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.
Before we became a skiing family, I’d been daunted by the idea of doing so. I thought it would be tough to learn to ski as an adult, I thought our kids would be cold and whine, I thought we wouldn’t be able to afford it. As it turned out, all of my concerns were debunked by the reality of our successes on the slopes—due mostly to a good amount of advance preparation and smart planning—and I realized that I’d spent a lot of time worrying for nothing.
Even though we’re entering our fourth ski season, I still consider us a newer ski family. While my husband has spent a lifetime on the slopes, I started skiing at the ripe old age of 39, alongside our three daughters, then ages seven, nine, and eleven. Unlike families who choose to initiate their kids to the sport as early as possible, we waited until ours were a bit older. When they were small, our girls struggled to navigate in the snow—their boots would pop off, their mittens frustrated them, and if they fell down they’d lie there rolling around on the ground like Randy in A Christmas Story. For these reasons we figured it was just easier for everyone to hold off until they were more stable in wintry conditions.
But now that we’ve got our ski chops, we can’t wait to hit the slopes each winter. During the past three seasons spent in the mountains, we’ve also established some ski traditions that everyone has come to love. And all that advance preparation and planning? I’m going to share it here so that creating your own family ski tradition is as simple as it can possibly be.
Ten Ways to Create a Family Ski Tradition
Put Skiing on the Calendar
Choose specific dates—a weekend (or two or three!) or even a week—for your family ski trips and put those dates on the calendar as early in the season as you can. Holidays, school breaks, family celebrations, and special events at resorts can all help you determine the best times to plan a mountain getaway and as Mara says in this post, blocking out the time is half the battle.
At the same time, be spontaneous! Know which mountains are close enough to home for those quick trips and have your gear ready to go. Living in New York, we can get to Mount Snow or Stratton in just over three-hours, meaning that it’s easy to jump in the car if the conditions look like they’re going to be great.
Find Your Family Mountain
Some resorts are going to speak to your family more than others and there may even be one that emerges from the pack as a clear family favorite. It may take a few seasons of checking out different mountains to find that special place, but when you do it can be fun to visit each year—or even the same week or weekend every year.
But there’s a catch. As soon as you think you’ve figured out your favorite resort, you’ll find another—all the Vermont resorts have something different to offer and you’re bound to favor several for a variety of reasons. Our family has a special affection for the mellow magic that happens at Bolton Valley Resort, an old-school resort with excellent terrain where our kids skied solo for the first time. We’re also partial to Sugarbush, with its vibrant backstory, quintessential New England trails, and fantastic Mad River Valley location. Growing up skiing at Mount Mansfield has created a special place in my husband’s heart for Stowe. We love the plush digs at Stowe Mountain Lodge, the fabulous family amenities at Spruce Peak, and the Over Easy gondola that delivers an abundance of classic Mount Mansfield terrain. And then…well, you get the idea.
Make Your Budget Work for You
Skiing isn’t an inexpensive undertaking but there are ways to make it affordable that can help make starting a family ski tradition both possible and practical. The first step is determining what amenities are important to your family. Vermont resorts run the gamut from offering seriously luxe accommodations that are well-worth a splurge to cozy family condos and traditional hotel rooms for budget-minded skiers. Staying off-mountain is another way to save and Vermont is packed with welcoming, family-run inns that offer easy access to the mountains and are a great way to support the local community.
Other moneysaving tactics include avoiding holiday and peak-travel periods whenever possible, packing lunch and snacks for your days on the mountain, and hitting early season tent sales to stock up on gear and equipment. Finally, Vermont is a reasonable drive for many, many people. Not having to fly to find fantastic conditions is a big perk.
Get the 411 on Equipment and Gear
Be prepared—there’s definitely an up-front investment when you’re gearing up to become a ski family. Though the initial sticker shock can be tough to digest, trust me and invest in the best gear you can. Being cold sucks, and uncomfortable kids are unhappy kids who end up not wanting to ski. Plus, having all your gear on hand makes it easy to head off for a spontaneous ski trip.
High quality under-layers are essential as are a couple good pairs of mittens, a cozy balaclava (my kids love their Turtle Fur and I’m a big Skida fan), and warm, wool socks (Darn Tough socks are our favorites). Another way to lower costs is to hit up your local consignment shops, or again, those annual tent sales, for ski jackets and snow pants or bibs. Finally, don’t scrimp on helmets for both adults and kids—LidsonKids.org is a great place to read up on choosing the right helmets, or check out our post on Choosing a Helmet for your Kids.
