My husband Jason is Canadian – he doesn’t mind the cold, loves the mountains (although he grew up in the prairie), and loves skiing. I’m a Bostonian who dreaded winters growing up, loves beaches and warm weather… hence our move to Southern California, where we now live. Since Jason is so accommodating with all the trips I plan, I make an effort to plan a few family ski trips each winter.
I used to be apprehensive about ski trips, but now I actually enjoy them! I recognize that unless you grew up in the mountains, used to be a ski instructor, are super fit, or your kids are super good listeners (none of those apply to us, though my husband is a solid skier) – the idea of taking little kid(s) on a ski trip is probably a bit daunting. After five winters of ski trips with our boys in various baby → toddler → boy stages – we’ve figured it how to make it fun! We brought Alex on his first ski trip at Mammoth when he was one years old – he didn’t ski, but did enjoy playing in the snow. We started both boys in ski lessons when they were 3 years old. I thought I’d share some tips here to help some skeptical families get out on the slopes!
Tip 1 – Choose a family friendly resort :
Over the past few years, we’ve gone to Mammoth Mountain (California) x 1, Northstar California Resort x 1 (Lake Tahoe, California), Snow Summit x 3 (Big Bear, California), Park City Mountain Resort x 2 (Utah) and Brighton Resort x 1 (Utah). Snow Summit is close to our home, so it is a good and easy option when Southern California is having a snowy winter. Our best ski school experiences for kids < 5 have been at Park City $$$$, Northstar $$$$ and Brighton $$. Mammoth and Northstar have ski schools and villages – which are nice for non-skiers (ie grandparents who can help watch the kids when they are done skiing) and apres ski. Park City Mountain Resort’s base village and Main Street has a lot of restaurants and shopping for apres ski, but we’ve figured out as the collective number of little kids increased (we often go on ski trips with my brother’s family and friends with kids) that it is easier to rent a house and order in or cook than try to bring a bunch of kids to a restaurant. Honestly, that’s almost more challenging than trying to ski with a bunch of kids.
This winter we went to Brighton Resort in Utah, which is probably our favorite family ski experience so far. We rented a large house through VRBO in Big Cottonwood Canyon with my brother’s family and my friend’s family, ate breakfast and dinner at the house (we picked up groceries from Costco, Trader Joes and Whole Foods in Salt Lake City on our way in), and skied/ had lunch at Brighton Resort. Note: The ski school gives you the option to take your kids out for lunch break – we did this and then none of the kids wanted to return for the afternoon session. Fortunately, they let us use the afternoon credit for ski class the next morning.
We were a group of 14 – 7 adults and 7 kids ages 4, 4, 6, 7, 10, 10 and 13, and we all had a blast! What we loved about Brighton Resort: 1) Kids 10 and under ski free – 2 kids per adult lift ticket, 2) Adult lift tickets were very reasonable – priced well below any of the other named ski resorts, 3) You could ski from 9am to 9pm! There was night skiing available every day for a very reasonable price (currently they are running a $13 night ski pass special!), 4) Ski school was great and much more affordable compared to other resorts – you could choose AM, PM or all day, 5) There were some good food options at the base of the mountain that were family friendly – The Alpine Rose is a cafeteria style eatery in the same building at the ski school that serves pizza, burgers, sausages, burritos, soups and hot chocolate 6) the snow was incredible! 7) There were plenty of green/ blue runs for everyone to ski together on.
Some considerations to keep in mind at Brighton Resort: 1) there is no “village” at Brighton Resort, so other than skiing, there is not much to do in the area, 2) there are no real grocery stores in the area – Brighton and nearby Solitude have some markets but it should be noted that they are even smaller than gas station markets – it’s best to get groceries in Salt Lake City, 3) there are limited restrooms on the mountain. The kids had to ski back down to the base when they needed to use the bathroom.
