10 Great Family Ski Resorts with Learn-to-Ski and Snowboard Programs
It's an unforgettable family experience: Carving tracks on a run and catching air in a terrain park are fun for all ages, especially when everyone learns how to do it together. Ten resorts in the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany stand out for offering family-friendly mountains and solid snow sports schools—although be warned that kids, who are often less fearful than adults, may learn the basics of skiing and snowboarding quicker than their parents. Book these in the early autumn if you can, because advance bookings may entitle you to money-saving packages.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
One of the most family-friendly ski areas in the Northeast United States, Smugglers' Notch, 30 miles east of Burlington, combines access to three mountains with an easily negotiated ski village, family-friendly evening activities, and great children’s instruction. Classes facilitate learning by dividing kids into age-appropriate groups. Morse Mountain, home to most of the beginner terrain, features lower lifts that are easier for novices to use. Teens aren’t forgotten—they perfect skills and meet friends at 2-hour lessons. The resort also offers a guarantee: If you don’t learn or improve your skills at classes, you can get your money back for the lessons.
Steamboat Springs, Steamboat, Colorado
Steamboat Springs, with its wide variety of terrain, has produced 79 Winter Olympians, several of whom work on staff. The resort pioneered such family-friendly programs as Kids Ski Free, Kids Rent Free, and Kids Fly Free—so check which ones apply to your brood. With the "Signature 5 Clinic," grade-schoolers through age 15 learn in sessions with a 1:5 ratio of instructor to students. Each child enrolled in the SnowSports School receives a MountainWatch by Flaik that tracks the child’s location and enables you to get a recap of their mountain adventure. The adult learning area, with a grade of 7–10 percent, facilitates finding ski legs faster.
Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, Utah
Park City Mountain served as one of the venues for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Ski aficionados appreciate Utah’s snow—a dry, light powder. And families like Park City’s location, 35 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport. With 7,300 skiable acres, the resort is the largest in the United States, and at Burton Riglet Park, one of eight terrain parks, future medalists find their balance, test out rails, and learn heel slides and other techniques. Grown-up newbies can get in the game by booking "Adult Never Ever Ski" Lessons—designed to teach the ski-ignorant. Since Park City is so large, it's easy to vary your activities by rocketing down the Olympic bobsled and skeleton track, gliding across canyons on a zip line, or racing each other on Utah’s largest Alpine coaster.
Winter Park, Colorado
Winter Park appeals to families for its location, varied skiing, and good prices. Situated 67 miles northwest of Denver, Winter Park is the closest major ski area to Colorado’s capital. Eager knuckle-draggers start lessons at age 3 instead of the more common 4. Older kids can opt for the MAX5 program that pairs one instructor to five students. Teens over the age of 13 can also try ski bike lessons. The National Sports Center for the Disabled, located at Winter Park, is the largest adaptive sports program in the world—it provides specialized equipment plus ski and snowboarding lessons for kids with different physical needs.
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada
Whistler Blackcomb, with a whopping 8,171-acres, is North America’s largest snow resort. Situated 75-miles north of Vancouver, Whistler Blackcomb wins high marks for its varied terrain, kid-friendliness, good instruction, and its lively pedestrian village. Practicing is less stressful here thanks to not-too-difficult Nintendo Big Easy Terrain Park, slow-skiing family zones, and family certified snowboarding routes. With Park Freeride, advanced boarders ages 10 to 12 tear up the mountain in a 1-to-3 instructor-to-group ratio. Advanced skiers, including teens and adults, can perfect technique with a private ski or snowboard lesson taught by a former Olympian.
Mont Tremblant, Mont-Tremblant, Canada
Mont Tremblant comes with a family-friendly pedestrian village, good instruction, varied terrain on four mountains, plus many après ski possibilities. Located about 80-miles north of Montreal in predominantly French-speaking Quebec Province, Mont Tremblant stands out for having bilingual instructors. At Tremblant Snow School, kids as young as 3 receive an introduction to skiing as well as snowboarding. All participants wear a Flaik GPS armband that tracks their location and tallies up their distance, speed, and vertical feet covered. The easy to navigate Tam-Tam Trail uses cutouts of deer, bear, and other animals to deliver safe-skiing tips—youngsters stay engaged with its treehouse, footbridges, and slide.
Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid, New York State
At Whiteface Mountain and Lake Placid, sites of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games (the only ones on the U.S.'s East Coast), follow in the trails of champions. The mountain, located within the six million-acre Adirondack Park, features novice to expert runs, including the east’s largest vertical drop of 3,430-feet. Beginners practice at Bear Den, the children’s ski area that’s separate from the main mountain. The Start, a 3-day program for ages 13 and up, uses short skis to help teens and adults master the moves. At the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex, zoom down the bobsled run and go headfirst and belly down on the skeleton, reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. Your teens won’t be bored.
Northstar California, North Lake Tahoe, California
With a confidence-building, not-too-steep mountain, Northstar makes beginners feel accomplished. Family-friendly Northstar, six miles from the town of Truckee, has a central village anchored by a skating rink. EpicMix devices, used by all Ski and Snowboard School participants, pinpoint the users’ location, track vertical feet and runs. Those in search of additional challenging terrain can purchase an Epic pass allowing access to Heavenly and Kirkwood, two other Vail Resorts-operated Lake Tahoe ski areas.
Feldberg Ski Resort, Black Forest Region, Germany
At 4,900 feet, Feldberg in southwest Germany is the highest mountain in Germany’s Black Forest. After the Alps, Feldberg ranks as the most popular ski area in the country, partly because of its proximity to Stuttgart. With a good deal of beginner and intermediate terrain, Feldberg is less intimidating to novice skiers and snowboarders than other German ski regions. The Grafenmatt and Seebuck areas offer ski and snowboarding schools for kids and adults as well as slow-skiing areas. Feldberg is a 45-mile or 75-minute drive from Basel.
Les 3 Vallées, Savoie Region, France
Les 3 Vallées, located in the French Alps, is touted as the world’s largest ski area with 660 square km—163,090 acres—of terrain connected by ski lifts. An approximate 2-hour drive from Lyon or Geneva, Les 3 Vallées, which also includes a fourth valley, the Maurienne, consists of eight interconnecting ski resorts. Although several resorts cater to families, Les Ménuires, situated at the heart of the area, is one of the most family-friendly even if it’s more plain than picturesque. Both Les Ménuires-Saint Martin de Belleville Ski School and the Ecoles du Ski Francais at Les Ménuires offer group ski and snowboard lessons for kids and adults. Ask ahead for classes in English.
France, Germany, British Columbia, California, Colorado, New York State, Utah, Far North California, Lake Tahoe, Montreal, Park City, Steamboat Springs, Vancouver, Whistler, The Black Forest