Family Travel and Winter Experiences

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 23 January 2017

“Who the heck doesn’t love to see those rosy cheeks and hear the laughter of a kid dashing through the snow?” enthuses Erin Kirkland, publisher of AKontheGO, Alaska’s only family travel resource.

family travel and winter: Infectious smiles on kids in snow

Infectious smiles on kids In Keystone, Colorado. Image courtesy of Keystone Resorts

No matter what anyone else might say, that is what truly underpins any parent’s love of family travel and winter, something to which all thoughts have presently turned in the Northern Hemisphere.

The most enthusiastic families – inspired by a devotion to frosted breath and après-ski – wait impatiently for any opportunity to forsake warmth for a brisk chill. If they can’t escape to a cold place whenever the desire strikes, they are the first to hit the nearest snow fields and slopes once the weather finally turns in their favor.

What Is It About Winter Travel?

“Cold-weather vacations differ from warm-weather vacations as there are more things to do, inside and outside, both on and off a mountain,” conjectures Gavin Landry, Executive Director of Tourism at Empire State Development, the economic development arm for New York State.

Many others agree.

“Winter vacations give families a chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors together,” says Becky Blaine, Director of Travel and Trade Relations for the Arizona Office of Tourism.

Raylee Honeycutt, Consumer Marketing Manager of the Montana Office of Tourism, also sees in winter holidays something that “provides families a number of exciting cold-weather experiences, warm and cozy lodging, and numerous unforgettable memories to share.”

Yellow snow cat in Yellowstone National Park

One great way to get around in winter in Yellowstone National Park. Image courtesy of Austin Adventures

There are even many hidden bonuses to winter travel. “In places like national parks, the crowds are long gone and the wildlife are usually much more visible, making this one of the best times to visit,” reminds Dan Austin, President of Austin Adventures, a global tour operator based in Montana.

Services Support Winter Family Travel

Fortunately for families, the travel services supporting winter travel are often excellent. In fact, “These days most resorts will say they are family-friendly and cater to a family audience,” advises Sara Lococo, Communications Manager at Keystone Resort, the largest ski resort in Summit County, Colorado, owned and operated by Vail Resorts. “And while that is certainly true in many cases, you’ll definitely find that some resorts really go above and beyond to make a winter vacation easier on families, providing value and signature programing that is designed specifically with a family guest in mind.”

But, of course, not all families are created equal. And not all services mesh with a family’s desires and practices. “Families should therefore find activities that they can afford, and will enjoy doing,” counsels Claudia Laroye, the founding editor of The Travelling Mom family travel blog, who has done quite a bit of winter family travel, including most ski sports and activities. “Some ski resorts offer special deals, such as children under a certain age ski/stay for free. Do your research in advance and book good deals when you see them!”

In fact, says Dustin Fletcher, Brand Manager of The Clear Creek Group, which offers luxury rental homes primarily in and around Jackson, Wyoming, take the time to “Book accommodations with the familiar comforts that your family enjoys, while consciously integrating activities that encourage growth, challenge perceptions, and break free from routine.”

The Reality Check

As incredible as winter family travel and experiences can be, they certainly do present challenges. For one, they can be exhausting. “Between packing equipment, lugging it from the airport to the car to the slopes, renting gear, and corralling the kids for their lessons, you can almost forget why this was a good idea at all,” comments Christina Markowitch of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, the world’s largest serviced vacation rentals business.

Amazing family skiing in Montana

Amazing family skiing in Montana. Image courtesy of the Montana Office of Tourism

The weather can turn against you too, so you have to prepare contingency plans. “I would be sure to check current and expected snow conditions, as well as investigate other options besides skiing if the weather does not cooperate,” warns Agustina Lagos Marmol, Founder and Managing Director of Dolomite Mountains, a tour operator of outdoor experiences in Northern Italy’s Dolomites and beyond.

Taking care of yourself and your family is critically important too. For example, “Dehydration can lead to your body not performing the same, which can lead to injury while performing activities,” warns Ashley Doran, National Sales Director of Vapur, a manufacturer of durable, freezable, dishwasher safe water “anti-bottles.”

