Headlines scream about how obese American kids are, a health time bomb set to explode any time now.

Experts discuss “the last kid in the woods,” worried that youngsters spend so little time outdoors.

Yet thousands of American families enjoy worthwhile time together on the snow, every winter weekend exercising in the fresh mountain air.

OnTheSnow set out to ask experts at two resorts well known for children’s programs for advice on how to get the greatest enjoyment and value from that family snow getaway or vacation you have planned or dreamed of.

Smugglers’ Notch Resort in Vermont, and Steamboat Ski & Resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, always rank at the top of the list with parents. Coincidentally, a check of those luscious full-color, full-page ads in a recent glossy magazine devoted to such things revealed that these were the only two resorts among the advertisers which featured their kids’ programs.

Here are the basics:

Smugglers offers Snow Sports University, which provides private and group lessons to “develop skills through fun;” full-day programs for youngsters from six weeks to 17 years, which include lessons, on-and-off the slope activities, and lunch; Flaik GPS technology to track and record a child’s day on the slopes, so he or she can “relive their mountain experience with you;” a guarantee that each child or adult will have fun and learn to ski or ride, or you get back the lesson cost; and adaptive skiing and riding for children with special needs.

Steamboat has the kids and teens programs, first grade to age 15. The basic is Rough Riders, skiers and snowboarders of all ages, full-day. There is also Desperados Ski Week, also first grade to 15 years old, a program offered only certain Monday-to-Friday periods this season, during which skiers stay with the same instructor and group, and enjoy special opportunities. And the Steamboat Teen Challenge, for advanced skiers, PSIA levels 6-8, teens 13-17, again available only during peak weeks.

Steamboat also has a Kids’ Vacation Center, which takes babies at six weeks for day care, toddlers at 2.5 years for private lessons, and children at 3.5 years for group sessions. Top age at this newly renovated (almost $2 million) is about six or first grade, depending on the child.

Here are the questions:

Should you bring equipment or rent?

Harley Johnson, ski school director at Smuggs, said, “What’s most important about equipment is that it be properly fitted to the skier for maximum comfort and safety. When families rent equipment early, such as the night before, kids who are new to skiing have the opportunity to become accustomed to the equipment by trying out the boots and walking around to get a feel for them before hitting the slopes.”

Lenny McNeil, manager of the Kids’ Vacation Center at Steamboat, said, “There are a lot of different options,” when it comes to rentals. Some families take advantage of rental deals which provide free kid’s gear with an adult rental. Others use the gear – boots, skis, and helmets – available in the Center.

Talk to the “vacation bureau” at either place to determine what’s best for you, and your kid or kids when it comes to equipment. For instance, Steamboat Ski & Sports has seven outlets, including a “Pro Shop” and in-room fittings, so check.

Do you recommend ski school? (This is a no-brainer.) McNeil said, “We absolutely recommend ski school. It’s the best way to guarantee skiers and snowboarders pick up the necessary tools to ski and ride, in a comfortable, progressive, and friendly atmosphere,”

From Smugglers’, Johnson said, “We offer a lot of options to fit a family’s needs and ‘extras’ that make the experience fun and memorable. For example, our instructional programs range from a specially designed lesson for two and a half year- olds that is run by our slopeside child care center, to Mom-and-Me/Dad-and-Me sessions where a parent is part of their child’s learning experience under a ski instructor’s guidance, to all-day ski and snowboard camps, and traditional group lessons.”

Smugglers’ ends the day with science classes, magic shows, and visits to Mother Nature in her onslope tipi to learn about the natural world.

What else is there for youngsters to do?

Smugglers’ has an indoor FunZone, a game and entertainment center with lots of inflatable things, including a “joust platform” and giant slid. There are also tubing, outdoor ice skating, airboarding on inflatable sleds, and such family activities as snowshoe walks, dogsledding and snowmobiling. For ages eight and up, Smugglers will soon have a zipline canopy tour. This three-hour adventure will consist of a series of zip lines, tree platforms, suspension bridges, and rappels. While this seems like an adrenaline-high, it will also incorporate information on local flora and fauna, ecology, and natural history.

McNeill advised parents to talk to the Steamboat travel specialists to find any of the many activities which most suit their youngsters or their families off the snow because Steamboat Springs is more than a resort, it’s a community.

That’s particularly true of parents’ night out. Steamboat Resort has an intriguing offering, on New Year’s Eve, when there are specific fun activities called Kids Adventure Night for youngsters, so parents can enjoy themselves. Youngsters ride the gondola up to the top of Thunderhead, enjoy the torchlight parade and fireworks, watch movies, play games, have dinner and snacks.

Johnson said, “We have Kids’ Night Out, because it’s all about the kids having their own special fun. It’s held three nights weekly from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at our slopeside child care center for ages 4 to 11, and includes dinner, games, crafts, and entertainment for $30 per child.”

Looking for special deals applicable to kids?

McNeill was enthusiastic.“We have Kids Ski Free, where any child 12 and under gets free lift tickets when their parent/grandparent purchases five or more days of lift tickets. Kids also rent free when their parent/grandparent rents equipment for five or more days. There are tons of great deals to be found on lodging and airfare directly into Steamboat/Hayden airport. Steamboat Central Reservations has the inside scoop on all the best deals.“

So, too, was Johnson. “We’ve got three packages so families can choose exactly what they need, whether it’s ski and stay, children’s lessons inclusions or lessons for the entire family. Each of these packages includes lodging, use of our indoor pool and hot tubs, the FunZone and teen centers, daily lift tickets, and snow tubing."

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