SKIING VAIL WITH KIDS:
I have been going to Vail with my husband and three kids for 10 or 12 days every year at around Christmastime for the past 3 years. While phenominally expensive, it's a terrific resort for families. The terrain is incredibly varied and you really will never get bored skiing there. One of you can take a black diamond run down, and your blue groomer run guy and you can meet up at the same place. There are usually about five different ways to get down any run. There are all sorts of half pipes and rails and terrain parks and tree runs for the kids. There is enough to keep my 11 year old "black diamond club" skier happy, my 9 year old racer, and my 4 year old (who has been on skis since 18 mos.)fully engaged. The ski school is very good, but they tend to take a few too many kids in each group. This is fine for my son who can capably go down anything and spends his time on mostly expert and extreme terrain. It's less good for my youngest, who, while he loves skiing, really needs to go out on private lessons this year to truly take it up to the next level.
At night at Adventure Ridge (take the gondola at Lionshead up to the top), the kids can go snow tubing, ice skating, ski biking (it's a blast -- but really only appropriate for tweens, teens and adults), mini-snow mobiles (for kids under 95lbs.); and bungee trampolining.
If you don't want to ski every day, you can snowboard, snowshoe, snowmobile, ice skate, shop (if you like that sort of thing) and hang out and drink by a big fireplace somewhere. (Moving and bowling are also options).
There is child care for non-skiing kids and really little ones at Golden Peak. It's also quieter in the lodge there, which houses one of my favorite restaurants in Vail, the expensive, but well worth it, Larkspur Restaurant. Well behaved children are very welcome there. The cafe at the Golden Peak lodge also has excellent breads, soups, and chilis for lunch. You have more options, but worse food and more noise and crowds at the other lodges around the mountain(s).
Vail lift tickets, ski school, lodging, and restaurants are very high-priced, particularly in peak season, so prepare to spend a lot and make your ski school and restaurant reservations a month in advance. Confirm your reservations and arrive on time. We were 8 minutes late for a reservation one night and our table was given away (it was to the cast of ER -- but come on -- 8 minutes!)They ended up rigging something for us, but not until I made a scene about it and embarrased the maitre-D into it.
The best ski-in, ski-out accomodations for families are the Marriott Resort at Vail (at Lionshead), which is a short walk from the Lionshead base and the gondola, and the Lodge at Vail, which is by the Cascade lift, which really only services expert terrain and is not by a ski school. Both properties are welcoming to children and have great breakfast options on-site but are enormously expensive. Both have pools and full service spas for adults. We've stayed at both and the kids loved it. During the holidays they often have special events for kids and the concierges at both properties were helpful with any special requests. Both resorts also have on-site ski rental, but beware, if you are getting a package rental with a ski-school ticket -- you usually have to rent the kids' equipment at a special place by the ski school and if your child wears adult sized shoes -- then the children's rental places won't be able to accomodate them.
The Marriott will house your skis by the door out to the path for Lionshead each night so you don't have to lug them back to your room, they'll also wax or sharpen your skis overnight and they'll be ready for you the next morning. If you are staying at the Lodge or near Cascade or anywhere that is not ski-in ski-out and don't want to carry your skis and boots and those of your kids, you can store your skis and boots overnight at any of the base lodges in the rental shops. The fee is worth it.
Don't lose your lift tickets and don't try to switch your tickets with your husband or wife or anyone else (it's illegal and people have been arrest for it). Tickets aren't transferrable, if you're not going to use your ticket -- return it for a refund and get a new one. Lines are short at the end of the day and in the middle of the day. I usually get a pass for 8 days and ski the days I want to. Your passes/tickets are scanned by the base lift operators every time you take the lift and they do look at your name and picture.