And Yet!

No matter what momentary obstacles must be overcome, no matter what aches and pains are encountered, no matter how many times we have to brush away tears (or maybe that’s just melted snow), “Use winter vacations as a time to try new things. Let your inner child out,” muses Katlyn Richter, Global Media & Public Relations Director of the South Dakota Department of Tourism. “There isn’t a much more free feeling than flying down a puffy snow covered hill in a tube, laughing so hard you can barely breathe, your eyelashes frozen and your face hurting from the cold and smiling so much!”

Yeah, that sounds pretty amazing. “Step away from the usual, and make the most unusual experiences you can,” emphasizes Kirkland of AKontheGO.

In Their Own Words

To more fully embrace the nose-numbing cold of family travel and winter experiences, I reached out to a collection of experts with strong knowledge of snow-based experiences.

Twelve of those experts replied with meaningful thoughts, insights and inspiration. They have all been introduced above, but what follows below is more of what they had to say about why family travel is so meaningful and enjoyable in winter, as well as some key advice to consider when planning a trip with the clan into a cold place.

Snowshoeing (as a family) in South Dakota

Snowshoeing (as a family) in South Dakota. Image courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism


Winter Travel Is More Than Skiing

“Whether it’s skiing, snowshoeing or sledding, there’s fun for everyone in the family. One of the great things about Arizona is you don’t have to limit yourself to just a winter/ski vacation; it can also be a spring vacation with the warmer weather in the Valley of the Sun!”
— Becky Blaine of the Arizona Office of Tourism

“It’s always fun to try a new winter sport! Whether its skiing or snowboarding or something completely different, it’s fun to get out and try a new activity together!”
— Ashley Doran of Vapur

“Winter is full of great cold or warm-weather pursuits, including skiing, snowboarding, skating and tobogganing.”
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

“Families visiting Montana can ski or take a sleigh ride or dogsled ride in the backcountry by day and then spend the night in a remote, comfortable lodge or yurt. To get the full experience of Montana in the winter, visitors should spend time both on and off the slopes, including exploring the cities and traveling into the scenic countryside.”
— Raylee Honeycutt of the Montana Office of Tourism

“Families can find something fun to do, whether skiing, sledding, snowshoeing or just hanging out in the rifugios with some nice wine and a good book.”
— Agustina Lagos Marmol of Dolomite Mountains

A family enjoying a warm winter activity

A family enjoying a warm winter activity in Kaatskill Mountain Club at Hunter Mountain, New York. Image courtesy of Empire State Development (New York State)

“In South Dakota, plenty of cozy cabins that are accessible await in nearby ski hills, national forests ready for snowshoeing and other adventures. There are hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails and plenty of wide open spaces ready for families to pave their way on an adventure.”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

“Aside from the obvious skiing and snowboarding, New York State offers snowshoeing, ice fishing and tubing, while off the mountain outdoor activities typically include ice skating and ice hockey. Heading indoors, some of our favorite winter activities include indoor waterparks, pools, spas and wellness activities.”
— Gavin Landry of Empire State Development (New York State)

“I think it is also VERY important to be aware of myriad other things to do in the winter BESIDES skiing. Dog mushing, sledding, snowshoeing, backcountry skating, fat biking. All these things make up the tapestry of winter recreation and kids can do every.single.one.”
— Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO


Family Winter Travel Creates Togetherness

“Depending upon your region, snow days are often revered in childhood. A winter vacation allows everyone to enjoy the magic of a snow day, regardless of age. And if you’re from a region that does not traditionally see snow, then a winter vacation is your snow day. A winter vacation also tends to be an active vacation, which provides the perfect environment for families to bond and share experiences.”
— Sara Lococo of Keystone Resort

“Winter vacations are a great way of sharing time together and enjoying similar hobbies. Often families in the summer have lots of different interests to cater to, but in the winter the whole family can find something fun to do.”
— Agustina Lagos Marmol of Dolomite Mountains

