No doubt about it: world-class skiing and snowboarding are what attract most folks to the Vail Valley in winter. But the area has become such an ideal vacation destination—the latest accolade came in fall 2011 when Forbes magazine listed Beaver Creek as the country’s top resort for families—because of the quality and variety of adventures that await. From dogsledding and hot air ballooning to cookie time and a lazy river, there’s something here for every member of the clan. Have fun!
Thrillseekers: The Wilder Side of Family Frolics
Set a Course for Adventure: After sunset, Vail Mountain lights up at Adventure Ridge at the top of the Vista Bahn Gondola. Kids and adults can join a ski-bike tour and slide their way down the mountain to Lionshead with their headlamps in place (ages 10 and up). Gondola rides are free from Lionshead after 3:30 p.m. But the thrills here begin at breakfast time and don’t stop all day. Try the tubing hill, where adventurers of all ages (minimum height: 42 inches) ride the covered “magic carpet” lift, choose their big colored tubes, then hop on and fly down the hill in a dedicated lane. If you're feeling adventurous try the alpine coaster, where you can take in the view of the mountain while descending 3,400 feet (minimum height: 54 inches). Or you might prefer to hang out by the glowing fire pit and warm up for a few minutes between runs. With or without the kids, adults enjoy the popular Bistro Fourteen restaurant. 970-754-8245, vail.com
Mush! Kids will want to take their turn driving a team of huskies in a racing rig or passenger cart on a dogsledding trip to Camp Hale near Leadville. Visit an old homestead with sweeping views, or enjoy a starry night with the canines running across the snow. Some companies offer hands-on kennel tours so kids can pet the puppies. Winterhawk Dogsled Adventures, 719-486-1336, winterhawkdogsledadv.com; Mountain Musher, 970-653-7877, mountainmusher.com
Rise Above: Adventurers of virtually all ages soar above the peaks year-round on a hot air balloon ride high above the valley floor. Once you’ve alighted, enjoy a Champagne picnic breakfast and celebrate the skyscraping experience. Camelot Hot Air Balloons, 970-328-2290, camelotballoons.com
Meal Plan: Parents always want to know where to take the kids to eat on vacation: not too stuffy, but not too cheesy, and with food everyone can stomach. The Vail Valley boasts popular pizza restaurants such as Pazzo’s in both Vail Village and Avon and Blue Moose Pizza in Vail and Beaver Creek; the Vail and Beaver Creek Chophouses; Moe’s Original BBQ in Vail; the Gashouse in Edwards, a vintage log structure; and on-mountain restaurants such as The 10th at the top of Gondola 1 and Beano’s Cabin on Beaver Creek Mountain, reached via a sleigh ride. Dig in!
Speed Racer: From guided tours to driving the machine in the wilderness, snowmobiling makes for stunning views and contagious fun. At Camp Hale, expert guides can lead snowmobilers to an elevation of 13,000 feet across open meadows. The summit of Vail Pass is also a popular snowmobiling venue, conveniently located just off of I-70. Nova Guides, 719-486-2656, novaguides.com; Vail Backcountry Tours, 1 970-476-7749, vailbackcountrytours.com
Park Primer: Pick a Park
With six different terrain parks boasting a veritable mother lode of features, the area’s resorts may force you to pry the kids from their playgrounds ... unless you’re prepared to drop in yourself. Choose wisely, grasshopper: you’re not as nimble as you used to be.
Although they occupy the same slopes, terrain parks are a destination all their own. Hotshots show their skills skiing or shredding, but everyone from entry level to more advanced abilities can play in the terrain parks. Half-pipes and scheduled learning competitions stand ready for those aspiring to big thrills. Here’s a peek at the area’s aerodromes:
Four simple steps to ride a rail—without dying.
1. Pop Shop: On a bunny-hill-steep slope, “pop” up and reposition your skis from straight down the hill to 90 degrees across the run. Determine whether you’re stronger landing—and sliding downhill—left or right. Repeat several hundred times.
2. Think Small: Find a rail that’s close to the ground (crotch-high at most—trust us, dads). Approach the rail slowly, head on. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and your belly button aimed at the rail’s end. Pop up and turn skis 90 degrees.
