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If you're looking to kick back with the kids this winter, catch our drift: A snow-covered getaway could be more family-friendly (even with toddlers!) than a beach vacay. But where can you stay comfortably without sacrificing a big chunk of your savings? To find out, Parents asked tourism boards in states where snow is plentiful to nominate affordable inns, lodges, and resorts that cater to families. From more than 100 contenders, we narrowed the field by evaluating the family activities on site and at nearby ski areas, the quality of ski lessons for young children, the standard room size and amenities, the kids' club or supervised play area, special holiday events, and the price tag. Our top 10 faves -- all costing less than $250 per night for a room that sleeps two adults and two small kids or $400 for an all-inclusive -- may make you want to fly north this winter.
Courtesy of Dakota Mountain Lodge & Golden Door Spa
10. Dakota Mountain Lodge & Golden Door Spa
Park City, Utah
It's all new. Opened in July, the resort has ice-skating, snow tubing, an alpine roller coaster for kids 4 and up, and a terrific ski school. The school limits group-class size to five kids, one of the lowest in our survey.
Back at the lodge, there are arts and crafts and games in a playroom that kids can pop in and out of with their parents. Chefs at Spruce, the lodge's restaurant known for its healthy, locally grown food, cook the kids' fries in rice-bran oil and put the grilled cheese on whole-wheat bread. The resort is light on your wallet too: Introductory deals abound through December 15.
9. Resort at Squaw Creek
Lake Tahoe, California
It's the perfect spot to ring in 2010. The resort, at the hub of the Squaw Valley USA ski area, throws a New Year's Eve party for the family -- with games, crafts, and music, plus a toast and a balloon drop at both 9 p.m. and midnight. In fact, there's a whole string of holiday activities, including photo workshops, hot cocoa by the fire, breakfast with Santa, and ice-skating with Buddy Bear, the resort's mascot. You'll find plenty of downhill and cross-country action. Many of the trails are for beginners, so it's an ideal place to ski as a family.
Courtesy of Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa
8. Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa
You're getting a bargain here. A spacious "Hamlet" room with a microwave, a fridge, and a toaster goes for as low as $120 per night. Plus, the activities are free or cheap: There's a snowman search (your family gets a compass and clues to find a snowman hidden somewhere on the resort's 1,500 acres), bonfires, horse-drawn-surrey rides, and storytimes with mascots, as well as nighttime snowshoe hikes. "The kids love to do owl calls on the hikes," says Janice Davidson, recreation director.
Skiing is here too. There are 45 slopes with lessons starting at age 3. A unique feature we love: Kids in ski school wear color-coded vests to designate if they have a food allergy or any other special condition.
Courtesy of Trapp Family Lodge
7. Trapp Family Lodge
This place is frozen in time. The Austrian-inspired retreat is still serving up the same charming family fun it did when it was founded in 1950 by the Von Trapps (of The Sound of Music fame): potato-sack races in the snow, homemade cider, nature tours, maple-sugaring lessons, sledding, building snow forts, and sing-alongs.
The rooms are nicely decorated, though they're not stuffed with antiques that you have to worry the kids might break. There are cross-country and snowshoeing trails on site, and if your clan wants to go downhill skiing the resort is about a ten-minute drive from the slopes at Stowe. Hot chocolate and homemade doughnuts welcome guests at check-in.
Courtesy of Woodloch Pines
6. Woodloch Pines
Don't ski? Then this all-inclusive resort is a great choice because it emphasizes other kinds of classic winter fun, with more than two dozen activities being offered daily, the most in our survey. Some unique picks: Yule-log hunts, outdoor family Olympics, and a snowy scavenger hunt. "It's our version of The Amazing Race," says marketing director Laurie McEvoy. "Kids and parents work together looking for clues all around the resort, and we see which family gets done first."
- Rates start at $400 per night for a family of four, including family-style meals and on-site activities; woodloch.com.
