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US ski options with a 3 year old

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
We're just back from an Esprit ski trip with Dashed jnr (who's currently 2 and a bit). Overall a thoroughly enjoyable holiday, but very little of that was down to Esprit! Dirty, tired hotel, mediocre food (especially for the kids), lots of issues in general although the childcare side and the staff were really good. And from all the seasoned users of Esprit that we spoke to (including on here when I asked similar questions), that seems to sum up what you get with Esprit.

So we're looking around for options for next season and some of the European ones are quite eye watering or don't take kids under 4 or 5 skiing - we'd definitely like jnr to have the opportunity to try it, so a mix of skiing and nursery care like the Esprit model would be perfect.

Looking through some of the older SH threads, a few folk have really rated their US / Canada experiences but I can only find generic responses rather than any detail of which resorts or companies they used. So has anyone done it, where did you go, and how did you rate it?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Plane tickets and lift tickets suggest the European experience might still be cheaper overall! From what I read, Austria seems to be one of the best for toddlers.

I have no idea about toddlers in Banff Canada, the only place I have experience, but if there's one thing that sums up my love of the place it's "customer service" so I'd like to think you'd get good results.

Pragmatically, are you OK taking a child on a 9 hour flight, dealing with 8 hour time difference (awake at 3am, collapsing by 2pm), and a 20-40min coach trip to the slopes there and back every day? Your experience with Esprit must have been really bad!
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
We first went to Banff when our son was 4. Not sure how it compared price wise but as a family it was perfect. We arranged it all independent. The childcare at all resorts was superb and was a mix of all day (or half day) childcare with 1hr ski lessons. By the end he was skiing green runs with us.

Every child is different but the travel and jet lag wasn’t an issue. He slept on the plane out there and we kept him up till 7pm their time (1am uk!) and that seemed to work.

The only issue with Banff is that apartments - which are usually better with kids than hotels - aren’t that common due to national park and subletting.

Any more questions let me know
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@Dashed, we took one Esprit trip and, without being critical of what they offer, decided it wasn't really for us. We then went to North America for several years and were very happy with the experience. The problem is that my knowledge is two decades out of date as our lads are now all aged over 20. They still ski with us every winter, though.

Three is very young to ski. In my dated experience, almost all North American ski resorts offered childcare and/or snowplay classes for younger kids with proper skiing starting at four in some resorts and five in others. Unfortunately, you will need to check the resorts websites one by one. Exchange rates and inflation have moved the goalposts somewhat but, at the time, we typically found that (provided we booked early and shopped around) costs were lower than an Esprit type holiday as so many North American resorts offer freebies for young children. Again, these costs vary between resorts so get your spreadsheet out and start a Total Cost of Holiday calculator including all extras such as child care, accommodation, transfers, etc.

When our kids were youngest, we went to Breckenridge, Big Sky and Panorama. Our experience in Breck was good, but Big Sky and Panorama were definitely much better places for a young family. What you are looking for is accommodation right on the slopes and right next to the ski school/childcare. You also want things like an an outdoor swimming pool and very likely a condo rather than a hotel. Tired toddlers and restaurants can be an unpleasant combination - far better to have a spacious self-catering place where they can play happily while you make a bowl of cereal or pop something into the microwave. Don't discount hotels, though, as many North American hotels have huge rooms with simple catering facilities.

The trouble with large resorts is that these are quite sought-after characteristics; if you go to Vail or Whistler, you'll pay a small fortune for the privilege. And, when you get on the slopes, your little ones may be intimidated by the crowds of fast skiers hurtling down from the upper mountain. So you want a small, purpose-built resort - and that's why Panorama and Big Sky are almost impossible to beat for your circumstances.

In Panorama, we always stayed in the Riverbend condos. Given the age of your kids, though, you might prefer to be in the upper village adjacent to the outdoor pool complex. The Panorama Springs Lodge would be a near-perfect experience for you in my view.

In Big Sky we stayed in the Huntley Lodge. That was another perfect choice that, unless things have changed in the intervening decades, would probably still be great for you. In our day, the hotel offered free evening kids clubs that we used once to allow us to have a civilised meal on our own.

Places that I've not been to but which I believe offer a similar experience are Silver Star, Big White and Kimberly, all in Canada.

Hopefully someone will be along with some more up to date experiences.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Also I think you are more likely to see extremely cold weather in North America than in Europe.

We've really enjoyed Banff, Whistler and Breck but we waited until the boys were old enough to not need lessons. We just felt that Europe was a more sensible package for learners.
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London_Falcon wrote:
Also I think you are more likely to see extremely cold weather in North America than in Europe.

