Snow! It’s one of Colorado’s greatest gifts to families. And what goes hand in gloved-hand with snow? Skiing: Our other winter obsession. From the moment the first flakes fly, discussions turn to snowpack, I-70 road conditions, and how to get the family out into the white stuff. It can be pricey, and yes, even frustrating with kids in tow. Unless, that is, you know where to find great insider advice. We’ve asked long-time skiers, industry insiders, and other families for their tips on saving money, picking gear, and choosing destinations. Whether you are a skiing family or new to snow sports, here is a roundup of information to get you and your family happily swooshing down the slopes this season.
Success on the Slopes
Experts agree that the most exasperating part of the ski day for parents is from the time you load your kid into the car to the point you drop off at ski school. “Practice patience” is the key advice experts offer to get the day off to a good start. “Most other sports don’t require the gearing up that skiing does,” says Colorado mom of three, Laurie Bouzarelous, who has also worked as a ski instructor. “It is its own activity with its own learning process.” In addition to patience, here are some other points to consider before heading to the slopes with kids.
- Prepare kids for what’s ahead. The success of skiing depends on your expectations and your child’s. If you are prepared for the tears, trips to the bathroom, and family bloopers, then your frustration will not get the best of you. Likewise, talk to your children about what the day will be like, in order to set realistic expectations.
- Don’t underestimate the walk from the parking lot to the lodge. It’s cold, slippery, and you are loaded down with equipment. If there is another adult with you, drop off one adult with all the gear and kids close to the lodge. If you are alone with your child, try to at least drop off your gear close to the lodge.
- Get your kids dressed first. Resist the temptation to put on all of your gear before dressing your child. Why? Because you will end up squeezing little feet into little boots and crawling on hands and knees looking under benches for socks. Your patience will plunge if you are overheated in your own gear.
- Leave the lesson. If your child is in a day-long lesson, your cost includes lunch. At many Colorado resorts, you are not allowed to eat lunch with them. In this situation, the 20-year-old skier dude is smarter than we are. If your kid is cold, tired, or a little frustrated, he will try to escape when he sees you. The instructors know this. They give them macaroni and cheese and talk to the little ones like they”re teenagers. By the end of lunch, the kids forget their struggles and are ready to head out again. Check your cell phone periodically but focus on your own skiing or hot coffee and a book.
- Celebrate all successes. When the lesson is over, tell your munchkin that you’re proud, whether she’s mastered ‘the pizza” or just stood and cried. Skiing is hard. And just putting on the equipment and making it onto the snow is an accomplishment.
- End on a positive note. Have a hot cocoa or get in one final run; whatever feels like a happy way to end the day. Make it a memory he”ll want to repeat.
Before you know it, your child will have the ability to experience the freedom of skiing on her own.
Top 3 Ways to Save Money on Skiing
The list of expenses for skiing with the family is intimidating. For many, it makes a day on the slopes seem out of reach. Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager at Ski Country USA shared his top three tips to make skiing more affordable for families.
- Use the 5th & 6th Grade Passport Program – Colorado Ski Country USA offers each fifth grader three free days of skiing or snowboarding at each of their 20 member resorts, and each sixth grader four days of skiing or snowboarding at each of their 20 resorts for just $105 (register before November 30). “This is really good for families who one, have never skied before, and two, haven’t decided what type of terrain they like best,” says Linsmayer. “This gives them as opportunity to try lots of different terrains.” coloradoski.com/passports
- Look For Packaged Deals -Rather than looking for lift tickets and lodging in one place, and equipment rentals in another, search for bundles. “If you book the lodging, lift tickets, parking, all together through the resort, you are going to get the best deal,” says Linsmayer.
- Find Kids Ski Free Programs – Just about every resort has some kind of kids” ski free deal, whether it is bundled with an adult pass or combined with ski programs or lodging packages. For example, between November 24 and December 16 at Crested Butte, kids 12 and under ski or ride free, no adult ticket, lodging, or advance reservations required.
Bottom line: Do your research before you go, says Linsmayer. Your best chance to find money saving deals is checking with the resort websites before you head out the door.
Other Things to Remember When Skiing With Kids
- Arrive earlier than you think you need to
- Pack hearty snacks and a lunch (If not provided with the lesson)
- Breathe deeply
- Stay away from the lesson
- Bring sunscreen
- Dress in layers
- Respect and tip the instructor
- Honor success, no matter how small
5 Best Resorts for beginners
Back in the day, ski resorts were intimidating places for newcomers. Now, every Colorado resort (except Silverton and Aspen Mountain) has designated beginner slopes and offers lesson and rental packages to help beginners get started. Deals are best in January, National Learn-to-Ski & Snowboard month. Here are some favorite spots for beginner families.
- Buttermilk – One of four separate mountains of Aspen Skiing Co, Buttermilk is Colorado’s legendary bunny slope. Its wide, gently rolling slopes are buffed like golf course greens for classic beginner real estate. Learn here, then head three miles into Aspen to party with the experts. They”ll never know!