Cell phones generally work on the mountain and given how enormous the property is, long range walkie-talkies or cell phones are adviseable with kids. Ski runs are very long. Once you get to the peak, I wouldn't ski all the way down to the bottom until you're ready to eat or take a break. Lift lines at the base lists tend to be longer. The lifts generally have a computer read out that tells you what the wait is like at various lifts (if you see four bars next to a lift name -- avoid that lift). Single lines are shorter and quicker, but if you're skiing with your kids, you're going to want to stay together. There are plently of four person lifts to accomodate a family of four -- and you can easily split up into groups of 3 . . . On the Gondola, each Gondola car can accomodate about 6 or 7 people.
Private instructors tend to be excellent and well qualified -- and, again, enormously expensive. The advantage to a private instructor is they know where the go (what's been groomed, what's full of rocks . . . ) and you don't really have to wait on lift lines (I know, it's obnoxious .. . but you get what you pay for).
Parking is virtually impossible, use the Vail bus system, or your hotel's shuttlebus if they have one. It's very easy to get to Vail Village, Lionshead, and even Golden Peak.
One fun thing to do with the kids is a visit to Four Eagle Ranch, which has sleigh rides on Clydesdale horses, reindeer, hayrides, singing cowboys and a surprisingly good dinner buffet(the evening is topped off by smores outside on the fire afterward). They love kids and the ranch will arrange for transportation to and from your hotel at night.
CME -- the Colorado Mountain Express is the most reliable (and probably the most ubiquitous) form of transportation outside of the bus and shuttle system in Vail. They're also probably the best way to get from the airport to Vail. They do pick ups at both Denver and Eagle airports. Just a note -- if you are flying in to Eagle, while it is much closer to Vail, it is located just beyond a narrow mountain pass, where weather conditions and visibility can change quickly. In the winter, many Eagle flights are re-routed to Denver, and you could end up sitting for 2 hours on the tarmac in Denver, waiting to fly back to Eagle . . . so, you may want to consider flying into Denver anyway.
As far as dress goes, you can be as over the top or as scruffy as you like, Vail is not fully fur-infested yet. Casual clothes are acceptable everywhere, even in the nicest restaurants. Just remember to bring warm clothes and plenty of layers because at its high altitude, the weather at Vail can change very quickly.
Adjusting the altitude: Don't drink alcohol and try to avoid cafeine and soda for the first 2-3 days, but stay hydrated! Drink twice as much water as you'd usually do at home. Try to get good rest, if you can, too. Watch out for headaches,dizziness or nausea. If your child complains of any of these, get him/her some liquids and give him/her time to adjust; it may take a day or so. Some people stay in Denver overnight to help them adjust to the altitude. We're from NYC, which is at sea level, but my 3 children have never had difficulty adjusting. We fly into either Eagle and Denver and ski the next morning every year with no problem.
By and large the people are polite and accomodating to families. The rudest people on the mountain seem to be teenage snowboarders, who often block lift line access and key entry points to certain runs. I'd avoid them and wear a helmet (your kids should definitely have them). In the past 3 years, I've seen 4 serious injuries caused by snowboarders to skiers who weren't wearing helmets. Be vigilant about looking uphill (and teach your children to do this too) when crossing trails because there are a fair number of yahoos who are skiing on terrain above their level and don't know how to stop or are simply people focused on their IPODs and not really paying attention to anything around them.
If you love powder -- ski the back bowls in the morning before anyone gets out there. If you love half pipes Catty's Canyon (near catty's cafe at Midway) (I'm not sure if that's the correct spelling) is a great natural half-pipe and a lot of fun. If you love groomers -- you can get a map of all the newly groomed trails at the gondola at Lionshead each morning. There are also all sorts of fun little dips and glides through the trees that are incredible fun for kids (and adults) if you're up for it. They're marked all along the trails and have signs and kid-friendly cartoonish names.
Finally, if you're arranging to meet up with someone -- bear in mind that the different base lodges are generally pretty far apart from each other, and that the runs tend to be long, so plan your descent for the last run of the day with that in mind.
Wishing you blue skies and powder days!