How To Pick The Best Family Ski Resort + The Top “Secret” Resorts In The Rockies

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Planning a family ski vacation this year but don’t know where to start? Believe it or not, all ski resorts are not equal – actually quite far from that!

(Make sure to read all the way to the end for our top family friendly resorts in the Rockies that are still fairly unknown.)

Start looking at different ski resorts, and you’ll immediately notice that there’s a huge range of prices, amenities, and accessibility. While it’s simple to just pick the resort with the best deals, there are a few other things that you need to consider so you have a GREAT ski trip.  After skiing for 30+ years on my own and for the last 10 years with our 5 kids, I’ve learned quite a bit about what makes a resort GREAT, that go far beyond what any brochure or ad is going to show you.

Here are the top 5 things that you need to consider when choosing a ski resort for your family

1.  How easy is the ski resort to get to? 

For the most part, ski resorts are HARD to get to.  Mostly because major airports are far away, so expect a lot of driving to get there.  Spending most of my life living in Colorado, this was a major issue for me.  Most resorts are 2-3 hours from the Denver area, and with traffic that drive time can easily double.  However, most resorts in Utah are less than an hour away from the airport and most of your drive time will be on interstates, so you can get to the resort and many neighboring areas FAST.  I don’t think either one is a deal breaker, but it’s definitely important to factor in.

2.  How easy is it to get around at the ski resort?

These days, you’ll see no shortage of mega-resorts. These typically mean long walks through a massive spread out village areas before you can even think about hitting the slopes. If you’re skiing with kids, this automatically starts your day off HARD! Walking far in ski boots is really hard, especially when you’re bundled up like a snowman and hauling tons of other gear with you too.

Our tip: Find a resort where skiing is right next to the parking lot. It will make getting to the hill so much easier AND it will make that inevitable trip back to the car because someone forgot something SO MUCH EASIER!  If you do go to a resort with a village, make sure that the village is small or provides some sort of shuttle.

3.  What kind of terrain is at the ski resort?

If you’re all just beginners, you’ll want to look for a resort with lots of green circle runs and a good learning area.  However, if you’re like most families, you’ve got several different abilities all clustered together.  If that sounds like you, look for a resort that has a good variety of green, blue, and black terrain, with some fun features thrown in for the kids (trails through the trees and secret passages with characters always win my kids over…even the older ones!)  Our tip: find a resort that has trails that you as an adult will like to ski that are close to the base area.  That way, if one adult takes the kids inside for a cocoa break, the other one can get to where they want to ski FAST and get a couple of quick laps in!

4.  How kidfriendly is the lodge at the ski resort? 

You guys, this one can be a major deal-breaker!  When you’re skiing as a family, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s going to be someone who isn’t going to ski all day.  Whether that’s because they’re tired, cold, or just having a rough day, someone’s going to spend a good chunk of time inside. 

Look online for photos of the base area lodge.  There’s a huge variety from some that have toys and play equipment for kids to others that are so upscale that you’d be totally uncomfortable with little ones squirming all around inside.  It’s an even bigger bonus if they allow outside food and drinks because it’s always a pain to spend $15 on a bratwurst when you know that all your kid wants is a PB&J.

5.  How crowded is the ski resort? 

As a parent, there are few things more terrifying than skiing through a crowd of people cruising down an icy slope and hoping that no one will plow into one of your kids and send them down the hill on a stretcher.  I’ve seen it happen so many times, and it will instantly ruin your ski trip.  Now, while you can’t control the way that other people ski and ride, being in less crowded areas drastically reduces the chance of a collision.  So how do you find a ski resort that isn’t crowded?  Well first off, go ahead and cross most major resorts off your list.  If everyone knows about them, everyone will be skiing there and the crowds will be intense.  Start by googling “best locals ski resort in__________” and take it from there.

What are the best ski resorts for families?

Below, I’m sharing what we consider to be the top “secret” family friendly resorts in the Rockies.  These are resorts that hit all of our family friendly criteria – they have great terrain for all levels, are easy to get around, are affordable, and best of all don’t attract huge crowds so you won’t be spending your whole day waiting in lift lines or battling crowds.

