Millions of us love to ski. The freedom of the powder or maybe the thrill of learning; there are many things that attract us to skiing. Ski vacations are a fantastic experience, you get to enjoy the slopes and have a great time afterwards. But if you have a family there is more to consider than the après-ski. Finding a good, family friendly ski resort is crucial to really enjoy a family ski trip, but what should you look for?
The first thing is location. Just how easy is it to get to? This is especially true if you have young children. A 200 mile trip on a bus from the airport straight after a long flight could be problematic. Somewhere with easy transport links is not essential, but it does mean there are any fewer potential problems to deal with. However, some destinations, such as Aspen, do require such a long trip, in this case from Denver International Airport. And if your heart is set on visiting one of these resorts, Aspen itself is very family friendly once you get there, then an alternative would perhaps be a rental car, which would be less frustrating for the children and allow you more control of the journey.
The next aspect of the resort to look at is accommodation. Most resorts have a range of options available, everything from condos and chalets to 5 star hotels. Always check how amenable facilities are for children. Some of the very best hotels manage to make themselves somewhat child unfriendly in their bid for seriousness and opulence. Look for children’s clubs or organized activities from true family friendly hotels. In addition to good family-friendly hotels, we think a good family ski area should have plenty of private vacation rental options. After all, sometimes it is just better for a family to have separate bedrooms, a kitchen, and a more homey space overall.
For a great family friendly resort, also look at the options available for dining and entertainment, and make sure that the resort has child friendly restaurants and activities for your children in the evening. Getting around is also something to look at, especially if you will not have access to a vehicle for your stay. Many of the best resorts now operate free shuttle bus services to move people around the resort, to ski lifts and so on, and at the end of a tiring day this can be a parent’s best friend.
Now we move on to the skiing itself, and just what ‘family friendly’ means in terms of the skiing available at a resort. This does depend on your family to some extent. If you have teenage children who are experienced skiers or snowboarders, then a resort with plenty of challenging runs for you all will be what you want. However, for families who have younger children, or a mix of abilities and experience, then looking for resorts that have a mix of ski-runs suitable for younger children, beginner areas and instruction is a must.
If you have very young children and wish to spend a couple of hours on the slopes by yourself, then a resort that offers facilities for those children is essential. Look for resorts offering child day care. The best offer care split into age groups, and offer a variety of activities to keep children entertained. Some may even offer very basic snow time for three to four year-old children to get them used to skis, and this can be very helpful.
For older children, instruction is also important. You may prefer to teach them yourself, but a professional instructor can help them gain confidence quickly. Group ski schools offer instruction in small groups and are usually based around age, going from five year-old skiers all the way to teenagers and beyond. Good quality instruction is a key part of a family ski vacation, so take a good look at the reviews for ski-schools at the resort you’re interested in before finalizing your plans. Of course, the alternative is a personal tutor, and there will be plenty to choose from at most resorts. Again, finding a good tutor beforehand can make things much easier during your vacation, so research is the key here.
If you are taking kids on the slopes, ensure the lifts themselves are child friendly, and also look at the on-slope facilities. Food is notoriously expensive on the slopes anyway, but if your child is a fussy eater it can be even more complicated. Check what is on offer during the day and you will be well prepared for your time out on the slope with your children.
Don’t forget about safety! Knowing that a ski area has an active ski patrol, offers kids ski helmets as part of their rental packages, and good signage so your child knows clearly which terrain is OK for them to tackle are all important aspects of keeping your child safe during a ski or snowboard day.
Conclusion. Family friendly ski resorts are not hard to find these days. Most hotel chains and independent operators have recognized the importance of making allowances for children and things have really progressed over the last 20 years. It is still important to do your research on any destination though, as facilities do vary, especially where daycare for the youngest is concerned. So, check that the kind of facilities that your family will need are not only available, but have been extensively reviewed as well.
Paul Miller is the Founder of Family Skier. He is an advanced skier and has extensive experience with family travel and ski schools. An accomplished skier, he has skied in 15 states and provinces and 6 countries. In addition to FamilySkier, his writing can be found on many ski-related websites, and as curriculum for many ski clubs in North America.