A watchful snow friend in Arizona

A watchful snow friend in Arizona. Image courtesy of the Arizona Office of Tourism

“Winter’s chill encourages warmth and proximity. Memories are naturally made around a crackling fire, sharing cups of cocoa. They offer moments of reflection, bonding and the joy of a shared experience.”
— Dustin Fletcher of The Clear Creek Group

“Winter holidays are special as they focus on family spending time together. If you live in areas where a cold winter is unavoidable, embrace what you can’t change and go play outside. There should always be hot chocolate on order, post-outdoor play as an enticement if necessary.”
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

“Winter vacations give families a chance to relax and enjoy the outdoors together. There’s also something very peaceful about a fresh fallen snow that invites everyone outside to enjoy the beauty.”
— Becky Blaine of the Arizona Office of Tourism

“The spirit of the holidays always seems to bring people together. The fresh and ever-changing possibility of snowfall makes adventures unique, spontaneous and free-flowing.”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism


Comfortable Coziness Rule the Nights

“One thing that is fun about winter family vacations is staying indoors with a fire in the fireplace and spending quality family time. When it’s cold out at night, it makes for a great time to drink hot chocolate while playing boardgames as a family.”
— Ashley Doran of Vapur

Snow bikers in Alaska

There’s more to winter than skiing! Image courtesy of Erin Kirkland

“I think the reality of possibly being ‘stuck’ in a cabin during a winter storm has something that is filled with potential lifelong memories and stories. Those are the stories that stick with children and adults alike.”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

“Winter vacations provide fun by day and comfort by night. After spending a day enjoying a number of cold activities, there is nothing better than huddling around the fire in your inn or lodge to discuss the joys of your winter wonderland.”
— Raylee Honeycutt of the Montana Office of Tourism

“Try an overnight stay at a wilderness cabin you hiked to (even 1/2 mile counts!). Cozy up to a wood stove, make hot chocolate after a nighttime sledding adventure to count the stars and watch the northern lights.”
— Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO

“There’s something special about cozying up by a fire after a long day of winter activity.”
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

“I think the cold weather invites a cozier atmosphere at night for families to sit around a fire and discuss the day.”
— Agustina Lagos Marmol of Dolomite Mountains

Vapur bottle at Sierra-at-Tahoe refill

Staying hydrated is an important part of staying safe while active on cold climates. Image courtesy of Vapur


It’s Important to Stay Safe

“When participating in any activity, staying hydrated is key. Find hydration stations at ski resorts to stay hydrated while on the slopes and reduce waste from single-use bottles. Often, in colder weather situations, people don’t think about hydration as often. It is equally important for your body whether it’s 100 degrees out or 40 degrees.”
— Ashley Doran of Vapur

“Winter travel is unlike anything else; you must prepare your family not just for comfort, but safety, as some activities and temperatures are indeed beyond the scope of most vacationers. That said, we Alaskans live, work, and play among these temperatures and conditions, and indeed thrive within them.”
— Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO


Anticipating (and Overcoming) Obstacles

“Winter vacations are less frequent than summer adventures and usually require travel to a locale far from home. The absence from school and work is often shorter in duration than a summer trip, heightening the sense of time and place.”
— Dustin Fletcher of The Clear Creek Group

“Family vacations can be a lot of work when you’re traveling with kids, luggage and, in the case of ski vacations, often gear and equipment, so it’s important to find a destination that truly tries to provide value and convenience for families.”
— Sara Lococo of Keystone Resort

“Winter vacations may involve more gear, especially if you’re a skiing family like ours. We do annual winter holidays in the snow, and the car is packed up with winter and ski boots, skis, poles, snowboards and toboggans. And then there’s all the winter clothing too! Jackets, snow pants, gloves, hats, the packing can seem endless. That’s why packing lists and ski bags are so critical to keep things organized and ensure no mitten is left behind.”
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

“I would recommend families look into vacations that can provide all the gear they will need. There is nothing worse than having to pay extra baggage fees to bring skis, poles, helmets etc. with you; it is much nicer to be able to rent everything there.”
— Agustina Lagos Marmol of Dolomite Mountains

