If you want to take it easy, and make it more personal, a smaller resort may be better for your first-time, family ski vacation. These resorts are scattered across the country, many family-owned and operated, with one base area. They're easy and hassle-free.

Emily Fisher grew up in a large area, but now works for Dodge Ridge in California. She thinks the smaller resorts are a fabulous opportunity for families. "It's a little bit more intimate. You get more personal service. You can really get the ‘local' feel."

She says the kids can have consistency with instructors and get the same one every time at Dodge. While the kids are in their lesson, parents can ski, or sit on the deck of the new family lodge, "where they can have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and watch their kids go up and down the Magic Carpet."

She adds that at the smaller resorts, you can typically park your car, put your gear on, and walk to the lift. "You don't have to necessarily catch a bus or tram to get to the base area. It's less intimidating because there's less of a ‘scene.'"

Lori Rowell at Pat's Peak in New Hampshire says with one base area, it's easier for newer skiing and riding families to get rentals, lift tickets, and sign up for lessons in the same place. "Plus, because we are smaller, we take the time to help people in places like boot fitting, to make sure they know how their gear works and whether they have the right equipment."

Families at smaller resorts are frequently offered a starter special. It's a lift ticket to the beginner valley area, a group lesson, and rentals for one price of $68 per person at Pat's Peak. Do it three times, and buy one more lift ticket, and you get a season pass to Pat's Peak and Waterville Valley, for the rest of the season. 

There are nine "Gems" resorts in Colorado, recognized by Colorado Ski Country USA. They're described as some of the state's best hidden treasures. "Nine resorts off the beaten path, where you'll find shorter lift lines, smaller crowds, down-to-earth prices, and a great family atmosphere. It's where you don't need a homing beacon to keep track of your kids. It's what we in Colorado call quaint. It's what you will call perfect," is how the trade group describes the Gems.

[R372, Ski Cooper], outside of Leadville, is one of those areas, where Bob Casey says, "A smaller area means most of the time you aren't going to have lift lines. There's much less hustle and bustle, and a whole different feeling as to the way skiing used to be, back when skiing was really skiing."

Casey adds that the smaller resorts are more affordable and you get a better value, where you pay less and get in more skiing. He also says families don't have to worry about getting separated on the slopes.

Gard West is moving his family from Arizona to the small ski town of Red River, N.M. He says, "Some of the reasons I chose Red River is the smaller ski areas are more like skiing used to be, and not all the high-powered glitz of the big name mountains. Secondly, you can still purchase a 1,750-square-foot. condo with three bedrooms/two baths without having to mortgage your life away. This is as close to ski in/ski out without being slopeside as you get."