Looking for ideas for the upcoming school holiday break? Eager to have your children learn to ski (or to increase their skills)? Hoping to raise a future Olympian? We’ve got you covered. Lots of our friends are avid skiers, and they hope that their offspring will be, too. But where’s the best place to go if you want the very best ski (or snowboard) instruction for your brood?
Every luxury ski resort has a school, and it’s unlikely that you will go badly wrong with any of them. If you can spring for private lessons, definitely do it – we’ve always found it to be worth the cost (it really helps if you give the ski school some insight into your child’s personality and learning style so that they can make the best match with the assigned instructor).
Having said that, we’ve learned that there are some resorts that really are better-suited for families, and for skiers of certain abilities and temperaments. To help you find your optimal mountain, we’ve polled our snow-bunny friends and developed a curated Dandelion Chandelier list for your perusal. We’ve focused on options that are smaller, perhaps less well-known, and generally less heavily-trafficked than the iconic resorts in the Rockies, the Alps, and Hokkaido.
We’ve ranked our picks in order of degree of difficulty to help you find the best match:
Green Circle: If your children are quite young, or if they’ve never been on skis before and are game to try it, there are many options for a gentle and fun introduction to the sport.
–In New England, we love Okemo, Vermont. The ski school is terrific, the terrain is varied, and there are lots of things to do in addition to skiing: a mountain roller coaster, an ice-skating rink, snow tubing, snow-shoeing and indoor and outdoor swimming. The Jackson Gore Inn is ski in-ski out, and the accommodations and the restaurants are first-rate. Other great options? Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont and Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts.
–Out West, a great place for beginning skiers is Beaver Creek, Colorado. Other options? Aspen-Snowmass has four mountains, and Buttermilk is perfect for beginners; Crested Butte, in southwest Colorado in the Elk Mountain range is ideal for families with young children.
–In the Swiss Alps, Wengen, Switzerland – in the Bernese Oberland at the foot of the Jungfrau – is a car-free, family-friendly resort that’s ideal for beginners. It is part of the Kleine Scheidegg-Mannlichen ski area, which has long hours of sunshine. The runs are easy to medium in terms of difficulty.
—VallNord, Andorra is a ski and snowboard resort in the Pyrenees, close to the border with Spain. One lift pass covers three ski areas: Pal, Arcalis and Arinsal. Arinsal is the most popular of the three, and is the best place to stay. The ski school there has a number of British instructors, so those not speaking French or Spanish will be just fine.
—Puy-Saint-Vincent, France, in the southern French Alps, is small and family-friendly, with a robust ski school. The closest airport is Turin, Italy.
–A good “wild card” option if you’re up for an adventure is Poiana Brasov, Romania – the ski school is good, the runs are gentle, and you can take your crew on a day trip from there to Dracula’s Castle. Awesome!
Blue Square: if your kids are a bit older and more capable, and your family is ready for more of a challenge, we suggest:
—Stowe, Vermont. It’s the best of the East in terms of challenging slopes and luxury accommodations. It’s got the steepest terrain in New England; the “Front Four” runs are ungroomed and have only natural snow, and are genuinely thrilling. The Stowe Mountain Lodge is ski in-ski out, there are numerous great farm-to-table restaurants nearby, and the village of Stowe is utterly charming. If your definition of luxury is more about authenticity and adventure, Mad River Glen in Vermont is as old-school as it gets.
—Steamboat Springs on northwestern Colorado’s Mount Werner has a long Olympic history. The resort has great intermediate and advanced trails – including some glades and Nordic trails – and a host of activities in addition to skiing, including snow tubing, horseback riding, and hot air balloon trips.
—St. Johann, Austria, is a Tyrolean ski resort just a short distance from the famous Kitzbuhel. It’s great for families, smaller than the iconic Alpine resorts, and caters to all levels of skiers. The FIS race piste is a highlight of the resort, and snowboarders are welcome.
