Skiing With a Family at Aspen Snowmass

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Between Christmas and New Year’s my family took a short ski trip to visit Aspen as part of the Amex SPG Stars program.  I wrote about our stay at the St. Regis Aspen here (including video review).  It was an absolutely gorgeous hotel that was at the base of the mountain in Aspen.  It was the perfect location if you ski that mountain, to get to ice skating, restaurants, and shops in Aspen.  However, you have to be a pretty darn good skier to actually ski that mountain, and they don’t offer a ski school there.  In other words, it is not a mountain that is right for most young families.  That means that we had to head to another mountain in the area for our skiing experiences.

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View from our room at the St. Regis Aspen

Luckily, there are four different mountains in the Aspen-Snowmass family, several of which are family friendly.  Those four mountains are Aspen Mountain (blue runs and above), Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk (listed in approximate order of difficulty of their terrain).

When you have a lift ticket, it is valid at all four mountains in the area, so you can mix up your vacation by trying out different mountains, if you want.  We debated between skiing at Buttermilk and Snowmass.  Buttermilk was much closer to the St. Regis in Aspen (about 5-10 minutes instead of 20-25 minutes each way), but ultimately Snowmass won out because of their childcare and ski school facilities.  Ultimately I think that both would have been fine choices for our needs, but we enjoyed Snowmass enough to book a return trip there at the Westin Snowmass next ski season, so we must have done something right.

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Westin Snowmass right on the mountain

Here are a few more details about the child care and ski school options at the mountains, so you can start to narrow down which mountain would be best for your family.

Childcare For 8 Week Olds – 4 Year Olds:

If your children are too young for ski school, but you want some child care for them so you can hit the slopes, then you absolutely want to look at Snowmass and their Treehouse facility.  Treehouse is a state licensed child-care facility that accepts children from 8 weeks – 4 years old.  You absolutely need to make reservations in advance or there is a good chance they will be full if you try to just walk-in.  The facility looks amazing with different themed rooms for different age groups and a registered nurse on staff.

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Treehouse at Snowmass

They are open from 8AM to 4PM daily (included extended care) and every Wednesday night during the ski season.  Starting at around age 2 1/2 part of their day can include some “on snow” time, but this is a small portion of their day as opposed to in ski school where skiing makes up a large part of their day.  You do not have to be potty trained for that option, as opposed to the regular ski school.  You can also choose to book your child an hour-long private lesson while they are spending the day at Treehouse.

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Climbing room at Treehouse

The cost is for a morning half day at Treehouse is $109 (at least according the website, I wonder if it is a typo that should be $169) and a full day is $204, or $194 with seven day advance purchase.

Group Ski School for 3 and 4 Year Olds:

Also located in the Treehouse building is ski school for 3 and 4 year olds.  This is where they start their day, eat lunch, and end their day.  A full day of group ski school runs from 9:30AM–3PM, but plan to get there 15-30 minutes before 9:30AM, especially the first day.  Also plan for it to be a zoo both during drop-off and pick-up times.  Seriously, a zoo.  Go register the day before, but don’t go to register during the times that other parents are likely to be picking up or dropping off.

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Drop-off time at ski school

The cost is $204 for full day, $169 for a half day, and $194 for a 7 day advance purchase rate.  Like almost everything in Aspen, this is pricey.  However, do note that the ski school will provide the boots and skis, lunch, helmet, etc. so the (expensive) price is an all-in price for this age group (other than any tip you choose to give the ski instructor).

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This is our daughter’s third time at ski school and she is learning to go, stop, and turn.  However, the skills didn’t seem to really transfer over from last year to this year for her.  I will say that I saw some other 3 and 4 year olds who were doing really, really well on the mountain, so how well your kid will do at this age can certainly vary.  My daughter doesn’t do extremely well in a ski school setting, so we are likely to try a private lesson, or me teaching her some on our next ski trip.  Most likely we will do a mix of both.  When we do utilize ski school later this year it will be out of convenience for us so she is kept occupied for a few hours, rather than us expecting it to be an amazing learning experience for her.

Daughter's reaction to going to ski school

Daughter’s reaction to going to ski school

Group lessons for 3 and 4 year olds are available at both Buttermilk and Snowmass, though we only tried it at Snowmass.

Group Lessons 5 and 6 Year Olds:

Once you hit this age group you can do skiing or snowboard lessons.  Skiing and snowboarding at Snowmass and Buttermilk.  Skiing only at Aspen Highlands.  The website does indicate that Aspen Highlands is only for intermediate and above skiers.  This is the youngest age group that has ski school at Aspen Highlands.  My daughter won’t be in this age group until the next ski season, but my impression is that this group is treated much differently than the 3 and 4 year olds, and likely rightfully so due to their (hopefully) improved maturity level.  The prices are the same as for the 3 and 4 year olds.  Again, this includes ski rentals and is an all-in price.

