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.
Bolton Valley Resort is one of those ski resorts that is steeped in old school charm and loved by the locals. Conveniently located between Burlington and nearby towns of Stowe and Waterbury, there is loads to see and do both on and off the mountains. The views from the top of the mountain are stunning with Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains in the distance. For my family, this was an extra special trip as this was the first time we all were able to ski together. My kids have now embraced the chair lift and gained a confidence that hadn’t yet appeared during this first season of skiing for them. We are now a skiing family!
Bolton Valley Resort is where you go to learn to ski. It’s totally geared towards families who love to ski and ride without all of the extra bling. Bolton Valley Resort actually consists of three mountain peaks and it’s high at over 3,100 feet. Bolton Valley boasts the highest base elevation in all of Vermont at 2,100 feet which means MORE SNOW. The trails are a diverse mix of more traditional narrow, tree-lined trails partnered with the more popular wider trails. Another great example of how Bolton Valley is a geared towards families is demonstrated by the 73% of trails designated as either beginner (36%) or intermediate (37%). This is right at the level of my skiing abilities this year since I’m coming back from a long hiatus. This is also another bonus for families with new skiers.
After a three and a half hour drive from Albany, New York, we needed to move and started our visit at Bolton Valley’s Nordic Center for a snowshoeing tour with a well seasoned guide. There are over 100 kilometers of Nordic and back-country trails at Bolton Valley for snowshoeing and cross country skiing enthusiasts. The trails are part of the massive 300 mile Catamount Trail that runs from Massachusetts to Canada. There have been efforts of late to preserve these trails and a conservation group called the “Old Goats” have worked for years to keep up Bolton Valleys’ Nordic trails. This group also conducted some serious fundraising to help raise close to $2 million to have over 1,100 acres of backcountry trails forever preserved through the Vermont Land Trust. For an added bonus they have a really awesome name!
The trails are absolutely beautiful and I would highly recommend renting a pair of snowshoes, if you don’t already own a pair, and try them out. My kids did “ok” snowshoeing. My three year tired pretty quickly. Luckily our guide planned ahead and towed a pulk sled behind him, which I’m forever grateful as we didn’t need to carry our little guy back. Our guide was pretty awesome with our son and would run up and down hills with him in the pulk squealing with glee! This was the first time the kids tried snowshoeing and it was another example for us parents on patience (and for our guide).
Snowshoeing was definitely fun, by my favorite area at Bolton Valley was the series of alpine trails referred to as the Wilderness area on the far left side of the mountain. The trails are long, narrow, tree lined and really seem to go on forever. This area also has lots of great areas to try your legs at glade skiing, or skiing through the trees. Much of the glades we saw on the other peaks were set on steep pitches which can be rough if your just trying this out. But in the Wilderness area you can get a beginner feel for this kind of skiing. I loved it! I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved it!
Children’s Programs at Bolton Valley
My six year old daughter took part in the full day lesson program which began at the Explorer Clubhouse in the base lodge area. This is a child who on our first two ski trips never left the magic carpet or the learning hill. To be honest, she wasn’t all that psyched about skiing on this particular weekend. At Bolton Valley she blossomed! When we picked her up after her first day of lessons, we found out that she not only took the toe rope and chairlift to the lower trails, but took the quad up to the top of the mountain! We asked to get one run in with her as this was the first time we were really able to ski together. She grudgingly agreed, and then wouldn’t stop. This little ripper was awesome and I credit the stellar instructors at Bolton Valley for really knowing when to push her more when they knew she had the ability and when to give her a break. This trip really challenged her and once she realized that she could independently ski with speed, she was awesome and unstoppable! I realize I’m gushing a bit, but I was so darn proud of that kid and seeing your child really ski, and enjoy it, for the first time is an amazing feeling.
Bolton Valley starts kids in group lessons at age four. For my three year old, we set him up for a one hour private lesson, which is the norm at Bolton Valley for parents who want their kids to ski prior to age four. His instructor was great and gave him (and us) lots of great little tips to keep building on his skills. The one “game” he really loved was to hold a snowball in front of him while skiing which taught him where his hands should be. When he got to the bottom of the trail he got to throw it at his teacher. Plus, on this trip he too became an expert at riding the chair lift.
For kids younger than four who may not be ready for a full day of skiing, I would highly recommend the Honey Bear Child Care Center located right at the base lodge area. A convenient perk is that parents can enroll their child for a half day, full day or even by the hour. This is a great option for parents who want to ski with their young kids but also want some time to take to the slopes alone. I felt completely comfortable leaving my son at Honey Bear Child Center as the director had an incredibly warm, grandmother-like presence and my son immediately ran through the three main play rooms exploring everything is sight. Children as young as six weeks old can stay at this state certified child care center.
What You Need to Know About the Bolton Valley Resort
Accommodations – Staying at the Bolton Valley Hotel is super convenient as everything from the hotel, to the John Moore Tavern, to gear rental to the chairlifts are all within a few minutes walk from one another. Although the accommodations could use some updating, our one bedroom suite was clean, comfortable and cozy with a wood burning fireplace in the main room. At Bolton Valley you can chose from a traditional studio room at the hotel as well as suites that have a kitchen area, den and separate bedroom. The Resort also has multi-bedroom condominiums for those still looking for more space. But as mentioned earlier, you’re not paying for flashy accommodations when coming to Bolton Valley but more the great skiing and the ease of having everything close by. Location is key at Bolton Valley!
Dining – We were pleasantly surprised with the on site James Moore Tavern that is a great lunch spot with a stone fireplace as the center piece of the restaurant. On Friday’s, when you can ski Bolton Valley until 10 PM, the Tavern is definitely a fun spot, especially if you like live music. The John Moore Tavern has a good local beer selection and for those who like to test their geography skills, the menu has an image of the state each beer originates from. If you’re looking for something a little simpler, try the Flatbread Pizza located just next door to the Tavern. There’s a comfy, cafeteria style area to sit with another stone fireplace. Still looking for other options? The Bolton Valley deli is a great little place to get made to order sandwiches, chili, or my kids’ favorite, mac and cheese. The deli also has breakfast available and is closer to the hotel for those in need of a quick morning bite. There are enough dining options at Bolton Valley to keep you content for a weekend but if you’re looking for something a little more upscale at night, the town of Waterbury is about a 20 minute drive away and has numerous family friendly options.
Off-slope fun – The Nordic Center is the go to spot for off slope activities. Located across the main parking area, the Center houses the indoor pool and hot-tub, a fun zone open most days from 2PM to 7PM that comes complete with multiple bounce houses and a fun MC of sorts who really got the kids going with games. There’s also indoor basketball, a pool table, small bar area, video games and a very comfy family lounge area with couches, puzzles and magazines. I really loved this area because it was such a community gathering spot with people of all ages coming and going from the Nordic trails, relaxing in the lounge area or families like mine with kids who couldn’t get enough of the pool. It’s not posh, but it’s very real, with real families enjoying their time together and making the most of everything Bolton Valley has to offer.
I think Bolton Valley will always have a special little place in my heart because this was the first time my family of four skied together. This ski trip left me feeling so proud of my children, especially my daughter, as she confidently led us down trails we hadn’t ventured on and just beamed! Our trip concluded with all four of us taking several runs together. This is what family ski trips are about and for that I’m forever thankful for our trip to Bolton Valley and can’t wait to get back there again.