Colorado is America’s most elevated state and boasts 24 ski resorts. No wonder that kids there can ski before they can walk … well, almost. Aspen/Snowmass is two resorts in one, with Snowmass best suited to families due to its diverse terrain and easy access to the snow.
Ninety–five percent of accommodation at Snowmass is ski–in/ski–out, ensuring no time is wasted getting to the snowfields. The Mountain Chalet, for instance, has ski racks directly outside the dining room with snow piled up to the door. Kids can have breakfast, put their boots and skis on, and then it’s off to ski school with a minimum of fuss.
The Ski and Snowboard School at Snowmass is highly rated, and in addition to developing new teaching techniques for children, they make learning fun and appropriate to each age group. There are race days, après ski parties, kids–only trails and drink breaks in Indian teepees. Kids learn early here, starting at just two years of age, and for those with younger children there is day care.
Sue Way is the director of the children’s programmes in Snowmass and although she’s not averse to having fun, she runs a very organised and safe centre. The children seem genuinely fond of her – so much so that they’ve bestowed the nickname ‘Zookeeper’ on her – and there are smiles all round when she’s there. The centre is so popular that, beginning next season (our spring), Snowmass will start construction on a Base Village, which will be a world–class 25,000 sq ft children’s centre to be completed in time for the 2006 ski season.
Getting around Aspen/Snowmass is a breeze with free transportation between the two destinations. Free shuttle buses run every 15 minutes on the 14 km journey. Aspen is admittedly more difficult for skiing, but it has plenty for children to do, and not just on the ski fields. If you do no other activity in Aspen, you must take the kids snowmobiling at the T–Lazy–7 Ranch, just a few minutes’ drive from the centre of town. Snowmobiles are simple, safe and more fun than you can imagine, and all tours include experienced, knowledgeable guides. Kids under 18yrs can’t drive them, so they hop on the back holding on to mum or dad and then it’s off. In convoy, these mountain machines travel over groomed snow trails to the base of the world famous Maroon Bells, North America’s most photographed mountains. Halfway through, you stop for a typical American meal: an all–you–can–eat cheeseburger made with T–Lazy–7 Ranch beef.
Away from the snow on the outskirts of town, kids enjoy visiting the Aspen Recreation Centre, a multi–use facility featuring a 32 ft, three–dimensional climbing tower, an aquatic centre with a lap pool, a leisure pool with a two–storey body slide, a lazy river, water shoots and an ice skating rink the size of a football field. You’ll need a week to try them all!
Another wonderful ski resort for families is Steamboat. Located within the Park Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Steamboat has a wonderful Kids’ Vacation Centre, and has the driest and fluffiest snow in the world. The KVC ensures learning to ski is easy, with beginner lifts and three ‘magic carpets’ which take toddlers on a conveyor belt to the top of the ski slope.
Steamboat is one of the first resorts to use Mountain Watch system – the latest technology in group tracking. All kids enrolled in the Steamboat Ski & Snowboard School or the Vacation Centre receive a complimentary tracker watch for the duration of their lesson. Location stations around the mountain enable parents to check their whereabouts on a touch screen. It’s a fantastic idea and soothes the nerves of anxious parents.
Tubing is a thrilling alternative to skiing and is suitable for the entire family. When I was asked to go ‘toobin’ I wasn’t sure what it meant, but soon realised it’s like sledding with an inner tube. At the top of a medium–sized mountain kids – well, mostly kids! – get a friendly shove from the organisers and off they whiz, a hootin’ and a hollerin’ as they go. Be prepared: they’ll want to do it again and again and again.
Away from the slopes you’ll find another treat for families just a 30–minute drive from the town of Steamboat Springs. The kids will absolutely love horse–riding through the snow at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch. Outdoor enthusiast and former Olympic skier Ray Heid takes up to 20 Arabian or Quarter horses through the deep snow on his vast property. It’s a veritable wonderland of white and the kidsare entranced by the whole experience as the horses walk silently through the snow, joined occasionally by Ray’s dog, Scooter. Only part of the 114 square miles of total wilderness is covered by the tour through the majestic Rocky Mountains, but it’s an experience of a lifetime and a favourite with kids who, by the time the ride is over, have all made ‘best friends’ with Scooter and want to take him home.
If you have taken the family skiing in Australia and they loved it, they would certainly enjoy a visit to Aspen/Snowmass and Steamboat in Colorado. Apart from the skiing, tubing, snowmobiling and horse–riding, you can enjoy gondola rides, sleigh rides, snowshoe treks and rock climbing. Add to that the most amazing
scenery and accommodation that is truly suited to families, and you’ve got yourself
one helluva family holiday.