Grand Targhee, WY
Tucked into the backside of the magnificent Tetons hides Grand Targhee, where snowfall seems to be endless and families can savor it in endless ways. Targhee isn’t huge: just 2,000 acres of lift-accessed skiing coupled with another 1,000 acres of snowcat skiing. That’s a good thing for families: The intimate setting means you can almost always spot your kids during lessons and you only have steps to walk to drop them off or pick them up. But the feelinng is huge: With the deep snow (500 inches annually, on average), kids are taught to ski powder right from the start. The ski school program, called Powder Scouts, uses the deep snow coupled with groomed trails to develop versatile skiers. When families are done skiing, they don’t just have to just crash at their slopeside condo or do something ordinary like enjoy the heated outdoor pool or go tubing. They can go dogsledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing or take in an “all family” fitness session at the Dreamchaser Spa, also slopeside. If you’re really adventurous, take your family on a bus ride over the peaks to Jackson with one of the cowboy-poet bus drivers. The 45-minute ride alone is a lifetime memory.
Look Out For: Kids-Only Trail Map shows Targhee through children’s eyes, showing them where the best kiddie runs and fun are.
What’s Cool: Casino night. Now in its 30th year, families love the rollicking time every Wednesday night of ski season.
Only Here: Take a family snowcat powder-skiing lesson with your own guides and all the right equipment.
Here in casino country, Northstar is a wholesome oasis families adore. For good reason. First, there’s the resort’s physical layout. Its ski trails, tame but interesting, form a horseshoe around Northstar’s compact base village. This makes it impossible to get lost, though there’s plenty to explore. The resort makes it a snap for families to get around, too: The gondola from the base takes you directly to the midmountain area, where you can pick up your rentals, meet up with your ski school instructor and head out for a day of skiing. And Northstar does something particularly sensible: Ski school age brackets overlap, so stronger skiers can move up a level and be suitably challenged. If you have a little one who needs you throughout the day, fear not. The transferable Parent Predicament Ticket can be shared (sparing you the embarrassment of wearing your spouse’s ticketed coat for a few runs). When the lifts stop, Northstar runs a chair to Polaris Park, where kids (and parents) play on snow bikes and other toys. Northstar controls more than 1,000 beds in the village area, so families have lots of choices. And they needn’t fear being stranded deep in the woods: The free shuttles run everywhere, and they’re easy enough to use that teens can ride alone.
Look Out For: A 400-foot midmountain superpipe, wired for tunes and serviced by its own quad.
What’s Cool: The Pizza Phone: Call in from the slopes, and when you get to the bottom, your pie is ready.
Only Here: Captain Safety, in his wild yellow cape, quizzes kids on safety then gives them tokens for prizes.
Bretton Woods, NH
Bretton Woods has pulled off a neat trick. Recent expansion has made it New Hampshire’s biggest resort (375 skiable acres), but the place seems as intimate as ever. The secret: programs and infrastructure that put families first. The kids programs span the ages, and children can be dropped off as early as 8:30 a.m. This year, a quad replaces the old double in the family learning center, making that area even more exciting for beginners with a quick lift ride and plenty of easy, safe ways down. Lodging options range from affordable motel rooms and condos to the lavish Mount Washington Hotel, as grand as it was 100 years ago. Après-ski, there’s a full sports center with swimming pool. And every weekend, all winter long, there are magicians, clowns, games and sledding parties at the base area. Parents can join in or head off for their own fun. What makes Bretton Woods reaally great, though, hits you out on the mountain: plenty of lovely and interesting trails the family can ski together, against one of the most scenic backdrops in ski country.
Look Out For: A Pipe Magician and two new groomers-for pipe conditions even discerning teenagers will enjoy.
What’s Cool: Nordic skiing: Give your kids a lesson on the resort’s 62-mile trail network.
Only Here: The historic Mount Washington Hotel: If you don’t stay there, at least take the kids for a tour.
