Child-friendly Colorado is often one of the first places Australians head if they want to ski in the USA, with good reason. There is variety, wide runs and plenty of snow.
A friend once described Steamboat as Thredbo on steroids. Why? Its long groomed runs with a few challenges thrown in are reminiscent of Thredbo, but on a far greater scale. Steamboat town has hundreds of plush apartments to rent, and more than enough restaurants, serving hearty American fare. One of the best for all of the above (plus root beer floats and ice cream) is Lyon’s Corner Drug and Soda Fountain, a definite don’t miss with kids.
Another huge family-plus is the long-established kids and grandkids ski-free deal – available for kids under 12, when mum and dad (or nana and grandpa) buy a five day or more pass. However, children under five ski free no matter what. On the mountain, Steamboat has gone all out installing not one but five kids-only lifts and creating two areas for beginners with magic carpet lifts. Kids-only terrain is on a part of the mountain called Rough Rider Basin with a baby terrain park, tepees and a Wild West style fort.
Vail gets top marks, not only for extra-wide groomers that are perfect to cruise down, but also for the family-friendly features in the Epic Pass. This electronic lift ticket is the most comprehensive in the business, valid at six other resorts including nearby Breckenridge, but equipped with fun applications for uploading photos, tracking vertical metres skied, and all kinds of pins to earn. A must-do is a stop off or several at the Adventure Ridge building atop Lionshead Gondola. Outside you will find snow bikes for rent, tubing, snowshoeing, a bungee trampoline (big fun) and ice skating. Inside there is a lively family restaurant, Bistro Fourteen. Also seek out any of the eight Kids’ Adventure Zones which have names like Coyote’s Escape and Sherwood Forest, and offer fun little runs through glades. The Magic Forest has a small fort with a slippery slide inside, all prettily nestled away in the trees.
The cute and colourful town attached to this world class resort is custom made to delight children. Straight from the top of a chocolate box, Breckenridge’s streets are lined with Wild West facades and brightly coloured Victorian houses. Sleigh rides through Breckenridge’s snowy streets, especially when the white stuff falls at night illuminated by the town’s fairy lights, are totally magical. On the mountain you will find no end of gentle slopes where skiing together as a family is no problem whatsoever. Cafeterias and places to retreat from the cold abound at both the top and base area. Breckenridge has one of the best terrain parks in the country, a great place to leave the kids to do their own thing while mum and dad have a ski. The ski school has, among its regular programs, a girls-only clinic for ages seven to 13.
Contrary to popular belief, Aspen is not only affordable but a good place to take the family. It is also not one but four mountains in total, all skiable on the one ticket and all serviced by a free shuttle bus. If your brood are beginners they have their own dedicated mountain in Buttermilk. Hard core types like to hit the steeps at Aspen Highlands, while the classic Aspen Mountain known as Ajax offers all types of runs. Snowmass is known for its long, smooth groomed runs which lend themselves to both fast skiing and relaxed cruising. New last season was a generously sized restaurant called Elk Camp as part of the new gondola and the base village is also now bigger.
Located in southern Colorado, Crested Butte has one of the most authentic main streets of any Colorado ski town, full of colour, history, and saloons that have operated for well over 100 years. The American flag flies proudly above the frontier-style façade of the town’s US Post Office, while the coffee shop housed in a building covered in US licence plates carries a sign boasting it is the most photographed building in ski country.
Crested Butte has three major hotels right at the base only metres from the lifts. A dedicated family and beginner zone lies at the base of the mountain with two lifts, located away from the extreme slopes for which the resort is famous. The Prospect and Gold Link lifts offer truly smooth, fall line skiing on which to perfect those parallel turns. There is plenty of well-groomed blue and green terrain too and kids under six ski free.
Telluride is a quaint town full of Victorian buildings but much larger than Crested Butte. Surrounded by 14,00ft peaks, it has consistently been voted Most Beautiful Place to Ski by US tome Skiing Magazine. Indeed pedestrians need to watch the cars on the main street as drivers are often distracted by the spectacular view.
Like Crested Butte, Telluride is a hot destination for advanced skiers due to its super steep slopes, but it has now matched this offering with an enormous array of blue and green runs that are a joy to cruise down. Flying down See Forever, for instance, affords views as far as the La Salle Mountains in Utah, and Telluride’s 9000 foot-high runway, the highest airstrip in the US behind which actor Tom Cruise still maintains a holiday home.