Arapahoe Basin, CO

While you might feel like you are stepping back in time a bit with the amenities, hear me out on this one.  Sure, the old A-frame lodge could really use some renovations, but it’s the most family friendly we’ve found.  Upstairs, you’ll find giant foam blocks that your kids can climb on and build forts with, and they even have a microwave to heat up your own lunch.  BUT, the best part of A-Basin is the terrain.  The bunny hill and the steepest, best terrain at the resort are right next to each other, right next to the parking lot.  Getting tired of making giant pizza wedges with your kids?  Swap with someone else and take an EPIC run down the Pali lift, and you’ll be back so fast they probably won’t even know you’re gone. Read our full review here.

Solitude, UT

As our kids have gotten older, this is their favorite.  We can take laps on the Moonbeam lift where there is green terrain for our younger kids, and the older ones can branch off on some blues all in the same run.  However, the thing that they love the MOST, is that there are TONS of tree trails for the kids, which for them is pretty much the BEST THING EVER.  The lodge here is much nicer than the old one at A-Basin, and except for during holidays, we’ve never had any problems finding a place to sit.  If you’re the brown bag type, they also have a separate area for that so you can save a bit of $$.  Also, the terrain is nothing short of AMAZING! Honeycomb Canyon can feel like a bit of a chore to get to, but there are pretty much always secret stashes of powder to be found, so even when you’re making laps on the bunny hill, you know you’re not missing out on all the good powder.  Throw in the 30 minute drive from the Salt Lake airport (no joke) and it’s a pretty easy pick.

Grand Targhee, WY

Nestled up in the Teton mountains, Grand Targ hee is often upstaged by the nearby Jackson Hole.  However, what people don’t realize is that this resort is truly a hidden gem.  It has a fantastic beginner area as well as some really great steep terrain to keep advanced skiers happy too.  However, my favorite part of skiing at Targhee is that it never seems to be crowded.  Forget the long lift lines that you deal with at bigger resorts, you can sometimes go all day and never have to wait more than 3 minutes for a chair!  Top that with s’mores every Friday afternoon and you’re sure to leave with a pretty happy family!

Bridger Bowl, MT

Bridger Bowl has long been considered a hidden gem in Montana’s ski scene; an hour and a half from Big Sky Resort (America’s second-biggest resort), it has often played second fiddle to its larger cousin, mostly attracting locals and college students from nearby Bozeman.

But what few people realize is Bridger’s potential as a family-friendly ski hill. With a seven-acre beginner-only base area accessed by two magic carpet lifts, it offers the perfect environment for learning the fundamentals of skiing or boarding. There’s even a warming hut at the top of the bunny hill, where parents can hang out and watch the little ones slide down. Additionally, all of the lifts accessing green runs at Bridger are height adjustable for kids and detachable, so there’s no need to worry about being thrown off at the end of the ride. Between the lift tickets, food, and accommodations, even a weekend ski trip can be challenging for families on a budget.

Fortunately, lift tickets at Bridger will only set you back $63 for adults or $25 for kids, about half of what you’d pay at Big Sky. For beginners, it’s just $15 to access the magic carpet lifts.

Submitted by Ryan from Passions and Places

Whistler, British Columbia

While Whistler isn’t exactly unknown, it is a great option for families. Whistler is the largest ski resort in North America, located on the west coast of Canada, a two-hour drive from Vancouver along the Sea to Sky Highway. Whistler consistently ranks among the world’s best ski resorts. Whistler Blackcomb has 200 marked runs between two peaks (Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains), linked by the famous Peak2Peak gondola.

The skiing and snowboarding is world-class, offering something for all ages and abilities, from gentle beginner slopes to crazy double blacks and amazing off-piste. The season is long in Whistler, and the resort has a fantastic snow record. Whistler Kids (the Whistler kids ski school) is first class, offering every level of ski and snowboard instruction for children from 3-12 years old. There are even playgrounds on the mountainside to break up the skiing.

Contributed by Nicky from Go Live Young

What are your favorite family friendly resorts?

About Jessica Averett

Hi, I’m Jessica, a mom of 5 kids and married to my favorite adventure partner. I love to bike, ski, camp and hike. We've visited over 40 countries with our kids, but are equally happy on the road as we are exploring our home state of Utah.

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