Generally true but it depends on the time of year and the resort. January in Tignes is likely to be much colder and darker than March in Panorama. I wouldn't recommend skiing with very young children in January. I did it once, and it was a cold mistake.

London_Falcon wrote:
We've really enjoyed Banff, Whistler and Breck but we waited until the boys were old enough to not need lessons. We just felt that Europe was a more sensible package for learners.

We went to North America preciselybecause of the lessons. Class sizes of 3-4 with native English-speaking instructors and classmates who also speak English, with lessons bookable by the day and classes rearranged daily to ensure children were in with the right group are a recipe for rapid progression. Crocodiles of 15 children block-booked for the week - seen in too many European resorts - don't really cut it by comparison. Ski school is the single biggest reason to cross the Atlantic with kids in my experience.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
One of the things we loved about sunshine village Banff was that it was always a maximum of three kids (often one or two) in a group - so all on one chair. We were able to flexibly book half days or days as we went on, usually just a day or so in advance. The emphasis was very much on fun. Day one he could snowplough. By afternoon day 2 we saw him on his first proper run having been up a chairlift.
There’s also loads of fun non skiing stuff to do. So it was a really fun holiday full stop for our lad, with fun skiing. We usually go in April when the temperature is quite pleasant!
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Thanks folks, particularly @JonnyJones.

Keep the suggestions coming Happy

Definitely only looking at a bit of skiing (an hour or two a day) with wrap around nursery care. It would also be late season - Jan anywhere can be cold and unpleasant for anyone, never mind a tot. Having a swimming pool and other facilities nearby would also be a must - we want a fun family experience rather than just getting rid of him for 8 hours a day!
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@Dashed, mont tremblant in quebec was awesome when are kids were small , stayed at ski in ski out fairmont hotel , fun ski school / nursery for the kids , very easy to navigate small mountain , meaning little or no chance of being late for pick up etc , amazing indoor/outdoor pool , shortish flight and hassle free transfer , loads of non ski activities , late season is best for family with small kids as temps are much better for all aspects of trip

killington and stow are two more east coast alternatives
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Sweden, in March.
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@JonnyJones +1

If you can afford it then Upper Tayton lodge at Panorama (preferably with a suite so you can also self cater) would be as good as you'll get. Ski in, ski out. Pool downstairs. Flexible child care and lessons within walking distance. A few restaurants nearby as well.

My only reservations would be price (it won't be cheap by any stretch) and travel time. It's a decent 3.5 to 4 hours drive from Calgary airport and the 93 South isn't my favorite stretch of road at the best of times (it's plowed but it's unlit and can be remote)

Kimberley is also very family friendly but the child care facilities are significantly smaller than the big resorts. I'd say better once they're old enough to be skiing for a bit more of the day. The skiing infrastructure for adults is also more limited.

I've never been but Big White is supposed to be similar and has the advantage of a shorter transfer from Kelowna after a second internal flight. Silver Star is also well regarded.

In terms of Banff whilst all 3 ski hills have the facilities you're looking for in terms of ski school and wrap around care (to use the Canadian expression) you're committing to travelling to / from the hills each day and so there's less flexibility if the 3 year old isn't in cooperative mood. Also none of the lodges are particularly friendly from a "looking after a 3 year old perspective" if you don't have them in the dedicated care facilities. They tend to be a bit cramped and noisy. Having said that when Sweajnr was younger we used Lake Louise a few times when we did want to get rid of him for 8 hours! and they were fantastic with a combination of outside play; outside skiing and inside facilities.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
Three is a great age to learn. Get them on skis and in half day lessons.
Sun Peaks in BC would be perfect. On snow lodging at a reasonable price and over 4000 acres of varied skiing.
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
I'm an American - not your average, and I soundly recommend Canada, too.

Many suggest Alberta or BC spots. Fine. But, if Canada curries interest, do NOT overlook what Quebec offers. I'm highly prejudiced toward/for Montreal (!!!!) and anything within 100 miles of same. Look into it. They love their families, children - le petite......

WHITEGOLD's "Sweden in March" comment has my fullest approval!!!!!!!! Just back from being in Sweden and Finland as we find ourselves every year on biz and, as always, it's superb. Again, both nations heavily cater to family, the atmosphere is so enjoyable. Norway's great, also.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
@sweaman22, regarding travel time to BC resorts, some distant memories are coming back to me.

When our kids were little, we used to get a hotel in Calgary to cover the evening that we landed. We'd make sure the hotel had a pool so we got some fun family time in the evening and the following morning, and then we could take our time over the beautiful drive to the resort. I remember stopping to build snowmen and for snowball fights in the Kootenay national park for example, so the journey became part of the holiday. It took an extra day out of my annual leave but the extra cost was negligible and family holidays should be relaxing.

