The key to finding the ideal resort for the whole family is finding a place that has a lot to offer for varied ages, interests, and ability levels. The old adage from a 1980s Warren Miller movie states that "the family that skis together, bitches at each other," but with modern resorts that have really expanded their on-slopes and off-slopes offerings for families, this no longer has to ring true. We picked this list of top resorts based on an overall degree of family-friendliness, including that of terrain, mountain sports school options, and off-slopes activities for kids and parents alike.
Beaver Creek is the dream resort for families: not only does the ski school and most of the terrain totally cater to kids and skiers of varying ability, but luxury service permeates every nook and cranny (think escalators in parking areas so you don't have to drag your gear around, and ski valet service that will store your stuff and warm your boots when you get off the slopes).
On the Slopes Beaver Creek's ski school learning centre, located on the west side of the base area, has a ton of beginner and intermediate terrain for kids just learning to ski – not to mention it's very own mini-gondola and tubing hill. The rest of the mountain has plenty of long, cruising runs that mean more skiing and less lift-riding for the entire family.
Around Town: The village at the base of Beaver Creek is classy but not as snooty as surrounding resorts (cough, Vail), and the most family-friendly you can get at a resort. Prices are steep for shopping and dining, but worth the top-tier service. Dog-sledding, hot air balloon rides, Nordic skiing, and winter festivals will keep you adventuring off the slopes.
Known For: beginner terrain, mountain sports school, customer service
We find that vacationers often forget about the California resorts as they are off-the-beaten-path of Utah and Montana and the stampeded path of the Colorado I-70 corridor, but there are some amazing resorts and mountains. Heavenly stays true to its name, with an overall infrastructure set-up that makes schlepping kids and gear around seamless, exploring wide-open groomers endless, and sunny slopeside picnics abundant.
On the Slopes Heavenly is huge and a mecca for intermediates. 29 lifts, many of which are high speed, can keep the whole family going all day, and you will likely never have to ski the same trail twice. The ski and ride school offers group and private lessons for every ability, and some special programs too. Not one but two tubing hills offer on-slope fun for those needing a break.
Around Town: The town scene around Heavenly is hugely varied, which is why we like it. Go for a nature walk or a boat ride on Lake Tahoe, or head to the casinos to gamble all night. Cutesy shopping is plentiful, as is a day care service for kids as young as 6 weeks, with options for 1-to-1 nannying as well.
Known For: intermediate terrain, shopping, nightlife
When you hear "Jackson Hole", you likely don't think family resort. Yes, it's known primarily for its buck-wild terrain and hard-core skiing scene, but the resort has developed in the past several years into an all-welcoming place for skiers and riders of any age and ability (and even those who don't want to ski or ride at all).
On the Slopes For families with mostly advanced skiers, Jackson Hole can offer adventurous runs that simply don't exist in other parts of the country. Book a backcountry guide to take you out-of-bounds safely for a taste of wilder adventure, dine at quaint yet exquisite slope-side restaurants, and check in on any of your little tykes or beginners at the Kids Ranch, the mountain sports school's centre for fun and learning.
Around Town: For the best family experience, stay at a slopeside condo at the village or one of the gorgeous hotels. Take a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge in the town of Jackson, shop for local artisan goods, and easily book a nanny through Jackson Hole Babysitting for a break from the kids and a night out on the town.
Known For: advanced terrain, mountain sports school, customer service
Park City is a prime destination for families who want to be in a central location (the town is at the base of 3 major resorts) and not waste too much time or money getting there. Just 60 km from Salt Lake City airport, you can land at 10am and be on the slopes by early afternoon. And you definitely won't run out of things to do!
On the Slopes The resort is perfect for intermediates who want to cover a lot of ground and never get bored (8 peaks and 9 bowls is plenty play with for whatever length vacation you are planning). There is enough advanced terrain for experts, although it's not what Park City is known for. Day care facilities are top-notch for the little tykes.
Around Town: Around Town: Plenty of folks head to Park City just for shopping, dining and the many events going on throughout the season. It's a perfect place for families if not everyone wants to be on the slopes all the time (or at all). A free (gear-friendly) bus system makes getting around town hassle-free.
Known For: events, intermediate terrain, nightlife
Rising just above the oldest historic district in Colorado, the character of Breckenridge is charming and laid-back. Many young people go to Breck' to have a great time on and off the slopes, but there are plenty of activities for kids too, and a rich cultural scene that caters to a holistic vacation that goes beyond just awesome skiing.
On the Slopes The resort spans over 4 peaks with an excellent lift system and overall infrastructure to keep the family moving. It's known for its fun free skiing in moguls, trees, and terrain parks, but there's plenty of beginner terrain as well. Crowds can swell around holidays, so ski school is a good bet for efficient lift line-cutting.
Around Town: Breckenridge is a fantastic ski town – probably the best in Colorado. Its authenticity dates back to the mid-1800s, and the character of the place is undeniable. Fun restaurants, sleigh rides, ice skating, and even gold mine tours are available for off-slopes family fun.
