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To finish up my series on our most recent ski trip to the Beaver Creek area of Colorado, I wanted to cover the really good stuff…family friendly winter activities! You can read my reviews of the Westin Beaver Creek and the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek below, but you don’t go to Colorado in the winter to sit in a hotel. You go to play in the snow, and here is how that went with a newly minted three-year-old.
Our daughter isn’t the type who sits quietly in a corner and people watches. She is (mostly) well-behaved, but is quite active and into everything. So, when someone tweeted me about the option of having “ski butlers” come to you with ski rentals instead of you going to a ski shop, I was quite interested. After doing a little price comparison shopping I determined that while it is certainly cheaper to go to an off-mountain ski shop to rent equipment, the price difference was not substantial enough for me to forgo having them come to us. If you use a discount code (Google is your friend – “ski butler coupon code”), I found the price to be pretty comparable to what you pay to rent on the mountain. Maybe slightly more, but it all depends on what deals or coupons you are using at either place.
The ski butler came straight to our room at the appointed time and brought different sizes boots for us to try until we found one we liked. Once we were fitted appropriately, he left the equipment with the ski valets at the hotel, and when it was time for us to return the equipment he retrieved it from the ski valets without us having to do anything at all. We were told to call at any time if our equipment broke or was uncomfortable and he would come to us. We didn’t have that issue, but did extend the reservation one day with just a quick 30 second phone call.
Using this service will mean forgoing the best deal on rentals, but you will gain a ton in convenience both with getting the equipment and leaving it at the end of your trip. I would use their service again while my daughter is young as it was such a stress-free experience.
Regardless of where you rent, you can usually save some cash my making reservations online at least a week or so ahead of your trip.
I was both nervous and excited for Little C’s first ski school experience. You usually have to be at least three years old for ski school, so since she was three years and one month I knew she would be one of the youngest there. They offered both a half day and full day program, and we opted for the less expensive half day option knowing she probably wouldn’t last a full day in a strange place doing a strange sport without us. We were right. We didn’t pay for ski school until we got there, which is what I generally recommend for young kids. They also said that they would give a refund if she hated it and we weren’t able to come back the second day. Luckily we didn’t have to take them up on that, but it was nice that they are understanding that it doesn’t always work out.
The first day of ski school was a bit chaotic both because we were at the Westin Beaver Creek and had to bus in to the mountain with all of our equipment, but also because there was quite a crowd and a somewhat involved registration process. Do allow some extra time in the morning on the first day of ski school for all of the paperwork. My one complaint is that there was no nearby public restroom. C is potty trained, but I wanted to drop her off on “empty” and the closest restroom was quite a hike away – especially in ski boots holding a child who was nervous and wanted to be held. Not cool.
They do not allow parents back into the ski school area at all, so be prepared to say goodbye at the registration desk. I learned quickly not to use the word “ski school” with my daughter, but instead to use the word “ski teachers”. Maybe it is just my kid, but school has a bit of a negative connotation for her while teachers has a good one. School was evoking resistance and teachers were evoking excitement….so we dropped using the word “school”.
For the young kid class they spent the first bit of the morning indoors, and then headed outdoors to the practice area about halfway through the morning. We found it very easy to spy on Little C since she didn’t recognize us in our winter gear. It was awesome to see her when she was going down the hill, but not as fun when I heard her whimpering that she wanted mommy.
We had her at ski school from about 9AM – 11:45 ish both days that she skied. By about that time she was tired, cranky, and wanted me. She was getting over a nasty illness, so that may have played into it, but there was no way she would last a full day. Obviously every kid is different, but that was how it went for my three-year-old. She did seem to like the skiing part, and she will head to ski school again when we head to Keystone in March. She is not ready yet to hit the slopes with me, but we will see how it goes after some more time with the “ski teachers” come March. I did see some three-year-olds skiing with their parents on the mountain, but I’m betting they had a bit more experience under their ski hats than my kiddo did. My only real wish is that she had a friend or cousin who was with her to keep her company at ski school, but you take what you can get.
Aside from helping her learn to ski, one of the real benefits of ski school is it gives the parents time to ski together, and that’s what we did.
Skiing as Adults:
I had been snowboarding once every year or two since college (because clearly skiing wasn’t cool enough then!). 😉 However, now that I am older, decidedly uncool, and want to be able to help my own kid learn to ski, I switched back to skiing. I was a bit nervous it would be hard after not skiing for over 15 years, but it was just like riding a bike. It came right back and is much simpler than snowboarding. I still did a bit of snowboarding one afternoon so I can keep up the ability to do both, but skiing was so much easier and absolutely the route I will choose while helping my kid learn how to ski.
My husband hadn’t skied or snowboarded in over 20 years, so he was a bit rustier. He did a morning of adult ski school the first day, but didn’t really like it. I think being placed in the appropriate level class is crucial, and even then the first couple days of skiing just aren’t fun. You fall, you get frustrated, you wonder why others like this stinking cold sport. However, if you can hang in there most end up liking it by the third day. Lucky for me, he liked it much better by the end of the trip and the two of us spent a day skiing together for the first time. Super fun and peaceful. Just please don’t go into a ski trip thinking it will be fun right out of the gate if you have never skied before, or haven’t done any downhill sport in a very long time. Give it a couple days before deciding to throw in the towel.
