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.
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. 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. 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!
Special Considerations for Skiing in 2022
The closures of all ski resorts in March of 2020 brought major changes to the ski industry that still are reverberating today – and likely will for many seasons to come. The 2020-2021 season was highly modified, with many family-friendly amenities suspended completely.
While the 2021-2022 season is much closer to normal at most Tahoe ski resorts, ongoing challenges like major labor shortages and staff sickness continue to affect the cost and availability of certain offerings. These may hit families looking for amenities like ski school the most.
For example, quite a few Tahoe ski resorts have suspended offering ski school to the youngest of kids this season. Several others have moved from offering full day ski school only to half day group lessons for kids. Others have had to increase their prices dramatically due to a shortage of instructors.
Note as well that a mid-sized family-friendly favorite resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, suffered extensive damage from this summer’s wildfires. As a result, it has not yet been able to open for the 2021-2022 season. Its status remains to be determined for this year.
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
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 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 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 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: Tahoe Donner, Homewood, Kirkwood, and Diamond Peak
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 several major Tahoe resort ski schools top $300 a day with rentals, lunch, and lift tickets, these four resorts offer a substantial opportunity for savings. The absolute cheapest is Tahoe Donner, offering a full day program that includes rentals, lift tickets, and lunch for ages 5-12 for just $209 on standard days. Homewood’s is not far behind, offering ski school for 5-12 year olds at $229 during non-peak periods.
We’ve also had a lot of personal success in our family with Diamond Peak’s ski school. Even though it is no longer the lowest price in Tahoe, the resort is such a great fit for families with easy logistics and more challenging terrain for parents to ski that I highly recommend giving this program serious consideration (find out how my son’s first time in ski school at Diamond Peak went!). Diamond Peak’s ski school in 2022 is now $250 midweek for ages 7-12, with slight additional costs for the younger kids or on weekends or holidays.
A surprise to make the list this year is Kirkwood. Because it is owned by Vail Resorts and participates in the EpicPass, I expected it to be priced more in line with the larger resorts. But it’s a surprise value at just $225 for ages 7-12 on non-peak days – and not much more for the younger ages! If you are an EpicPass holder like we are, there are additional discounts available which might make this the cheapest option for you.
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. 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 early, and several 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
Before 2020, three resorts in Tahoe offered daycare for younger kids not ready to ski – Heavenly, Northstar, and Sierra-at-Tahoe. 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.
In 2022, however, only one resort is currently offering daycare. Heavenly’s Day Care and Nursery accepts babies as young as six weeks old. Heavenly also offers a hybrid ski school/day care for preschoolers who are ready to ski but not for a full day. The program for 3-4 year olds includes one hour of skiing, and the program for 4-5 year olds is a half-and-half experience. My son did the half-and-half program when he was 4.5 and we can highly recommend it as an excellent introduction for more hesitant kids.
(Editor’s note: Sierra-at-Tahoe still remains entirely closed from summer fire damage. It remains to be seen whether its Wild Mountain Daycare which cared for toddlers 18 months and up will reopen this season if the resort reopens. The status of Northstar Childcare – formerly known as Minors Camp – is unclear and may now be closed permanently. Check back for updates!)
Tahoe Resorts that Take 3-4 Year Olds in Full Day Ski School: Northstar California, Kirkwood
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 for this age 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 3-4 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, Sugar Bowl’s half day programs start at age 4 while Diamond Peak and Boreal both offer 2 hour group ski lessons for the 4 year old set.
The hybrid ski school and day care option at Heavenly that includes 3-5 year olds is 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!
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.