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5 Tips for a Family Ski Trip With Non-Skiers

Before we had Tiny Traveler, my husband’s yearly 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 getaway at a winter resort by going to Hope Lake Lodge* and Greek Peak Ski Area in Cortland, NY. It was a glowing success.  Here’s what we learned about organizing a balanced, fun and even relaxing family “ski” weekend.

Pick a Ski Mountain You Can Get To Easily

We want to get Tiny Traveler on skis as much as possible while she’s young, but skiing is expensive (gear, lessons, lift tickets, overpriced resort food) and the best skiing (or any skiing if you live someplace warm) often requires pricey plane tickets or very long drives. The closer to home we can find decent skiing and the more affordable we can make it, the more we’ll go. Greak Peak fit the bill.

The four-and-a-half hour drive was cheaper than flying to the Rockies and easier than driving eight-hours to Canada. On a busy Saturday Rich had fresh powder, no lift lines, and the back runs largely to himself. TT had only three kids in her ski class. The chair lifts need updating and the runs are only mildly challenging for an experienced skier. So when we have a tween who’s clamoring for black diamond runs we’ll try to head further away. Until then, this will do nicely.

Find the Right Mix of Activities for Your Family

a great pool helps on a family ski vacationThere are downhill-loving families who do nothing but ski on their ski vacations (You can read about one in our blog). But this resort attracted us because there was there was a lot for a non-skier to do. (We like Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe for the same reason.)

I could go cross-country skiing or tubing while TT and her dad were on the slopes. When they finished up in the early afternoon, we headed to the pool and indoor water park to thaw out. One afternoon, we stopped by the Adventure Center so Rich could ride the Mountain Coaster (he got a free ride with his lift ticket), and he and TT could watch me go screaming tubing down a slick, 900-foot run.

A kids’ activity room at the lodge had toys, games and free activities. TT passed up face painting (a first) for more time in the wave pool, but this is a handy resource if your family includes kids who are too young for all the other stuff.

take a break for other things on a family ski vacation

Get a Kitchen

great lodging is key to a family ski vacationFor 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 have hot cocoa, wine and snacks handy 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

lessons can take the stress out of a family ski vacationA two-hour lesson is the best introduction for 4-to-7 year olds. If you can, book more than one. Kids like repetition and knowing what to expect. In her second lesson TT settled in quicker and made bigger strides, including heading down the beginner slope full speed on her own for the first time.

Kids ages 7 or 8 and up can have the stamina for a full-day ski school. If your child has been skiing before I’d look for a program that gets them off the beginner slope and teaches some advanced skills.

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 told TT 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 TT 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. Without the right clothes skiing is too cold to be fun. So I’ll bring the back-up clothes again next time.

Given that TT came from her first lesson shouting, “We’re having, fun, fun fun!”—and that we’ve found a resort that fits our needs reasonably close by—chances are good there will be several next times.

*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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