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 resorts such as Heavenly and Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley 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 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.
Snowshoeing at Yosemite
All ages can enjoy this national park’s snowshoe trails. Strap on a pair of high-tech snowshoes—rentals are available for modest all-day or half-day fees—and start making big tracks up and down the marked trails of Badger Ski Pass on your own. Or, join one of the guided tours offered: On the Adventure Snowshoe Hike to Dewey Point with the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service, your guide will lead you through some of the most breathtaking scenery Yosemite has to offer, with views that include El Capitan, Half Dome, and the Clark Range. If you’re lucky enough to be in the park on a night when conditions permit, the Full-Moon Snowshoe Hike is particularly popular, and a favorite for photo buffs. For a wider range of options and group discounts, check out the snowshoeing tours offered by Yexplore.
Snowmobiling at Mammoth
Just in case there are some non-skiers in the family (or those who 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 Snow Play, with its night tubing, merry-go-round, and plenty of room for old-fashioned snowman-building. Recharge with a meal or drink by the fireplace at The Outpost, one of the many dining options on the mountain.
Kids Ski for Free at June Mountain
It’s the norm for resorts to offer lessons, but at June Mountain they take the get-kids-hooked-on-skiing strategy one step further: those 12 and under can ski all 1,500 acres of this winter wonderland for free. And private lessons are available to little ones as young as 3. Not surprisingly, June is considered one of the most family-friendly slopes in the state, less crowded and more laid-back than some of the bigger resorts, but that doesn’t mean it’s all about kids: The upper mountains provide challenges for expert skiers, too.
Ride the Largest SoCal Tubing Park at Mountain High
With up to 12 different lanes, two moving carpets, and custom tubes, Mountain High’s Yeti's Snow Play is the largest park of its kind in Southern California, and offers an easy day of fun 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.
Rock Climb at Snow Summit
Kids can scale new heights on the 30-foot rock climbing wall year-round at Snow Summit’s Basecamp. 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 one-time climb or an Adventure Pass for all-day climbing. The Basecamp’s Adventure Academy, meanwhile, has become the nerve center for families visiting the resort. The 3,000-square-foot learning center offers streamlined access to rentals, tickets, and kid lessons.
Ice Skate Around the State
Few endeavors are as all-accepting as ice skating: On any given rink, you’ll find beginners wiping out in slow motion right next to graceful experts, gliding along in reverse figure 8s. No matter your skill level, it’s all a good time, and festive outdoor rinks in ski towns and at ski resorts across California such as Heavenly, Mountain High, South Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Mount Shasta offer this alternative to hitting the slopes. No matter where you lace up your skates, be sure to indulge in that perfect après treat: a steaming mug of hot chocolate.