Colorado Ski Resorts Perfect Family Vacation Experience
By Karen Rubin

Colorado's major ski resorts, for many, the pinnacle in skiing, have perfected the family vacation experience.

Colorado's ski resorts have so perfected the guest experience with an array of activities that delight even those who do not ski at all or who prefer other activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country, or spa treatments, those who are lured by the Western atmosphere or who are just coming along for the ride. What, you have an infant? No problem, Colorado's major ski resorts offer nurseries, as well as beepers or cell phones so parents can feel assured they will be summoned back immediately if they are needed, and some offer ski/snowboard opportunities for children as young as three. There is so much variety among Colorado's ski resorts and the resorts themselves are so vast, they offer trails aplenty to satisfy everybody, from the novice to the expert skier.

With the exception of a few prime weeks (Christmas and winter break), most resorts are offering excellent price deals this year. What is more, with convenient direct flights from major cities into regional airports supporting the biggest resorts, you can be on the slopes the same day (though it is recommended to give yourself some time to acclimate to the altitude first).

Not surprisingly, Vail, which is the largest in just about every measure (over 200 trails and 5,164 skiable acres and will open part of Blue Sky Basin this season) has the most direct flights, making it the most convenient to reach. It also happens to be one of the best of the Colorado resorts for families with small children and for beginner skiers, with as many trails and skiable acres as whole mountains elsewhere. Children will delight in locating a dozen Kids Adventure Zones such as Chaos Canyon, filled with bumps, jumps, spines and sliders; Thunder Cat Cave, where there is ecological information. Vail is unsurpassed, as well, for apres-ski activities, which include a kids-only "Night Owls" program, where kids are taken to the mountaintop Adventure Ridge activity center for dinner and tubing, laser tag or ice skating, freeing parents for a night out on their own. Adventure Ridge at Eagle's Nest has activities for the whole family: tubing, ski bikes, ice skating, snowmobile tours, a kid's snowmobile track, restaurants and more; the gondola ride up is free. In all, Vail offers about the most extensive list of non-ski activities, from athletic clubs to cross-country skiing, dog-sledding, hot-air ballooning, ice climbing, ice fishing, ice skating, live entertainment, sleigh rides, snowbiking, snowcat tours, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

Always a step ahead, Vail this year is introducing a SportsTracker global positioning system, so skiers can receive a printout showing where they skied on Vail Mountain, their total vertical feet, total miles, peak speed and elapsed time. The SportsTracker has been incorporated into a variety of programs including children's ski school's Vertical Days and special events. Meanwhile, families can get familiarized with Vail (so vast, you can ski eight miles from end to end) with a free "Meet the Mountain" tour, where you can get insiders tips for maneuvering throughout the mountain (800-427-8216).

Beaver Creek, meanwhile, offers complimentary family programs on most evenings of the week-every Monday at 6 p.m., young amateur skaters from across the state perform a 30-minute figure skating exhibition on the outdoor Black Family Ice Rink; Thursday Night Lights features a guest "ski down" with glow sticks, followed by a fireworks display. Beaver Creek is fabulous for families: Children's Mountain Adventure Zones are kids-only area with a bear cave, Indian village, Buckaroo Bowl and ghost town called Tombstone Territory; kids can follow special maps to the sites. Beaver Creek is becoming a mecca for snowshoers and has six new dedicated trails for snowshoers in addition to 33 km McCoy Park which also serves cross-country skiers. Best package deal is the Ski Free, Stay Free package: book five days of skiing and five nights lodging between Jan. 2 and Feb. 18, 2000 and get the sixth day of skiing and night free (800-427-8216).

Breckenridge, another member of Vail Resorts, is also one of Colorado's biggest, with 139 trails on 2,043 skiable acres. Breckenridge is one of the closest to reach from Denver, about 1 hour drive from the airport. Breckenridge ski area radiates up from a historic district. The ski resort itself has had $40 million in improvements since it was merged three seasons ago into Vail Resorts. Children can explore the Enchanted Forest, Dragon Trail and Ute La Bonte Trail while learning about the environment in "Ske-cology" classes. Families with intermediate and above-skiers and snowboarders can take free daily mountain tours. Families will also enjoy the two outdoor and one new indoor skating rink in town; Breckenridge Recreation Center also offers apres ski and Kids Night Out programs. Breckenridge offers some excellent values: Ski Free, Stay Free plans kick in for three, four and five-night stays through Dec. 17 and Jan. 3-Feb. 29 (except for Feb. 18-21), when spring specials take over. There are also kids ski free/stay free deals and a family ski pass. (800-221-1091, www.breckenridge.com).

