When it comes to ski and snowboard lessons, little things make a big difference — free parking close to the school, beginner chairlifts low to the ground, fun-loving instructors who turn learning into play. More than ever, snow resorts have got your back when you want to introduce your children to winter sports. New are kid-friendly adventure zones and expanded green-level slopes. Here’s an update to get you stoked:
Alpine Meadows Resort, Alpine Meadow
Three and 4-year-olds learn to snowboard under the new Rivets program. Tots use kid-friendly gear and learn with play techniques. The program is identical at sister property, Squaw Valley. Both have also added progression questions on trail maps to help beginners and intermediates assess where to ski. New Pop-Up Lessons are aimed at seasoned skiers and riders. They are priced by the hour. Participants sign up in person with no reservations. Alpine Meadows Base Lodge opens after a $1.4 million renovation with a food court, expanded market, and a family seating area.
Bear Valley Resort, Bear Valley
Touting itself as a novice’s heaven, this ski facility with fewer crowds has responded to parents’ requests with a new Afternoon Cub Club with ski/snowboard lessons for kids age 4-12, from 1 to 2:45 p.m.. Full-day Cub Club lessons start at 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m. with lunch included. The beginner area features two magic carpets and an entry-level lift. On weekends and holidays, the resort offers tubing. Other additions include improved Wi-Fi and upgrades to Bear Valley Lodge.
Boreal Mountain, Soda Springs
An expanded learning ski/snowboard area, plus a new beginner California Cruiser chair lift with a soft bench seat means Boreal is committed to a stress-free newcomer’s experience. The school now provides progression zones, ideal for first-timers. Another option is learning indoors at Woodward Tahoe, a 33,000-square-foot indoor sports training facility and fun zone. Boreal’s new parking lot will also make getting to the trails faster.
Returning for another season is the Take 3, Ride Free promotion. Anyone completing three lessons earns an unlimited season pass for free. You must purchase Take 3, Ride Free before arriving.
Diamond Peak, Incline Village
You’ll find non-intimidating features in the new Village Terrain Park with a snowboard progression section. Rails and boxes are cut low to the ground, so kids who fall only tumble a few inches from the snow. Beginner jumps and rollers give the thrill of catching a little air in a safe landing zone. Skiers welcome, too.
Professionals lead Child Ski Center programs in a separate area with a magic carpet lift. Kids 4-6 years old have a 5 to1 child-to-coach ratio, while 3-year-olds receive one to one sessions. The resort offers the Schoolhouse chairlift which never goes higher than 15 feet off the snow. Known as one of the best budget resorts around, it offers parents a single-day Parent Interchangeable Ticket for the price of one lift pass. Kids 6 and under ride free. On-site guests receive a complimentary lift ticket on their birthdays.
Where to stay? Nearby Hyatt Regency offers complimentary, half-hour shuttle service to Diamond Peak. reservations, and tickets. hyatt.com.
Dodge Ridge, Pinecrest
This resort takes it slow for snow bunnies, providing an Introduction to Snow (Ski or Ride) class for ages 2 to 5. During the two-hour, one-on-one session, the instructor nurtures a life-long love of both sports while sharing basic skills and proper equipment handling. Also available is the Burton Learn To Ride snowboard program for kids ages 2-12. Beginner gear is flexible, comfortable and simple to manipulate.
Heavenly Mountain, South Lake Tahoe
Sign up 4- and 5-year olds in the Firecrackers ski program while Blasters, ages 5 and 6, learn to snowboard. Entrust your babes to caregivers at Heavenly Childcare and Nursery which accepts infants at six weeks.
The coolest new activity is the Winter Guided UTV Tour in a vehicle that looks like a dune buggy built for snow. For 45 minutes, guests are jostled and bumped up the mountain to see pristine views. Learn about the area’s ecology and history . Children must be 8 and up to ride. Families can lodge at the nearby Lake Tahoe Resort & Spa. Every Wednesday, managers lead guests of all experience levels on a free, guided mountain tour on Heavenly slopes under its new Hump Day Ride and Ski program. The hotel offers value rates when booked by Dec. 21. thelandingtahoe.com.
Kirkwood Mountain, Kirkwood
This resort really understands families, and proof is the new Adventure Family Center at Red Cliffs Lodge. A great hangout for parents and offspring, this vast living room on the second floor is ideal for chilling out and bonding over games. Bring munchies from any of the eight eateries on site. Then, take the clan to the Kirkwood Cross Country Ski & Snowshoe Center. Its Kiddy Kilometer is a trail lined with animal cutouts designed for interaction.
