Who says that you can't take the whole family skiing and not stress about the cost? Some of my fondest childhood memories are of long drives to the mountains, seeing and touching snow for the first time (it doesn't snow in Australian cities), wearing what seemed like a dozen layers of clothing, learning how to ski on the "bunny runs" and warming up with hot chocolate and a huge bowl of spaghetti at a slope-side restaurant. Sure those glory days may be over for me, but I have a three year old who I am planning to get on skis next season and am in the throws of working out the best way to do it and where.
Yes, it is true that skiing can often be a pursuit of the rich, but with the right planning, it can also be within the average adventure seeker's budget and ultimately it is a fantastic way to bring the family together for recreation, fun, fresh air and an adrenalin rush. Your first decision is whether to do a day trip or to stay a little longer. From a child's perspective, a single day just isn't enough to get into the whole skiing atmosphere. They need to feel confident on skis, to find their balance and to look forward to accomplishing each milestone -- so if you can, schedule a few days away and mix up the skiing with other activities like perhaps ice skating, dog sledding, sleigh rides or just snow man building. If possible, try a mid week getaway. It is invariably cheaper both accommodation wise, for packages and often for lift tickets too. But the biggest advantage of a mid-week ski trip is the relative lack of crowds so you spend more time on the slopes than waiting in lines.
Many ski specialty packagers and websites price trips on a per person basis, which makes the addition of kids a rather expensive luxury. Try to look out for family packages that bundle up a combination of accommodation, lift tickets, equipment rental, lessons, kids' activities and sometimes meals. Most are geared towards a family of four (two parents and two kids), but obviously families come in all shapes and sizes so be prepared to get on the phone to discuss the best options.
You may want to consider renting a vacation chalet or private mountain home rather than opting for a traditional hotel. This way you get the benefits of the whole family being together, the obvious savings over the price of booking multiple hotel rooms, the privacy (like being able to walk around in your long johns after a hard day of skiing) and the ability to prepare your own meals and save on the generally inflated prices of resort restaurants. Rentalo.com (tel. 877/710-5914; www.rentalo.com), offers a number of well priced vacation chalets and apartments in or close to key U.S. ski resorts. You can search by resort destination, type of rental, number of beds, dates and price. Looking to sleep up to ten people? No problem. How about a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath townhouse, located 20 minutes southwest of Steamboat Springs, Colorado for only $150 a night with a three-night minimum or $900 for a week (Rentalo ID 13709)? The games, DVD selection and cable TV will be good for the kids on those wintry night but the indoor hot tub and two gas fireplaces may be more of a draw card. Keep in mind that at Steamboat, when you buy an adult ski lift ticket for five or more days, you get a free 12-and-under child's lift ticket for the same number of days. Plus get free rental equipment for one child when an adult rents equipment.
If you'd prefer to be closer to the resort, perhaps a stay in a two bedroom, two bath condo at the Silverado II Resort Complex (Rentalo ID110359) in Winter Park, Colorado may be more to your liking. Stay from February 9 to March 30, 2008 and save 22% off the regular price for this condo that comfortably sleeps six and features high-speed Internet, cable TV, DVD/VCR, mountain views and three decks, plus access to the complex's pool, sauna, ski shop, restaurant and free ski shuttle bus. Rates range from $140 to $185 per night plus tax and cleaning. A four bedroom, two bathroom chalet in Stratton, Vermont (Rentalo ID 163630) is on the doorstep to the Green Mountains of Vermont, known for their downhill and cross-country skiing. The chalet, which sleeps nine with a Jacuzzi, fireplace, crib, high chair and access to the Stratton ski shuttle, is priced at $300 on weeknights and $400 on weekends plus a cleaning fee. Ski up to ten different mountain resorts or go cross country instead while staying at a townhouse in North Conway, New Hampshire. A four-bedroom property (Rentalo ID 118848) with a games room (pool table and foosball), wireless Internet access and cable TV with DVD with close access to an indoor swimming pool, two Jacuzzis and a fitness center costs $175 to $295 a night (except February 15 to 24, 2008) plus tax and cleaning..
For those who still want the comforts and atmosphere of a hotel, several properties in the Taos Mountain, New Mexico area offer facilities especially geared (and priced) towards families. Adobe and Pines Inn ((tel. 800/723-8267; www.adobepines.com) is a gorgeous and historic adobe architecture bed and breakfast that will be a pleasure to come home to after a exhausting day out on the nearby slopes. Puerta Blanca is their only family suite and features two bedrooms, each with a queen sized bed and flat screen TV with DVD player. The living room has a queen sofa bed and a gas fireplace plus the kitchen makes preparing your own meals easy (a sumptuous breakfast is included in the price). The suite sleeps a maximum of six persons and the rate for double occupancy is $185 plus $20 fee for each extra person.
