Learning to ski or snowboard at an early age is the perfect way to help young children instill a love for winter. Exploring the slopes helps kids build self-confidence, meet new friends and develop a lifelong affinity for the outdoors.
Tons of trails with lots of high-speed lifts to service them? Check.
Plenty of glade skiing that’s not too hard? Of course.
Grooming galore? Yeppers.
A terrain park or two? You know it.
Oh, and did I mention the mountain coaster?
Welcome to Okemo Mountain Resort – south-central Vermont’s family skiing paradise, home to great intermediate skiing and a kid-friendly atmosphere.
My family was lucky enough to enjoy complimentary lift tickets, accommodations, lessons, and rentals during a three-day stay at Okemo in March. We arrived the day after a snowstorm had left about a foot of snow on the mountain’s 120 trails. With unusually cold temperatures for late winter, we were lucky enough to experience the skiing at its best – a great surface on natural snow, our choice of trails, and gorgeous views of the valley below.
Here are my recommendations for enjoying a great family ski vacation at Okemo Mountain Resort.
Learn the lay of the land
Okemo is spread out. Our accommodations were booked in Jackson Gore Village but when we arrived, we mistakenly drove to the Okemo Base Area. The friendly staff quickly directed us to the right place, but looking at the resort map I realized that getting around and figuring out just where to ski was going to be a bit more challenging than I had realized.
For this reason, I definitely recommend that you do as I did and take advantage of the Mountain Ambassador staff, whose services are offered free of charge. You can visit their information booth at the Sugar House Lodge, which is located mid-mountain near the Okemo Base area. On weekends and holidays advanced and intermediate skiers can take a free guided tour of the mountain from 9 am to 2 pm.
Since my trip was hosted by the resort, I was lucky enough to have a private tour. My friendly ambassador Bob took me from the Jackson Gore base area all the way over to the far southern edge of the mountain. I think we rode almost every lift, which was a great way to see a lot of the terrain and learn how to get around.
Bob shared lots of great intel about the mountain, including which lifts were the best to avoid lines (for example, take the Sachem Quad to the Glades Peak Quad instead of standing with the crowd at the Northstar Express). After skiing with him I understood how the different areas of the resort connected to each other, had good tips on which trails have a bump or two, and seen the lovely views off of the iconic Mountain Road. This is the resort’s longest trail and is actually a paved road that ascends a good two-thirds of the way up the mountain in the summer.
Another great way to see the mountain is to take an evening Snowcat tour, which starts at Jackson Gore and goes all the way to the summit. The tour takes about an hour and offers fantastic views of the valley from the top.
Full disclosure: I have a real fascination with the behind-the-scenes side of ski resorts, so I was the person in my family who most enjoyed this activity. I think the kids were mostly just sleepy and wanting their dinner after a full day on the mountain . Or maybe it was just annoying to have their mom pretend she was driving the Cat.
Take a lesson
Okemo has lots of ski and ride lesson options, including two full-service daycare facilities. They will get kids as young as three up on the mountain and also offer specialty clinics and all-women sessions for adults.
My husband learned to ski about four years ago and is still working on perfecting his form. He signed up for a 90-minute adult ski clinic that was supposed to be a group lesson. Luckily for him, he was the only person on the roster and so got private coaching. I immediately noticed an improvement in his turns and poling when he rejoined me afterward.
My 9- and 11-year-old sons also really enjoyed their Nordica Drop Session. These group lessons for kids aged 7 to 14 are available on weekends and during holiday periods and are designed to help kids get comfortable skiing the terrain parks. My boys are both interested in freestyle skiing and liked the low-pressure chance to practice on the boxes of Hot Dog Hill, Okemo’s easiest terrain park.
What was especially nice – in addition to the friendly instructors and small group – was that they didn’t spend all their time in the park, but also ventured repeatedly into the woods, much to both my sons’ delight.
Enjoy the terrain – especially the glades
You won’t find extreme steeps or lots of bumps at Okemo – most of the terrain is groomed. But if you are a family of solid beginner or intermediate skiers that enjoys long runs, than Okemo will be perfect for you. There are 120 trails so you can easily ski all day without repeating yourself. Although it’s the lower part of the resort elevation-wise, the Jackson Gore side has some nicely pitched and more challenging terrain with a few more expert trails that are left untouched by the grooming machines.
What my sons really loved about Okemo (and have mentioned repeatedly since we left) was all the opportunities it offers for glade skiing – there are over a dozen gladed trails. And what is unique about Okemo is that much of the tree skiing is at an intermediate level. That means it’s not too steep and that the trees have been thinned – and also that I felt very safe letting the boys try all of it. The kids and I had a great time exploring the woods. It was peaceful and less crowded than the open trails.