I would definitely hire a big 4x4, too. The cost for a family is often lower than paying for transfers, but the ability to stop when kids need the loo, or to fill up with supplies in a supermarket on the way is priceless.

We always priced up packages but usually found DIY was cheaper - especially if travelling in school holidays.


Last edited by You know it makes sense. on Tue 11-02-20 9:09; edited 2 times in total
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Off the beaten path, which IMO is a good thing. Probably not so much for someone coming from across the pond, but Sun Valley is a great place for kiddies, and ski school, and catering to families. You can do it relatively inexpensive for lodging. They have a whole mountain just for beginners and young kids to learn to ski, Dollar Mtn. They have a good day care program but there's not much in the way of facilities at Dollar. It's only a few miles from Mt. Baldy and the expert terrain that is on offer there. The town has a free bus service between Sun Valley Lodge and Dollar, over to Mt. Baldy and town. Baldy has great on Mtn lodges for eating, and they cater to kids too. I swear more whip cream is discharged onto cups of hot chocolate than any where else in the USA! Spring would be a good time, slopes are East, NE facing, but get plenty of sun. If you look in the Snow Conditions under North America Resorts thread, I have a few photos posted from a recent trip I took last week.

The town of Ketchum is quaint with decent dining options. The Hotel Ketchum has a heated out door pool and hot tub if you are looking for something nice in town and not too spendy. Bonus, bring your pooch, as they are dog friendly too! Very Happy

Non skiing activities include snow shoeing, cross country skiing and snowmobile tours. But like I said, it ain't easy to get to but doable if you fly into SLC and a short 45 minute hop from their into Hailey, ID (SUN)
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I wouldn't do it with a 3 year old myself. Too much travel disruption, probably higher cost of childcare. I'd just go for a kid focused Euro resort - Sweden sounds like a shout and Austria have excellent Kinder hotels.

Note; I have done a lot of US/Canada skiing although not with kids.

Managing your body clock, acclimatising to higher altitude, drier air and driving to resort at night after a long transatlantic flight in possibly snowy conditions are all non-negligible issues when you are an adult. But dealing with a 3 year old on top who isn't coping well......


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Tue 11-02-20 16:21; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Just a suggestion, but had you considered self-catering in Europe somewhere - to give you plenty of family space, and taking a nanny with you? That is if you really want to make it a holiday for yourself. I don't necessarily mean a commercial nanny, but is there someone in your extended family who would do this for payment? Or perhaps for the opportunity to do some skiing on days when you opt to child care yourself? That way, the pressure is off everyone - if your child simply runs out of stamina or has a grumpy day, just wants to play in the snow rather than ski, or stay indoors playing with the Lego etc., then you can leave them to it and you won't feel that all that effort and cost is wasted.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Cheers folks - some quality advice.

Euro self catering is an option - we have already done 2 Esprit trips with him and one self catered in Europe, so know the pros and cons of those options, but keen to get some first hand recommendations and advice from folk who've done the US / Canada side.
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@Dave of the Marmottes, altitude is certainly an issue in some Colorado resorts but no more so in most other resorts in North America than in, for example, the French Alps. And higher cost of childcare can be offset by lower other costs, most notably accommodation.

Some kids travel well; others don't. For families whose kids are good travellers, it's hard to beat. Our kids always pleaded with us to go to North America rather than Europe - it wasn't until they were old enough to start skiing with a guide that their preferences started to even out
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
I paid less for a 3* hotel suite with fridge and microwave for two weeks in Banff, than I paid for 6 nights in a S/C one-room apartment in Andorra.
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@Jonny Jones, acknowledged - but if you've never been long haul with that child before it's all unknown therefore risky
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
I wouldn't do it with small kids either - I agree the Austrian kinder-hotels sound ideal in many ways. For those who like hotels, which I don't - I'd go with friends or family, self-cater and share child care (that's what we did when we had a 3 year old, not that we could ever afford to pay somebody else to do the caring). I've done loads of long haul travel (including to places much further away that N America) with small kids, but always when someone else was paying, not me. wink
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
Hotel Ballunspitze in Galtur - faultless kinder hotel, makes esprit look like borstal
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Quote:

We went to North America preciselybecause of the lessons. Class sizes of 3-4 with native English-speaking instructors and classmates who also speak English, with lessons bookable by the day and classes rearranged daily to ensure children were in with the right group are a recipe for rapid progression. Crocodiles of 15 children block-booked for the week - seen in too many European resorts - don't really cut it by comparison. Ski school is the single biggest reason to cross the Atlantic with kids in my experience.

