Ski resorts are still great vacation destinations for families, even if you don't or can't ski.
When I discovered I was going to be pregnant during this winter season, I cried. I had grand plans to ride Pennsylvania's highest vertical and six terrain parks at Blue Mountain Ski Resort with my husband, while my kids trained every weekend in their premiere ski and snowboard competition program.
I'm happy to report that with the season nearly at its end, I've never been bored. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that ski resorts also have non-skiers in mind when they plan their winter season. Here's how to enjoy a family ski resort, even if you don't or can't ski:
Start at the top
There's something about standing on top of a mountain that feels grand: the fresh air, the bird's-eye view of the world, and a taste of what it's like to summit. Blue Mountain Resort starts their day above the clouds. From every table in their restaurant, bar, and outdoor patio, I can photograph my kids attempting BigAirBag stunts or throwing their little bodies down the trails at faster and faster speeds against the gray peaks of the Pocono Mountains.
Soon Blue Mountain will construct an "island in the sky" like West Virginia's Snowshoe Mountain. Frank DeBerry, Snowshoe's president, was inspired by his wife, who does not ski, to furnish their cobblestone top-of-the-mountain village with a 3,600 square-foot luxurious Spa, indoor and outdoor Split Rock Pools, Yoga and Zumba classes, world-class shopping and dining. Both Pastas Restaurant and Sunset Cantina offered us a family-friendly atmosphere and generous portions. Even Starbucks had a shelf packed with kid toys and books.
For resorts that don't have access by car to the top, ride their gondola. At British Columbia's Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski resort in North America, guests can savor the longest and highest lift on their PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, an engineering feat that breaks three world records.
Plan around the freebies
Blue Mountain has an event planned for just about every holiday weekend. At the Winter Festival in the midst of fireworks, ice sculptures, and snowshoeing, my 10-year-old daughter filmed the first time she rode the only public and natural East Coast USA Luge track. My 7-year-old son is looking forward to their Scouting weekend, where he hopes to compete in their cardboard box sled derby.
When you review a resort's calendar, filter by "family." You'll find gems like Colorado's Aspen Snowmass Very Important Kid Programming, which gives away free T-shirts at daily magic shows, juggling, and more. Avalanche dogs and cowboys are eager to entertain most Fridays and Saturdays at Utah's Park City. The Last Hurrah is Snowshoe's last weekend open, and they celebrate in style with pond skim, games, and other free activities. On Sundays, the free Fire and Ice Show at Whistler Blackcomb shocks the audience with skiers and riders jumping through a Ring of Fire.
Get the kids involved
With children ages 10, 7, 2, and with an infant to come, I'm impressed that resorts have thought of activities that can accommodate a wide age-span with or without parents. Last year at Snowshoe, we hired a sitter for the youngest and signed our older kids up for Kids Night Out, so we could enjoy a romantic dinner. My kids still talk about that night, when they stuffed their bellies with pizza and explored their 15,000 square-foot Big Top that featured a Eurobungy jump and rock climbing wall. Sometimes at Blue Mountain, we drop off our 2-year-old at the childcare center so we can catch up on work. Or, we experimented with color, technology, and chemistry at the nearby Crayola Experience (yes, even the adults).
Terrain-based learning, which is available at Aspen Snowmass, Blue Mountain, and Snowshoe, is an excellent way to introduce skiing and snowboarding to your children. Aspen Snowmass boasts the first of its kind two-story, 25,000-square-foot facility that houses not only its ski and snowboard school but also a climbing gym, activities for kids eight weeks up to teens, and kid retail and family après entertainment. Woodward's action sports training facility at Colorado's Copper Mountain is now enrolling 1- and 2-year-olds for balance and coordination programs. Older kids can practice tricks on their Skatelite jumps into foam pits, trampolines, tumble tracks, spring floors, skate bowls, and mini ramps.
Let your muse loose
One afternoon, when we tired of snow sports at Blue Mountain, we wandered through Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites. Entering a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled vault, the kids tiptoed down the aisles and shined flashlights into the windows of dollhouses as old as 1830.
Take the gondola to the top of California's Mammoth Mountain and learn about volcanic and natural history, geology and geography at their Eleven53 Interpretative Center. Every Wednesday afternoon at Vail, a free tour begins at the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and includes walking through the town's collection of paintings, sculptures, murals, playground components, and site-integrated art. Visit the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Science Center near Snowshoe and check out the first telescope used to search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Taste indigenous treats and watch native artists work on Salish weaving, canoe carving, and cedar basket weaving at Whistler Blackcomb's Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
Try a new adventure
Nowadays, resorts compete to offer the most exciting winter adventures: alpine coasters, dog sledding, ice-skating, ski biking, snowcat tours, snowshoeing, and zipline. I can't wait to try winter fly fishing near Colorado's Vail.
With 30 slides over a 1,000 feet long and three lifts, Blue Mountain's Tubing Park features the only family-sized tubes in Pennsylvania. Their Science of Sliding Program is an excellent interactive field trip where fourth to 12th graders learn how to collect data, graph, and calculate physics in action while tubing.
In addition to tubing at Snowshoe, we had the opportunity to ride a four-seat, enclosed, and heated Polaris RZRs to a Backcountry Hut, where a gourmet meal and drinks were served. My daughter still talks about the night she clung to my back while her father and I each raced a snowmachine up and down the empty trails beneath the brightest moon.