No. 6: Telluride. Telluride may be the most walker-friendly ski town in North America. Everything is easy to get to, with minimal effort — which is key for families. The linchpin to Telluride's transportation ease is the gondola that connects the old mining town, where some of the best restaurants and bars reside, to Mountain Village, where a good chunk of the lodging is. Telluride's ski runs tumble right into Mountain Village and old town, giving this ski area loads of ski-in, ski-out lodging in all kinds of settings.(Photo: ZRankings)
Almost every major destination ski resort works hard to cater to families. Family ski trips provide outsized revenue streams to ski resorts, and are often the main drivers of lift tickets, lodging and lessons sales.
Every big resort, therefore, has plenty of amenities aimed directly at this dependable engine of the ski economy. Some resorts have built-in advantages, such as easy commutes from default airports, more beginner and intermediate terrain that's easily accessed, and advantageous resort layouts featuring short distances from lodging, parking and skiing. And some ski resorts simply execute on the family front better than others.
Skiing with kids can be an exasperating affair. It's made easier, however, by ski resorts with thoughtful arrangements and measures that ease the burden on parents.
The crew at ZRankings, a ski trip booking site and thorough source for resort data, has skied every major ski resort in North America, often with kids in tow, and has taken copious notes on resorts' strengths and weaknesses. They've created this list, unique for USA TODAY Travel, by putting all of these factors together and distilling things down into a simple Family Score, which reveals what are, by our measure, the best ski resorts for families in North America.
Top 10 ski resorts for families
1. Keystone — 98.0
Keystone is one of many Vail Resorts properties that excel at making family trips easier. The parent company has developed a formula and emphasized amenities that make the task of schlepping kids around the mountain a little easier with gobs of ski-in, ski-out lodging and base villages that include all kinds of restaurants and kid-centric entertainment.
Keystone takes all of these things to another level. The ski resort has wrapped its brand around family ski trips with a gusto that is unmatched in the industry. It has even produced a trademarked brand around its commitment to families: Kidtopia. Keystone's unique amenities for kids include giant snow forts and playgrounds at the base, along with countless diversions for kids amongst the resort's terrain.
One of the more annoying tasks in any family ski trip is getting the kids from the car — or the condo or hotel — to the slopes. Mom and Dad are often carrying their own equipment, plus the kids' stuff, and, in some cases, the kids themselves. Prolonging this sweaty, awkward chore: Small children don't walk well in ski boots, so this parade from car/lodging to slopes can take a ridiculous amount of time.
Keystone eases the burden on parents here in two ways. First off, parking is close to the base and free (a major anomaly for a big Colorado resort) — but second, and most important: Keystone supplies parents with free gear wagons that are stocked at the parking lot and ubiquitous across the base village.
Parents need only to pile their own gear, their kiddos' gear, and even the kiddos themselves into the wagon and then partake in a leisurely walk through the village.
A big day on the mountain at Keystone is cinched up neatly for kids with a daily parade that goes from the ski school to the front of the village. It's replete with floats, flags, knickknacks for kids and free cookies for all at the end.
The dining options at Keystone are also designed around families. The headliner here is the Dinner Sleigh Ride, where diners ride horse-drawn sleighs about 20 minutes to a cabin on a high mountain plain that, inside, serves up chow befitting the scene: steaks, chicken, salmon, and beef hot dogs for kids. Many dinners at this historic cabin are punctuated by the singing of folk and cowboy tunes by a guitar-wielding “ranch hand.”
Other good options include the Keystone Ranch, where top-shelf steaks and chops are served. If parents can score a baby-sitter, or if the kids happen to be discerning diners, a dinner trip to the Ski Tip Lodge, one of the best fine-dining options in all of skiing, might be in order.
Keystone is also blessed with natural properties that make for superior family experiences on the mountain: long and wide intermediate runs that descend most of Keystone's 2,718-foot vertical in one swoop. Families don't need to hopscotch around the mountain here to find terrain that works for them.
2. Beaver Creek — 96.5
Beaver Creek is unique within Vail's family-friendly catalog for a few reasons. The ski resort possesses an excellent patch of terrain for first-timers and beginners down low at the bottom of the mountain. It even has a dedicated gondola, the Buckaroo Express, which keeps little kids warm as they lap the bunny slopes.
What's more exciting for kids and beginners who graduate from the easiest slopes is that they get to scale the entire mountain to reach Beaver Creek's expansive green terrain, much of which is near the top of the ski resort. Beaver Creek is unique in this way, as the tops of most mountains are where the steepest and most expert terrain exists. But here, beginners and intermediates get to head to the top, enjoy great views and the great snow preservation that persists at high elevations in Colorado.
The final touch on Beaver Creek's family resume: its famous chocolate-chip cookies, which are doled out for free at the end of every ski day to all comers at the base of the mountain.
