These mountain escapes have something for everyone: bunny slopes, moguls, and merlot.
Skiing as a family ranks high on the dream vacation list, but how to turn your fearful kid into a fearless downhill ninja is as important as where you go. Snow is only part of the equation: You need to think about lift lines and crowds, consider the benefits of ski in/ski out accommodations—as well as ski valet—and investigate the quality of the ski school.
Professional instructors that know how to engage and charm your child into conquering the mountain are the critical ingredient of a successful alpine getaway. Also necessary is a picturesque village with an après ski scene; bonus points for ice skating, fire pits, and cozy spots for mom and dad to enjoy some well-deserved vino. Even better are resorts that incorporate kids clubs and teen programming into their offerings. Overwhelmed? Don't be. We tapped our connections to do the sorting for you. Our list below cherry picks the destinations that fold all of these ingredients.
Beaver Creek Resort, Colorado
With hot cocoa served at chairlifts, platters of just-baked cookies at the mountain base each afternoon, and ski runs that take kids through a mythical, tree- and teepee-studded mountainscape, it's not hard to see why Beaver Creek has a following of fierce loyalists. Though the prevailing vibe is low-key, luxury at this resort lies in the level of service it provides.
Expect escalators throughout the village (it's easier to traverse in ski boots), personal ski valets, an in-hotel rental system, and thoughtful anticipate-every-need extras like warmed slippers (in your size) provided during your fireside lunch. The ski program is a huge draw, too. Dubbed the "Ivy League of ski schools," kids learn from the pros on North America's World Cup Mountain in a gently sloping area called The Ranch, complete with its own gondola.
After mastering balance, skiiers-in-training head up to runs on top of the mountain, where panoramic vistas and singular instructor interaction feed confidence. In the village, sophisticated dining options and an ice skating rink (there are weekly jukebox skate nights) make it a perfect post-slope hangout. Guests also can go dog sledding, snow shoeing, and tubing, and the resort organizes a weekly sunset snowshoe trek for teens capped off with a pizza party at the Nordic Center. Don't miss a visit to the Beaver Creek Candy Cabin, an old-fashioned candy shop on top of Strawberry Park Express lift.
Stay: The Osprey at Beaver Creek
The small boutique hotel boasts the closest location (26 feet away) to a chairlift in North America. This means less schlepping, more skiing. The hotel can organize a private fitting and delivery service to come to the hotel to fit the family for gear. In-house ski valets will walk your child to ski school, and the hotel's new "Fondue + Shoe" experience is a blast for families with older children.
Compared to the buzz of Beaver Creek, Telluride feels like a well-kept secret, and to its faithful flock, this is a good thing. Area hotels are luxe but relaxed. Lift lines are nonexistent, and there is a noticeable lack of crowds (it's far from any metropolitan area, so there's no glut of day skiers) in and around the slopes. There are 50 restaurants, espresso bars, art galleries, three skating rinks, and dozens of shops between Mountain Village and historic Telluride.
The two towns are linked by gondola, which for kids is more entertainment than transport. Skiing is the main attraction, with 24 percent of the mountain devoted to beginner skiing and boarding—a key selling point for parents. The ski school divides children by age and has classes in the morning or all day. Off the slopes, families go sledding, snowshoeing, and ice-skating, teens can go ice climbing, and sleigh rides can be arranged. Should parents want to extend their ski time, the resort offers Kids Happy Hour, an afternoon of indoor arts and crafts.
Stay: Madeline Hotel
This season, the ski in/ski out hotel debuts a $10 million renovation featuring three new eateries, a hangout space for kids and teens, Dylan's Candy Bar, and a 4,000 square foot sky terrace for s'mores, swimming, and a hot tub. A new and improved ski valet program makes the gear-up process a breeze.
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Home to the Winter Olympics in 2010, Whistler Blackcomb is North America's largest ski resort. Its size can be daunting, but it also means there are four child care programs, on-mountain adventure zones, a multi-lane tubing course, and indoor Nintendo gaming lounges. Add the excellent ski school to the mix, and Whistler gets high marks on family friendliness.
To kids, the mighty peaks and bowls can be overwhelming. After tackling the newbie terrain—with the help of beginner-only lifts, magic carpets, and lots of games—kids' comfort level will attest to the talents of this well regarded ski program (they instruct more than 140,000 kids each year). When the legs give out, there is sledding, zip lining, and every other winter adventure you can imagine. Whistler Village is full of activities: indoor rock climbing, a trampoline park, a skateboard park, and a movie theater. The resort's Peak2Peak gondola (the largest and highest lift in the world) affords stunning panoramic views.
Stay: Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Nestled at the foot of Blackcomb's slopes, the classically elegant, ski-in/ski-out Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a best bet. It offers seven on-site eateries, ski valet, in-hotel equipment rental, an indoor pool, and a shuttle service to the village.
Lake Tahoe, Northstar, California
Parents—especially Californians—who want the charm of a mountain village paired with five-star amenities flock to Northstar, the jewel of Lake Tahoe's alpine crown. There are many ski school options, but the Ultimate Four group pairs one instructor with no more than four children. A full-day lesson package includes equipment rental, lift ticket, and lunch. For younger children who ski half day, or not at all, there is Minor's Camp, an on-resort childcare facility. Other perks: a skating rink, tubing, sleigh rides, a bungee trampoline (year-round, weather permitting), fire pits, snow play zones, shops, and two movie theaters. And bonus: the nearby Recreation Center has an outdoor heated pool.
Stay: Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe
This idyllic property hits all the marks: ski-in/ski-out location on Northstar's "Big Easy" run, ski butler service for equipment fittings, luxurious rooms with fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows, and a kids club. The signature Ritz Kids Resort Experience offers culture-based programming designed by Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Future Society for children ages five through 12. Parents can organize a split between the kids club and ski school, and the hotel staff will accompany the kids. Oh, and there's an in-house Marshmologist to oversee s'mores-making at the hotel fire pits.
Big Sky, Montana
In Montana, more remote destinations yield the larger payoff. Located 50 miles south of Bozeman, Big Sky is beloved for its small-town charm and massive amount of skiable terrain. Here, you won't find the luxurious extras inherent in, say, Beaver Creek, or a rowdy après ski scene. But what it lacks in glitz it makes up for with lower price tags and an unhurried experience not marred by crowds.
Moonlight Basin's entire bottom-left half is green trails only, which makes for an excellent beginner experience. The base of the mountain has a Family Fun Zone, tubing, and a small terrain park.
A huge perk is the fact that it works in tandem with the Lone Peak Playhouse, an on-resort childcare center that's part of Big Sky Resort. Kids can spend a half-day skiing, then spend the afternoon at the kids' club. This means a few extra runs for parents. For off-ski days, there are zip-line tours, snowshoe tours, high ropes courses, dog sledding, and tours to nearby Yellowstone National Park. A final bonus: Big Sky offers a la carte pricing—kids can attend for as little as two hours or as long as the full day with pricing based on how many modules are selected.
Stay: The Summit at Big Sky
This traditional, slope-side lodge has hosted both President Obama and Joe Biden. On top of a cozy room, guests have perks like complimentary ski valet, complimentary access to the resort kids' club and, when you book with Big Sky Central Reservations, kids under 10 ski free.