Billowing white clouds against a blue backdrop. The crisp air whipping by your face. Racing down to the bottom of the slope before your kids beat you. Sounds like a perfect family ski vacation compared to long lift lines, packed slopes, and hefty prices major resorts can bring, right? It may sound more like a dream than reality but there are some great options for family skiing that are less known, more affordable, have varied terrain for different ability levels, and are lots of fun for kids. With the 5 hidden gem family ski resorts on our list, that perfect family ski vacation can easily be a reality.
Whether known to locals or not, our "hidden gem" best family ski resorts are typically not as popular outside their local area and not as well known as the "big mountains" everyone knows. Which means they are less crowded. But to make our list, they also must be great for kids and families in other ways. Great ski and snowboard schools, varied terrain for different skier abilities, other unique features like views, and lower prices were all key attributes that made these family ski resorts stand out.
Homewood, while well-known to locals, is a hidden gem for those outside of northern California. It is perfectly snuggled up against the west shore of Lake Tahoe and just south of Tahoe City, CA. Encompassing over 1,260 acres of skiable area, the resort dominates with its strikingly beautiful “Big Blue” views.
Their beginner-friendly, Rainbow Ridge run has incredible bird’s-eye views of North and South Lake Tahoe and gently lunges you towards the calm blue basin water. Stop. Take a second to soak up the scene, and turn around, only to see a towering view of the 9,735-foot Mt. Tallac, one of Tahoe’s most recognizable and climbed peaks.
And the views don’t stop there. The Madden Chair at Homewood is only 280 steps from the water’s edge, giving you even more irresistible views of the stunning lake as you make your way up the hill. And, on the hill, Homewood is famous for some of the best tree skiing in the area.
Our brand was founded at Squaw Valley and we tell everyone we know to visit Squaw. But for families looking for those hidden gem qualities in the Tahoe basin and lower prices, Homewood is the way to go.
Cooper is known for their uber family-friendly atmosphere, some of the best learning-friendly terrain in the country, and prices ⅓ of the cost of surrounding areas.
With views of some of the state’s highest peaks, the resort is planted at the core of the Rocky Mountains, and only a few miles away from Leadville, a National Historic District, old west mining town, and the highest incorporated city in the U.S. The Ski Cooper area was originally built as a training site for ski troopers of the 10th Mountain Division during WWII, and Leadville only has more history to offer.
Leadville is packed with rich antiquity, like Victorian Inns and the legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, an Irish pub dating back to 1877. The town’s unique, story-filled location is less expensive than your typical ski town and is brimming with budget-friendly hotels for families of all sizes.
Cooper’s prices are definitely something to talk about, especially for larger families. Instead of spending two days at the nearby Breckenridge Resort, you can spend two days at Cooper for less than half of the price. And to really take advantage of affordable family ski vacation packages, book in advance and enjoy the early-bird specials. These specials can often run up to 50% off, but they typically need to be booked between mid-September and early October.
The resort has an average yearly snowfall of 260 inches, features 41 trails, 4 lifts, and 400 skiable acres. Their renowned Panda Patrol ski school for kids, guided family-time, first-timer lessons, as well as private and group classes makes them a great resort for families with multiple children skiing. From the best beginner terrain up to the illustrious powder, glades, and bumps, everyone can have a great time.
Smugglers Notch is tucked into Vermont’s Green Mountains, surrounded by 3,000 vast acres of lush forest. Locally known as "Smuggs," the ski resort comprises 3 mountains– Mt. Madonna, Mt. Sterling, and Mt. Morse, which are all interconnected through 78 trails and 8 lifts.
With 6 terrain parks and some of the most diverse glade terrain on the East coast, all skill levels will have something to talk about. “Smuggs” comprises 27 miles of learning terrain on Mt. Morse, intermediate trails and glades on all three, and expert trails on both Mt. Sterling and Mt. Madonna, which hold the Fab Five: five of the most blood-tingling black diamonds, including the only triple black diamond on the East coast, “The Black Hole.”
For those who don’t plan on venturing to the black diamonds, the resort contains a world-renowned ski school, Snow Sport University. With specifically designed kid-friendly programs that divide age groups by small increments, based on the learning capacity and developmental stages of children, they offer a wide variety of options, such as child lessons, women’s programs, first-timers, private lessons, and more.
The Summit at Snoqualmie has long been a favorite family ski resort in the pacific northwest with roots dating back to the 1930's. Located only 40 minutes from Seattle, it actually features four mountains/areas and has a lot to offer for family members of all ages. Snoqualmie’s Summit West is known for its beginner-friendly terrain. The ski school at Summit (with 500 instructors across Summit West and Summit Central) is the largest in the state and offers lessons a variety of lesson programs for children ages 4 to 12.
Summit Central provides a wide variety of terrain and also features Central Park, a 40-acre terrain park. Summit East offers some of the best tree skiing in Washington and an array of black diamond slopes and great “blue” cruisers for the more advanced skiers in the family.
The highlight for more advanced skiers and snowboarders at Summit is its Alpental area. Once deemed "too steep for skiing" when first scouted, it opened in 1967 and features not only its famous steeps but also mixed terrain for the whole family.
And for families that like to ski under the lights, Summit also features extensive night skiing operations.
Summit is a phenomenal value for families. With lift tickets purchased in advance as low as $8.99 for children under 7 and $35.99 for youths 7-12, this is a cheap family ski resort that offers so much more as well.
While family vacations to Seattle might typically be planned for the drier summer months, if your family is headed to the Emerald City or nearby during winter, definitely add a family ski day or weekend to Summit at Snoqualmie.
Slightly edging out Solitude Resort for this list is Utah's Powder Mountain, another hidden jewel in the ski resort world with an amazing focus on environmentalism and sustainability.
On-piste, it features 154 runs, 3 terrain parks, and 9 lifts, but the real draw of "Pow Mow" is its vast skiable terrain accessed via hiking or snowcat. If you include the full skiable area, Powder Mountain competes for the largest ski resort the United States, encompassing over 8,646 acres and one of the lowest skier per acre ratios so far less crowded than Utah's more famous resorts. But like those others, it’s blanketed in Utah's "Greatest Snow on Earth" and gets more than 500 inches a year.
Their Snow Sports School offers a variety of programs, like private lessons, first-time packages, group lessons, women’s programs, locals programs, and more. For beginner families, the Sundown lift and associated area is the place to hang out and spend a great day.
But for families with more advanced skiers looking for a unique experience, the way to really do Powder Mountain is to get away from the lifts and into the pow! If your expert skier kids are up for it, you can hike from Sunrise Ridge to access Cobabe Canyon. Or, if you can shell out a little cash to get a ride, the Lightning Ridge snowcat terrain is the highlight of the resort.
That's our list of 5 of the best hidden gem family ski resorts. There are more, of course, so what did we miss? What are your favorites? Let us and our readers know in the comments below.
Whether they’re taking in the views at Homewood, learning to ski or snowboard for the first time at Cooper, enjoying the terrain parks at Smugglers Notch, night skiing at Summit, or expertly skiing down Powder Mountain, one of the key things for an enjoyable family ski trip is having the right gear. Cold and wet kids do not have fun and that often means the parents' day is over too.
To enhance the experience at any of these hidden gem ski resorts and to learn more about what goes into good waterproof/breathable winter gear for kids and what to look for, check out this article: