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One doesn’t expect to find oneself climbing a tree after a day of skiing the slopes of Snowmass. Yet it’s 4 p.m., and instead of slipping into a booth at the village tavern for a pint, I’m twisting myself into a pretzel trying to follow my toddler up the Aspen Leaf Climber at the new Treehouse Kids Adventure Center.
If you have children, then you know that après-ski isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of jamming into the après bar du jour, shoulder to shoulder with 50 of your closest ski buddies, quaffing pints and comparing heroic on-slope feats.
These days, families have their very own version of après-ski-—inside the Alpine Climb Room at the Treehouse Center, located in Snowmass’s nascent base village. You’ll be in good company as dozens of your former “closest ski buddies,” fresh from picking up their offspring from inside the kid’s center, perform acrobatic maneuvers on kid-sized equipment.
The Alpine Climb Room is just one small facet of the $17 million children’s center that opened in the Village at Snowmass last season. (The Village itself unveils more this season with 91 condos, three restaurants and a lounge. The Viceroy Snowmass Resort opens Christmas 2009, followed by the Little Nell Residences in mid-2010.) But it justly represents the spirit of the kid’s center. The main attraction is the Leaf Climber, with 10 aspen leaf–shaped platforms that rise 17 feet. The structure, along with the center, was created by L.A.–based firm Lexington, designer of children’s museums. The room is open to kids 5 and under every evening, providing an après-ski opportunity for kids—and a chance for parents to mingle. And, on one evening last spring, to hone one’s negotiating skills.
“Ethan, it’s time to go,” shouts one mother to her 4-year-old, who’s parked comfortably at the top of the climber. He’s not budging. “You can have chocolate milk with dinner,” Mom offers. Still nothing. “A chocolate milkshake?” he asks. “Fine,” she relents. “Just come down.”
The Treehouse Kids Center is the new home of kids’ ski school and rentals as well as childcare for nonskiers ages 8 weeks to 4 years. Designed like a children’s museum, the kid’s center is split into six themed rooms that have hands-on, interactive features. The Fox Den, for 3- and 4-year-olds, has a 19-foot-long crawl-through tunnel with three portholes and a replica of a fox family inside. The kids can even nap inside of it.
“We wanted to go above and beyond the typical daycare experience,” says Sue Way, director of children’s programs. “We put a lot of thought into it—specifically into how we could make theexperience easier on kids and parents.”
Ski school operates out of the center, from a Cubs on Skis program for the youngest skiers—where they don tiny planks and ride magic carpets—to the Snowmass Steeps Camps for kids 12 to 19. (There’s a separate check-in area for the 4-and-unders.) And for little ones with separation anxiety, the TLC room, with its enormous fish tank, offers kids a chance to get their bearings in private.
Way has been around long enough to know what works and what doesn’t, and small details, such as the TLC room, work. She started with Aspen Skiing Co. as a children’s ski school instructor in 1982. After a hiatus, she returned in 1990 as director of children’s ski school. “We had an opportunity to start from scratch,” she says, “and this is an amazing place that we know kids will love.”
When Junior’s happy, so are Mom and Dad. But even if Junior isn’t so junior, the Treehouse has him covered. The Teen Club, for the 13–16 set, operates three nights a week in peak season, with movies, video games and a skate ramp. Kids 4 through 12 can hang out on weeknights for karaoke, pizza, ping-pong and movies.
So what does this mean for you, as a parent—and as a skier? It means that you can drop your children off in a central location in Snowmass Village and ride the Village Express lift to access the entire mountain. It means that you can rest assured that your little skiers are learning on some of the best new kids’ terrain in the nation, thanks to Elk Camp Meadows—two new surface lifts and six dedicated acres for beginners. It means that you can knock off skiing at 3 p.m. and hit the new Sneaky’s Tavern in the village for that pint while the tots enjoy complimentary childcare until 4.
Maybe après-ski as we knew it isn’t dead, after all.
SIGNPOST: Snowmass, Colo.
3,132 skiable acres; 4,406 vertical feet; summit elevation 12,510 feet; 91 trails; 24 lifts. Lift tickets (’07–’08): $87; $78 youth 13–17; $55 kids 7–12; under 7 free
In the village, Hayden and Capitol Peak lodges offer hotel rooms and one- to three-bedroom condos, urbane décor and a convenient location; $158–$3,150; 800-420-5797;
. Villas at the Snowmass Club, one to three bedrooms with kitchens, are two minutes from Two Creeks quad; $289–$1,239; 800-837-4255;
Junk, in the village, serves organic comfort food. The Sweet Life is a ’50s diner upstairs and an ice cream parlor and candy shop downstairs;
. For a night without the kids, try Sage, in the Snowmass Club; 970-923-0923.
Try Sneaky’s Tavern for beers and bistro fare;
Aspen/Pitkin County Airport has nonstop service from seven U.S. cities;
– SKI MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 2008