Family Ski

Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort

Enjoy Northstar Ski Resort the best ski resort
A day enjoying the bluebird sky while skiing down a perfectly groomed run is divine. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Skiing is a great activity for families, especially for those with older kids. After skiing and boarding with kids for over 15 years, I’m here to share my top tips. If it’s your first family ski trip, it can be overwhelming.I know, I have been there. Here are my top tips to pick a family-friendly ski resort. 

First, I understand skiing with a family is expensive. It requires special clothes, special equipment and that’s before you’ve bought lift tickets or arranged lessons.  

When I started skiing in my twenties, it was easy. Rent some skis, take a lesson and then drink a cocktail. That was my ski trip. The hardest thing was picking out an outfit.

Then I had my kids, and everything got more complicated. 

9 Top Tips to Pick a Family-Friendly Ski Resort

  • Plan Early for the Best Lodging for a Ski Trip
  • Between Christmas and New Year is the Busiest Week. 
  • Get Lift Tickets Before the Resort Opens for the Season
  • Find Lodging with a Kitchenette and Washer/Dryer
  • Should You Fly or Drive
  • Pack Snacks for Feeding the Family
  • Check out the Resort’s Map for Type of Runs
  • Look for Magic Carpet Lifts for Beginners
  • Find the Best Ski or Snowboarding Lessons

When to Plan a Family Ski Trip

If there is a universal truth in travel planning, it is the best deals go first. This is true for family ski trips. 

If possible, start planning a ski trip after the kids go back to school in the fall. This is my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

Start with the lodging first. This will take the longest to research usually, especially if you are renting a condo or house. After the lodging is confirmed then look at ski lift tickets to get the best prices (usually before the resort opens for the season). 

Remember that the busiest week for ski resorts is the week between Christmas and New Year. It is also the most expensive. Look at the season pass blackout dates for this time period. 

If skiing early in the season, check out the resort’s snow-making coverage. Without a good base, skiing and boarding isn’t fun and can be a challenge for beginners. 

Prep and Pack for a Family Ski Trip

Best Lodging for Family Ski Trips

Do your research. Look at the type of lodging the ski resort offers. This is another one of my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

Ski-in, Ski-out–The most luxurious option though check out the valet services. Skiing requires more luggage and gear. See how the resort stores ski equipment for its guests too. You will definitely need self-service laundry or an in-unit washer and dryer for wet coats and gloves.

Free Standing Condo–I prefer to stay in a condo or other equipped rental. I need a washer and dryer for my family. Plus an equipped kitchen saves me money. To save some money, I bring my crock pot for hearty dinners after a day of skiing. Breakfast is a snap with instant oatmeal.

Hotel Rooms–Not my favorite option; I’ve done it once and wouldn’t do it again. I tripped over gear, like snow boots and gloves. Eating out for every meal got expensive and time-consuming after a long day of skiing.

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This might be your road so you need to be prepared for winter driving. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Fly or Drive?

If your family is flying, look at the transportation between the airport and the resort. Then check out where the shopping, restaurants and activities are in relation to your lodging. You will probably need a vehicle for your trip. 

UBER and LYFT might use surge pricing at some resort areas or the service is limited. This is another one of my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

I recommend renting a 4WD or AWD vehicle for your trip. Don’t skimp on the rental. Driving a typical 2WD rental car in the mountains is just too risky. I prefer to drive, so I don’t have to limit the luggage. I have an all-wheel drive SUV, plus I pack tire cables if the roads get snow-covered.

Finally, check out the location of the ski resort’s parking lot if skiing for the day. I would prefer to park in front of the resort since I never grab everything I need in one trip. If a tram or shuttle is involved to get to the resort from the parking lot, I’m not impressed.

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Enjoy the house-made s’mores on the patio after a day of skiing at the Ritz-Carlton – Lake Tahoe. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Feeding a Family at a Ski Resort

Hungry kids will destroy a happy holiday.

Pack snacks for in-between meals to save some bucks. This is another one of my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

  • Refillable water bottles
  • Gatorade or flavor packets
  • Hot water in a thermos
  • Instant hot cider or cocoa packets and tea bags
  • Instant Cup-of-Soup
  • Granola bars and Protein bars
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit or fruit leather
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Nuts
  • Cookies
  • Marshmallows and roasting sticks
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Reusable coffee cups

When to Start Kids Skiing

How old are your kids? I started my kids skiing at different ages, and I don’t think it really matters. They all seem to pick it up quickly, but if all your kids are under 5, I might wait a few years to try skiing as a family.

The youngest kids have a problem with the cold and dressing them in ski gear can be a challenge. Ski resorts are not stroller-friendly with stairs and icy patches. Young kids can’t carry their own gear.

My kids are in college and high school now.  We started skiing when my oldest was 7, and the youngest was 2. The first year he stayed in the on-site daycare and started ski lessons when he was 3.