- Copper Mountain – Copper’s naturally divided terrain gives beginners an area all to themselves for learning and practicing. Nearly a quarter of all Copper’s acreage is green based out of Union Creek in the West Village. It has a day lodge with food, tickets, rentals, and lessons.
- Telluride – Instead of being confined to the bottom of the mountain, beginners can ride to the highest peaks to take in spectacular views only experts enjoy and still get their lessons. Ute Park in Prospect Bowl is the most scenic outdoor classroom in ski country.
- Beaver Creek – Little beginners can ride the Buckaroo Express Gondola. The children’s gondola gives kids a warm, dry ride and easy access to the excellent teaching terrain in the mellow Haymeadow area. Ride time is less than four minutes.
- Colorado Gems Resorts – More affordable lift tickets and less crowds are just a couple reasons for beginner families to try this collection of eight smaller resorts.
Colorado’s resorts make the slopes a welcoming place for kids of all abilities. If it’s your first time skiing or snowboarding with a member of the family who has special needs, be sure to call ahead. Adaptive centers are available at almost all resorts, but advance notice and reservations are usually required. Here are a few centers that offer a wide range of adaptive winter sports opportunities.
- Breckenridge & Keystone Adaptive Ski & Ride School
- Crested Butte Adaptive Sports Center
- Ignite Adaptive Sports –Eldora Mountain Resort
- National Sports Center for the Disabled
- Steamboat STARS
- Telluride Adaptive Sports Program
- Vail Adaptive Ski and Snowboard School
Another Money Saver
The EPIC SchoolKids pass offers kindergarteners through fifth graders four free days of skiing and riding each at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone, and one free first-timer ski or ride lesson with equipment rental. Registration for the 2016/2017 season is now closed, but watch for 2017/2018 registration opportunities.
Indoor Skiing? You Bet!
Ready to hit the slopes, but can’t swing a trip to the mountains? Colorado’s four indoor ski-training facilities teach kids (and adults) how to shred, carve, and rip in an environment-controlled atmosphere. Most offer weekday and weekend lessons and camps, and the locations are perfect for building the confidence needed to tackle the big mountain without fighting ski traffic.
- Progresh, Thornton. Progresh offers ski and snowboard classes for preschool-age kids three to six (skiing) and four to six (snowboarding), and school-age children ages seven to 17. “What makes us unique is our cross-training capabilities and multiple features that allow us to accommodate the first timer skier or rider up to the professional level freestyle athlete,” says Progresh owner/founder Kyle Henley. “We are always building new terrain park features, and start beginner skiers/snowboarders on jumps and sliding obstacles as soon as they acquire some basic edge control.” In addition to skiing lessons, this facility offers classes to improve off-slope skills from skateboarding to trampoline and tumbling, along with open gym times and birthday party packages.
- Shredder Urban Ski & Snowboard Park, Boulder. Shredder offers indoor group ski and snowboard classes for enthusiasts from walking age—in their Yeti parent and child class—through adults. The facility features a large and small indoor slope, both with an artificial snow surface, and two portable slopes for special events. “Children can come to us at a very young age to learn the fundamentals of the sport and can progress to advance level skills,” says gym director Max Brittenham. “Lessons at Shredder allow us to teach kids in a safe, fun environment without the weather elements affecting the process.” Camps, kids night out, open gym, and birthday parties are also available at the Boulder location.
- SNÖBAHN, Centennial. In the heart of the Streets of Southglenn shopping area, Snöbahn offers both private and group lessons for kids, on their indoor ski ramps. A continuously moving hill can be adjusted for grade and speed, and for the smallest skiers, there is a stationary hill for instruction. “SNÖBAHN offers a very dynamic teaching situation with revolving slopes and a two way mirror at the bottom to give immediate feedback on form,” says co-founder and CEO Sadler Merrill. “With the ability to make immediate changes to form, it creates an efficient learning environment.” Snöbahn hosts camps and birthday parties for all ages. While kids are in lessons, parents can enjoy a glass of wine and free Wi-Fi in the Snowbar.
- Woodward at Copper Barn, Copper Mountain. Designed for boarders and skiers ages six to 17, youth lessons at Woodward at Copper combine both indoor time in the barn and outdoor time on the slopes. “This indoor playground provides a safe, comfortable environment for kids and adults alike to practice their skills,” said Stephanie Sweeney, communications manager for Copper Mountain Resort. “Even if they are brand new to skiing and snowboarding, the Barn helps guests learn the basics. With programs available for kids as young as one year old, the Barn helps all ages learn everything from basic balance and coordination to advanced terrain park skills.” Birthday parties, private lessons, and camps are also available. Hit the Woodward Barn Bash on November 12, to try out free intro and drop-in sessions.
Slope-side Family Fun
“All of our resorts do a really good job of catering for families,” says Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager at Ski Country USA, of the wealth of activities that families can enjoy when they aren’t swooshing down the slopes. Watch for these and other special experiences to elevate your trip to the resorts this winter.
