Village from under the Coney Glade lift at Snowmass
Resort in Colorado.
SKI RESORT, Colo. — As the thermometer drops in the
Roaring Fork Valley, sport shop clerks, restaurant owners
and hotel managers in the town of Aspen study the sky,
eager for signs of winter. Grey days are promising; black
clouds could bring the season’s first big snow.
there’s blue sky ahead for families planning a ski
vacation at one of the "fantastic four" —
Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Aspen — all
within 25 minutes of each other. That’s because the ski
group is offering one of the most generous "Kids Stay
and Ski Free" packages we’ve seen, the answer for
parents who can afford a ski vacation for two or maybe
three skiers, but not for four or five.
ski play for preschoolers, the 5 and under bunch, is more
popular now than ever before. But the Aspen-Snowmass
program is for children ages 7-12, those critical years
when kids are strong enough to ski, learn fast and aren’t
afraid of taking a tumble. And as any ski instructor will
tell you, the 7-year-old who loves snow-plowing on the
bunny slopes will be skiing intermediate runs next year
and flying off the top by the time he or she is 10.
how the "Kids Stay and Ski Free" package works.
For every adult who buys a three, four or five-night
lodging-and-lift ticket package (or more days if you have
the time) one child gets the same package free, plus one
group lesson. If the adult rents skis and boots, the child
gets ski gear, too. The child must be sharing a room with
an adult and there are some date restrictions.
the math. Four can ski for the price of two, six for the
price of three, eight for the price of four, and so on.
The adults in your group can be grandparents, aunts,
uncles or friends; the kids can be your kids or anyone’s
kids, as long as they’re 7-12 years old. Especially
sweet are this season’s available travel dates, the last
two weeks of March and the first week of April, when
things warm up a little (January is too cold).
not that the suits at the "fantastic four"
suddenly got it in their hearts to distribute gifts to the
needy. But they want parents who love ski vacations to be
able to bring their kids. If the resort is up and running
anyway, paying for electricity, snowcats, chairlifts, the
instructors and the office staff, they need customers. And
just maybe it’s a nice way to reward loyal fans.
would include us, of course, staying in a condo at
Snowmass, riding the chairlifts, hitting the slopes early
and using the money we saved to pay for Grandpa’s gala
70th birthday dinner. As befitted the occasion, we held it
at Snowmass’ slick newcomer, the fabulous Viceroy Hotel,
at the base of Fanny Hill. Grandpa didn’t actually ski
downhill. But he loved the dog sledding, the snowmobiling
and the trout fishing.
3,332 skiable acres, Snowmass isn’t the biggest in North
America. But it’s still a giant. With 94 trails and 21
chairlifts spread over four separate summits, the slopes
are rarely crowded. You can ski from the summit, in the
clouds at 12,510 feet, down to Snowmass Village on trails
that fit your skills, from steeps and glades to bump runs,
and from open bowls to cruisers and bunny hills.
and Aspen do have different personalities," said
resort spokesman Jeff Hanle, when asked to compare
Snowmass with Aspen. "Snowmass is a family kind of
place. The same kids who learn to ski in our ski school
come back as college kids, then as young marrieds and
eventually bring their own children."
skiers who haven’t been to Snowmass recently a surprise
is in order. The base Village has been relocated in
an expansive new area at the base of the hill, and the
Fanny Hill run is also longer. The old chair lift is gone,
replaced by the Village Express, a super-dooper high-speed
six-pack. The new "Sheer Bliss" chair goes where
few skiers went before, accessing the expert-only terrain
in the Big Burn area. And an advanced-level terrain park
below Velvet Falls keeps boarders and freestyle skiers on
their toes. Literally.
kids’ ski schools have moved to new quarters where it’s
easier for parents to drop off and pick up their children.
Kids in group lessons are divided by age and skill level
and guided around the slopes by very cool young
instructors who think there’s no better way to spend a
day skiing than with a bunch of kids.
ski school ends at 3 p.m., leaving time for family skiing,
a chance for the kids to show their parents what they’ve
learned. Our family fave is Sneaky’s, an intermediate
trail off the Big Burn Summit, with Banzai running at
lift tickets are good at all four ski resorts, spice up
your vacation by skiing a day at Aspen and one at
Buttermilk. The night before, leave your skis in the
outdoor ski check with instructions to be delivered to
wherever you’re skiing next. Get there the next morning
on the free shuttle bus, and your skis will be waiting.
miss our favorite family night out, a hearty ranch dinner
with wine and live bluegrass music at the Lynn Britt
Cabin, a restored log cabin on an upper slope. Diners meet
at Snowmass Village at 5:30 p.m. for a snowcat-pulled
sleigh ride uphill to the cabin. The ride back down, with
the stars lighting the way, is an evening our kids still
talk about. Reservations are a must.
does it snow? Usually by Thanksgiving, with frequent
storms in January and February, big snows in March and
into April. January is the coldest month to be skiing;
mid-February through March is peak season. By April, when
most town residents are scanning the trees for budding
leaves, you can ski in shorts.
Book the Ski-Free-Stay-Free packages in advance and by
specified dates, listed on the website, at