As for equipment, when you’re getting started it just makes sense to rent. Skis and ski boots aren’t cheap and owning, especially for growing kids, is unnecessary. If you do opt to buy eventually, your local ski shop or resort gear shops often have discounted rental skis or post-demo skis available at a good discount.
Sometimes just the thought of assembling all the stuff a family needs to bring on a ski trip is enough to say forget it. But once you’ve got everything organized, you can grab it and go with nary a thought. When our kids were young we kept all the mittens, balaclavas, hand and toe warmers, and goggles in one big backpack and the snow pants in one big duffle bag. Our girls carried their own boots and helped schlep their skis. Now that they’re older, they’re all angling for boot bags of their own and I’m game for each kid to have her own backpack to carry her gear.
I also like to pack a bunch of analog-style games for the car and condo—UNO, Monopoly, and Scrabble are favorites—my crockpot, a bunch of groceries (eating breakfast and other meals in the room or condo can be a big money saver), and bathing suits for an après swim or hot tub. Assembling a go-to skiing packing list is an excellent way to streamline the preparations, which will help make skiing as a family a lot easier.
Get Schooled—Ski Schooled, That is!
Everyone in the family will beg to go skiing once they know how—and the learning curve isn’t as steep as I initially expected it to be. In that vein, I cannot recommend ski school highly enough and Vermont resorts have some of the best on-mountain instruction around (Note: Per the images in that link, I’m horrified to say that my husband and I weren’t wearing helmets on our family’s first Stowe visit. We left unscathed, but would never ski lid-less again!). Once you’ve got your foundation, there’s always more to learn, so don’t hesitate to enroll the kids—or yourselves—in either a lesson or a half or full day of ski school to kick off your trip. Beyond the basics, other options include freestyle lessons, glade skiing, expert instruction, and women-only clinics—the options for honing your mountain skills are limitless.
Know Thy Family
As I mentioned at the beginning, we waited until our youngest daughter was seven to get our kids on the slopes. Let skiing grow with your family as your kids do, don’t push them to hard, and start off slow. Make skiing fun, not a chore, so they learn to love it. I know folks invest a good penny on their ski trips, but if the Littles would rather take a cocoa break after every run, surrender to it. Resorts with excellent kids’ programming can be a huge help for parents hoping for a bit of uninterrupted time on the slopes, either on their own or with older kids. Better yet, make a parents-only ski weekend an annual tradition—it’s always fun to remember why you liked each other in the first place and time on the mountain is a great way to do that!
Going forward, tweens and teens looking for freedom love smaller mountains where they can have a little free-range fun. Bolton Valley, Bromley, Burke, Mad River Glen, Magic, Quechee Ski Area, and Suicide Six are all options for parents who want to loosen the reins a bit.
Finally, what else does your family enjoy? Live Music? Spa treatments? Snowshoeing? Rock Climbing? Snow Tubing? Hot tubbing? Strolling through a classic New England village? Make a point to add in some of these non-skiing activities to your plans and choose something new to do together as a family with each ski trip you take.
Bring Your Friends
With skiing, the old adage of “the more the merrier” often holds true. Do you have friends or family members who are skiers? It’s always fun for kids—and parents—to have friends along and getting away for a ski weekend is a great way to connect with folks you don’t get to see often enough. Rent a big condo, pack the crockpot, and make one of your ski getaways a multi-family or multi-gen tradition.
Take Part in a Mountain Tradition
Having trouble creating a family ski tradition on your own? Don’t worry—there’s no shortage of family-friendly events that take place at the Vermont ski resorts. Choose one that appeals to you and make it a point to take part every year. From Santa Sunday to holiday torchlight parades, fireworks, gourmet dining events, craft fairs, winter carnivals, grommet jams, maple sugaring weekends, and pond skimming—to name only a few—Ski Vermonters are pros at finding any excuse possible to celebrate and each one offers a great opportunity for a fun-filled winter experience.
Love the Resorts During the Off-Season
Who says that your family ski tradition has to happen during the winter? Remember, Vermont is a four-season destination and a great way to introduce your family to a ski resort is by visiting during the other six or seven months of the year. There is no end to the activities happening in the mountains during the late spring, summer, and fall, and trying mountain biking, a ropes course, zip lining, hiking, family camp, or just taking a dip in an old-fashioned swimming hole opens up a host of options for a new family travel tradition.
And if all else fails, I’ll make it really easy—grab a waffle and make partaking in the warm, sugary treat your family ski tradition. No one said it couldn’t be simple and I guarantee that your, ahem, kids will look forward to it all year long!