Okemo has been owned by the same family for 20 years. No wonder you feel like you’re back with old friends. From check-in to ski school, from grooming to slopeside accommodations, the place coddles its skiing families with warm hospitality. The day-care and ski school center are smack in the middle of the base area, making it easy to settle the kids and hit the slopes. Drop-off begins at 7:30 a.m. on weekends, so you won’t miss first tracks. Okemo makes it easy on the wallet, too: Kids under 12 stay free. Even the once-quiet après-ski scene has evolved, now including a solid list of fun things to do come dusk, with or without the children. On busy holidays, Kids’ Night Out keeps the kids entertained while parents go play. For the older kids, the Rampage Teen Center has an indoor skateboard park. Snowmobile tours are offered nightly. But the best thing about Okemo is what nature gave it: gentle terrain that lets you push yourself but offers plenty that families can enjoy together.
Look Out For: The just-opened Jackson Gore area gives families lots more terrain to explore.
What’s Cool: Guided evening snowshoe romps up the mountain: a great vantage point on fireworks nights.
Only Here: Special programs, including Kids Night Out for children between 6 months and 12 years old.
Steamboat Springs, CO
Readers rave about Steamboat’s programs, ski school, off-snow activities and overall value. Not only does it have the terrain and snowfall to keep any skier happy, it knows how to leverage that. For instance, skiing with Olympic medalist Billy Kidd, which anyone can do for free, is truly cool. He’s more loveable than any stuffed mascot, and he’s a real-life ski legend. Steamboat itself is equally multidimensional. Witness the ski school: It ensures that every child skis with a group of similar ability, and parents can opt to have their kids ski with the same instructor for the duration of their visit. It’s a simple concept, yet hard to find elsewhere. And while kids take on lovely cruisers like Why Not, parents can dig deep in the Pioneer Ridge terrain, just a short hike away. Advanced skiers can sign up for a first-tracks run each morning at 8 a.m. Après, the Steamboat Mountain Village and nearby downtown (accessed via free shuttle) are both alive with places to eat and things to do. If you want a night out, the Kids Adventure Club entertains the kids till 10 most nights. But rest up: You’ll never tire of the runs you’ll find to ski as a family.
Look Out For: Expanded daily air service from Newark, N.J., and Houston make direct access easier than ever.
What’s Cool: The Mavericks Super Pipe: 50 feet wide, 675 feet long, with a 75-foot quarterpipe at the end.
Only Here: Skiing with Billy Kidd, one of the first American men to win an Olympic medal or free mogul clinics with medalist Nelson Carmichael.
Smugglers’ Notch, VT
For decades now, Smuggs has reigned as the king of family fun. Resort owners from around the world come here to see how it’s done at the resort that has had its eye on the family market longer than anyone. Check out the daily Cookie Race, where all children cross the finish line as winners (and with big cookies stuffed in their mouths). Take in the lodging-by far the most spacious, comfortable and therefore family-friendly in the industry. The après-ski scene is innovative and family-oriented. There’s always something: a winter bonfire sing-along, family karaoke, a snowmaking lesson given by a scientist or on-snow fun like family tubing races.
Parents are thoughtfully pampered, too. Adjacent to the gentle and segregated Morse Mountain learning trails are the knee-shaking steeps of Madonna Mountain and scenic cruisers of Sterling Mountain. And while getting the kids to lessons used to be a challenge, Smuggs now has individual drop-off spots for each of the three village areas. A new day-care center debuts as well. Located slopeside, it’s easy to access when a parent wants to check in. Better yet, it has heated tile floors so little ones can totter about in just their socks. In a word: cozy.
Look out for: The classic Madonna summit double has been retrofitted for a softer, warmer ride and in the base lodge kids can learn about the lift’s history.
What’s cool: Mogul Mouse and friends: possibly the first giant, on-snow mascots-still fun to hug mid-run.
Only here: Professor Alpine and the Wacky Wizard perform their science show on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Even when their experiments go awry, kids learn and laugh.
Looking for a warmer vacation destination? How about a family cruise!