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Skiing Tahoe with Kids 2024: Comparing the Costs & Kid-Friendly Amenities of Every Tahoe Ski Resort

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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.

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Tahoe - Empty Ski Slopes

Skiing Tahoe with Kids: How to Pick the Right Ski Resort?

After visiting most of the resorts in the Lake Tahoe area and spending hundreds of hours researching all the little details about skiing and snowboarding at these resorts with kids, I’ve learned that there are vast differences.

Some resorts really make 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. Still others don’t have a lot of fancy extras but they are committed to keeping prices cheap to make skiing a more accessible sport for more families.

Related: How to find a truly kid-friendly ski resort

Toddler Skiing

Most important for many families, of course, is price. The price differential between the Tahoe resorts can be huge with skiing and riding kids. While the price gap between the smaller and larger resorts in Tahoe has closed a bit since I first published this guide, some ski schools will still cost you quite a bit more than others. 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 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 (and I do it again, year after year, to reflect changing prices and policies). 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 – fully updated for the current 2023-2024 ski season. 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
  • Non-ski amenities that kids will love
  • Availability of interchangeable lift tickets for parents taking turns caring for non-skiing kids
  • Availability of childcare for young kids
  • and more!

What’s Changed for the 2023-2024 Ski Season

Child skiing at Lake Tahoe in winter

While Tahoe area ski resorts have fully reopened the last few seasons after a several years of closures and modifications, things aren’t entirely as they were before. The industry has radically shifted – and rapidly. I’d say it’s almost unrecognizable today compared to what it was when my now teenager began skiing with us as a toddler over a decade ago.

The increasing cost of living in the Tahoe area has led to labor shortages that have stressed supply and raised prices. This has particularly made it difficult to find enough instructors for lessons and ski school. As a result, quite a few Tahoe ski resorts permanently suspended offering ski school to the very youngest of kids. Several others moved from offering full day ski school only to half day group lessons for kids.

The growth in popularity of multi-resort ski passes like Epic and Ikon have caused additional changes. Nearly all of the Tahoe area resorts – especially the largest ones – have drastically raised the cost of one and two day lift tickets in favor of these season passes and other bundled package offerings. That means it can be increasingly hard and expensive for beginners and infrequent visitors to ski and snowboard without a massive cost investment.

But while some of the news is not so positive, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate as well. Almost all the resorts have added new infrastructure improvements and amenities, such as the gondola that now connects both of the ski mountains that make up Palisades.

Additionally, one of the mid-sized family-friendly resorts, Sierra-at-Tahoe, re-opened last year after suffering extensive damage from summer 2021 wildfires. In the 2023-2024 season, it’s back with offerings like childcare again as well as lots of brand new terrain. It’s a beloved family-friendly resort with a lot of value, so if you can’t quite decide just where to go this season, consider giving Sierra-at-Tahoe a little extra love (and cash).

So with those challenges and changes in mind, I’ve completed my annual update to this Tahoe ski resort comparison guide. There are lots of changes from previous years so be sure to read it closely – what you may remember from a few years ago has likely changed at your favorite resort!

A Few Kid-Friendly Tahoe Standout Ski Resorts

Heavenly Gondola Ski School Drop off Location

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 Heavenly, Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley), and Northstar California are well-known for having amazing luxury amenities and excellent ski schools. 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 many occasions too, especially when you have younger kids just learning to ski or 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 crazy challenging 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 in Lake Tahoe

Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner, Homewood and Sierra-at-Tahoe

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.

Many major Tahoe resort ski schools are now well over $300 a day with rentals, lunch, and lift tickets. Several of them are over $400 a day during peak weekends and holidays. But four resorts thankfully offer a better opportunity for ski school savings.

A surprise to take the title for the lowest price in this category the last few years is Kirkwood. Because it is owned by Vail Resorts and participates in the Epic Pass, I expected it to be priced more in line with the larger resorts. But it’s an eye-opening value at just $259 for kids ages 7-12 on non-peak days – and not much more for the younger ages. If you are an Epic Pass holder like we often are, there are additional discounts available which might make this the cheapest ski school option for you.

In the same price ballpark are smaller resorts Tahoe Donner and Homewood. Both offer a full day ski school program that includes rentals, lift tickets, and lunch for ages 5-12 priced in the $270s on standard days and low $300s on peak days.

Also worth highlighting is Sierra-at-Tahoe. Single day ski school at non-peak times starts at just a bit more than the other three at $293 per day. But the real value the resort offers is a 3 PAK ($224 per day) and 10 PAK ($174 per day) of ski school lessons that can be used at any time throughout a single ski season – even holidays. This is an incredibly economical way to get multiple full days of ski school with equipment, lift tickets, and lunch included.

One word of advice: when comparing ski school prices, be sure to price out your specific travel dates. Many Tahoe resorts now have 3 or 4 tiered pricing depending on whether you are visiting weekdays, weekends, or on various holiday periods. What one resort treats as peak may not always be perfectly aligned with what another resort treats as peak.

And always, always book well in advance. An increasing number of ski schools sell out very early, and several give you a discount for advance bookings.

