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.
Okemo, Vermont by Dana White
One of the few small privately owned resorts left on the East Coast, Ludlow, Vermont's Okemo (554 acres, 2,150 vertical feet) does everything to make a family ski trip a breeze. Besides specialized instruction for kids of every age—from preschoolers to the Clearasil set—it's the little things here that mean a lot. A "basket room" in the base lodge gives parents all-day access to bags and dry clothes for a flat rate of $2. There are free lift tickets for skiers six and under. And the hard-charging college crowd tends to head elsewhere, which gives you peace of mind to let the kids explore by themselves.
Best places to stay: The 50-room, 40-villa Hawk Inn & Mountain Resort (800/685-4295; doubles from $250, kids free) is a Colonial-style hotel in Plymouth, 10 minutes from the slopes. With an indoor-outdoor pool and fitness center, ice skating, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and cross-country skiing on the 1,200 acre property, it won't be tough to fill your time there. On the mountain, you can rent from Okemo Mountain Condos (800/786-5366; from $421 a night, kids under 12 free) and have a kitchen, washer and dryer, and the all-important VCR. Best cruising run: Sapphire, with spectacular views of the Black River Valley and New Hampshire's Mount Washington on the horizon. Best new sport: SnowBlading, like ice-skating on snow (the blades resemble mini-skis). Every Friday, you can try a pair of SnowBlades free at the Salomon Oasis Demo Center next to the Sugar House Lodge (802/228-1615; all-day rentals $20). Best on-mountain lunch: The Gables (lunch for four $50), an airy dining spot in the Solitude Day Lodge with a great portobello mushroom sandwich and crab cakes. Best chances of finding your kid at 4 p.m.: Head to the Zone, an après-ski hangout with a yurt where kids can warm up and grab a snack. Local way to stay in touch: The Snow Stars Center and Penguin Playground (802/228-1780) rents pagers for $10 a day. Best New England moment: On the way to Okemo via Route 103 you'll pass through Chester, a quaint village with a row of stone houses that date back to the 1830's. Best place to buy maple syrup: The Green Mountain Sugar House (820 Rte. 100 N.; 802/228-7151) four miles from Okemo. You can also watch them make the sweet stuff. General information: 800/786-5366 or 802/228-4041; www.okemo.com.
Tremblant, Quebec by David Dunbar
Since Intrawest (the Vancouver-based company behind Whistler, Copper, and Stratton) began investing heavily in Tremblant, the mid-sized Quebec resort (610 acres, 2,115 vertical feet) has rapidly regained its status as a preeminent Northeast skiing destination. American families come for the French immersion experience (the pedestrian-only base village is designed to resemble Quebec City's Old Quarter), the top-ranked ski school, the uncrowded intermediate runs, and the favorable exchange rate ($1 U.S. is now worth about $1.60 Canadian).
Best places to stay: A condo (866/836-3030; www.tremblant.com; from $105 per night) right in the village, so you can walk to the lifts. Or try the Fairmont Tremblant (3045 Chemin de la Chapelle; 800/441-1414 or 819/681-7000; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $249, kids free), steps from the lifts, with 316 elegantly rustic rooms and suites and a cozy lounge (perfect for an après-ski game of checkers). Best way to beat the crowds: Get your gear in record time at the Chalet des Voyageurs rental center (800/461-8711) the evening you arrive. Best argument for ski school: The bilingual intructors at the Kidz Club are friendly, responsible, and extremely patient. Giving children a healthy break from the usual food pyramid of fries, hot dogs, and pizza, they ladle out chicken noodle soup at lunch. Best way to follow the sun: Start on the north side in the morning, knock off for lunch at the mountaintop Grand Manitou (summit; lunch for four $25), then ski the south side overlooking the village in the afternoon. Best après-ski kids' action: At La Source AquaClub, play an informal water polo game or do Tarzan imitations on a rope swing. Best water sport for grown-ups: In the adults-only outdoor hot tub at La Source, lobster-red soakers can be seen leaping out of the steamy water to roll in the snow. Best kid motivator: Beaver Tails (Le Deslauriers; 819/681-4678, about $2 each). Paddle-shaped, whole-wheat waffles come tarted up with cinnamon-apple, hazelnut-chocolate, and other toppings. Favorite local custom: Tire sur la neige ("taffy on the snow"), a Québécois springtime tradition, prepared at the base of the lifts: maple syrup is poured in strips on a bed of fresh snow. Kids are given wooden tongue depressors and instructed to wait 45 seconds before rolling up the candy on their sticks. Best dinner spot: Crêperie Catherine (Vieux-Tremblant; 819/681-4888; dinner for four $30), where children happily pass the time between ordering and eating by watching the chef flip feather-light crêpes. General information: 866/836-3030; www.tremblant.com.
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