3. Sole Search: Keep the center of your boot soles directly over the rail. Keep your hands up and in front you. Stance should be low and loose. Keep your shoulders square with the rail and your weight on the downhill boot.
4. Look Ahead: Focus your eyes on the end of the rail—and the landing. Use a slight pop to exit the rail and rotate your skis back downhill. Stick the landing. Trash-talk to your kid.
Chillseekers: When Your Child's in the Mood for Mild
Make a Memory: There’s nothing quite like a horse-drawn sleigh ride through freshly fallen snow to conjure Norman Rockwell’s Americana: wranglers wrap guests in warm blankets and then invite them to watch the activities of a working ranch before going inside to a cozy dinner. 4Eagle Ranch, 970-926-3372; 4eagleranch.com
High and Fly: Beaver Creek’s McCoy Park is one of the few mountaintop Nordic centers in the country, offering free-heelers the unobstructed views that alpine skiers and snowboarders often keep to themselves. More than 32 kilometers of groomed and rustic cross-country and snowshoe trails offer unforgettable panoramic vistas of three mountain ranges. The trails spread out from the top of Strawberry Park Express Lift. McCoy Park accommodates Nordic skiers and snowshoers of all abilities. The park is open from early-December through early -April. The Nordic Sports Center, located at the bottom of the lift in the Strawberry Park complex, provides equipment rentals, a daily group and private lesson desk, ticket sales, retail, and snacks. Wildlife fanciers will find the guided nature tours a great orientation to this stunning area. 970-754-5313; beavercreek.com
Hungry? At 3 p.m. daily, chefs emerge from McCoy Peak Cafe in Beaver Creek Village with trays of just-baked chocolate chip cookies for the asking. Just down the escalators at the base of Centennial, Helmut Fricker plays his alpenhorn and tells jokes on Beaver Creek Plaza. 970-754-0020, beavercreek.com
Night on Thralled Mountain: Nocturnal surprises for the adventurous of any age beckon from the scenic slopes of Beaver Creek Mountain. 970-754-5464; beavercreek.com
- Thursdays: Families can ski or board down the mountain to a serenade of music and fireworks. Imagine a swingin’ parade in the dark ... with torches.
Valley Whirl: The Vail Nordic Center, two blocks east of Vail Village, offers 17 kilometers of ski trails and 17 kilometers of snowshoe trails and a fully stocked retail and rental store, as well as knockout views of the Gore Range. The center also serves up great homemade soup and other goodies alongside the aerobic opportunities. 970-476-8366; vailclubhouse.com
Just for Kids: Lionshead’s drop-in children’s museum, the Imagination Station, offers kids 2 years + a break from outdoor exertions with hands-on art and science activities. 970-479-2292; vailrec.com
Great Skates: Imagine you’re Sonja Henie or even Wayne Gretzky (sans stick) on one of four inviting outdoor ice rinks around the valley. Lionshead Ice Rink, antlersvail.com; Nottingham Lake, avonrec.org; Solaris Ice Rink, solarisvail.com; Village Ice Rink, beavercreek.com. For inside ice, Dobson Ice Arena offers private instruction; Dobson Ice Arena, vailrec.com
Cool Pool: The Avon Recreation Center is a family-friendly multi-use facility with a lap pool, a lazy river, child care, and fitness classes. Drop in and use a punch pass during your stay. 970-748-4060, avonrec.org
The Play’s the Thing: Sure, the mountains beckon. But if the weather outside is frightful or some of your crew just need a change of pace, there’s always plenty going on.
- The Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek offers an extensive schedule of family-oriented performances, including matinees, by both famed entertainers and local thespians. 970-845-8497, vilarpac.org
- Both the Vail and Avon libraries feature storytelling hours for kids of different ages groups. Vail Library,970-479-2184, vaillibrary.com; Avon Library, 970-949-6797, evld.org
- Current films show all winter at Cinébistro, Vail Village’s new luxury cinema. Movie listings are published online and in the local newspaper.970-476-3344, cinebistro.com