With a seemingly endless amount of world-class skiing and snowboarding options throughout the Rocky Mountains, Colorado is a hot spot for those who love the fresh mountain air and alpine lifestyle. For the out-of-state skier on the hunt for a family friendly ski vacation, one may feel overwhelmed with the many resorts that dot the Colorado landscape. We’ve partnered with family travel expert Julia Dimon of the blog Travel Junkie Julia to share some of her favorite family friendly ski resorts near Denver.
Whether you’re an expert snowboarder looking to shred in the backcountry or a newbie skier learning to navigate the bunny hill with your little ones, the following resorts have something for everyone in the family. Having recently moved to Denver, I have unparalleled access to some of the best resorts across the country, but traveling anywhere is certainly challenging with two kids under two! New to the terrain, I’m systematically checking out each one, comparing and contrasting the slopes to find the best fit for my family. Here are some of my favorite family friendly ski resorts within a short driving distance from Denver.
Steamboat Springs is often ranked by leading travel and ski magazines as one of the best family friendly resorts in North America. One of the oldest ski towns in the region, the resort pioneered the first Kids Ski Free program back in the early 80s. Children 12 and under can ski free for the same number of days as their parents’ passes and can rent equipment for free as well. Steamboat also offers a Kids Vacation Center childcare facility, special lifts reserved for kids learning to ski, and a play zone called Rough Rider Basin with Wild West themed teepees and log cabins.
While the kids learn to ‘pizza pie’ on the bunny hill, parents can enjoy some local craft beers at Mountain Tap Brewery, check out a working horse farm like Saddleback Ranch or ski with an Olympic medalist. Steamboat has a rich Olympic heritage with over 80 Olympians having lived or trained there at some point in their careers. Guests can charge down the hill with the likes of Olympic Alpine medalist Billy Kidd or Nelson Carmichael, who hosts a free mogul clinic on Nelson’s Run certain days through the season.
Apres ski, drive or take a shuttle to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, an all natural mineral hot spring set in a beautiful rustic setting. Taking a relaxing soak is a must-do for anyone visiting Steamboat for the first time. Ease those sore ski muscles by booking a soothing massage or Watsu aquatic therapy. Kids are welcome before the sun sets, but after dark, it’s clothing optional.
While there are many accommodation options, Moving Mountains, Steamboat’s luxury property management company, has an impressive selection of high-end vacation homes and large condos that are perfect for large families or multigenerational travel. Chill with the grandparents fireside in a gorgeous four bedroom and cook together, or Moving Mountains can set you up with a personal chef to whip up some gourmet meals for your clan. After all, you’ll need your energy for the next day of shredding double black diamonds.
Vail, the charming mountain town located some two hours southwest of Denver, offers top notch skiing, cutting edge culinary, cool cultural events and a plethora of activities for young travelers. My husband and I, our two kids and our dog Benny, recently traveled there in the off season to see the changing fall colors and, not only is this (and springtime) a great time to score some deals, but it’s a beautiful time to experience non-ski activities like mountain biking, hiking and browsing for local art at the Sunday farmer’s market.
We stayed at The Sebastian Hotel, a luxury property located in the heart of the village. It has a modern mountain lodge feel with a roaring fireplace in the lobby, cozy library serving morning coffees for dad, a high end spa for mom, and a toddler friendly playroom complete with vintage kitchen, crayons, books, bean bag chairs and TV playing Disney movies. Best of all, it’s dog friendly (albeit for a $150 fee), so if you want to bring Fido, the Sebastian Hotel offers amenities for the pampered pooch. From pet bed, bowls and treats, to services like in-room dining (you can order shredded beef or liver biscuit treats from their pet menu.)
Young adventure seekers will enjoy a trip to Adventure Ridge, a play zone located at the top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola, with ski bikes, a kids snowmobile track, and tubing lanes during the winter season. In the spring, there are llama tours, the pirate ship playground and also the Nature Discovery Center, where kids of all ages can view wildflowers, indigenous birds and beaver ponds.
For a casual, family friendly restaurant with killer hand-tossed NY-style pizza, Blue Moose in Lionshead Village is a great choice. Kids can color on the table cloths while parents enjoy a Meat Lovers pizza, followed by soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cookies for dessert.