In addition to some of the blue glades, I skied Big Bang – a shorter double black glade trail – with my older son who is a stronger skier than his brother. While it was a bit denser and steeper, it definitely was doable for an advanced intermediate skier who is used to the trees. And both the boys and I skied Loose Spruce, a longer double black glade, and found it to be tighter than the blue glades, but also very skiable for kids who knew their way around the trees.
Although I haven’t yet reached a place where I let my kids ski alone, Okemo would be the kind of resort where I would be inclined to first let them do so. The terrain is so well maintained, and there’s so much for them to do without getting into trouble that I think it would be an ideal place to unleash them on their own.
Dine on and off the mountain
It would be possible to stay at Okemo Mountain Resort and never venture off the mountain because there are a number of onsite restaurants. But a great way to see a bit of the beautiful area that surrounds the resort is to take the easy 20-minute drive over to the Inn at Weathersfield in nearby Perkinsville. Although the somewhat fancier main dining room in this cozy country house isn’t ideal for young children you can book a table in the tavern area and enjoy the same stellar food and friendly service.
The menu is small but delectable (and locally sourced) with kid-friendly choices like a great burger and smoked chicken wings. We were lucky enough to dine there on a night when there was live music and the boys had a great time listening to it and chatting with the musicians. The owners Richard and Marilee are very friendly and will happily show your children the farmhouse’s original fireplace complete with a beehive oven that is still used on occasion to prepare food for the restaurant.
At the resort, we enjoyed dinner in the comfortable Coleman Brook Tavern at the Jackson Gore Inn, which features Vermont products. I highly recommend the organic chicken marinated in Magic Hat beer and served with a smoked cheddar sauce.
Okemo offers some fun variations on the typical lunch food you’ll find at many ski areas. We loved the pulled pork at Smokey Jo’s outdoor barbeque located at the Sugar House Lodge (heaters next to our table kept us warm). The Summit Café has baked potatoes with all the fixings, including chili and on Saturdays offers a prime rib carving station. Prices are typically high for an on-mountain lunch, but the food was all great and the portions large.
An important thing to note about Okemo is that it is located in Ludlow, which is not a very big town. It’s therefore critical to make reservations in advance when dining out – whether you are eating at the resort or in town. I was unable to get us a table at the popular Downtown Grocery restaurant because when I called the Monday before our trip, it was fully booked for both Friday and Saturday night.
And should you want to cook yourself (which is what we did for our breakfasts) there is a full-service Shaw’s grocery store right on the main road in Ludlow, minutes from any of the Okemo slopeside lodging.
Enjoy the atmosphere
Okemo is a fun and friendly place, and Jackson Gore Village in particular seems designed with families in mind. The Jackson Gore Inn offers a great après-ski scene in its lobby: It’s a cheerful mix of adults enjoying local beers and kids melting marshmallows for s’mores. It was sticky, fun, and relaxing.
The village is also home to the resort’s small tubing hill (my tween kids weren’t interested, but I’m sure it would have been a different story a few years ago) and to the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, which my husband and younger son loved and would have ridden multiple times given the chance, though I’m not sure they got up to the top speed of 25 miles per hour.
The weekend we visited there was a stage set up in the village’s central area behind the Inn – this was part of the season-long concert series. When there isn’t a special event going on, parents can relax near this area’s fire pit while their kids play on a playground made entirely of snow.
Because Okemo is so spread out, they are able to offer lots of different lodging options in a total of six different mountainside areas. We stayed in a one-bedroom condo in Adams House, right next door to the Jackson Gore Inn.
Our room overlooked the tubing hill and really couldn’t have been much more convenient to the mountain. I loved that we had a full kitchen (we ate our breakfasts in). The kids were thrilled that in addition to a pullout sofa there was a Murphy bed that came down from the wall, so they didn’t have to share. And my husband kept marveling at how quiet our room was – in fact, we weren’t able to hear the concert taking place mere feet away and although we were there over Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, by early evening it was completely peaceful.
Other nice features of our accommodations? They were adjacent to the rental shop, had parking in a heated garage, offered us of the concierge at the Jackson Gore Inn, came with a free overnight ski check (which is available with your lift ticket even if you aren’t staying there), and gave us full access to two pools and the ice rink. Because our visit was cut short by a day due to weather, we didn’t have a chance to swim or skate, but certainly would have if we’d had more time. We were also able to easily arrange a late checkout on our last day, which gave us a chance to ski all morning and into the afternoon and then change our clothes before hopping in the car to go home.
The final thing I have to say about Okemo is that its location is just enough closer to the Philadelphia and New York areas to make it a real possibility for a long weekend. The drive from Delaware was six hours on the nose; from Philadelphia it would be five hours, and it was exactly four hours from northern New Jersey, where we stopped to get gas. We left our house at breakfast and had enough time after we arrived to fit in a few runs.
Cruising the blues and getting deep in the trees – you really couldn’t ask for a more fun family weekend. Thanks Okemo.