Steamboat, one of the American Skiing Company resorts (which also owns Killington and Mount Snow in Vermont), is another which has direct service from Newark (on Continental), making it convenient to reach (otherwise, you would take a connecting flight from Denver). Steamboat offers one of the most liberal children's programs-kids 12 and under ski free and some lodgings offer stay-free plans. Rough Rider Basin is a kids-only zone with a taste of the Wild West, including teepees, a Colorado mine shaft and log cabin playhouse; Five Magic Carpet lifts make it fun and easy to learn skiing basics. Kids Adventure Club at Night offers an indoor camp environment. Steamboat has one of the best Teen programs also-there is a supervised Night Owls program that includes trips to town, adventures on climbing walls, movies. An entire new mountain, Pioneer Ridge, opens up 260 acres of high-intermediate to advanced terrain (800-922-2722).

Aspen Skiing Company is throwing a season-long millennium celebration at Aspen and Snowmass by offering adult lift ticket prices as low as $39 per day (for a six-day ticket purchased by Dec. 1), $30 a day for children 7-12 and $37 a day for teens 13-17; children six and under and seniors 70 and over ski free. Special pricing also extends to seven-night lodging/six-day skiing packages for stays Nov. 20-Dec. 20 and April 5-23, at the St. Moritz Lodge (prices from $510/adult); the Hotel Aspen ($685), Wildwood Lodge ($969), The Gant condominiums ($654), and Crestwood Lodge in Snowmass Village condominiums ($735/adult, based on four people). Value pricing is also available Jan. 4-30. Aspen, which gives you the whole Jetset-meets-The West ambience, offers many free activities: free sledding hill at Snowmass (sleds can be rented); free tours of Krabloonik sled-dog kennels; free system of groomed Nordic trails (rentals available); free entertainment by street performers; free receptions at Aspen Art Museum Thursday evenings; modestly priced family activities at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. For families and for beginner and low-intermedate skiers, Snowmass and Buttermilk are better suited (ski schools bus the kids over and there are free shuttles.) Best kept secret: Aspen Highlands, popular with locals with awesome views of the Maroon Bells, has new high-speed quad and affords 109 trails with a good mix of terrain and amazingly uncrowded: only two skiers per acre (it gets just 144,000 skiers/year on 675 skiable acres with 110 trails). Aspen/Snowmass offer programs for teens, from first-timers to extreme skiers/boarders. Low intermediates can enjoy the summit on Aspen Mountain and ski the upper third of the mountain then download on the Gondola. Non-skiing activities include naturalist-guided snowshoe tours; biathlon (open to beginner and experienced biathletes from the age of 7); cross-country skiing and sledding; paragliding; a full service spa (SpaAspen), ice-skating. Aspen is reachable by connection through Denver, or on direct service into Eagle County/Vail airport on American from LaGuardia and Newark, Continental from Newark, and United from LaGuardia. For info, bookings call 800-525-6200 or online at www.skiaspen.com).

Winter Park, affording some of the best value in skiing among Colorado's major resorts (it is technically a public park for the city of Denver) and very accessible from Denver, will greet the millennium with $78 million in improvements, including the opening of the Zephyr Mountain Lodge (shops, microbrewery, coffee bar, spa, and 230-condo units) within the new Village at Winter Park Resort. The Eskimo Express, Winter Park's 8th high-speed quad chairlift, boasts a 4.2 minute ride from mid-mountain to Sunspot at the 10,700-ft. summit, serving many of the most popular runs (from novice through expert). Families can take a family private lesson for three or six hours for up to six people, regardless of differences in ability levels. Winter Park also has a Masters program, for alpine and freestyle skiers 25 years and older who want to get into competition or improve their technical skills. Winter Park offers a full complement of non-ski activities: athletic club, cross-country, dog sledding, hot-air ballooning, ice skating, live entertainment, snow cat tour, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and tubing. A Family Package offers four nights lodging, three-day lift ticket and two ski or snowboard lessons for $560/adult, $136/child; a Winter Adventure offers four nights lodging, three-day lift, two hour guided snowmobile tour, on mountain snowshoe or snowcat tour and one-hour of snow tubing at $602/adult, $126/child; and a Discover Skiing/Snowboarding package offering four-nights double occupancy, three day lift, two ski or snowboard lessons, three day rental and on-mountain lunch, at $466/adult (snowboard packages slightly higher); air-inclusive packages also available (800-729-5813, www.WinterParkResort.com ).