With fancy shops like Prada and Dior, swanky hotels and a private airport for the jet set crowd, it’s clear to see why Aspen continues to be a playground for the affluent traveler keen on experiencing the luxury lifestyle. But, if you’re like me, schlepping a bunch of baby gear in one hand, wrangling a screaming toddler with the other, you may wonder if Aspen is right for you.
Hotels like The Little Nell, a five-star hotel at the base of the mountain with ski-in and ski-out access, roll out the red carpet for even their youngest guests. Their thoughtful family amenities include: cribs, toddler beds, strollers, car seats, highchairs, outlet plugs and toilet locks for safety, infant bath tubs, rattles, games, books and even children’s robes. If you’ve forgotten something, chances are pretty good the Little Nell team can come to the rescue. They also provide children’s room service menus, bicycle rentals and recommendations for babysitting services. Its quality of service, central location, accessibility to the mountain and unlimited snacks and non alcoholic beverages from the mini bar makes a stay at The Little Nell a no-brainer.
For child friendly activities in Aspen, start with a little ice skating, followed by some tubing, snowbiking and roasted s’mores by the bonfire for the Ullr Nights Friday celebration at Elk Camp. The Aspen recreation centers have a host of activities from a climbing wall to a huge indoor pool with rock features. For childcare, parents may want to check out The Treehouse Adventure Center, with Colorado-themed playrooms for kids aged 8 weeks to 4 years old or lessons at the ski school at Hideout at Buttermilk Mountain.
For those parents traveling with older kids or even grandparents, a “must do” on everyone’s hit list should be a visit to Pine Creek Cookhouse. Located in the historic ghost town of Ashcroft some 12 miles outside of Aspen at the base of the Elk Mountain Range, Pine Creek is a high end restaurant serving gourmet mountain cuisine in an epic rustic setting. This restaurant serves up hearty three-course winter meals (like Rocky Mountain Elk Chop) in a cozy log cabin. Beyond the delicious food and woodsy atmosphere, part of the thrill and romance of this place is just getting there. Guests can either cross-country ski, snowshoe, or take a horse drawn sleigh ride (which the kids will love) through the woods to or from Pine Creek.
One of my favorite family friendly resorts just a short drive from Denver is Keystone. They have a great Kids Ski Free program which is available to kids under 12 every day the entire season (including weekends and holidays) when you book just two nights of lodging.
Keystone offers free Kidtopia programming throughout the village, with daily events like a parade with floats, dancers, music and free cookies. For a complete list of all the activities happening across the resort, head to Kidtopia Headquarters, located by the Dercum Ice Rink in River Run Village. It’s a free playspace for kids and parents to enjoy board games, a foosball table, giant Lego sets and tons of toys and crafts. This place was my saving grace when my eldest kiddo needed to burn off some energy. We spent a few hours there, making paper snowflakes and running around like lunatics. It’s a great space for a little free indoor play. If parents are looking for a daycare service, the resort has a great daycare program offering ½ day or full day care for the little ones.
Don’t forget to take the gondola up to the top of Dercum Mountain and enjoy the Kidtopia Snow Fort, dubbed the world’s largest snow fort, with slides and mazes. Or speed down the multi-lane hill on a snow tube at Adventure Point. Beyond the plentiful activities and amenities for kids, for me it’s the things that make this resort so family friendly: free front-row family parking and complimentary red wagons to help lug gear to and from the mountain.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite on the slopes, it’s time to decide where to eat. For a unique dining experience for the whole family, make a reservation at Der Fondue Chessel, a fondue and raclette restaurant with Bavarian-style music and a whole lot of lederhosen. Located at the top of the Keystone’s North Peak Mountain at almost 12,000 feet, you must arrive at Der Fondue Chessel by gondola. Floating though the air at night, buddle together under a blanket, makes the experience quite memorable. Kids will enjoy dipping their veggies and bread cubes into Gruyère and Emmentaler Cheeses imported straight from Switzerland. The show stopper is of course, the classic milk chocolate fondu where you can drown your wafer cookies and marshmallows in a muddy bowl of chocolately goodness.
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