Oldest Ages Where Kids Ski Free in Tahoe

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). A lot of kids who start young are already zooming down the mountain with parents and older siblings at age 5 or 6, so being able to ski free during these years can save a lot for families who ski regularly.

Runner up status in this category goes to Sugar Bowl. Kids ski free at Sugar Bowl from ages 0-5, giving families one more free year over and above most of the major resorts.

Tahoe Resorts Offering Childcare for Non-Skiing Kids

Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe

Heavenly Ski Trip before Kids 2007

Before 2020, three resorts in Tahoe offered 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 (or in our case on occasion, paying to bring grandma along).

Childcare at a lot of ski resorts was a major casualty of the 2020 closures nationwide. Last season, only one resort in the Tahoe area offered daycare, but thankfully one more has returned for the 2023-2034 season. This year, both Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe have open childcare centers.

Heavenly’s Day Care and Nursery accepts both the youngest and oldest kids, taking babies as young as six weeks old and kids up to age 6.

Heavenly also offers a hybrid full day ski school/day care for 3-4 year olds who are ready to ski but not for a full day on the slopes. My son did this program when he was 4 and we can highly recommend it as an excellent ski introduction for more hesitant kids.

Sierra’s Wild Mountain Daycare doesn’t take infants or elementary age kids but does take toddlers and preschoolers from 1.5 years until their 3rd birthday – often the most crucial age for childcare needs. Like Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe also has a combination daycare and ski program (“Cubbies”) for 3-4 year olds so they can get an introduction to skiing and retreat to the daycare center for indoor fun when they get tired.

Tahoe Resorts that Take 3-4 Year Olds in Full Day Ski School

Northstar California, Kirkwood

Kirkwood Ski Resort Near Lake Tahoe in Winter

Not all three and four 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 are truly a find. This is where a few of the bigger resorts really do shine because they have the staffing levels to handle the littlest ones, even for a full day.

Northstar California Resort and Kirkwood are the only two resorts that accept kids as young as 3-4 in an all day program. So if your preschooler is ready to shred all day, these are the only two places where you can take advantage of full day ski school.

If a full day isn’t a good fit for your 3-4 year old (especially younger ones who may still need naps), there are a few resorts with shorter group lessons for this age range as well. Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) has half day ski school for 3-4 year olds. Tahoe Donner also offers group ski lessons for 3-4 year olds that are 1 hour and 15 minutes long several times a day. Finally, four resorts (Sugar Bowl, Mount Rose, Diamond Peak and Boreal) both offer shorter group ski lessons for the 4 year old set.

And as already mentioned, the hybrid ski school and day care options at Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe that include 3-4 year olds are another way to test the waters. And many resorts do accept 3-4 year olds into private lessons – 1 hour may be all your preschooler is ready for!

Tahoe Resorts with Interchangeable Parent Lift Tickets

Diamond Peak

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. A few more bit the dust in the reopening changes, leaving just one Tahoe ski resort standing alone to offer it. So major kudos to Diamond Peak for hanging in!

The years when families have non-skiing babies and toddlers are very short. Resorts who cater to parents in this limited time childcare predicament are likely to build a lot of loyalty. My husband and I made use of this amenity a lot with our son when he was a baby and toddler at Diamond Peak, and we have never forgotten how much it helped us. The resort has gotten a lot of our return business as a result, and we both recommend it regularly to families with little ones. So I hope other ski resorts take note! But until they do, Diamond Peak is the place to go if you have a non-skiing little one to watch.

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.

Lake Tahoe Ski Resort Comparison Chart 2023-2024 Page 1
Lake Tahoe Ski Resort Comparison Chart 2023-2024 Page 2
Lake Tahoe Ski Resort Comparison Chart 2023-2024 Page 3

Even More Tahoe Ski Information for Families

Considering Lake Tahoe for your next family ski vacation? A complete comparison guide (updated annually!) to every Tahoe ski resort in California and Nevada, with a look at all the amenities and prices relevant to family travelers. Which resort has the cheapest ski school, where kids ski free, and which mountains have the best family-friendly extras!

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LC

Thursday 4th of January 2024

Thank you so much for putting this together. Any chance you have an updated 2023-24 season chart?

Lucy

Tuesday 25th of April 2023

Do you have this analysis for season pass?

Leslie Harvey

Friday 12th of May 2023

I don't yet but it's been a post idea I've thought about for sure. Maybe next ski season!

Marni

Tuesday 17th of January 2023

Yours is the most helpful summary I've seen for this info. Thanks so much!

Catherine

Sunday 17th of July 2022

Thanks for this spreadsheet! Amazing!! Can I ask about Tahoe Donner? Do you have to me a member or staying on site as a guest to ski there? Their website is so confusing.

Mike

Sunday 13th of February 2022

Hello! So happy to find this post, very helpful.

Do you have any advice for Tahoe lift ticket deals the week of Feb 21-15?

Thanks!

Mike

Sunday 13th of February 2022

@Mike, Sorry Feb 21-25...also, there are four of us for the lift tickets, 1 adult, 3 kids ages 13/11/6.