Mountain resorts are realizing that happy kids make happy parents and they are doing everything they can think of to keep families content on and off the slopes. A whole different world of fun opens up when the lifts shut down. Many resorts across North America offer activities such as tubing, ice skating, swimming at rec centers, and much more.
Smugglers' Notch in Vermont has the Fun Zone Family Entertainment and Recreation Center. This place has slides, an obstacle course, air jumps, fun house, ping pong tables, kid wall, and the Runt Run (for toddlers). The whole family will have fun at the FunZone, which is open from 3 to 8:30 p.m. and located in the Resort Village at the base area. Nightly events at Smugglers' Notch include bingo and karaoke, Showtime variety theater, and the I-Did-A-Sled competition where families construct a sled out of craft supplies which are provided.
Okemo Mountain Resort, also in Vermont, serves up tabletop "s'mores" in the lobby of the Jackson Gore Inn, the hub for family fun after the lifts close. There are plenty of things to do for the family at night. New this year is the Okemo Mountain Coaster, open all year. You can skate at The Ice House, go snow tubing, or visit the Spring House Pool & Fitness Center for fun in the pools.
Park City Mountain Resort in Utah has long taken family activities seriously. The resort even has its own Web site dedicated to the subject. They call it "Snow Mamas" and you can find out everything going on right there.
The action is all around town at Crested Butte in Colorado. There is a free shuttle service from the mountain that takes kids to the ice rink, movie theatre, and down Elk Avenue, the main drag. The local kids hang out at Teocalli Tamale for burritos and the Brick Oven for pizzas.
They also like to take their snowboards or sleds to the skate park at the Nordic Center and drop into the bowls, on the snow. The skate park is right at the base of the local sledding hill. Sleds are available for free at the Nordic Center. Allison Alfone lived in Crested Butte for eight years. She says her teenage son and his buddies are as safe as can be. "Crested Butte is so small and everyone is always watching out for everybody."
Another idea is to check out the local high school. Get the basketball or hockey schedule and go to a high school game. The hockey games at Howelsen Ice Arena in Steamboat are the place to be on a Friday night. Your kids would be in an environment with other kids their age.
The fun in Steamboat is also high atop the gondola, for the Western BBQ. Guests load at 6 p.m. to head up the gondola for a night of country swing dancing to a live band, and a BBQ dinner any cowboy would love. Steamboat's new Burgess Creek Terrace and Umbrella Bar is sure to be a popular hangout for families this winter, where mom and dad can watch the kids return from their day at ski school.
Mammoth Mountain in the California High Sierra has sledding hills all around town, with snow tubing between The Village at Mammoth and the Main Lodge. Frosty's Mini-Golf is open year-round. The Snowcreek Athletic Club has swimming, basketball, volleyball, and ping pong, if you still have the energy after your day on the slopes. A more relaxing activity is painting pottery at Color Me Mine.
Beaver Creek Resort, back in Colorado, caters to families with complimentary programming every day. Activities include disco skate night, family snowshoeing, a rail jam at the base, and the Family Challenge which offers things like a cookie eating contest, curling, and a bean bag toss.The skating rink is in the middle of the village.
Kids are dialed in at the Park Hyatt at Beaver Creek, where they love the s'mores pit, and the best seat in the house on the patio for the Thursday Night Lights guest glow stick ski down.
Winter Park Resort has free family activities every day, which are timed for when the slopes close. Take ice skating lessons, enjoy Disco Skate Night, the Cowboy Sing-A-Long, and Fireside Storytelling. Meet Winter Park Willie Saturday afternoons. Head down the road to Fraser for one of the best tubing hills in Colorado, and visit their new rec center. You can also go dog sledding or take a sleigh ride in town.
A new option is Camp Woodward at Copper Mountain, which is a 20,000 square foot structure full of indoor jumps, ramps, foam pits and trampolines. Kids and teenagers are going nuts over this place and mom and dad would love to watch or even strap on a helmet and try the fun themselves. The other family fun entertainment is Copper's tubing hill at the base of the Super Bee Chairlift. Copper's tubing hill could very well be the best in Colorado and it's fun for everyone in the family. It's open well into the evening.
Bill Quigley of Gunstock Mountain Resort in New Hampshire says don't be afraid to ask around, "Not just at your hotel but the ski areas. Guest services staff has a wealth of experience and they are mostly locals who know the best restaurants, places to play, and where to find that special experience for everyone."
There are many more resorts -- this has been just a sampling -- so feel free to comment with some of your other favorites.