With new climbing walls and cooking lessons, coaster rides and Fun Zones, resorts are ready to keep your kids (and your inner child) entertained long after the lifts stop running.
As a child, my father grew up skiing backcountry forests and steep mountain terrain. Each time he ventured out, my grandfather warned my father and his five other siblings to “keep up or risk getting left behind.”
He wasn’t joking—one day the family station wagon had cruised halfway home before my grandparents realized my dad’s youngest brother, Buzz, was still on the hill.
I know this story because my dad has told it, chuckling, a hundred times over dinner, whenever we see my extended family and every time we go skiing. The rest of us sit back and happily listen. And when we’re not listening, we’re skiing.
My dad set me—terrified and blissful—on his skis when I was four. Now, I chase him in figure-eights down the diamonds.
Most adults who love skiing or riding started young, so it’s up to parents to get kids started early. The stakes are high because, as with my family, these early memories get relived, years later, over and over at the dinner table. So, the important question remains: how do you create both a positive and a memorable experience for kids?
Step one: Do not leave your child in the backcountry.
Step two: Make sure everyone’s having a blast.
Lately, ski resorts around Vermont have been making this task much easier. To start with, lift ticket scanners at many resorts can tell what lifts your kids are riding at all times, so you’re not likely to lose them. Smuggler’s Notch even attaches a GPS Flaik tracking system to its ski schoolers. That system logs runs, vertical feet and other fun data that parents can see at the end of the day.
And with ski school programs as focused on making sure kids have fun as they are on making classic pizza wedges and French fries, kids are learning faster. Harley Johnson, director of the Ski and Ride school at Smugglers’ Notch, says it’s important to make the lessons fun so the kids want to keep coming back.
“Good lessons are made by instructors who have a connection to their students and focus on engaging the kids in fun-based activities,” Johnson says. “Kids learn more quickly when they are enjoying themselves. We try to introduce different features and props on the hill to help make learning how to ski and ride as enjoyable as possible. The social connections made on the mountain solidify the skiing and riding experience and make them want to come back and do it again.”
Lessons can push kids out of their comfort zones in a way a parent often can’t. If your kids love launching off ski jumps and you’re not up to giving them a safety lesson (because, let’s face it, you don’t love launching off ski jumps), book a private lesson with a freestyle coach. At Sugarbush, for instance, private instructors offer specialized instruction on any of the mountain’s three terrain parks. Staff teach your kids the correct stance to take off and land smoothly, along with some jazzy (but safe) tricks that they can show all their ski buddies. Lessons start at $100 for one hour.
Just as important, resorts are making sure there’s as much fun to be had off the slopes as on. New this year, Stowe’s $80 million Adventure Center opened in July. Along with housing all the ski school programs, it features the Stowe Rocks climbing wall and its own dedicated cafeteria, The Canteen.
This March, Smugglers’ Notch plans to open a 26,000-sq.-ft. Fun Zone with, hold your breath: a slot car track, a 4,000-sq.-ft. two-story themed laser tag arena, two Smuggs Warrior courses with a built-in timing system, an arcade with more than 20 games and a 30-foot multi-sided climbing wall. There will also be a second floor with ping pong, mini-golf, shuffleboard and a Smuggs’ café.
With recent additions like Stowe’s private lactation pod (developed in Vermont by Mamava), Sugarbush’s cooking classes for kids and the bar that overlooks Jay Peak’s water park, resorts are thinking about the needs of the whole family.
“Ski resorts in Vermont have been adding more kid and family friendly amenities for several years now,” says Dana Freeman, the founder of All Mountain Mamas, a blog published by Ski Vermont. “It is an upward trend. It makes resorts viable for all four seasons—no longer do activities have to involve snow. And, resorts want to cater to families. They want to bring them in and keeping them coming back.”
So yes, there’s lots of fun to be had on the mountains, but here are a few ways that kids (and inner children) can have fun off the slopes, too. Call it “Après for Kids.”
Ride a Coaster
At both Okemo and Killington resorts, you might be silently carving turns, only to hear shrieks of children—and adults—in the distance. Don’t be alarmed. These thrill-seekers you hear are screaming in delight as they ride Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, or at Killington, the Beast Mountain Coaster.
Okemo’s track, located at Jackson Gore, climbs 1,600 feet, then drops you in a series of twists and turns through forested terrain. You’ll follow the downward slope of the mountain for almost 3,500 feet. Both coasters are controlled through levers the rider can push down to go full-speed or yank back to brake, so you and your kids stay in control the whole time.
There’s plenty of room for parents on this ride—the car fits two ($15 for the driver, $10 for passengers). The Beast Mountain Coaster, based out of Killington’s Snowshoe Lodge, will take you through 4,800 feet of forest in 360-degree corkscrews and drops that are sure to thrill your young ones—and you! Rides start at $15.
Climb the Walls
When your kids are seeking refuge from the cold, keep their mind and muscles active in a climbing gym. Stowe’s new $80 million Adventure Center, which opened this July, features Stowe Rocks, a 40-foot, four-story indoor tower that overlooks the slopes. The center is the final component of Stowe’s development plan that has spanned more than a decade. Steps away from the slopes, the building also holds the resort’s licensed daycare facility and kids’ ski program. Continued on p. 20.