Tip 2 – Choose the right gear:
Warm Dry Kids = Happy Kids. Growing up, I think part of what added to my aversion to skiing was that I was always cold, wet, and miserable. I may do a separate post on ski wear for adults, but for now I’ll share our favorite ski wear and gear for our kids. Although we have two boys, most of these items are gender neutral or available for both boys and girls. Our boys have never complained while on the mountains and seem happy, so I think these are probably good choices. 🙂 Many of these clothing items are investment pieces – but what I’ve found is quality over quantity, and a happy comfortable kid is priceless. Note: I purchased most of these items during holidays sales, we always pass down Alex’s items to Brian, and then donate/ resell things when the boys outgrow them. If you’re looking for a bargain, you may be able to find good prices by purchasing used gear from community groups, craigslist or poshmark.
Base layer: I’ve recently discovered the many benefits of merino wool, and have started investing in merino pieces for our family. Our boys wore these merino thermal base layers from Nui organics. Initially, I had brought another set up thermals for them on the trip, but they ended up wearing these three days in a row! The boys said these merino thermals were soft, warm, and comfortable! And they looked as good as new even after the third day with no smell (wool is naturally odor resistant!). An alternative to the wool base layers are these extra warm Heattech top and bottoms from Uniqlo, which we also like.
Mid layer: We’ve been using these Burton fleece sets (shown above) over the base layers – they are available in toddler and kid size. Each set has lasted us 2-3 years (we size up). Another mid layer choice that we like is the Nui Hopi wool sweater.
Snow Bib / Pants: We bought whatever was on sale. We chose bright colors on purpose to make it easier to spot the kids on the mountain. Brian’s been using past season Gap space snow bibs handed down from Alex, and Alex has Spyder expedition snowpants with adjustable shoulder and hems (room to grow).
Jacket: We were gifted ski jackets from UK outdoor retailer Trespass last year – their DLX line is very technical with taped seams, stretchy adjustable fabric, and a waterproof rating of 20,000mm, with breathability of 8,000mvp and windproof. Brian is wearing the Castor DLX jacket in Red. Alex is wearing a Spyder jacket that we purchased on sale, which he has used for 2 years and will be eventually passed down to little bro.
Helmet: I recommend everyone, especially kids, wear a helmet while skiing. Not only does it protect your head, it keeps it pretty warm. We generally rent our helmets from the same place we rent our skis, but I’m considering purchasing helmets for our boys since they can be used for multiple seasons.
Goggles: I got Brian some basic toddler ski goggles off of amazon, but for Alex I had to find a pair that could fit over his eyeglasses. Smith optics makes several pairs that can fit over glasses – I recommend you go to a REI or retailer to try them on to make sure they are comfortable.
Gloves: We’ve tried various different gloves, but these Burton Mittens are my favorite for easy of getting on and off, warmth and waterproofness.
Neck Warmer or Baclava – Turtle furs are the original brand, but we found these fleece neck warmers on sale for 70% off at Zara now for $3.99!
Socks: We always go with wool ski socks. The boys have socks from Icebreaker and Smartwool. They’ve never complained to me that their toes or feet are cold, so I’m going to stick with them.
Hand Warmers : It’s always worth getting some hand warmers to stick in mittens, and in pockets. As an adult, I like them too. There are a number of different brands and they are usually sold at the resort shop, or you can purchase them ahead of time at REI or amazon.
Update: Nui Organics has kindly provided a 20% off discount code to help outfit your child in warm base layers and sweaters for winter adventures! Use Code: Adventurefam20 through February 29, 2020 . Click here to shop!
Tip 3 – Manage your expectations and give your kids plenty of encouragement!
There may be some tears, whining and tantrums. That’s okay! Skiing is hard, and even I agree that the boots aren’t the most comfortable. What is important is to keep on encouraging them and make sure they feel warm, dry, safe and in control. Don’t bring them to slopes that they aren’t ready for. Give them plenty of breaks for water, hot chocolate, and rest. We highly recommend lessons – at least on the first day to help get them warmed up. We’ve found that skiing with other families with kids can be helpful because the kids tend to want to stick/ ski together, and when they are making jokes – they forget to complain! Lastly, remember every child is different. Our older son loves to ski until the lifts close. Our younger son likes to ski a few runs and then get some hot chocolate, or go back to the house to relax in the hot tub. There is no right or wrong way to do a family ski trip – the most important tip is to have fun!