Snowmass Is One Huge Playground

The best family-friendly ski runs, terrain parks to tackle, themed trails, and more.

By Catherine Lutz November 24, 2018 Published in the Holiday 2018 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Making first tracks at Elk Meadows beginner area

Think of Snowmass as one massive playground, with distinct areas that offer something for every age, ability level, and desire. Families can explore together—or separately—for days on end without riding the same line twice. Two slopeside villages and 95 percent ski-in/ski-out lodging make it convenient to slip on and off the mountain, whether it’s getting the whole tribe onto the slopes in the morning or meeting up for après-ski. 

For intermediate-level groups, there’s no better place to ski or ride together than the Big Burn. The area has expansive views that make you feel like you’re on top of the world; wide, groomed blue runs; and a sprinkling of fun, nonintimidating glades, says kids’ ski school coordinator Tanya Milelli. She advises, “Head to the Burn early for amazing corduroy, and be sure to stop at Up 4 Pizza at the top for a fresh-out-of-the-pizza-oven chocolate-chip cookie, a kids’ favorite.”

Elk Camp, at the top of the gondola of the same name, is another great hub for families, says Milelli. A beginners-only area caters to the newest and littlest skiers and riders. If your group consists of intermediates or higher, head up the Elk Camp chairlift and take advantage of a photo op with the Maroon Bells as a background. Then choose from a variety of blue groomers, or make the short hike to explore the powder fields and glades at the ski area’s eastern edge.

Parent Tip:
"Bribe the with candy; promise them hot chocolate. Hand warmers on cold days are essential, and take advantage of the free stuff, like granola bars and sunscreen."
–Chris MacDonald

Everyone can easily meet up back at Elk Camp (even non-skiers, who can purchase a foot-passenger gondola ticket), whether it’s for lunch in the market-style restaurant, a hot chocolate on the large deck, or alternative activities nearby, such as the mountain coaster, snowbike lessons, or tubing. If your group is scattered around the mountain, reconvene at Gwyn’s High Alpine, a popular, centrally located dining hub at the top of the Alpine Springs lift.

Snowmass also has plenty of dedicated kids’ trails—marked routes that meander through the trees and often have a theme. According to Milelli, some of the best ones are accessed from Dawdler, off the Village Express lift. “Here, kids can play in a fort, ski under tunnels, search for the ‘sasquatch,’ and learn about Ice Age history,” she says. Coming down from Elk Camp along Adams’ Avenue, find the Prospector’s Trail, which sports wooden cutouts of miners and the remains of an old cabin.

Many kids gravitate to terrain parks, and Snowmass has one for each ability level. For an introduction to jibbing, check out Lowdown Park, off lower Blue Grouse, with a beginner half-pipe, boxes and rails, and small rollers and tabletop jumps. Progress to Mahaka Park, a little higher on Blue Grouse, which sports some two dozen intermediate features, then check out—or even aspire to tackle—the expert features and 22-foot superpipe in the Snowmass Park, below the Coney Glade lift.

Getting hoopy during Ullr Nights at Snowmass

Image: Dan Bayer

Base camp for children’s ski school lessons is the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center, which features nature-themed rooms that provide playtime and hands-on activities for younger skiers, plus licensed childcare for those 8 weeks to 4 years old. On Thursdays, kids’ lessons include a low-key competition at the Children’s Race Arena on Scooper, complete with announcers, prizes, and a pizza party.

Maybe your kids think they’re too good for ski school? Enroll them in the new five-day Mountain Explorers Camp (ages 8–12), offered in January and March. Classes meet at Snowmass but explore all four ski areas.

Snowmass also offers teen-specific group lessons (ages 13–17), with instructors who specialize in this age group and a dedicated meeting area. Or sign up the whole family for a private lesson so you can all ski together while building skills and having your own guide to Snowmass’s sprawling terrain.

Where you'll find local parents: helping their littlest ones practice wedge turns off the "Skittles" sky cab, which is free to ride; parking for free (after noon or with four people in a car) at Two Creeks; switching off with a spouse for laps in Hanging Valley.

Heading up to tube at Snowmass


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