Altogether, the Stowe Rocks center has 50 routes, which include both top-roping and bouldering, as well as eight TruBlue auto belay stations designed to safely catch kids when they fall. Day passes are $26 for kids and $30 for adults. Kids under age 14 need adult supervision, but there’s also a Kid’s Zone for those 13 and under. Thousands of newbies have recently discovered the sport of indoor rock climbing, and for good reason: it all but erases the fear of heights, promotes full-body strength and requires problem-solving. Head over to the Canteen, the Adventure Park’s kid-friendly restaurant, to grab some pizza or a burger when the adventuring day is done.
Slated to open in March, Smugglers’ Notch will have a multi-sided climbing wall in its new Fun Zone as well.
Rip Down a Zip Line
If your kids enjoy the thrill of flying through powdery terrain on skis, they might enjoy zipping through the snowy treetops, too. The ArborTrek Canopy Tour offers year-round tours at Smugglers’ Notch. Hand your trust over to two experienced guides and fly with your family through the Notch’s beautiful backcountry. The tour features ziplines that range from 175 to 1000 feet in length, at heights up to almost 75 feet.
Three separate packages allow you to pick the tour best suited for the whole gang. Arbor’s Wild Ride ($99.95) lasts up to three hours and crosses eight ziplines up to 73 feet high. Arbor’s Winter Wild Ride ($87.95) has six ziplines and lasts up to two and a half hours, but gives you maximum height at 73 feet tall. With only three ziplines, The Arbor’s Express ($65) is best suited for younger kids as it lasts only one to two hours.
Tube Down The Hill
Sometimes the kids just can’t get enough of the snow, even when their (and your) legs are beat from a full day of skiing. Resorts made tubing parks for these exact occasions. Nothing is easier than parking the kids’ bums in these giant inflatable bubbles that drift safely down the hill. Some parks are even accessed by a magic carpet ride, giving tired legs a free pass from trekking back up. Tubes come in big and small sizes—don’t be shy, parents.
Mount Snow’s tubing park is often a favorite because of its magic carpet ride to the top. This park, one of the biggest in Vermont, has eight lanes and is free on Mondays to season pass holders. Otherwise, tickets are $20 for two hours of tubing, and $30 to tube all day. Okemo’s multi-lane tubing park is located in Jackson Gore Village, near shops, restaurants, the lodge and the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster. Tickets are $13 per person and $9 for 6-and-unders. At Killington, kids and adults can tube for 90-minute periods under the lights—the park is open until 7 p.m., long after the lifts have closed. Tickets start at $20 for kids and $25 for adults. Smugglers’ Notch boasts two tubing parks: The Sir Henry Hill, which is open during evening hours to serve the après crowd, and Smugglers’ North Hill, which added three 400-foot lanes last winter. The parks are free to guests of the resort who hold a valid pass. Magic Mountain, which reopened this season, has tubing right in front of the base lodge for $25 per day.
Skate on Ice
If your kids want to channel their NHL player or Olympic figure skater, a number of resorts have ice rinks and rental skates right on the mountain. This past summer, Okemo upgraded its rink using the same technology that Rockefeller Center’s rink uses. Plus, a gas fireplace sits nearby so that you can warm up, then skate on. Unlimited skating costs only $5, and an additional $5 for rentals. At Stowe, an outdoor rink at Spruce Peak Plaza sits in the center of the action, right in between the Spruce Camp Base Lodge and Adventure Center. Bring your own skates to make this a free skating activity, or rent a pair, starting at $16 per day (rink access is complimentary). Jay Peak’s Ice Haus is often the site for intense hockey games and training camps, but in between, the public can hit the Zamboni-smooth ice or grab a beer at the rink-adjacent bar and watch the action. Admission is free for kids age 3 and under, $4 for Vermonters and $6 for general admission. Skate rentals start at $3.
Learn To Cook
Après-ski is one of the most important parts of the day for adults, right? It can be for kids, too. While other resorts might teach your kid how to make a pizza wedge with his or her skis, ride the lift or even ski the glades, Sugarbush can also teach kids ages 6-12 to make actual pizza. The Kids’ Cooking Classes, held every other week in groups of no more than 20, feature local produce from nearby farms like Gaylord Farm in Waitsfield. The hands-on classes rotate between fresh Mexican cuisine, a “Vermont’s finest” theme and “Pie in the Sky,” where kids make their own homemade pizzas. Instructors teach the basics of kitchen safety, food handling, cooking techniques and (just for you, moms:) table setting. The regular classes ($38) are offered every other week, and include making (and eating) an appetizer, dinner, recipe card and a chef apron.
Ride the Waves
When it comes to indoor recreation, Jay Peak doesn’t mess around. The mountain’s
6,000-square-foot water park is complete with water slides, flowriding (“a cross between skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding”), a big lazy river, a pond play area, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, an arcade and a snack bar. Best of all, a bar called “The Drink” sits on the second floor, allowing you to keep the little ones in sight while sipping on something made just for adults. The folks at Jay recommend leaving your turtleneck in your suitcase: the park stays a balmy 86 degrees year-round. Tickets to the Pump Indoor Water Park are $39 per day and can be reserved online in advance.