Known For: terrain parks, varied terrain, nightlife
Ah…Big Sky. In the Madison River Range of the Rocky Mountains, you can be sure that your family will experience a true "getaway', complete with plenty of breathing room, authentic Montana hospitality, and none of those other major resort lift lines. Don't be shocked if you spot wild bighorn sheep on the side of the access road and the truck in front of you has a bumper sticker that reads, "I bet you were cool in Colorado".
On the Slopes Terrain is hugely varied: for the most enriching experience, grab a guide or enroll in the mountain sports school to find the most exciting terrain for your ability level. Plenty of trees and sidecountry keep advanced family members busy, while wide-open groomers can be found closer to the base.
Around Town: Big Sky is headquarters for all sorts of mountain adventures, including day trips for sightseeing at Yellowstone National Park. The daily Kids Club from 4pm-6pm gives youngsters time to wind down while parents can enjoy the low-key après scene. The village is small and quaint: take advantage of it to cosy up in your condo for family time.
Known For: variety, terrain, mountain sports school
Vail: we love to hate it, and hate to love it. Vail is the popular kid with all the glitz and glamour, cool peaks, cool eats, and tremendously growing group of ski resorts. For April Fools Day 2014 an article titled, "Breaking News: Vail Resorts buys Jackson Hole Mountain Resort" started trending on Facebook, and we half expected it to be true. But hey, Vail knows service. And they know kids. And your family is bound to have a great time.
On the Slopes Vail is legendary, and for good reason. Their expansive terrain and back bowls offer distinct areas for skiers and riders of different abilities, which means beginner areas usually aren't bombarded by experts blowing by to get the next chair. The ski school is unparalleled in terms of diverse lesson offerings and service-oriented professional instructors.
Around Town: Vail Village and nearby Lionshead Village offer an expansive walking area for shopping, spa visits, and everything from the best BBQ in the West to ultra-exclusive dining. Evening snowshoe tours, mini-snowmobile tours, and natural wildlife lessons are a small handful of family activities Vail has crafted.
Known For: mountain sports school, accessibility, terrain
Solitude is in many ways the antithesis of big western resorts, and that is exactly why we love it for families. If you truly want to escape the rat race of New York City on your family ski vacation, then you need to make sure you don't end up where the rat race also goes on vacation. With excellent accessibility from the Salt Lake City airport yet a totally off-the-radar, laid-back feel, Solitude is your place.
On the Slopes Solitude is relatively small compared to other major resorts, but with varied terrain, everyone is bound to be satisfied. The compactness of the resort allows for more family connections throughout the day. Solitude is primarily a locals' resort, which means little-to-no lift lines and plenty of space on the slopes.
Around Town: The village at the base is cute and quaint, and most accommodation is slopeside condos, perfect for eat-in dinners and family movie nights. Salt Lake City and Park City are near enough (30-40 mins. drive) for a big night or two out. Ice skating and snowshoeing tours are available, and, of course, good old sledding – it's a classic!
Known For: accessibility, varied terrain
Crested Butte is one of those off-the-beaten-track Colorado resorts that seems to be going nowhere fast, and they are absolutely fine with that. Classic, friendly, old-school Coloradans call Crested Butte home, but extreme terrain brings pros from all over the West and reasonably-priced everything brings families who want a comfortable yet no-frills ski vacation. And your kids will love it's potty-talk nickname, Crusty Butt.
On the Slopes The terrain caters to more advanced skiers, but a ski school with a great reputation can show beginner groms how to have a good time on the lower part of the mountain. Everything funnels down to one main base area, which is great for parents concerned about their kids getting lost.
Around Town: The new Adventure Park features tubing and skating, while a free bus service offers an easy way down to the town of historic Crested Butte, just 5 km down the hill from the resort. Kids Night Out gives little ones a chance to binge on pizza and meet new friends while parents have a night on the town. Budget-friendly options abound.
Known For: budget, hospitality, terrain
Deer Valley (skiers only!) offers the epitome of top-notch service when it comes to public ski resorts, and the red carpet is rolled out for families of all kinds. If you want to be treated like royalty and not worry about a thing (and you've got the cash flow to pay for it), head to Deer Valley. Why not? You're on vacation!
On the Slopes Deer Valley is an intermediate skiing family's dream, with miles and miles of wide-open groomers that are usually accompanied by bluebird skies. There's enough terrain to spend a week or two here without the family getting bored, and the massive Park City Mountain Resort is just down the road if you really need to change it up. The ski school is world-class, and likely to make your kids fall in love with skiing.
Around Town: The village area at the base of Deer Valley is dotted with beautiful shops and accommodation, and nearby Park City town has plenty of festivities to keep families entertained. Dog sledding, Nastar racing, and snowmobiling can be fun off-slopes activities if you're in need of a break.
Known For: customer service, ski school, events