New Yorker here. My children are 6 & 3.5, we're off to Wengen next week. It'll be our 4th winter in a row skiing with the kids in Europe. Childcare and ski school are one of the main reasons we travel to Europe to ski. It's true that the level of ski instruction is generally high in the US and it's nice that everyone speaks English. But, in North America the lift operator (ie the resort) generally owns the ski school and childcare facilities. This means you will pay $200-$300 a day for ski school. Cost (almost no one wants/can afford to pay $1,200 for a week of ski lessons for a young child) is the reason ski school is booked by the day, not optimizing skier progression. Also, your child will have a different instructor and classmates each day.

We have enjoyed the Swiss School the past two years and have both girls registered with them again this year. There is a kids dance party every week (typically on Wednesday afternoons) it's the same group of kids all week and the children have a race at the end of the week. Having the same teacher and group of children all week allows the children to feel comfortable and develop a sense of routine. Our first year in Saas-Fee we did one of the British ski schools. The experience wasn't as positive, they can't offer the dance party/Snowli (Swiss School mascot) and the instructor was Dutch anyway. Groups in Europe are likely to be larger during half-term, but we've found that this means most of the kids are English speakers. During non holiday periods (March) we've found that there are less English speaking students, but class sizes are smaller. So much so that the British schools didn't have enough kids to form ski school groups. Also keep in mind that in America President's day week usually coincides with your half-term week, most school children have the week off, making it the busiest week of the winter apart from the festive period.

Quote:

Sun Valley is a great place for kiddies, and ski school, and catering to families. You can do it relatively inexpensive for lodging. They have a whole mountain just for beginners and young kids to learn to ski, Dollar Mtn.


I have family in Sun Valley and Dollar Mtn. does indeed have great terrain for children learning to ski. My daughter did three days of ski school there two winters ago and had a lot of fun and made good progress. The major problem, again is the cost. It's $295 a day and you have to drive back and forth from the main hill to drop-off/collect your child. Talk about making your eyes water!

Quote:

mont tremblant in quebec was awesome when are kids were small , stayed at ski in ski out fairmont hotel , fun ski school / nursery for the kids , very easy to navigate small mountain , meaning little or no chance of being late for pick up etc , amazing indoor/outdoor pool , shortish flight and hassle free transfer , loads of non ski activities , late season is best for family with small kids as temps are much better for all aspects of trip

killington and stow are two more east coast alternatives

Strongly disagree with these recommendations. It's not worth traveling from the UK to ski Mont Tremblant, Killington and Stowe. While they're fine for east coast skiers, compared to resorts in Europe and western NA they're small, low altitude and typically bitterly cold.

Feel free to DM me if you have additional questions.
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@goweje, kids lessons are about CAD 130 per day for multi-day lessons in Panorama. That's less than half the prices you were quoting and cheaper than the Wengen ski schools that I checked.

I'm sure that you'll have a fantastic time with your family in Wengen; it's a lovely place. But my earlier post recommended Panorama partly on the grounds of price and I stand by that advice. Big name resorts are a completely different story, though, and I can totally believe the prices you've seen are actually charged in some places.

If you're based in New York, I guess the travel time to some European resorts isn't too far different from going to interior BC?


Last edited by Ski the Net with snowHeads on Wed 12-02-20 0:45; edited 1 time in total
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I don't have any experience from a parents point of view, but from an instructors point of view i have some very good kids programs in BC Canada.

As others have said if you go to the big resorts for example Whistler you will pay a lot for it. Having said that some of the smaller resorts are significantly better value and offer true ski in ski out accommodation as well. Take a look at what resorts like Sun Peaks and Big White have to offer.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@Jonny Jones, Calgary is a couple hours shorter in each direction. It's ironic, but in many ways the BC resorts are an easier trip than visiting the relatives in Sun Valley.
As we're now tied to the school schedule and typically only fly to ski during festive or half-term, flights to Europe offer good value. Believe it or not, during holiday periods flights from NY to Europe can be on par/cheaper than flying to Denver or SLC and much cheaper than flying to the regional ski airports (ie JAC, SUN).
@Dashed, If you're dead set on North America look at the Epic and Ikon passes. Both are now including European resorts (Epic: L3V, Verbier & Dolomiti Superski - Ikon has Zermatt) and I wouldn't be surprised to see new locations added for next season.

Here's a sampling of ski school prices in family friendly ski areas across the alps:
https://www.esf-lesmenuires.com/les-menuires/children/ski-group-lessons/
https://www.skiwengen.ch/en/group/ski-kids.html
https://www.skischule-obergurgl.com/en/group-courses/prices/
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