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 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).
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 2022-2023 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
- 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 2022-2023
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. While ski resorts really won’t have any distancing or noticeable health modifications any longer for the 2022-2023 season, things aren’t entirely as they were before.
For example, last season quite a few Tahoe ski resorts suspended offering ski school to the youngest of kids. Several others moved from offering full day ski school only to half day group lessons for kids. Others had to increase their prices dramatically due to a shortage of instructors. Some of these changes have been reversed in 2022-2023, but not all of them!
This winter season, ongoing challenges like staff sickness could continue to affect the cost and availability of certain offerings. These may hit families looking for amenities like ski school the most. But bigger factors are in play too. The growth in popularity of multi-resort ski passes like Epic and Ikon and the increasing cost of living in the Tahoe area for staff both increase skier demand while stressing supply due to labor shortages. It’s a complex problem with no easy solutions.
The 2022-2023 ski season in Tahoe does have at least one very happy development to report. One of the mid-sized family-friendly resorts, Sierra-at-Tahoe, suffered extensive damage from summer 2021 wildfires. After a Herculean effort, it is back for the 2022-2023 ski season! All of greater Tahoe community has a stake in the resort’s success and continued rebuilding, so I wanted to give it a special shoutout this year. It’s a 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
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 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 in Lake Tahoe
Kirkwood, Tahoe Donner, and Homewood (Honorable Mention: 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. For the first time ever, several of them are over $400 a day during peak weekends and holidays. But three resorts thankfully offer a better opportunity for ski school savings.
A surprise to take the title for the lowest price in this category 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 $246 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 for just $259 on standard days. In fact, their prices for 5-6 year olds are a tad cheaper than Kirkwood’s.
Honorable mention goes to Sierra-at-Tahoe. Single day ski school at non-peak times is just a bit more than the other three at $279 per day. But the real value the resort offers is a 3 PAK ($179 per day) and 10 PAK ($149 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 early, and several give you a discount for advance bookings.
Oldest Ages Where Kids Ski Free in Tahoe
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. While kids don’t ski free at Sugar Bowl, 0-5 year olds pay just $10 for a lift ticket.
Tahoe Resorts Offering Childcare for Non-Skiing Kids
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 (or in our case on occasion, paying to bring grandma along).
Childcare at a lot of ski resorts has been a casualty of the closures, never to return. It’s no different in the Lake Tahoe area. For the 2022-2023, only one resort is currently offering daycare. Heavenly’s Day Care and Nursery accepts babies as young as six weeks old. So if you are a family who has a little one not yet ready to ski, this is your only option for on-mountain childcare in all of the Northern Sierra.
Heavenly also offers a hybrid ski school/day care for 3-4 year olds who are ready to ski but not for a full day. My son did this program when he was 4 and we can highly recommend it as an excellent ski introduction for more hesitant kids.
Tahoe Resorts that Take 3-4 Year Olds in Full Day Ski School
Northstar California, Kirkwood (Honorable Mention: Sierra-at-Tahoe)
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 in an all day program. Sierra-at-Tahoe starts its full day ski school with 4 year olds.
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.
And as already mentioned, the hybrid ski school and day care option at Heavenly that includes 3-4 year olds is another way to test the waters. 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
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. And two more bit the dust in the since last season, 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.
Even More Tahoe Ski Information for Families
- Tips for Driving to Lake Tahoe in Winter
- First Timer’s Guide to Lake Tahoe
- 9 Closest Ski Resorts to San Francisco
- 7 Mistakes Not to Make Skiing with Kids
- Guide to Skiing Northstar California Resort with Kids
- Guide to Skiing Sugar Bowl with Kids
- Guide to Skiing Diamond Peak with Kids
- First Timer’s Guide to Skiing Heavenly