“We also suggest families take advantage of New York’s public transportation system, as many of the resorts are easily accessible by train.”
— Gavin Landry of Empire State Development (New York State)

Kids bundled up for skiing

Kids bundled up for skiing. Image courtesy of The Travelling Mom

“For families with young kids just starting out with skiing or snowboarding, I highly recommend borrowing clothing and gear. Or make use of ski and gear swaps to save money. Children grow awfully fast, and buying new gear every season is an expensive waste of money. There are many great deals to be had at gear swaps, consignment stores, at your community hall, or on Craigslist. And don’t forget to ask friends and family for clothing or gear that their kids have outgrown. Money saved on gear equals more money to spend on ski holidays!”’
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

“Accessibility. Though people are willing and ready to be adventurous, they often want the comfort and peace of mind of having a reliable mode of transportation, roads, and services nearby. South Dakota can do both – they can provide easy access to amenities, yet feeling like you’re away from it all, or you literally can get away from it all.”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

“Does anyone in your family have an aversion to cold? If so, Is this something that can be remedied with appropriate lodging, attire, activities, etc.”
— Dustin Fletcher of The Clear Creek Group

“The opportunity to deliver your own family to a place where frost covers trees like sugar frosting, or the northeastern sky lights up with swirls of dancing green light, is a valuable part of teaching how to become stewards of the planet upon which we live.”
— Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO


For All Different Types of Families and Family Needs

“Find a place, like the Black Hills of South Dakota, that isn’t over ridden with skiers if you’re looking for a family ski vacation for first timers. The ski hills here are moderate enough for the beginner, but adventurous enough for the experienced skier.”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

Kids playing with large inner tubes on snow slopes

Kids playing with large inner tubes on the slopes of Beaver Creek, Colorado. Image courtesy of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

“At Keystone, we are all about families in everything we do, from free parking, including designated family parking, our Kids Ski Free program which provides value for guests staying with the resort, to signature Kidtopia programming which offers free, daily activities every day of the week that kids and families can take part in. When taking the family on a ski vacation, I also can’t stress enough the importance of ski school. Not only is it a great way to get started on the right foot if you’re new to skiing or snowboarding, but it’s a great way to improve upon skills or learn the mountain and get insider’s tips from instructors who know the resort. The resort’s Ski & Ride School offers lessons for those as young as 3, and programs such as a Family Private Lesson allows families to progress together, even if their abilities differ.”
— Sara Lococo of Keystone Resort

“If the kids (or adults) need lessons, then book that ski school ahead of time to ensure your place, especially during busy holiday times. They’ll save lots of money on a week-long ski holiday. Finding winter resorts in driving distance will also save money in transportation costs, if you’re within driving range.”
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

“We advise families to look for winter vacations that have plenty of activities to keep young children engaged, both on and off the mountain. This includes learn to ski programs, museums and galleries, and day care programs.”
— Gavin Landry of Empire State Development (New York State)

“Find a resort with the most family-friendly amenities possible to help cut down on the stress that naturally surrounds traveling with children. For example, the Charter at Beaver Creek, Colorado, makes traveling with kids easy through targeted amenities and services”
— Christina Markowitch of Wyndham Vacation Rentals

“Finding on-mountain ski accommodation is also recommended. It’s handy to zip in to your chalet for a quick lunch, or nap in your own home away from home, without everyone having to unbuckle and drive away from the mountain.”
— Claudia Laroye of The Travelling Mom

There are all types of snow fun for families

There are all types of snow fun for families at Snow King Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Image courtesy of Snow King Mountain Resort via The Clear Creek Group


Paid Services Help! A Few Special Services Worth Mentioning

“Taking an organized trip can be a wonderful way to travel. You only have to worry about enjoying your vacation. Traveling with guides who truly know the areas inside and out, as do those at Austin Adventures, brings a richness to the experience and an opportunity to see things you may miss otherwise. We offer trips tailored to families all over the world, but I would highly recommend some of the national parks in winter, like Grand Teton and Yellowstone, which are especially magical during this season.”
— Dan Austin of Austin Adventures

