The Rocky Mountains are revered for their high peaks – some scraping 14,000 feet – and powdery snow. No wonder Colorado is dotted with about 30 ski resorts. Of those, Winter Park is the longest continually operating one, celebrating its 75th anniversary last year. It boasts 3,000-plus skiable acres, crisscrossed with 25 lifts. You could easily spend an entire day here and not go to the same run twice. And, while skiing tends to be a major January draw, there’s more family fun here, too.
Skiing for beginners
Each Colorado resort has its own personality. As one of the closest ski areas to Denver coupled with ample lodging and a walkable downtown, Winter Park tends to attract families. Its main ski trails are divided into seven distinct territories, and many cater to newer skiers. For beginners, stick to runs marked with green circles (i.e., easy) until you’ve got a hang of navigating the snow with family in tow. Sorensen Park is the beginner zone, set at the park’s base.
Once you’re in a good groove, try blue squares (intermediate). If you’re feeling adventurous, try a blue or black square with a diamond inside – but beware of black diamonds (experts only). Trails are clearly marked, and you’ll get a map when you buy your lift ticket to guide you to runs that fit your skills.
One popular option for families is enrolling children, ages 3-14, in ski school. They’re grouped by age and skill level, four per instructor, and can either ski or snowboard ($219/day for either; includes lift ticket, lunch, ski rental and lesson). Each participant even has a GPS tracker, meaning your child’s daily runs are cataloged so you can check it out together online.
Don’t lug your gear! Ski rental shops speckle Winter Park, many close to the resort. So do several restaurants. Try to time an early or a later lunch to avoid crowds.
Take your pick among six tubing hills. Less than 10 minutes from the resort, Colorado Adventure Park features a mini hill for smaller kids, offering tubes and “snow scoots,” aka kid-sized snowmobiles ($18-plus).
A little farther away at the YMCA of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch – buy a day pass to tube, cross-country ski and ice skate, or head indoors to swim, scale the climbing wall or roller skate ($20/ages 13-plus, $10/6-12, free/5 and under). Sleigh rides are available too. Or, at the Historic Fraser Tubing Hill, there’s a lift so you don’t have to trudge up the hill after every run ($20/60 minutes, $25/90 minutes).
Dogs and bikes
If your kids have ever wanted to try dog sledding, check out Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park, which has around 80 Siberian and Alaskan huskies in its ranks. Bert and Ernie or maybe Emma and Casper help pull riders on forest trails as your guide answers questions and points out wildlife ($159/one-two kids in a sled, $219/two adults and one child in sled, reservations encouraged).
Perhaps the trendiest new sport is fat biking. As the name implies, you take a spin on a bike with fat tires, so it handles nicely in snow. Several shops rent them so you can explore the area’s 600-plus miles of mountain bike trails.
5 Tips on Skiing with Kids
Make the most of your family’s vacation to the slopes at Winter Park.
Rent equipment. Ski rental shops abound. It’s convenient and salespeople help you find the right fit for your size and skills. Get helmets, too.
Wear sunscreen. Since you’re at high altitude, the sun’s rays pack more power, meaning you can get sunburned even on a cloudy day. Plus the sun reflects off the snow. Pack sunscreen – and sunglasses.
Dress for snow. Encourage your kids to dress in layers like long underwear under water-resistant pants and jackets. Double up on gloves, too.
Skiing is a sport. It’s tiring, especially if you haven’t done it for a while, or you’re new to it. Consider a half day at first and mixing in other activities.
Stick together. Unless your kids are advanced, try to stay together. If you do get separated, pick a central location where you’ll meet at the end of the day.