Group Lessons 7 – 12 Year Olds:

This age group can take ski or snowboard lessons at all of the mountains except Aspen Mountain, and the rate is $121 for the full day and $111 if booked 7 days in advance online.  There is no half-day option listed online once you hit this age group.  For this age group, equipment rentals and lift tickets are not included in the price and must be purchased separately.

Group Lessons for Teenagers:

This age group can be accommodated at the same mountains for the same price as the lessons for 7-12 year olds, but it sounds like Snowmass has a dedicated program whereas Buttermilk and Highlands accommodate teens, but not necessarily in their own class.  Older teens can also book in an adult lesson.

Overall Suggestions for Skiing Aspen Snowmass With a Family:

We spent all of our ski time at Snowmass on this trip, and found it to be a mountain with a good mix of runs for our family of varying skiing abilities.  It was not as “family focused” of a ski mountain as somewhere like Keystone, and it is very expensive, even by Colorado standards.  However, the Treehouse child care and ski school facilities are very family friendly, and offer a very good option for kids who are not yet old enough for traditional ski school.  That would really be interesting to me if I had a young child, but still wanted to hit the slopes.  Leaving an adult behind in the room or condo to watch a baby while everyone else hits the slopes can work, but isn’t always practical on a short trip without extended family members all taking turns with the kids.

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Big open runs on Snowmass

The Westin Snowmass is a tremendous points value as a Category 5 hotel right on the mountain.  This would eliminate the problem of hauling gear and having to hike/drive to and from the mountain with a tired kiddo that you can often run into on ski trips.  Staying at the Westin Snowmass and using the childcare/ski school facilities at Snowmass would probably be the best play for a points focused family for these mountains.

I would be remiss to not include the story of my own child who apparently successfully walked away from the ski school at Snowmass for a brief period of time.  I did not hear about this incident until I picked her up at the end of the day, and the event was over.  My four year old said she left to try and find us, and we had a big talk about how dangerous that is.  I believe she was quickly returned to ski school by a Snowmass employee who spotted her.  I obviously was not pleased that this happened, but if you go and watch a busy ski school in action it is easy to see how it can happen.  I do recommend talking to your children about not leaving ski school no matter what.  I will probably still use ski school again in the future, but this and some other issues have made me keenly aware that my daughter is not the best ski school student out there.

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Also, be aware that many kids spend at least some portion of the ski school day crying at the 3-4 year old age.  It only gets worse if they spot you “spying” on them, so keep that in mind.  With lots of ski gear on it is pretty easy to not be spotted by your kid from a distance, but don’t be surprised if the day isn’t 100% smiles.  I’ll write a separate post soon with some general tips for planning a ski trip with a young child, as well as tips for sending them to ski school.

Eating on Snowmass:

I mentioned that everything is expensive in Aspen, and that is true when eating on the mountain.  The only real way to avoid this is to hit a grocery store and cook in your condo/room if possible.  At the very least, I recommend stuffing some granola bars and similar in your pockets to cut down on the amount of food you have to eat on the mountain.  With a family, this is a very real expense that adds up in a hurry.  We ate at Elk Camp at the top of the gondola on Snowmass.

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We were starving by lunchtime (normal when skiing), and everything looked good.  Everything I ordered also tasted good (my husband had mixed reviews), but the grand total for this order…..

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….was $57.60 for a self-service cafeteria style lunch for two.  We could have made it a bit cheaper by skipping the brownie or similar, but it would have still been a bunch of money lunch, so plan accordingly.

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One tip I do have that would have saved us the $9 spent on two water bottles is to look for the “hidden” free water dispenser.  At this restaurant it was not located with the drinks you buy, but it was in the dining area.  Packing a few snacks and looking for the hidden water fountains can bring the cost for a meal down from really high to pretty high.

All in all families can have a great ski experience at Aspen Snowmass, but it will come with a price tag.  Using SPG points to stay at the Westin Snowmass dramatically reduces the out of pocket expense you have for the trip, but skiing will never be “cheap”.  Though you can check out my post on how to save on skiing and snowboarding trips.  However, if you love it as much as I do, it can still be worth it even though it isn’t as inexpensive as I wish it was!

