudos to Boreal, Diamond Peak, and Tahoe Donner for hanging in! The years when families have non-skiing babies and toddlers are very short. Resorts who cater to this age are likely to build a lot of loyalty by throwing parents this small bone. My husband and I made use of this amenity a lot with our son, and we certainly return often to Diamond Peak which is where we first made use of it when he was a baby.
Download the Tahoe Kid-Friendly Ski Resort Guide
Ready to start planning your Tahoe ski vacation with kids? Download the Skiing Tahoe with Kids – Amenity Comparison Chart here – as a three page PDF. Or compare in the images below.
Pin this post for later: