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Photo by Daniel Milchev, Keystone
Last winter I wrote a feature here on why Colorado’s Keystone Resort was “The Best Family Friendly Ski Vacation Value,” citing wallet friendly touches such as free skiing for all kids 12 and under, all the time – even at Christmas and other peak holidays. The resort still offers great bargains but it turns out that if you are looking for family friendly it does not matter what your budget is: high roller or bargain hunter, Keystone is still number one.
That’s the finding of an analysis conducted by Christopher Steiner for the nation’s largest newspaper, USAToday, earlier this month. Steiner, an engineer, author and former Forbes magazine columnist, runs Zrankings.com, an elaborate data-driven ski resort travel rating site. He annually publishes his list of the Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America here at Forbes.com, but the USAToday list is different, filtered specifically for the pros, cons and factors important to traveling with kids. Factors he cites include commute from airport, resort layout, terrain and family focused services. I made my value pick based on personal experience and research of amenities, prices and deals, while Zrankings tallies scores into a 100-point scale measuring “Family Score.” With an impressive 98, Keystone finished first among “every major ski resort in North America.”
Keystone is one of the nation’s larger ski and snowboard resorts, with 135 trails and 20 lifts across more than 3,000 acres, and it also features the largest night skiing operation in Colorado, something many kids enjoy. As I explained in detail, one big appeal for families and groups of parents with kids is the vast selection of ski-in/ski-out condos of all sizes, with many more options scattered just off the slopes around the base area: location doesn’t matter too much thanks to free on-demand shuttle vans from all resort lodging. While condos are often cheaper, many families simply prefer them to hotels for more space, bedrooms and privacy under one roof, along with a full kitchen. Other family friendly touches include free wagons at the base areas for hauling gear, horse-drawn sleigh ride dinners, a special snowboard learning area for kids 3-6, and Camp Keystone, the main children’s instruction area, with its own lift and clubhouse. Steiner notes some of these features too and adds a few more to the list: free cookies, free parking close to the base (which he notes is “a major anomaly for a big Colorado resort”), and a daily parade.
If you really want to experience the family focus to the max, Keystone recently announced its spring break Kidtopia Experience, March 5-11, a week with even more family programming culminating in the first-ever Snow Pants Dance Party, with free live outdoor music by Koo Koo Kanga Roo and Pop ROCKS. Other highlights include Friday’s free Wacky Tacky Bounce Party, with inflatable bounce houses, arts and crafts, cookie decorating, and a photo booth, followed by ice skating on Keystone Lake and a special fireworks display.
I’ve been to three of the other four ski resorts rounding out Zranking’s Top Five. Number Two, Beaver Creek (96.5), is both family friendly and specifically women friendly, with a number of unique programs for women, another topic I have covered here in detail before (I love their free two-hour all-women group ski tour). It is also the most luxurious ski resort in the country, self-contained, full of bells and whistles like heated sidewalks and escalators everywhere so you don’t have to navigate stairs in ski boots, with top shelf spa-centric luxury hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch and Park Hyatt.
Number Three, Park City (94.3) in Utah, briefly became the nation’s single largest ski resort when it acquired and connected the Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons (already Utah’s biggest ski mountain) last season. As a result, it now offers both endless terrain and the option of staying in either the purpose built modern Canyons Village (home to the Waldorf Astoria Park City), or in the charming historic Old West meets art gallery town of Park City. It’s also about as easy to reach as any ski resort in the country, via the reliable, nearby and heavily serviced Salt Lake International airport.
I haven’t been to Number Four, Winter Park (93), which is closer to Denver than other major Colorado ski area and connected to the city center by the just re-launched Amtrak ski train. I have had the pleasure of visiting Number Five, Northstar (92.9), California, sort of the Tahoe version of Beaver Creek and part of the same company (Vail Resorts), with a similar style luxe pedestrian village featuring fire pits and ice skating, and its own wonderful Ritz-Carlton hotel. It’s hardly an issue this season with epic snow burying the region, the most in the nation, but Northstar has the best snowmaking system in Tahoe, making it more reliable, especially for early-winter trips like Christmas week. Steiner notes that “Keystone is one of many Vail Resorts properties that excel at making family trips easier” and based on my experience he is correct. Keystone and Park City are also part of Vail resorts, giving the company four of the top five spots, all sharing a single lift ticket, the Epic Pass. You can see the rest of his Zrankings family friendly list in the USAToday story.
Photo by Tom Cohen, Keystone
Forbes, Sports & Leisure – Allison Olmstead, Contributor (@The Gear Diva)