As the longtime training grounds for Olympic athletes, the ski resorts of California have serious street—or slope—cred. But even the smallest skiers can learn to conquer these epic mountains with the help of a few lessons. As Mike Allen, Director of Skier Services at Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Ski Resort, discusses in a recent California Now Podcast, families can take advantage of tailored learn-to-ski programs across dozens of California resorts. Here are a few tips to maximize the fun and learning on your family's ski trip.
Rent (or bring) the right gear
Warm, dry kids (and adults!) make for happier skiers. “We recommend layering, particularly in Lake Tahoe where we get some diverse temperatures,” says Allen. For example, wear a thin waterproof shell jacket over a medium fleece instead of one heavy parka. Make sure you’re properly fitted for boots and skis at a quality dealer or resort rental shop. For longer trips, week-long equipment rentals vs. daily setups are an efficient way to skip lines and get comfortable with the gear.
Beginning at one of California’s smaller resorts such as Snow Summit, Soda Springs, or Donner Ski Ranch reduces the intimidation factor of a big mountain and can save the family money on lift tickets. Plus at smaller-sized Tahoe Donner, the bar is within walking distance to the kids’ learning area, so you can offer parental support with a Bloody Mary in hand. Although the larger resorts may seem intimidating, most, including Mammoth, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood, offer family zones and low-key learning areas to acquaint beginners in a comfortable environment. Bonus: Heavenly’s learning area is high enough on the mountain that even novices will get great views of Lake Tahoe.
Leave it to the professionals
Even if you’re an expert skier, it might be better to let a trained resort instructor tackle the teaching. “You would think, of all people, that I would be able to teach my children,” says the career-long instructor Allen, “But I knew that was not a good idea. So I enrolled them in the Heavenly ski school immediately.” Age-appropriate classes make learning fun for the kids, with hot chocolate and play breaks to keep them engaged. For families who want to learn together, Northstar ski resort offers private family lessons for up to five people.
Seek out for snowboard-specific programs
If your child is curious about boarding, opt for a specific learning program to develop his or her skills. Sierra-at-Tahoe’s family-friendly Adventure Zone features mini jumps, pint-sized terrain features, and colorful character signs to help educate the kids on the sport as well as the local ecosystem. Northstar’s Burton Academy offers a specialized progression of snowboard-focused lessons good through teenage years. Boreal even offers an indoor Woodward training center with foam pits to safely practice crazy X-Games jumps.
Find family-friendly ski deals
Make your money go further with family-friendly deals such as Homewood’s Learn to Ski and Ride Package, which gets you a season pass after taking three lessons. Mammoth has a set of family ski specials that include passes to a sledding park and snow play area, free lift tickets for kids ages four and under, and child care in two facilities. Sugar Bowl offers first-timer ski deals with lifts, lessons, and rentals. And maybe the best deal of all: At June Mountain, kids 12 and under ski for free.