My oldest and youngest kids ski but my 14-year-old son snowboards. Most resorts won’t teach young kids (3 to 5) to snowboard, requiring kids to be at least 5. If you do your research, some resorts offer snowboarding for preschoolers.

What to Look for at a Ski Resort

Trails for Kids

First, I look at the ski resort trail mapand count how many green runs they offer. This information is usually listed as a percentage of the runs based on color–green, blue, or black. This is another one of my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

Green runs–Easiest and great for families

Blue runs–Moderate runs and Dad will start here regardless of ability.

Black runs–People braver than me. I recommend tackling black runs with an instructor first.

Then I look at the quality of the green runs. I don’t like resorts that only offer green runs tacked onto the bottom of more difficult terrain. I have found that more advanced skiers fly through slow areas on their way to the lift line. If all of the green runs wide and lacks different routes, the skiing gets boring.

I prefer resorts that have green skiing areas with both wide open spaces and narrow runs through the trees. Kids like to ride a run a couple of times and then try another route.

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The covered surface lifts top my list of premium features of the best ski schools. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Ski Lifts

Next, look for beginner ski lifts, they should be labeled on the trail map on the resort’s website. I prefer resorts that use conveyor-belt-type lifts for beginners. This is another one of my Top Tips to Pick a Family Friendly Ski Resort.

Getting on and off an elevated ski lift is where most falls happen. Conveyor or Magic Carpet Lifts will keep your kids on the ground and not dangling from a wire like a trapeze. It was always a bit nerve-racking to get my youngest and myself on the ski lift.

I want the beginner area to be available to all skiers and not restricted to the ski school students. This is an excellent area to practice with your kids after their lessons. My carful of kids love to race Mom down the beginner runs.

Remember beginner runs are not the same as GREEN runs. Just because it’s labeled green doesn’t mean your kids are ready to cruise down it after one lesson.

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This is a happy kid after his two-hour lesson at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, carful of kids, family friendly ski destination
I like to see a happy kid after ski lessons. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Ski School for Kids

Look at the resort’s ski school. Ski School is a must for kids under eight unless you are a pro. All the instructors I have met through the years have been great with kids, pacing the program according to the ability of my kids. They’re patient with missing gloves and potty breaks.

Ski School Must Haves
  • Trained staff that know how to talk and play with kids. Corny jokes and riddles are a plus.
  • Separate facility with an indoor transition area that allows kids to rest or warm up.
  • Staff to fit kids with skis.
  • An outdoor area that’s fenced off from the rest of the resort yet visible for parents wanting to check in.
  • Separate magic carpet lifts or conveyor lifts for kids.
  • Helmets for kids regardless of local laws
An Outstanding Program will have
  • A program that keeps the littlest kids off the elevated lifts before 6. (a new trend that I’m seeing and not all resorts are presently doing this)
  • Serves lunch that accommodates kids’ special diets (gluten-free, vegan) and chef-inspired daily menus for students–not just pizza or buttered pasta.
  • Engineered runs to make turning easier.
  • Covered lifts

I like the ski schools in a separate fenced-off area with a separate conveyor belt or magic carpet lifts, used only by the ski school. I want my younger kids in an area away from the older kids with different needs and skills.

My youngest heading down his first green run with his ski instructor. Family friendly ski resort
My youngest is heading down his first green run with his ski instructor. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

Some ski schools have half-day programs, but this is usually not an option during the school holidays. The resorts prefer full-day programs during peak periods. Some resorts offer on-site daycare, a convenient, yet expensive option.

If your kids are older then skip the ski school and sign them up for a beginner ski/snowboard package that includes lessons, rental equipment and lift tickets for the first day. The earlier in the day, the better. After the class, they can practice.

If you plan to learn to ski or snowboard as a family then you might consider private or semi-private lessons. The resorts tend to assign the most seasoned instructors to the private lessons. They are a great way to go, but they are expensive.

Other Considerations

The last thing I check is the ski resort elevation. I have a kid that gets elevation sickness over 9,000 feet. We have to ski at resorts with lower elevations, or he gets sick (nausea).

I hope that my hints help you to find a family-friendly ski resort that suits your family.

Know before you go:

  • Reservations are a must for ski school programs during the school breaks.
  • You can get a discount by booking your lift tickets online through the ski resort’s website.
  • I purchase lift tickets through consolidators for greater discounts.
  • I like to rent my equipment from ski shops and skip the line on the mountain. Most shops let you rent equipment the evening before, and you can return it early in the morning after your trip.
  • Don’t forget the helmets. They are required for kids at lots of resorts.

If it's your family's first ski trip, the ski resort makes a big difference. Not all resorts are family friendly with lots of green and easy blue skiing. Here's a list of things to consider before making a reservation and buying lift tickets. #Ski #FamilySki Best Ski Resorts for Families | How to pick a ski resort



Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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