From Ski Schools to teen centers, a handful of resorts manage to please the whole clan. Here are SKI’s picks for family fun in the East. Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.
1For decades now, Smuggs has reigned as the king of family fun. Resort owners from around the world come here to see how it’s done at the resort that has had its eye on the family market longer than anyone. Check out the daily Cookie Race, where all children cross the finish line as winners (and with big cookies stuffed in their mouths). Take in the lodging-by far the most spacious, comfortable and therefore family-friendly in the industry. The après-ski scene is innovative and family-oriented. There’s always something: a winter bonfire sing-along, family karaoke, a snowmaking lesson given by a scientist or on-snow fun like family tubing races.
Parents are thoughtfully pampered, too. Adjacent to the gentle and segregated Morse Mountain learning trails are the knee-shaking steeps of Madonna Mountain and scenic cruisers of Sterling Mountain. And while getting the kids to lessons used to be a challenge, Smuggs now has individual drop-off spots for each of the three village areas. A new day-care center debuts as well. Located slopeside, it’s easy to access when a parent wants to check in. Better yet, it has heated tile floors so little ones can totter about in just their socks. In a word: cozy.
WHAT’S NEW The classic Madonna summit double has been retrofitted for a softer, warmer ride, and in the base lodge kids can learn about the lift’s history.
WHAT’S STILL COOL Mogul Mouse and friends: possibly the first giant, on-snow mascots-still fun to hug mid-run.
ONLY HERE Professor Alpine and the Wacky Wizard perform their science show on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Even when their experiments go awry, kids learn and laugh.
2Okemo has been owned by the same family for 20 years. No wonder you feel like you’re back with old friends. From check-in to ski school, from grooming to slopeside accommodations, the place coddles its skiing families with warm hospitality. The day-care and ski school center are smack in the middle of the base area, making it easy to settle the kids and hit the slopes. Drop-off begins at 7:30 a.m. on weekends, so you won’t miss first tracks. Okemo makes it easy on the wallet, too: Kids under 12 stay free. Even the once-quiet après-ski scene has evolved, now including a solid list of fun things to do come dusk, with or without the children. On busy holidays, Kids’ Night Out keeps the kids entertained while parents go play. For the older kids, the Rampage Teen Center has an indoor skateboard park. Snowmobile tours are offered nightly. But the best thing about Okemo is what nature gave it: gentle terrain that lets you push yourself but offers plenty that families can enjoy together.
WHAT’S NEW The just-opened Jackson Gore area gives families lots more terrain to explore.
WHAT’S STILL COOL Guided evening snowshoe romps up the mountain: a great vantage point on fireworks nights.
ONLY HERE Special programs, which last year included the meteorologists who work atop Mt. Washington.
Bretton Woods, N.H.
Bretton Woods has pulled off a neat trick. Recent expansion has made it New Hampshire’s biggest resort (375 skiable acres), but the place seems as intimate as ever. The secret: programs and infrastructure that put families first. The kids programs span the ages, and children can be dropped off as early as 8:30 a.m. This year, a quad replaces the old double in the family learning center, making that area even more exciting for beginners with a quick lift ride and plenty of easy, safe ways down. Lodging options range from affordable motel rooms and condos to the lavish Mount Washington Hotel, as grand as it was 100 years ago. Après-ski, there’s a full sports center with swimming pool. And every weekend, all winter long, there are magicians, clowns, games and sledding parties at the base area. Parents can join in or head off for their own fun. What makes Bretton Woods reaally great, though, hits you out on the mountain: plenty of lovely and interesting trails the family can ski together, against one of the most scenic backdrops in ski country.
WHAT’S NEW A Pipe Magician and two new groomers-for pipe conditions even discerning teenagers will enjoy.
WHAT’S STILL COOL Nordic skiing: Give your kids a lesson on the resort’s 62-mile trail network.
ONLY HERE The historic Mount Washington Hotel: If you don’t stay there, at least take the kids for a tour.
Click on the link to the right or the bottom to view the family resorts in the West.