There's a pony at the top of Vail Mountain Resort. It's not what you'd expect to find at the peak of one of the country's most famous ski areas, but this is summer, and there isn't a speck of snow in sight. Not that you'd miss it. There is so much going on here (festivals, zip lines, guided bike rides), you might forget this used to be the off-season.
In recent years, ski resorts around the country have revamped their summer portfolios, developing adventure programs tailored to families looking for an active getaway. It's like summer camp, but with scenic lift rides and tastier food. The warmer months turn these winter meccas into walkable mountainside "villages" with bike trails, parks, and restaurants -- and often lower lodging prices.
At Vail's Adventure Ridge, kids can dig for (pretend) dinosaur bones, play a game of horseshoes or mini golf, test their balance on slack lines, navigate a ropes course, and, yes, ride that pony. Some resorts' ski runs do summer duty as hiking trails, and at higher elevations, there may even be enough snow in the shadows for an impromptu snowball fight.
The six resorts that follow all shine for families in the summertime, with enough cool attractions to keep both kids and adults entertained.
Big Sky, Montana
Adventures abound at Big Sky's compact mountain village, a favorite home base for families exploring nearby Yellowstone National Park. Big kids will love the Giant Swing ($13), which carries riders as high as 30 feet. The whole family should experience the Lone Peak Expedition, which takes you up a 11,166-foot mountain via chairlift, safari-style truck, and tram, with dramatic vistas of two national parks awaiting you at the summit ($83). bigskyresort.com
Rent bikes by the hour from Vail Sports (vailsports.com) and pedal through the European-style villages along the Gore Creek greenway to Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. After touring the extensive botanic garden's waterfalls, pools, and bridges, hit the nearby playground in Ford Park. The Eagle Bahn Gondola will carry you to Adventure Ridge, a mountaintop fun zone with breathtaking views, a slack line park, and brand-new zip lines and ropes courses (separate fees for most activities). vail.com
Park City, Utah
Park City has everything you'd expect of a world-class ski resort during the summer -- including one of the longest alpine slides in the world and a tandem zip line that's perfect for families -- and it's only a few minutes from Utah Olympic Park. Carve out time to watch U.S. Ski Team aerialists practice their jumps throughout the summer at the Aerials Pool (free; utaholympiclegacy.com). parkcitymountain.com
Smuggs has one of the most impressive warm-weather programs on the East Coast. Take a hike to Rum Runners' Hideaway, a tiny mountain lake where you can rent canoes, or challenge the kids on the new Treetop Obstacle Course, a high-ropes course with more than 60 features ($60 ages 8 and up; $30 ages 4-7). Families also enjoy nightly camp-type activities, such as make-your-own-box-cart derbies and bonfire sing-alongs. smuggs.com
South Lake Tahoe, California
You won't find a better family photo op than the one available aboard this resort's gondola, which treats you to views of the impossibly blue Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At Adventure Peak, you have access to zip lines, ropes courses, and hiking trails galore. You'll even find a summer tubing hill still covered with snow. (Fees vary; check website for up-to-date prices.) skiheavenly.com
At Wisp, families can split time between the mountain and nearby 3,900-acre Deep Creek Lake. Wisp's Mountain Coaster (a cross between an alpine slide and a roller coaster) has 3,500 feet of downhill twists that you tackle in two-person carts ($19 for two riders). The mountain's extensive canopy tour program, including zip lines and agility challenges, has options for kids as young as 4 ($14 to $49 per activity). If you prefer something mellower, Wisp's Deep Creek Lake Beach Hut rents stand-up paddleboards ($24 an hour, $14 for a half hour). wispresort.com
Originally published in the June/July 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.