Taking your family to the mountains this winter? Whether your crew is full of avid skiers or contented snowman-makers, the California snow offers a variety of fun ways to spend a winter family vacation, from the resorts such as Heavenly, Squaw Valley, and Alpine Meadows, near Lake Tahoe, down to Big Bear Mountain and Snow Summit in Southern California. “California ski resorts are so cognizant of families now that they do everything they can to make it as easy as possible for parents and kids,” says Mike Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. And while resorts offer plenty of kid lessons, rental packages, and “kids ski free” options, be sure to include other kinds of family fun in the snow. These activities can help slowly introduce snow newbies to the mountain, provide an afternoon activity for kids who can’t ski all day, or just offer easy ways for the whole family to play together. From snowshoes to snowmobiling, sled competitions to Star Wars training camps, here are some of the coolest kid-friendly activities at California ski resorts.
The Tahoe resort has gotten raves from Forbes for being family oriented, thanks to its pedestrian-friendly village with an ice rink, and perks like wagons for toting your gear. All ages can enjoy the resort’s family snowshoe tours, offered on select Sundays throughout the winter. Strap on a pair of snowshoes (or rent a ski stroller for tiny tourers) and follow your guide for a three-hour snow walk along family-friendly trails. You’ll end your journey at a red caboose in an alpine meadow where kids and adults can indulge in well-deserved hot chocolate and cookies. All tours begin at 1 p.m. and are open to all ages and ability levels. Just be sure to make reservations early, since this popular tour often sells out.
Snowmobiling at MammothJust in case there are some non-skiers in the family (or some just don’t ski on the same runs), here’s a nice way to keep everyone in one pack: Experience the snowy backcountry on snowmobiles. Mammoth Snowmobile Adventures combines experienced guides with top-of-the-line equipment to help your family explore large meadows, lush pine forests, historic landmarks, and acres of backcountry trails. Kids 16 years and older with a valid driver’s license and a parent present can steer their own snowmobile, while kids 5 and older can ride with a parent. Snowmobile season begins mid-December; helmets are provided and additional clothing is available for rent if needed. Mammoth’s other big crowd-pleaser, meanwhile, is Woolly’s Tube Park and Play Zone, with its night tubing, merry-go-round, and plenty of room for old-fashioned snowman-building.
Learn to Ski Like a Jedi at Sierra-at-Tahoe
Have kids who are reluctant to try snowboard lessons? At Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort, Star Wars fans can learn to board—surrounded by images of Yoda, Chewbacca, and R2-D2—at Burton’s Star Wars Experience. Younglings (age 3-6) can work on techniques such as balance and movement with the help of Burton’s tow-like Riglet Reel and other specially designed training gear, while older Padawans (age 7-12) will move onto Echo Base to further their training in control and turns on sculpted terrains. The full-day program includes lessons, equipment, lunch, snacks, and other games and activities.
Once they’re ready for the slopes, kids can explore the mountain’s kid-designated adventure zones—with themes like the Gold Rush, Native American teepees, and more Star Wars—punctuated along the way with educational signs and kid-friendly terrain elements such as rollers and mini jumps.
Race to Win at Tahoe Donner
Do your kids thrive on competition? Visit Truckee’s Tahoe Donner—a smaller ski area that’s especially family- and beginner-friendly—during its annual Winter Superstar week, held in February, for ski and snowboard races, sled pulls, and a mini terrain park competition for all ages. Look for the schedule of events to be posted online in early February (this season’s Superstars Week runs from February 18–25) and sign up to compete—or, just come and watch. Stick around until the last day for the Glowstick Parade and Carnival, a kid version of the Torchlight Parade with glowsticks for age 10 or younger. Come early for carnival games, snacks, and music.
Ride the Largest SoCal Tubing Park at Mountain High
With up to 12 different lanes, two moving carpets, and custom tubes, Mountain High’s North Pole Tubing Park is the largest park of its kind in Southern California, and offers an easy day of play in the snow (kids should be at least 36 inches tall). Ride solo, challenge family members to races, or make a chain. Space is limited, so grab your reservation early for one of the four different tubing sessions throughout the day, or buy an all-day pass for true tubing enthusiasts.
For skiing and snowboarding, Mountain High offers a deep range of lessons for first-timers. January is Learn to Ski month here, too, with plenty of discounts for bundled classes.
Rock Climb at Snow Summit
Kids can scale new heights on the 30-foot rock climbing wall at Snow Summit’s Base Camp. Once they’re helmeted and harnessed, kids can test their strength, determination, and fear of heights as they ascend easy or challenging routes to the top of the rock tower. Buy a ticket for a onetime climb or an Adventure Pass for all-day climbing. The Base Camp’s new Summit Kids Center, meanwhile, has become the new nerve center for families visiting the resort. The new 3,000-square-foot learning center offers streamlined access to rentals, tickets, and kid lessons.
Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colours in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.
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