3. Park City — 94.3
There may be no better combination of ski mountain and ski town in all of the world. But that's not the only thing that makes Park City such a brilliant spot for families. The slopes here sit only a 35-minute car ride from the airport in Salt Lake City, a hub for Delta, and an easy place to fly direct to from dozens of cities across the United States and Canada. Traveling with kids is never easy, but the commute to Park City keeps skiers' last leg a short one. It also means that skiers can often ski on their last day in town, and catch an evening flight out.
On the mountain, Park City's ski school is efficiently run. Parents can go from ticket counter straight to the snow with the kids, and see 'em off for the day. Check-in happens right there on the snow, without a lengthy wait in another building or line. The terrain at Park City, much of it mellow and meandering intermediate runs, gives families thousands of acres to explore together.
4. Winter Park — 93.0
Compared with a lot of other ski resorts within a 2.5-hour drive of Denver, Winter Park is laid-back and just a bit easier to navigate. Ski school and family compatibility is an emphasis here, and there's lots of terrain that’s kid-friendly.
Lift tickets and other items at Winter Park tend to run a bit cheaper compared with the ski resorts closer to I-70, another win for families. Town is understated and not saturated with upscale shopping outposts, and lodging here is easier to book at a cheaper price than elsewhere in the Colorado mountains.
5. Northstar — 92.9
Yet another Vail property, Northstar has made itself the luxury outpost of North Lake Tahoe. But it's also a prime destination for families looking for easier ski trips in the Sierra.
The village is newer and includes a good quantity of lodging built around a central point that abuts the slopes. Families staying at the base can get up and onto the snow with ease. Making that mission even easier, Northstar stocks the same gear wagons that furnish the base of Keystone.
Parents can easily pull up and unload kids and gear right into one of the wagons, which are free and stacked next to the parking lot. From there, it's an easy stroll to the ticket office, Starbucks or the rental shop.
6. Telluride — 90.2
Once families have flown to the airport in Montrose, and made the 60-70 minute journey by shuttle or car to Telluride, their need for a vehicle utterly disappears. Telluride may be the most walker-friendly ski town in North America. Everything is easy to get to, with minimal effort — which is key for families.
The linchpin to Telluride's transportation ease is the gondola that connects the old mining town, where some of the best restaurants and bars reside, to Mountain Village, where a good chunk of the lodging is. The gondola is free for all to ride, and it runs from 7 a.m. to midnight.
Telluride's ski runs tumble right into Mountain Village and old town, giving this ski area loads of ski-in, ski-out lodging in all kinds of settings. Half the battle for parents is getting kids from the breakfast table onto the slopes. The less work there is in between, the better. And once families get to Telluride, there's very little work outside of skiing.
7. Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Snowmass, Highlands — 90.1
Flying into Aspen's regional airport, the best airport in skiing, with large quantities of flights from major hubs such as Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and others, gives families the easiest airport-to-resort commute in the industry. Skiers can literally walk from the airport to the slopes at Buttermilk.
Town is just a five-minute drive away, so most hotel and resort operators will pick up guests for free upon arrival. The short commute also allows for skiing on the day of arrival and the day of departure. All of this makes things far easier on parents.
On the slopes, there may be no ski mountain better set up for kids and beginners than Buttermilk. Its gentle slopes and straight-ahead fall-lines make for an ideal learning environment where crowds rarely sprout up. Snowmass gives skiers that destination-resort-with-everything feel, which some families prefer.
8. Alta — 89.4
There's no better place for snow than Alta.
But there's also no kids' ski school that feels quite so cozy and intimate. This mountain that's renowned for snowfall and steeps also happens to cater beautifully to rearing little rippers.
At the end of the day, when the lessons are all in the books, there are few better rewards for a ski parent than parading down Alta's feathery white slopes with their little skiers in tow, or leading the way.
9. Deer Valley — 88.7
Deer Valley runs a tight operation. The food is famously good, the corduroy is coiffed to perfection and impeccable lodging dots the entire mountain. Taken together, this place is a family paradise, where getting the kids from bed to the slopes is a simple operation.
Not only that, but Deer Valley, like Park City, is an easy 35-minute drive from SLC airport.
The ski school at Deer Valley is known as one of the world's best, as some of its clients often travel to other resorts with their Deer Valley instructors (with permission of the other resorts, of course).
Families looking for something novel are well advised to check out Deer Valley's Fireside Dining at Empire Canyon Lodge, available most nights during the ski season. Dishes range from traditional Swiss raclette to lamb shank and chocolate fondue fountains.
10. Big Sky — 87.9
Within North America, this Montana stalwart has more acreage than everywhere except Park City and Whistler. And much of that acreage spills out in the form of easy-going blue runs that cut wide paths through stands of lodgepole pine.
Best of all for families, there's almost never a crowd at Big Sky, so kids are free to rip around at their leisure.
Lodging is plentiful and cheap — compared to much of the ski industry — and almost all of it is close to the base of the mountain. When the views are clear, Big Sky makes for one of the best family portrait backgrounds in the world.
More on Zrankings: Take a deeper dive into the data for the best ski resorts for families.
Christopher Steiner is a New York Times Bestselling Author of two books and the founder of ZRankings.