Comments

  1. I posted this in the other blog entry about the St Regis stay.

    “The Snowmass kids ski school/daycare facility (and its physical plant) is undoubtedly one of the best in the country and the one my family has long preferred over the others in Colorado. It’s better than the Aspen and Buttermilk ones and it offers daycare group lessons to slightly younger children than various other resorts. The daycare+group ski arrangement at the ASE resorts are not cheap — they are way more expensive than my extended family pays in Europe for the same services — but very good for kids and is a very well oiled operation.

    Have you found a way to pay for those lessons with points?” I guess there is always manufactured spend on cash-back cards or to cash out on prepaid V/MC/Amex using bank program points, but I was wondering if anyone had a better way of cashing out miles/points to pay for ski school and/or the daycare/skischool facilities at the ASE resorts.

  2. I have a feeling that the $4.50 bottle of water in Aspen is going to look like a bargain compared to the prices that will be charged at the Olympic Games in Sochi. Do let us readers know what bottled water goes for in Russia.

  3. Have you ever asked little C if she wants to ski? It seems that you are inflicting/projecting your childhood memories on to her. A four year old who wants her green blanket and mama may be coddled too much to handle ski school and being left alone. Plus the huge thing may just be plain old environment. 95 percent of all Texans hate cold and cringe at the thought of snow. So why would your daughter want to stand out in the cold for hours on end? Maybe she’s NOT HAVING FUN

  4. GUWonder, I plan to charge some of the lift tickets and all on the Barclay Arrival card on our next trip to make sure that works, but that’s the best I got.
    ASW, someone else will have to report back on that one.
    http://mommypoints.boardingarea.com/2014/01/06/potential-hotel-option-for-sochi-olympics-open/
    Paul, I hope you get on the mountains soon!
    Pippa, well you are 100% correct she loves her blanket and her mom (especially when she is tired – she does not bring it around with her in daily life), but she does go to school away from me every Monday – Friday, so she is pretty independent in many ways. I’m certainly exposing her to skiing, in part, because it was something I really love, but she has said she likes skiing too. She just really doesn’t like ski school. Heck, I didn’t either, so I don’t blame her. We will just try to combine her desire to ski and her desire to hang out with us more on the next trip.
    Al, I know, but it is so true! 😉

  5. @Pippa Do you have children? Let me list off the things my kids don’t want to do…. go to school, do their homework, practice the piano, go on hikes, go on walks, go skiing, etc.etc.. So… I guess I should just let them decide what they are going to do. Not a chance!

  6. Here I was reading this, feeling all smug and superior since my kid, now 11, has always willingly and happily headed off to ski school. Last year he cried because he couldn’t go to ski school on our last day (and he had to ski with family instead).
    It reminded me that I should reserve his lessons for our trip to Snowmass next month, so I asked him if wanted to have lessons every day or ski with family some of the days. His reply? “I don’t think I’m going to ski at all.” He had somehow gotten it to his little preteen head that he would just stay in the hotel and play on the ipad all day! Nope, sorry kid, mom is not flying you to Colorado so you can play computer games!! And since I now don’t trust you not to manipulate grandma in to taking you back to the hotel after a run or two, it will probably be ski school every day as well.
    I’m pretty sure he will have a blast once he gets going with it though.
    The kid’s ski school at Snowmass was amazing back when I took lessons there over 30 years ago and it is amazing now. Though sometimes I do curse my parents over taking me there as a kid because it is definitely expensive and not much really compares after you have been there!

  7. trying to book westin snowmass for next ski season – and not showing any availability? any experience with this? not loaded in system yet?

  8. all booked for 12/26 to 12/31 – a little disappointed they charged me 6000 extra SPG points for two queen beds instead of a king – but happy to be putting our SW companion passes to use up until the very last day before they expire!

  9. What resort would you say is best for families with small children? We loved Beaver Creek last year but wanted to try something new. Our son will be 3. Thanks!!

    • Amy, what resorts are you considering? Since you are posting on the Aspen article I’m guessing you mean at Aspen. In that case, I would stay at Westin Snowmass for easy access to the ski school/day care facilities. It’s not as nice as the Hyatt Beaver Creek, but it is a great location.

  10. We will be visiting the Westin Snowmass shortly (courtesy of UA miles + SPG points) and I will report back on the family experience over NYE. Still looking for a private ski instructor – surprisingly difficult to find online but I suspect the resorts are diligent about revoking passes as they like their monopoly.
    Some day I will stay at the St. Regis, but your post reinforces my view that the property is better suited to adults – and my kids aren’t quite ready for Ajax…
    Also note there is a great new pass option – Mountain Collective – for families who plan to visit 2 or more resorts. Adult pre-sale passes were $370 but get this – kids passes were only $1!! A competitive alternative to the Vail Resorts offerings.

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