“In addition to providing full concierge services and tailored itineraries, we provide guests with a guide to local all local events and activities.”
— Dustin Fletcher of The Clear Creek Group

“In South Dakota, winter is also a great time to vacation because many attractions are still open and it is a lot quieter here. There are plenty of businesses that are seasonal and closed during the winter months, but a place like Mount Rushmore National Memorial takes on a whole new look in the winter. The buffalo in Custer State Park are active and often covered in snow, they look like a winter beast!”
— Katlyn Richter of the South Dakota Department of Tourism

“For those looking for a guided experience, there are a number of guides and tours that bring visitors closer to Montana than otherwise possible, from exhilarating wildlife tours to scenic snowcoach excursions, and off-the-beaten-path activities and experiences, including exploring a local ghost town, taking a guided trip to the best backcountry ski slopes, and staying in a remote lodge.”
— Raylee Honeycutt of the Montana Office of Tourism

“At Keystone we truly want guests to feel like a part of the Keystone family when they visit, and take home memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. As many parents know, the key to a successful family vacation is making sure the kids are happy, so we place a significant focus on providing a great experience for our youngest guests, like lessons for all ages and abilities and through a learning facility called Camp Keystone.”
— Sara Lococo of Keystone Resort

“We are looking at Sierra as the poster child for a hydration program and expect to see hydration stations popping up at ski resorts all over in 2017. It’s part of an effort to make resorts more sustainable by eliminating or reducing single-use plastic water bottles. Some ski resorts have also installed Vapur Refill Stations throughout the resort to make it easy for skiers to fill up and refill throughout the day.”
— Ashley Doran of Vapur

Read More!


* Schussing the Far North: Alaska’s Best Skiing and Riding for Families
* Alaska Jokes, Photos and Stories for Kids

Visit here for more from AKontheGO.


Arizona Office of TourismArizona Office of Tourism

* Arizona’s Winter Wonderland
* Winter in Flagstaff

Visit here for more from the Arizona Office of Tourism.


Austin AdventuresAustin Adventures

* Family Adventure Vacations

Visit here for more from Austin Adventures.


Dolomite MountainsDolomite Mountains

* Dolomite Winter Resources
* Dolomite Ski Safaris

Visit here for more from Dolomite Mountains.


Keystone ColoradoKeystone Resort

* Kids Ski Free
* Kidtopia

Visit here for more about Keystone Resort winter activities and here to start planning your ultimate family adventure.


Montana Office of TourismMontana Office of Tourism

* Family Fun
* Plan a Snow Day

Visit here for more from the Montana Office of Tourism.


I Love NYI Love NY

* Learn to Ski or Ride for Free
* Family Fun

Visit here for more about Winter in New York.


South DakotaSouth Dakota Department of Tourism

* Blackhills Winter Vacation Guide

Visit here for more about South Dakota.


The Clear Creek GroupThe Clear Creek Group

* Jackson Hole Winter Activities
* Jackson Hole

Visit here for more about The Clear Creek Group.


The Travelling MomThe Travelling Mom

* The Ski pages

Visit here for more writing by The Travelling Mom.



* Vapur and Sierra-at-Tahoe Team Up to End Disposable Water Bottle Waste

Visit here for more about Vapur.


Wyndham Vacation RentalWyndham Vacation Rentals

* The Charter at Beaver Creek

Visit here for more about Wyndham Vacation Rentals.


More Reading

* Fun in the Snow — Your Guide to Family Vacations on the Ski Slopes and Beyond, by Taking the Kids

Family Travel Five: Bobsledding, Ice Climbing and More Winter Activities that Cater to Kids, by Lynn O’Rourke Hayes

* Raiders of Les Arcs (France)

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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adventure travel, children, Europe, family travel, Italy, local knowledge, mountains, North America, Northern America, Southern Europe, sports, USA, whl.travel,

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