These days, it takes a lot more than decent cover and a few bunny trails to please snow-bound families. Still, American ski resorts managed to pull off their third-best season ever last winter. That's because the top spots—like these three favorites, in Colorado, Vermont, and Quebec—have figured out how to help parents and kids make the most of a winter vacation. They offer supervised programs for everyone from infants to teens, designated family skiing and snowboarding zones, and tons of activities on and off the slopes. Features such as ski-in/ski-out lodging, on-line rental reservations, and overnight gear storage mean that everyone gets out on the snow with a minimum of hassle. Now, about those cafeteria prices. . . .
Beaver Creek, Colorado by Meg Lukens Noonan
Two hours west of Denver, Vail's sister resort manages to be both a sophisticated retreat and a kid-thrilling winter playland. Brawny stone-and-timber lodges, meticulously groomed trails (more than 1,500 skiable acres) that waterfall through the lodgepole pines, and an army of ever-optimistic ski instructors help contribute to the feeling that you have arrived at the alpine version of nirvana.
Best place to stay: Just above the village plaza, the slopeside Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa (800/554-9288 or 970/949-1234; www.beavercreek.hyatt.com; doubles from $360, kids free) has 275 warm and woodsy rooms, an Old West storyteller, kids' activity programs, and attendants who'll carry your gear from the lifts at the end of the day (and back to the lifts the next morning). Sight most likely to make you weep with joy: Four sets of heated escalators that connect the steeply terraced village to the lifts. Best enticement to finish a run: Warm (free) cookies, served on silver trays after 3 p.m. at the base of Centennial Lift and throughout the village. Best pseudo-Euro experience: Skiing or boarding village-to-village on gentle, ego-stroking trails to Bachelor Gulch for lunch alfresco at the new 237-room Ritz-Carlton hotel (800/241-3333 or 970/748-6200; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $475, kids free). Best reason to take the shuttle to Vail: Adventure Ridge: tubing, guided thrill sledding, ice-skating, ski biking, snowshoeing, and laser tag—all at 10,000 feet (970/476-9090; www.vail.com). Reason to be happy you're a beginner: Novices have a practice area at 11,440 feet, on top of Beaver Creek Mountain. That gives snowplowers the kind of views normally accessible only to more advanced skiers. Best place to practice your triple lutz: The outdoor Black Family Ice Arena (970/845-9090; www.beavercreek.com; rentals from $5), one of Colorado ski country's best, in the lively village center. Best place to convert plain-pasta eaters: The Swiss Stübli restaurant (76 Avondale Lane; 970/748-8618; dinner for four $130), where kids can discover the gooey pleasures of fondue and raclette. Best evening activity not requiring mittens: A show at the subterranean Vilar Center for the Arts (888/920-2787; www.vilarcenter.org; tickets from $11), a big-city-worthy 530-seat theater—located directly under the skating rink—with a year-round schedule of concerts, films, and theater productions. General information: 970/949-5750; www.beavercreek.com.