Northstar California, Truckee
Northstar rules with its Burton Snowboard Academy, the only one of its kind in the nation. Little ones, ages 4-6, gather at Ripperoo Riglet Park to glide on slightly graded elevations. It uses a terrain-based teaching system where the snow is sculpted for different skill levels. Ultimate 4, an all-day skiing or snowboarding class, comes with a 4 to1 guest–to- coach ratio. For more action, two new interactive Kids Adventure Zones on the slopes with natural and man-made features cover regional history and environment.
New this season is the redesigned Summit Smokehouse on the upper mountain, which features a freshened menu with slow-cooked meats and homemade sauces. On select Saturdays, families can ride the gondola for Mountain Family Dinners located at the renovated Lodge at Big Springs.
Sierra-at-Tahoe, Twin Bridges
This South Lake Tahoe resort has poured new efforts into its beginner program with its trademarked Smart Terrain progression terrain. The new 11-acre Easy Street is formed with soft banks and curves so skiers and snowboarders can turn and stop with success. Two conveyor lifts bring them back up to the top to practice again. Also new is the Cubbie ski/snowboard class, exclusively for 3-year-olds.
Sierra adds to the fun with Adventure Zones on beginner slopes. Four exploration areas feature teepees, cartoon cutouts, sounds and smoke signals. Come to Sierra’s Blizzard Mountain for snow play, tubing, sledding and snowshoeing. Daycare also available.
Squaw Valley, Olympic Valley
For the first time, Squaw offers snowboard group instruction for kids as young as age 3. The pre-school Rivets students have access to easy-to-use equipment and learn at the Burton Riglet Parks. No one likes paying for parking, but if you have three or more in your car, you qualify for a free slot in the POW (Protect Our Winters) parking program also offered at Alpine Meadows. This season, Squaw quadruples the size of its POW area with free parking privileges for carpoolers, as long as space is available. You can also bomb down a hill via inflatable tube at the SnoVentures Activity Zone during disco tubing night on select dates.
Sugar Bowl, Norden
For the first time, parents can park in the Judah upper lot and get all ski school needs met in one place – rent gear, check in and drop off kids. Tykes ages 4 and 5 have a 3 to 1 kid -to-teacher ratio. Children receive hot chocolate, parents get morning coffee upon check-in.
New Slide, Glide, and Ride snowboard lessons are aimed at teens. Coaches introduce novices to equipment and get them comfortable with the basics. Upon completion of a three-visit learning package, participants earn a lift-ticket pass good for three more visits. Sugarbowl now provides free slope-side parking to the first 50 families with children enrolled in lessons, but reservations are required.
Mix up the vacation with some cross country skiing. Folks visiting sister property Royal Gorge can cross country ski to Sugar Bowl for lunch and turn around for a grand excursion. royalgorge.com.
Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, Yosemite
This iconic destination touts ski and board lessons for kids ages 7 and up. Unlike other locations, classes are first-come, first-serve. At the Introduction to Skiing or Snowboarding Lesson, teachers guarantee students will zip downhill by the end of the session or the second lesson is free.
Families with kids ages 12 and up can snowshoe with a guide for $60. The hike runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so be prepared to work hard. Other activities include tubing and ice skating at Half Dome Village. The deal this season is Stay Two, Ski Free that gives you two lift tickets when you stay two nights at a qualifying Yosemite hotel during the week. Park hotels offer free shuttle rides to the ski area.
Kathy Chin Leong write frequently about travel for Bay Area Parent.
How Parents Can Help With Skiing and Snowboarding
- Prepare children by helping them get excited about lessons. Share your own memories.
- Decide if you want a group or a private lesson.
- Book at least two weeks in advance as spaces fill up quickly. Read the cancellation policy in detail before you reserve.
- If your child has any special needs, notify staff in advance.
- Arrive at least 90 minutes to two hours prior to the lesson so you have time to rent your gear and locate the facility.
- Dress your children in layers so they can add or remove clothes if they get too hot or cold.
- Label each item with names so things can be retrieved easily.
- Provide sunglasses or goggles.
- Lather them in sunscreen and lip balm.
- Insist on having your child wear a helmet.
- Make sure they have a good night’s sleep and a hot breakfast.
- Encourage them to hydrate often.
- Take them to the restroom right before the lesson.
- Do not leave the resort in case there is an emergency. Have your cell phone fully charged and on if the staff needs to reach you. Be sure there is cell service. Otherwise, let the ski school know where you will be on the mountain.
- Do not hover or distract your child during the session.