—Saalbach-Hinterglenn is Austria’s largest linked ski area and has its largest intermediate area. The two villages are separated, but they market their locations together – of the two, you’ll want to stay in Saalbach.
—Levi, Finland boasts the country’s largest (and best) ski and snowboard resort. It’s in Lapland, and north of the Arctic Circle, so snow is nearly guaranteed from November onward. It’s 15 minutes from the Kittila Airport, and has 43 slopes. You can take a “safari” from Levi to the Snow Village in Laino, where you can dine in an ice restaurant or sleep in an ice room. Back at Levi, you’ll find snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, Nordic trails, reindeer and dog sled safaris, and fantastic views of the Northern Lights.
—Hemsedal, Norway is in the Hallingdal Mountains, also known as the “Scandinavian Alps.” It’s smaller and less crowded than the large Alpine resorts, and perfect for intermediate skiers (the new blue run that opened last winter is very popular). The ski season is long here, making it ideal for a spring break trip. The closest airport is Oslo. There are ample ski in-ski out accommodations, and reviews praise it as offering some of the best skiing in Norway. The snowboard park is open at night — something your pre-teens and teens will love.
Black Diamond: If you have a child or teen who is ready to seriously train as a skier or rider, consider a vacation in:
—Deer Valley in Park City, Utah. The resort hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, and still has ski runs left from that event that are a perfect training ground.
—Alta, in Utah, is meant for hard-core, no-frills skiing. Its website states “Alta makes you work for it.” You have to traverse, side-step and hike to reach the best runs in the ski area. If that fits your profile, there’s a Teen Camp during school holidays, and co-ed and women’s-only Steep Skiing Camp.
–At Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, Canada, you can pay $2,500 for a full-day private lesson with an Olympic Gold Medalist.
—Mt. Norquay, Banff, Alberta, Canada has a top ski school and one of the steepest lift-served runs in North America (Calgary kids learn to ski here). From the base, one lift takes you to almost exclusively double-black runs, most heavily moguled.
—Val d’Isère, France is best-known as an advanced resort, although there are still a number of beginner areas, and blues to keep the intermediates happy. The village has a picture-postcard town center and numerous nightlife options. Next Generation Ski and Snowboard School gets high marks for its instructors and teaching approach.
—St. Martin de Belleville, France is ideal for advanced skiers and boarders, especially those who want to go off-piste. Parents will be glad to know that there’s a vast area on the mountain designed for guests to enjoy safe powder skiing on managed but un-groomed pistes.
Double-Black Diamond: If your child is ready to commit to becoming a dedicated competitive athlete, you could take a look at classic New England boarding schools with a great ski teams. Or go all the way, and consider a full-time ski and snowboard academy; these are well-appointed, technologically advanced institutions with state-of-the-art facilities and rigorous academic programs.
–In New England, the top ski academies are Green Mountain Valley School in Waitsfield, VT; Carrabassett Valley Adademy in Kingfield, Maine (Bode Miller is an alum); and Burke Mountain Academy in East Burke, Vermont (the first American ski academy, founded in 1970). They’re all full-time, all have boarding students and all have international students.
–If you prefer the West, have a look at Steamboat Mountain School in Colorado; Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy; and Rowmark, a division of Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School in Salt Lake City. It has AP classes available to the 30 ski racers who attend classes with 300 other students in the traditional high school program.
–If you’re not ready for that level of commitment, but you’re open to the idea of a traditional New England boarding school with an active ski team, you may be surprised to learn that not every school has one. Eaglebrook School is an all-boy junior boarding school for grades 6-9 in Deerfield, MA with its own private ski mountain on campus. Deerfield Academy and Northfield Mount Hermon in Massachusetts, and St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire offer both boys’ and girls’ Alpine skiing (Exeter, Andover, Hotchkiss and Choate do not).
We’ll be thinking snow! Don’t forget your helmet, and have fun out there.