Crested Butte is offering free lift tickets for a six-week period, from Nov. 19 to Dec. 18 and Apr. 2-16; during this same period, "never-ever" skiers pay just $17 for a full day lesson and three-night lodging packages start at just $114 per person. A family "Christmas Countdown" holiday package available Dec. 18-25 affords four nights lodging, three days of lift tickets, starting at $271 pp. Crested Butte offers a real Western historic town (Colorado's largest National Historic District) separate from the ski resort. Besides top notch skiing, there is a Nordic Center where you can ice skate until 9 p.m. or toboggan on the sledding hill. Family-friendly policies include Kids Pay Their Age (12 and under) and a new Teen Ticket (13-17) for $40/day. There are Kids Night Out events on Saturday nights and torchlight nights on Wednesdays including a kid's dinner and torchlight ski down the mountain with glo sticks. Nonski activities include athletic club, cross-country, dog sledding, hot-air ballooning, ice climbing, ice fishing, ice skating, live entertainment, paragliding, sleigh rides, snowcat tours, snowmobiling and snowshoeing (a collaboration with Atlas SnowShoe Company produced its first on-mountain showshoe trail last season; package for $45/adult, $38/child 8-12 includes rental, guided 2 hr. tour, chairlift ride and snack). Best way in to Crested Butte is on direct flights into Gunnison from Denver, Atlanta, or Dallas/Ft. Worth on American and Delta or into Montrose Airport from Newark on Continental, Phoenix or Denver (800-821-7613).

Telluride has a Ski Free & More deal from Nov. 23-Dec. 17 and Mar. 31-Apr. 8, offering a choice of free lift ticket, ski clinic, lunch on the mountain or one-half day child care each day you stay at participating lodge; packages start at $53 pp/night; packages are even less when staying at participating properties in neighboring towns of Ridgway, Cortez, Dolores, Rico, Mancos, Durango, Ouray or Montrose (from $37 pp). Telluride may have the reputation of being tough, but it is kid-friendly, too. Children's "Focus Days" educate on topics while teaching the basics of skiing or snowboarding: for example, "History/Heritage Day," "Safety Day" and "Environmental Day" (when kids may be introduced to Lissa Margetts from Rocky Mountain Ark and her friends Otto the river otter or Liberty the bald eagle); kids can also explore Enchanted Forest. Families can enjoy the Surge Air Garden terrain park, or do ice skating, tubing, take a dogsled ride or a horse-drawn dinner sleigh ride at the Skyline Guest Ranch. There is also a fabulous world-class spa; a free gondola that links the historic downtown with the on-mountain resort (a 12-minute ride); cross-country skiing, hot air ballooning, ice climbing, live entertainment, paragliding, snow biking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and even heliskiing. Three new lifts this season, including two high-speed quads. Continental Airlines offers direct service from Newark on Saturdays into Montrose (65 scenic miles away); otherwise, you can connect from Denver Airport into Telluride Airport, six miles from the resort (800-854-3062, www.telski.com).

Copper Mountain Resort is seeing a dramatic impact from the first stages of a $500 million renaissance. Last year, the Super Bee, a six-person high-speed lift opened in Copper's East Village; this year, a new 108-unit Copper Springs Lodge, and Copper Station, a 40,000 sq. ft. day lodge will open there. Also, a newly designed Union Creek base area will open in Copper's West Village; the new Schoolhouse at Union Creek provides convenient, hassle-free way for the entire family to get onto the slopes. Package deals include stay-and-ski the fourth day free (prices start at $268 pp for Early Season, valid through Dec. 22, $316 pp in Value Season); a great family deal is the Telemark Lodge Bed and Breakfast plan, starting at $215 per day in Early Season, based on two adults and two children (12 and under) in a deluxe studio (valid through Dec. 22; Value Season rates, starting at $249). Off-slopes activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and use of Copper Mountain Athletic Club (free for guests who book packages through Cooper Mountain Lodging Services). Copper also has a Club Med which offers ski lessons for kids at no extra charge. (800-458-8386; www.ski-copper.com).

This story was previously published on FTN in 1999.

2001 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. E-mail questions or comments to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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