Courtesy of The Peaks Resort & Golden Door Spa
5. The Peaks Resort & Golden Door Spa
This winter oasis in the Rockies offers the best of both worlds. Mod guest rooms and Golden Door Spa pampering for you, game room and an on-site supervised play center for the kids. "Our kids' ski school meets at the resort so parents don't have to trek around with their kids and all their snow gear," says Mike Hess, vice president of sales and marketing. "We also have a ski concierge to help arrange lessons, gear, and anything else to get our guests on the mountain with ease."
Ice-skating and dogsledding are popular on the mountain. At the resort, take off for a sleigh-ride dinner on Friday nights (children 3 and under eat for free). Carolers and Santa visit during the holidays.
Courtesy of Mount Washington Resort
4. Mount Washington Resort
Brettonwoods, New Hampshire
If you're serious about teaching your kid to ski, this is where to stay. The lodge is just a two-minute shuttle ride away from the Hobbit Ski and Snowboard School at Bretton Woods, which offers full-day instruction for kids as young as 4. Plus, Bretton's nursery takes care of babies beginning at 2 months old (the youngest in our survey), so you can hit the slopes.
But if your whole gang wants to stick together, there are plenty of options. One-horse-sleigh rides, ice-skating, tubing, scavenger hunts, and Uno tournaments are among the offerings. The week before Christmas is special, with snowman building, snow painting, make-your-own-stocking workshops, and potted fir trees you can buy for the room and decorate.
Courtesy of The Lodge at Suncadia
3. The Lodge at Suncadia
The holidays are snow much fun here. A tree-lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving weekend kicks off Winterfest, a monthlong celebration with horse-drawn-sleigh rides, Jack Frost storytimes, s'mores roasting in the outdoor fireplace, cookie-decorating classes for the kids, and -- the sweetest of all -- elf tuck-ins. "The elves come to a family's room to read the kids a story and bring them a trinket," says Shawn Cannon, recreation director.
All this, of course, is in addition to the lodge's regular wintertime activities, including cross-country skiing for kids 5 and over, ice-skating, and snow-tubing. An indoor pool with waterslides and mommy-and-me spa treatments are also part of the fun.
Courtesy of The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa
2. The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, Beaver Creek
The staff seems to have thought of everything. Childproofing supplies? You can pick them up at check-in along with some welcome goodies for the kids. Place to store all your family's wet gear? A valet will whisk away your skis and warm up your boots for free when you come off the gondola or shuttle from nearby Beaver Creek ski area. Extra hand in the morning? The Westin's car-pool service will drive your child to and from lessons at The Ranch, Beaver Creek's incredible new ski school that features tepees, wagons, and other Wild West-themed obstacles for beginners. If you can't resist checking out your 3-year-old's first lesson (but don't want her to see that you're around), you can peek out of the school's huge panoramic windows.
Beaver Creek ski area has plenty for your clan to do together, too, like tubing, ice-skating, sleigh rides, afternoon cookie breaks, and a Thursday night fireworks display. When you add that to the Westin's family-movie and crafts night, heated outdoor pool (yes, the kids can swim in the snow!), and supervised kids' club activities like building snow forts and learning about the area's Native American culture, you'll find that there's barely enough time to sleep in the chain's signature super comfy Heavenly Beds or cribs.
Courtesy of Jackson Gore Inn
1. Jackson Gore Inn
It's in a great location. The Jackson Gore Inn is just a snowball's throw away from all of the fun family happenings at Okemo, a mountain that ski buffs flock to for its 119 lush trails. A top-notch ski school rents pint-size gear and puts kids on the bunny slopes starting at age 2, the youngest in our survey. "We designed ski maps for kids, with secret stuff like easy glades [tree skiing] that aren't on the adult version," says K. C. Gandee, recreation director.
Even if your family doesn't ski, Jackson Gore is still an awesome resort. Right outside the front door, kids can climb on and crawl through the "ant hill," a giant mound of snow. There are three snow-tubing runs, and some tubes link together so you can slide down as a family. An outdoor rink rents skates and hosts family events like broomball games. "It's ice hockey wearing your sneakers, and you use frozen brooms for sticks," explains Gandee. The excitement continues after dark with candy-bag bingo games, trivia contests, moonlit snowshoe treks with glow sticks, and animal-track tours.
Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Parents magazine.