My four-year-old son has started asking when winter will start so he can go back to ski school—a request that brings a smile to this ski-bum parent's face. Last season, Griffin was enrolled in a seven-week program at our local ski area, and he’s obviously looking forward to reconnecting with his instructor and classmates so they can continue exploring the slopes as “Team Duck” (with rubber ducks Velcroed onto their helmets, natch). 

Many ski areas throughout North America offer similar programs for kids. Programs are targeted at anyone from seven-year-olds to younger teens, and they range in length from three weeks to more than three months. They draw a mix of young ski-town locals, kids from nearby and weekenders. Compared to the one-off ski or snowboard lesson, a multi-week program offers children the opportunity to develop a solid foundation of skills over time, work with an instructor who really gets to know them and form enduring friendships. 

“With the consistency of the same instructor week after week, it’s more of a progressive learning environment,” said Kathleen Clabby, a program supervisor at the Breckenridge Ski and Ride School who oversees the Bombers seasonal kids’ program, now in its 22nd year. “We also do things with the Bombers that don’t happen in regular ski school, with themed weeks that make it more of a camp environment. We try to make it an all-mountain experience.”

Themes may include racing technique, avalanche dog demos with the ski patrol, on-mountain wildlife presentations by local experts and scavenger hunts. 

Meanwhile, as your youngster rips it up around the mountain, you get consistent free time to ski with your spouse or friends — and perhaps an unexpected benefit later on.

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Seasonal programs provide kids with the opportunity to explore the mountain and build confidence. Photo by Keoki Flagg

“Children in our seasonal programs also gain a local’s knowledge of our mountain and share that with their parents,” Sugarbush Spokesperson Patrick Brown said. “Sometimes it takes your children to show you around a few secret stashes at the resort.” 

Don’t let a fear of commitment deter you from signing up your child; if she has to miss a week, she’ll still reap the benefits.

“The single biggest question I get from parents is about the commitment level,” said Todd Kelly, program director of the Squaw Valley Ski and Snowboard Team, which offers both recreational and competitive sessions. “It’s not like the football mentality, where if you miss a practice, it’s not good. This is definitely more relaxed.”

Certainly, any program that includes helmet-decoration day and a spring ski-in-your-pajamas day, like Squaw’s does, has a focus on fun. 

Kelly also emphasizes that if your child progresses more quickly than the rest of his group, he’s not necessarily stuck with them for the entire program: “We can move kids around. It’s always evolving.” That approach holds true for any kids’ multi-week program.

When looking into seasonal programs near you, compare those at a few resorts, if possible. Though all offer similar benefits to kids, they can vary widely as to duration, days of the week offered, lesson length, group size, and, of course, cost. In most cases, equipment rental and lift tickets must be purchased separately. Some resorts also offer specialty programs focused on specific terrain like park and pipe or big-mountain skiing or boarding. And at several ski areas, seasonal programs are run through local ski clubs or teams in partnership with the resort. No matter what program you decide on, sign up early, as some programs sell out before the winter even starts. 

Here’s a sampling of seasonal programs around the country that reflect the various options available for kids:

Sugarbush

When: December 10-March 25, Saturdays and Sundays

What: Micro Blazers (skiers ages three through four, already sold out). Slots are still open in the other sessions—half-day and full-day Mini Blazers (skiers ages four through six), Snow Blazers (skiers seven through 15), and Snow Riders (snowboarders seven through 15).

Noteworthy: Specialty programs include Race Blazers (skiers 10 through 15); Egan’s Adventure Blazers (advanced skiers nine through 15), highlighting steeps, trees and backcountry-style terrain; and Mountaineering Blazers (advanced skiers, snowboarders, and tele skiers 10 through 17), which focuses on backcountry travel and safety, with an overnight campout.

New: MTX, a teen program for skiers and snowboarders 13 through 17.

Click here for more information.

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A young skier learns how to jump at Sugarbush Resort. Photo by Sandy Macy

Hunter Mountain 

When: December 10-March 18, Saturdays and Sundays 

What: Mini Mights (half-day only, skiers age four), Mighty Mights (skiers five through six), Junior Development (skiers or snowboarders, seven through 17). Lunchtime is unsupervised, so parents must either lunch with their kids or sign a release form.

Noteworthy: Junior Freeski/Mogul Development (skiers seven through 17) focuses on bumps, jumps and the terrain park. Teen Pro Development (advanced skiers or snowboarders 13 through 17) teaches skills to become an instructor or patroller.

New: Junior Adventure (skiers and snowboarders seven through 17) switches off between skiing and snowboarding in one program.

Click here for more information.

Breckenridge

When: January 7-March 4, Saturdays or Sundays

What: Pee Wee Bombers (skiers, age three), All-Mountain Bombers (skiers, four through 13; snowboarders, six through 13) 

Noteworthy: Freestyle Bombers (intermediate-plus skiers or riders, eight through 13) focuses on the park and pipe.

New: A three-week December Bombers program, December 3-17

Click here for more information.

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Kids line up with Breckenridge's mascot before taking to the slopes. Photo Courtesy Breckenridge Ski Resort

Eldora Mountain Resort

When: Eldorables—January 9-February 10 or February 13-March 16, Thursday or Friday mornings or one afternoon any weekday; Kids’ Trek—January 7-February 12 or February 25-April 1, Saturdays or Sundays 

What: Eldorables (half-day only, skiers, ages four through six), Kids’ Trek (skiers four through 12; snowboarders, seven through 12)

Noteworthy: Kids’ Cross-Country Trek (five through 12) introduces the younger set to Eldora’s 40 km of groomed Nordic trails.

New: All-Mountain Freeride Trek (advanced skiers or snowboarders, nine through 14) challenges kids on Eldora’s expert terrain.

Click here for more information.

Snowbird

When: December 10-April 1, divided into three five-week sessions during these dates, Saturdays or Sundays

What: Chickadee Adventure Team (skiers, age three, some sessions are sold out), Kinderbird Adventure Team (skiers, four through six, some sessions are sold out), Adventure Team (skiers or snowboarders, seven through 15)

Noteworthy: Lunchtime at the kids’ center includes weekly entertainment like musicians and storytellers. 

New: The 15-week Expedition Team (advanced skiers and snowboarders, 10 through 15) is designed for “kids ready to learn more about mountain awareness and take their skill level to the next step,” Snowbird’s Mountain School Director Maggie Loring said. In addition to learning big-mountain tactics and etiquette, and avalanche safety, kids will use the FLAIK system, a wearable GPS that lets them track their speed, vertical feet and places skied. Also new is the Adult Adventure program, a lower-cost, social skiing experience for parents whose kids are in one of the seasonal programs.

Click here for more information.

Squaw Valley

When: December 3-April 7, Saturdays and Sundays, Shooting Stars also offered Tuesdays and Thursdays

What: Shooting Stars (half-day only, skiers, age four), Mighty Mites (skiers, five through eight), Big Mountain teams (intermediate-plus skiers, nine through 12 and 13 through 14)

Noteworthy: Mighty Mites can buy discounted Spyder ski pants and jacket. Kids in the Big Mountain program can opt to compete in the Tahoe Jr. Freeride series and other events at Squaw.

Click here for more information.