Whether it's the thrill of gliding through packed powder snow or sipping cocoa by a crackling fire, there's no more enjoyable way to create warm wintertime memories than a trip to a family-friendly ski resort. On mountains across the country, groups of tiny skiers in brightly colored parkas can be spotted snaking down in single file behind instructors, making faces as they go.
More than 4 million families with children went skiing in 2000, making it one of the fastest-growing markets in the industry, according to the Lakewood, CO-based National Ski Areas Association. And kids are discovering the fun of skiing at ever-younger ages in 2000: 14% of children on the slopes last year were under the age of 5, with the rest divided evenly between the 5-to-10 and 11-to-15 age groups.
The excitement of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Utah has added to the popularity of skiing and other cold-weather activities. The good news for novice skiers is that the learning curve is light years shorter than it was even a decade ago, thanks to the new hourglass-shaped skis and improved instructional techniques. Resorts offer programs that virtually guarantee to get you up and skiing in a day or two.
Other options for fun on the slopes include snowboarding, the fastest-growing snow sport in the country, and snow tubing, a form of glorified sledding that requires no skills at all. For a slower pace, you might try the new, easy-to-use snowshoes, go ice-skating, or pamper yourself with a spa treatment.
Child's 10 top ski areas for families offer wonderful programs for children and adults (and non-skiers too!). No matter which you choose, the payoff is watching your children take to the slopes with confidence -- and maybe even nurturing their own dreams of going for the gold.