December – Colorado Family Ski Month at Keystone Resort This month-long celebration on the slopes kicks off with a day of free skiing and riding for all kids 12 and younger on December 1. A line-up of family events continues with the opening of the Snow Fort on December 10, the Kidtopia Mountaintop Spectacular December 16-18, and more.
- January – New Year’s Eve Make plans to ring in the New Year with a celebration at one of the many mountain resorts throwing a party. Watch fireworks and a torchlight parade, with skiers and boarders riding down the slopes with glow sticks. Return of the Ski Train Weekends January 7 through March 26, 2017, the historic Ski Train returns. If you”d rather read and sip hot cocoa than sit behind the wheel on your way to ski, reserve a spot for a trip from Denver Union Station to Winter Park Resort. Prices start at $39 each way, kids 12 and under are half price. amtrak.com/winterparkexpress
- February – Winter Carnival What started as a way for the residents of Steamboat Springs to cope with cabin fever, has turned into Colorado’s celebration of winter. With Lincoln Avenue covered in snow, horses pull kids on skis and adults on shovels. The Night Extravaganza on Howelsen Hill lights up the night with fireworks, ski flips and jumps, and the Lighted Man. steamboatchamber.com
- March – 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals For the first time in 20 years, the World Cup Finals return to the United States, March 15-19, 2017, bringing the world’s greatest skiers to Aspen. Families can watch the races live for free and party with the rest of Aspen with concerts, food, and other activities throughout the weekend. aspensnowmass.com
Before you hit the slopes with your kids, make sure they have the right snow attire and gear to keep them comfortable and safe on the mountain. Here’s what the experts at Christy Sports recommend. christysports.com
- Helmet – All kids should wear a helmet as safety is the number one priority, and ski schools typically require them. Helmets can be rented, but if the child will be out on the mountain several times during the season, purchasing a helmet is the way to go. Children’s ski helmets are designed to be adjustable and will last a few seasons.
- Goggles – It’s recommend to buy goggles for various weather conditions with a medium-tinted lens. Ensure the goggles are helmet-compatible meaning the goggles fit over the helmet for a comfortable fit against the face and there is no gap between the top of the goggles and the helmet.
- Jacket – Investing in an insulated, waterproof, and breathable jacket is essential. It should be warm enough for various snow conditions, yet not so heavy that the child sweats while skiing. Find a hip-length jacket to prevent snow from getting in, and opt for a detachable hood or one that can be tucked away.
- Gloves – Mittens are typically warmer for children and easier to get on and off. Look for well-insulated, waterproof mittens—they should have an extra couple of inches in the cuffs to be tucked under jacket sleeves. For added warmth, find a pair with a zipper pocket to place hand warmers in on colder days.
- Pants – Invest in a pair of snow pants that are insulated, waterproof, and breathable. For kids, high-waist or bib-style with removable straps are best, and most have ankle straps to keep the snow out of boots.
- Base Layers – Long underwear is a necessity for kids to stay warm when skiing and riding. Merino or synthetic wool, mid-weight base layers are recommended. Stay away from cotton; once cotton gets wet it stays wet and can make for a long day on the slopes. For really cold days, medium to lightweight fleece layering pieces work great.
- Socks – To keep kids” feet warm, look for socks made of blended wool and synthetic fibers that aren’t too thick and stop right below the knee. Again, avoid any cotton material, and don’t wear more than one pair—this can make feet sweat, which can freeze and be very uncomfortable.
- Rent or Buy? When it comes to ski and snowboard gear, it’s best to rent first. There’s no need to invest until the child is more involved with the sport, and renting is more affordable. Christy Sports offers season rentals (starting at $99 for kids), which you rent in the fall and return in the spring. Season rental equipment can be exchanged throughout the season, at no additional cost, if sizes aren’t quite right, a growth spurt happens, or your child decides to switch from skiing to snowboarding.
Five Reasons to Ski Smaller Resorts
A day of skiing with the family can be overwhelming—it’s expensive and crowded (especially on weekends), and can be a hassle from parking to renting gear to getting separated from the kids (that can ruin a ski day). But don’t give up, instead pick one of the many smaller resorts in Colorado. Here are five great reasons to visit them.
- Lift tickets are more affordable. Colorado Ski Country offers a card for $25 that provides two-for-one lift tickets, or 30 percent off an adult ticket, twice at each of their Gems Resorts (Arapahoe Basin, Cooper, Eldora, Loveland, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Granby Ranch, Sunlight).
- Parking is free. There are no expensive parking garages or lots. And parking lots are usually within a short walking distance to the lodge and lifts, so schlepping equipment is manageable.
- All the runs funnel to a single base area and lodge. It’s nearly impossible to get lost if you keep going downhill. At some areas like Cooper you can sit on the deck of the lodge and watch the kids come down.
- Smaller areas have less crowds, making the whole experience safer and more fun. Lift lines are shorter so you get in more rides. On the mountain, less density means less chance of collisions. Plus, fewer skiers and snowboarders keeps the snow from getting glazed off and provides a softer, more skiable surface.
- Renting equipment in the smaller shops is more personalized than at larger resorts.