Family-Friendly Ski Resorts with Fun Activities for Non-Skiers
An exhilarating way to enjoy winter with your kids is by taking the whole fam to a snowy mountain resort. But when there are non-skiers and non-snowboarders in your group, you’ll want to choose a spot where the off-the-slopes attractions rival the downhill delights. That way, the vacation will make everybody happy—from been-there-done-that grandparents to not-on-your-life youngsters to double-black-diamond daredevils.
Linger on woodsy trails for cross-country skiing, fat biking, and snowshoeing. Travel through a winter wonderland aboard a horse-drawn sleigh or a dogsled. Stroll through vibrant ski villages and trace figure eights on ice rinks set against snowy peaks. Explore nearby national parks, stargazing spots, and other natural attractions. Even the most dedicated powder hounds will want to skip a day on the slopes to join some of these adventures.
Pictured above: snowshoeing at Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort attracts expert skiers and snowboarders to its steep runs amid the Teton Range. Even if you’re not about to take on the legendary Corbet’s Couloir run, you can view the terrain from “Big Red,” the aerial tram to the 10,000-foot-high mountain summit.
The town of Jackson borders a wildlife refuge and serves as a gateway to two iconic national parks: Grand Teton and Yellowstone, both of which are uncrowded in the winter and enchanting under their mantles of snow. Hop on a horse-drawn sleigh to see thousands of migrating elk at the National Elk Refuge, or sign up for a guided wildlife or photography tour to spot more elk as well as moose, mule deer, wolves, and bison in the national parks.
Where to stay: Teton Village for slopeside condominiums or Jackson Hole Resort Lodging for condos, rental houses, and townhomes
Winter sports enthusiasts rave about Utah’s snow, a dry light powder that “floats” skiers on the top layer instead of miring them in wet, heavy stuff that has the consistency of mashed potatoes. As the USA’s largest ski resort, with 7,300-acres of terrain and more than 330 trails, Park City caters to all levels.
But there’s plenty to do off the slopes, too. Glide along about 43 miles of groomed cross-country tracks at three nearby centers, go on a guided snowshoe hike through meadows and woods with Utah Outdoor Adventures, or get a thrilling tour of the backcountry on a dogsled. The ski resort even has an excursion that lets you ride a sleigh pulled by a snowcat to dinner in a yurt situated 8,700 feet high on the mountain. Another plus: Park City is only a 35-mile drive from Salt Lake City.
Where to stay: Sundial Lodge, near the Canyons Village Red Pine Gondola
Skiers and snowboarders will find plenty of runs, from beginner to double black diamonds, on the more than 8,000 acres of terrain at this huge Canadian winter sports hub. Non-skiers can get in on the spectacular views by riding the Peak 2 Peak Gondola connecting the resort’s titular peaks, Whistler and Blackcomb. For lunch at the top, reserve a table in advance.
The lively, pedestrian-only Whistler Village is filled with delightful cafes, restaurants, and shops. Don’t forget to snap a selfie in front of the Olympic rings left behind by the 2010 Winter Games. Kids will want to whoosh down 1,000 feet of snow at the tube park and romp at free outdoor play areas such as Blackcomb’s Magic Castle and Whistler’s Tree Fort. Other options include ice climbing, snowmobiling, and soaring over the snow-covered trees on a zip line.
Breckenridge Ski Resort’s five peaks cover nearly 3,000 acres of terrain, from beginner green trails to intermediate runs, treeless bowls, and vertical thrills. With a base elevation of 9,600 feet, Breckenridge often gets reliably good spring snow. The resort’s Imperial Express is the highest chairlift in North America.
Breckenridge began as a real community, a result of the 1859 gold rush. The facades of saloons, dry goods stores, and other wooden structures built to serve the hopeful remain, giving the town an authentic western feel. Guided history, ghost, or snowshoe excursions through the Golden Horsehoe mining region reveal the fascinating backstory. On the Country Boy Mine tour, go 1,000 feet underground to learn about the hard labor it took to bring gold, silver, lead, and zinc out of the earth here from 1887 to 1945.
Back at the resort, get a scenic view from the slopes during a ride in a heated snowcat. Families can also go cross-country skiing at the Breckenridge Nordic Center or the Gold Run Nordic Center at the Breckenridge Golf Club. Slide down tubing hills in town or try the high-speed tracks at the Country Boy Mine.
A picture-perfect New England town with a white church steeple and clapboard houses, Stowe offers serious skiing across two mountains, Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield. The latter is Vermont’s highest peak at 4,395 feet.
Ice skating is free at Spruce Peak’s outdoor rink. Nordic skiers, meanwhile, can hit groomed trails and backcountry areas winding through meadows and woods with gear from the resort’s cross-country ski center. At the end of a long day outdoors, take in a play, classical music performance, or movie at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, which stages events year-round.
Heavenly Mountain Resort’s 4,800 skiable acres in the Sierra Nevada range straddle the California-Nevada border at the southern end of Lake Tahoe. The resort is known for its glade skiing, abundant intermediate runs, and spectacular views of the water. As the gondola lifts you nearly 2.5 miles above shore level, a broad, dazzling sweep of North America’s largest alpine lake spreads out before you. For the best photos, stop at the observation deck.
For thrills to go along with the incredible views, hop on one of the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster’s sleds. Or there’s tamer gravity-based fun to be had on the 500-foot-long runs at Heavenly’s tubing hill. The Nevada side lies near the gaming floors of Harrah’s and Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Situated in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Sun Valley has been running chairlifts since 1936—in fact, it was the first resort to do so. Of the ski area’s two mountains, Dollar has open terrain better suited to beginners, while Bald, a.k.a. Baldy, woos enthusiasts with its famously consistent pitch (meaning the inclines stay that way rather than leveling off).
The Sun Valley Nordic & Snowshoe Center has nearly 25 miles of groomed trails to traverse on cross-country skis, snowshoes, or a fat bike with wide tires so you can pedal along the gentle slopes. Board a horse-drawn sleigh for a daytime or evening ride and skate at the outdoor ice rink.
Be sure to look up at night. There aren’t many ski resorts that come with a "gold-tier" dark sky park. The 900,000-acre Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve, which encompasses Sun Valley and several adjacent areas, puts on a dazzling display of stars and planets after sundown. Head into Ketchum, the resort’s anchoring town, to check out art galleries and eateries with a charming western flair.
Among the best-known of New Hampshire’s snow resorts, Waterville Valley works well for families because beginner, intermediate, and expert runs all funnel into the same base. As a result, parents and kids with varying abilities can easily reunite after tackling Mount Tecumseh.
Something else that makes life easy here is that lodging, restaurants, shops, an ice skating rink, and the Adventure Center all cluster around the Town Square. Among the activities you can rent gear for: cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking. About 43 miles of groomed trails stretch through the White Mountain National Forest for cross-country skiing, and the Waterville Valley Golf Club offers a seasonal fat bike experience with the purchase of a tubing ticket for its sledding runs.
In nearby Woodstock, Ice Castles supplies some winter wonder with a dreamland of frozen structures built from thousands upon thousands of layered icicles. Gaze up at towering archways, slip down an ice slide, and let little ones crawl through an ice tunnel. With preschoolers, plan a day visit when it’s warmer. With older kids, go at night when the multicolored lights cast a magical glow.
Where to stay: Town Square Condominiums