Inn on the Rio (tel. 800/737-7199; www.innontherio.com) is offering a selection of family packages for stays through March 30, 2008. The Deluxe Family Ski package is for families of four (two adults and two children) and includes two bedroom/two bathroom accommodation, breakfast each morning and Adult Taos Ski Valley lift tickets. A two-night package is $575, three nights is $875 and four nights is $1,200. Their Value Family Ski package includes a premium room with two beds and a private bathroom, breakfast each morning, and Adult Taos Ski Valley lift tickets. It is priced at $360 for two nights, $800 for four nights and $1200 for seven nights (other stay periods are also available). Tax is additional plus extra Taos Ski Valley lift tickets for both adults, seniors (65 to 79 years of age) and children are available. Additional persons in the same room are $20 per night.
Big Sky Resort, in Montana is a great family-oriented ski area. If you book accommodation through Big Sky Central Reservations (tel. 800/548-4486; www.bigskyresort.com), you get free access to the Kids' Club (406/995-5557) at Huntley Lodge daily from 3:30 to 6:00pm for kids aged four and up. Activities include Mask-Making Mondays, Talented Tuesdays, Wacky Wednesdays, Crafty-Tafty Thursdays, Fabulous Fridays, Saturday Ski Patrol Rescue Dogs (make s'mores and watch the ski patrol dog demonstration), Slimy Sunday Fun-day and free family movies in the Roosevelt Amphitheater. Rates for accommodation and lift ticket packages staying at Huntley Lodge start from $331 per night plus taxes for a family of four. Kids ten and under stay and ski free. And don't forget that after the slopes close, the illuminated Tubing Park located at the base of Mr. K, springs to life. Slide down the mountain in a huge tube and experience all the thrills of sledding. Adult pay $15 per hour and kids ten and under are $10.
At Cataloochee Ski Area (www.kidsskifree.com), in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, the "Kids Ski Free" program allow children 17 and under to stay overnight for free on any non-holiday Sunday through Thursday at one of the participating Maggie Valley properties plus ski free when accompanied by a paying adult. There is a limit of two free children per room per paying adult. The accommodation options include Castlewood Inn (tel. 800/922-2571; www.castlewoodinn.com) from a very low $45 per night for a room with two double beds, Boyd Mountain Log Cabins (tel. 828/926-1575; www.boydmountain.com) from $155 per cabin per night, Ramada (tel. 800/305-6703; www.ramada.com) from $55 per night and Jonathan Creek Inn (tel. 800/577-7812; www.jonathancreekinn.com) from $195 per night for a three bedroom villa. All accommodation options are priced for a family of four.
For a pricier alternative but one that certainly offers your children all the added extras, head north to Vermont and stay at family-friendly Smugglers' Notch Resort (tel. 800/419-4615; www.smuggs.com) at Smuggler's Notch for skiing on three mountains, FunZone (their family entertainment and recreation center), an indoor pool, hot tubs, massages and arts and crafts workshops. The condominium resort offers amenities like full kitchens, fireplaces and balconies with mountain or woodland views. It is a short walk or an on-demand shuttle ride from The Village Center for ski lifts and trails. A FamilyFest Package is geared towards families with kids aged five to 15 and cost $139 per day per child (on top of your accommodation price). It includes all-day ski or snowboard camp with lunch, equipment rental (choice of skis, boots and poles or snowboard and boots, including a helmet), lift tickets, a Children's FunFeast every Tuesday evening, a fun kids' pizza party with make-your-own ice cream sundaes plus entertainment and FamilyFest fun races by age group. Younger children (aged three to five) can join the Discovery Dynamos and receive a framed photo with Smuggly mascots Mogul Mouse and Billy Bob Bear, a Discovery coloring book and trail map (for children under five years) for $27.80 per day. Accommodation at the resort for a family of four is priced from $451 per day with a two-day minimum stay. The resort can also arrange babysitters through Treasures (tel. 802/644-1193) a registered child care service, for a $4 finder's fee per babysitter and $10 per hour for the first child and $1 an hour for each additional child.
At Vermont's Woodstock Inn and Resort (www.woodstockinn.com) the Woodstock Family Ski Vacation package lets you enjoy four days and three nights of exciting downhill skiing at the Suicide Six family ski area or cross country skiing at The Nordic Center with accommodation. The family packages include one group ski lesson per person (excluding children five and under), lift tickets, discounted rental equipment and a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Add a connecting room for only $100 per night. Rates start at $195 per night for a family of four, midweek. The Popcorn and Powder Weekend ski package starts at $305 per night for a family of four and includes accommodations for two nights, breakfast each morning in the Eagle Cafe (for the kids, French Toast and Flapjacks with pure Vermont maple syrup), two days of lift tickets, Hot Chocolate at Suicide Six, a movie with Pizza and Popcorn, complimentary use of The Resort's Racquet and Fitness Club, indoor pool, steam room, sauna and hot tub and free shuttle to the slopes.
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