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5 Tips For A First Ski Trip With Kids

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Before we had Tiny Traveler, my husband’s annual ski trip with his college buddies went something like this: wake up, ski, eat, ski, eat, sleep (dream about skiing), repeat. Now, instead of his downhill-loving friends, he has a non-skiing wife and a 5-year-old who has yet to master the bunny slope.

Welcome to the family ski vacation.

This March we tried our first family ski weekend at Hope Lake Lodge* and Greek Peak Ski Area, in Cortland, NY, probably one of the best ski resorts to visit with kids in the Northeast. It was a glowing success.

Here’s what we learned about organizing a balanced, fun ski weekend that will leave your kids wanting to ski again.

(Find the lowest rates available for Hope Lake Lodge.)

5 Tips For Your First Family Ski Weekend

Pick a Ski Mountain You Can Get To Easily

the Magic Carpet on the bunny slope at Greek PeakWe want to get Tiny Traveler on skis as much as possible while she’s young, but skiing is expensive when you add up gear rentals, lessons, lift tickets, lodging, overpriced resort food and transportation.

The more affordable we can make it, the more we’ll go. For now finding ski mountains we like close to home is better than finding the best skiing possible.

The chair lifts at Greek peak needed updating and the runs are only mildly challenging for an experienced skier. But on a busy Saturday in early March Rich had fresh powder, no lift lines, and the back runs largely to himself.

Tiny Traveler had three kids in her ski class, which was taught by an enthusiastic and experienced adult (I’m not a big fan of teen instructors).

Best of all, the four-and-a-half hour drive to central New York was cheaper than flying to the Rockies and easier than driving eight-hours to Canada.

Until we have a teen who’s clamoring for black diamond runs, New York’s modest ski hills will do nicely.

Find A Mix of Activities for Your Family

greak peak tubing hillThere are downhill-loving families who do nothing but ski on their ski vacations (You can read about one such ski-loving family’s week-long ski vacations here). This resort attracted us because there are activities off the slopes, too. (We like Lake Placid, NY and Steamboat, CO for the same reason.)

I could go cross-country skiing or tubing while Tiny Traver and her dad were on the slopes. I got a great pedicure with a nice winter view at the spa, too.

One afternoon, when they finished skiing early we stopped by the Adventure Center so Rich could ride the Mountain Coaster (he got a free ride with his lift ticket). Then  he and Tiny Traveler watched me go screaming tubing down a slick, 900-foot run.

cascade water park at hope lake lodge in NY.When they finished skiing each day we’d head to the hotel’s Cascade indoor water park to thaw out.

There’s an added daily per-person fee for the water park that adds up over a weekend. This bugs me because the room rates are pretty high upstate New York, and it’s the only swim option. This is one of reasons we haven’t gone back, despite enjoying ourselves immensely.

A kids’ activity room at the lodge had toys, games and free activities. Tiny Traveler passed up face painting for more time in the wave pool. And we missed some entertainment happening in the lobby because we went out to dinner.

But these extras are handy resource if your family includes kids who are too young to ski.

Get a Kitchen

a living area for evening activities is handy on ski vacations a kitchen is handy on ski vacationsFor winter vacations I always try for a suite-style hotel room or a vacation rental—if we can do it affordably—so that we have a kitchen.

Whipping up oatmeal or eggs in the morning fuels your family, keeps costs down, and makes it easier to get out to early ski classes.

And it’s nice to be able to make hot cocoa, open a bottle of wine and kick off your boots après ski.

But most of all, after a long day of skiing and swimming, dragging kids out in the cold for dinner at a restaurant is not appealing. I’d rather get everyone into PJs, cook a simple meal (or order take out) and settle in by the fire with an Uno deck and DVDs.

Take a Lesson— Or Two

the ski instructors at greek peakA half-day lesson, which us usually two to three hours, is the best introduction to skiing for 3-to-6 year olds. A full day lesson is too long, especially if the weather is very cold.

If you can, book two half days in a row. Kids like repetition and knowing what to expect. In her second lesson Tiny Traveler settled in quicker and made bigger strides.

By the lesson’s end she was flying down the beginner slope full speed by herself.

Kids ages 7 and up have the stamina for a full-day ski school. If your child has been skiing before, look for a program that gets them off the beginner slope and teaches some advanced skills like J turns and keeping skis parallel.

It’s a good idea to tell little kids who are skiing for the first time what to expect, especially when it comes to all the unfamiliar gear. We know parents whose kids freaked out the second they put on the ski boots, and they never made it out of the lodge.

We told Tiny Traveler her ski boots would be stiff and heavy, but very good for walking like a monster. It helped.

Bring Extra Everything

I didn’t use the extra hat, mittens, long underwear and heavy socks I packed for Tiny Traveler because she stayed pretty dry and didn’t lose anything. But kids lose things all the time and snow that was wet instead of powdery could have soaked her through. So I’ll bring the back-up clothes every time.

Without the right clothes skiing is too cold to be fun. A pro once told me that the lining in kids ski gloves often gets too bunched up and kids can’t get their hands in. So for practicality and warm, mittens are the way to go for young skiiers, ski pants and warm socks are a must, too. (Download our winter vacation packing list; and check out this list of top winter clothes.)

Given that Tiny Traveler came from her first lesson shouting, “We’re having, fun, fun fun!”—and we know we can find resorts that fit our needs reasonably close by—chances are good there will be lots of next times.]

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*We were guests of Hope Lake Lodge, but paid for our activities and meals. We don’t guarantee coverage in exchange for sponsored travel and our opinions are always our own.

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