To save a little money on lift tickets, we bought them online ahead of time at a 20-30% discount. Just like with equipment rentals, you usually have to do this at least a week ahead of time. This is a little risky as they say they are non-refundable, so take that into consideration when deciding whether or not the savings is worth it.
Not knowing how skiing would go for my husband, we booked a day of snowmobiling for him during the trip. I knew it would be a sure-fire winner, and that is super important on family trips. You have got to find something for everyone, or it just isn’t worth the time and expense of loading everyone up and going somewhere far away. We booked his trip with Beaver Mountain Snowmobiling Tours and Rentals and chose the half-day morning “Top of the Rockies” tour. They pick you up from your hotel and provide lunch for a total of $250 for the driver. Additional passengers are just $50 each, but we sent him solo this time. It says “half day”, but it runs from 8:30AM – 2:30PM door to door, so it is kinda like a 2/3 day activity if you ask me.
Most importantly, he thought it was awesome…..here are his thoughts.
Snowmobiling in Leadville is absolutely amazing. It takes place in and around Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division conducted survival and rifle training for many years. In fact, the rifle range is where one of the best parts of the tour takes place. For most machine- or animal-based tours, I’ve found it rare that a guide will let one test the limits of one’s mount. This was not the case with Nova Guides. After gearing up for the cold and speed, we were given safety training, and allowed to get accustomed to our machines.
Once we reached the rifle range about half a mile from the lodge, the guide literally let us race around an oval section of the range (the concrete berm and bunkers created the interior of the oval, with opposing ranges on either side creating the course). We were informed that top end on these machines would be around 40 miles per hour, but I easily had my 600CC Bombardier SkiDoo up to 60+ MPH, lapping my fellow tourists more than once.
Once we had the speed out of our system, a more conventional tour took place, and we followed our guide, a certified park ranger, to three different points above 10,000 feet, the last reaching 12,471 feet above sea level. The views were breathtaking, the cold was nearly tolerable, and the food at the lodge afterward surprisingly delicious. I would recommend this excursion to any adult interested in a magnificent half-day outing.
Sleigh Ride Dinner at Four Eagle Ranch:
We tried to do the sleigh ride dinner at Four Eagle Ranch on our trip last year, but it was cancelled due to low registration numbers. Sadly, that happened to us again on this trip for the first night we booked, but they were able to re-schedule us to another night that worked. I say that because if you want to book this it can help to have a couple different nights on your schedule to pick from as they don’t have the numbers to do the dinner every single night. It is about a 15 minute drive from Beaver Creek to get to the ranch and they do offer to include transportation for an additional fee, if needed.
The evening includes a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow, live guitar music and with some sing-a-longs, a chili and hot chocolate station to help you warm up, a western buffet style dinner, and then an outdoor fire for marshmallow roasting. We found the staff to be extremely nice, and the guitar player did some fun children’s songs for Little C. It was a very family friendly atmosphere. The food wasn’t necessarily award winning, but it did the trick. The real draw here is the sleigh ride and atmosphere. My daughter still talks about how daddy got to drive the horses in the snow (sorry it was pitch black outside so no photos came out). If you have a family, it can be a really fun activity to do together….just dress really warmly for the nighttime sleigh ride!
The prices are $75 per adult ($100 with transportation), $25 per child ages 5-12 ($40 with transportation), $10 per child ages 3-5 ($25 with transportation), and children under 3 are free ($10 with transportation). There is also a cash bar available, but that is not included in the quoted prices.
At Beaver Creek there is a tubing hill right off the gondola that is in front of the Park Hyatt. You have to be at least 36 inches tall to tube, which my three-year-old easily cleared. It is $32 for a 60 minute tubing session (if you haven’t noticed, everything is pricey) and they open each afternoon at 2PM. I had no clue how C would do since you have to go just one person to a tube, but she did great. She kept screaming – faster – spin me – backwards – more! I did not like spinning at all, but it was super fun just going down the hill.
The hard part was once she got down the hill, there was no one to really help her climb out to safety. My mom luckily was down there to help, but if it were just myself and her it would have not gone very well without someone helping at the end of the ride. So, I recommend having at least two adults go if you have a young child. There is no charge to go and watch if you aren’t tubing. This is another really fun and easy family activity that everyone can do together on the mountain.
We didn’t ice skate this year, but there is a rink right behind the Park Hyatt that looked really fun as well. I firmly believe that even if your whole family doesn’t ski, there is no shortage of fun winter activities for folks to enjoy (including the dog sledding we did last year).
I am thankful that most of the cost related to flights and lodging can be covered by miles and points because no matter how you slice it, ski trips are expensive. But they are also wonderful, and I’m looking forward to doing it again.