If you want to help your kids develop a lifelong love of skiing, snowboarding, and other snowy sports, this is a good place to start. We've rounded up some nearby ski resorts where you and your family can enjoy time on the slopes with minimal time in the car. We've also included safety tips for skiing and snowboarding from respected professionals. If you're looking for winter fun that's a bit less strenuous, snow tubing might be just the thing. And for even more options, check out our Ski & Snow Guide.
Mountain Creek Ski Resort – Vernon
Mountain Creek is home to eight lifts, four mountain peaks, and 46 trails—as well as a large snow tubing park, multiple zip-lines, and an alpine coaster. All ski equipment can be rented from the on-site rental center, located on the first floor of the Red Tail Lodge. This resort is quite popular with tweens and teens, but there is plenty for younger kids here as well. Children as young as 4 years can take private or group ski lessons from experienced, patient instructors, while budding snowboarders age 5 and under can take lessons at the on-site Ringlet Park. Other on-site amenities for those lodging at Mountain Creek (as opposed to just coming for the day) include a full arcade, bowling alley, fire pit, and laser maze. 973-827-2000
Campgaw Mountain ski class.
Campgaw Mountain –Mahwah
Campgaw is great for the whole family, from first-timers to seasoned skiers. Campgaw offers five beginner/intermediate trails, a terrain park, two double chair lifts and three “magic carpet” lifts (this is a lift in the middle of a small hill that resembles an escalator; it generally moves kids up a mini mountain). Campgaw offers group and private lessons for kids, including a group lesson for ages 4–6. Mountain amenities include night skiing, tubing, a freestyle terrain park, children's programs, and racing programs for competitive-level skiers and boarders. Kids' tubing parties are also available. 973-327-7800
Blue Mountain – Palmerton, PA
Located about 45 minutes from the NJ/PA border, Blue Mountain is well worth the drive. This smaller, more intimate mountain allows you to bypass the crowds at larger venues and is a gentle introduction for young kids and beginners of all ages. There is no on-site lodging at the moment—though there are plans for it in the near future—but there are many family places to stay nearby, such as the Hampton Inn Lehighton - Jim Thorpe and The Lodge at Woodstone Country Club. Blue Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, and snowtubing, which is extremely popular here. In fact, Blue Mountain is the only mountain in the Poconos with family-size tubes. This is a fantastic activity for those who want some winter family fun without the skiing. In total there are 28 trails, including many green (beginner), as well as 10 ski lifts, plus 24 tubing lanes and two lifts. Need a break from the kids? There's babysitting! 610-826-7700
Shawnee Mountain – East Stroudsburg, PA
This Poconos ski resort, located right on the border of NJ, is known for being very family-friendly and packed with child-approved amenities. Shawnee has 23 slopes, many of them green, and offers many types of kids' lessons, including daily morning, afternoon, and full-day programs led by specially trained staff. There are even Mommy & Me ski lessons—and on-site babysitting for when mom and dad need a little break. There's also a video game room, pizza parlor, food court, and snow tubing park. The Crossings Premium Outlets are nearby if you want to get some shopping in after a long morning of skiing, too. (If you have the energy, of course!) On-site lodging is available for families. Check Shawnee's Web site for seasonal discounts and more. 570-421-7231
SAFEY TIPS FOR SKIING
From Bob Zega, NJ Ski & Snowboard Council
The best age to start:
Kids have to be able to walk well and have a sense of balance, so anything below age 2 is unreasonable. They should be able to listen and follow instruction to some degree. I've spoken to a lot of parents on the slopes on this subject and find very few who start kids skiing at age 2. When my own children were young, I started my daughter at age 3 and have seen a number of 3-5 year olds in ski-school. Age 3-5 should be the earliest starting point for a child to ski because they can walk, they usually don't mind being away from mom and dad, and by this time they have an idea of knowing right from wrong.
1. Children must be taught to follow the Skiers Responsibility Code while on the slopes.
2. Children must use properly fitted equipment suited to their ability level.
3. NO POLES until they have been skiing for 3–4 years and are proficient enough to handle them.
4. Children must be taught to understand and obey trails signs, including beginner (green) and expert (black) trails.
5. The danger of skiing on too advanced a slope before they are ready must be fully understood.
6. If you plan to self-teach, your child should be tethered to you for the first season or two.
7. Safety vests with a handle on the back are now available for children, making it easier for parents, instructors, or anyone riding a lift with young kids to 'grab' them if needed.
Clothing and gear:
Make sure your child is properly dressed for a day in cold weather. This includes long underwear, GOOD gloves/socks and clothing suitable for mountain conditions vs. going to school. Turtleneck shirts are mandatory to keep a child warm (scarves don't do a good job). Kids fall, and eventually gloves and socks get wet, so a parent should bring extra gloves, socks, and pants in case a child needs a change by lunchtime to stay warm. If spending a day on the snow, ski goggles are a MUST.
Ski Instructors are certified professionals knowledgeable about the latest ski instruction techniques. They have to take annual training to retain their certification. A parent may know how to ski, but a professional ski instructor is trained to teach children on the child's level. It may cost more, but children will have a better time in class with their own ski peers than trying to keep up with mom and dad on the slopes. Mom and Dad will have a better time, too, and children are likely to progress faster when taught by a professional.
SAFETY TIPS FOR SNOWBOARDING
from Kayla Dowd, snowboard instructor at Vermont’s Okemo Mountain
The best age to start:
7 or 8. Snowboarding requires significant muscle memory that can be difficult for younger children to master.
Clothing and gear:
When your child is learning to snowboard, it is important that they come prepared with a helmet, googles, face mask, and appropriate undergarments, such as thermals. Additionally, if your child is renting boots and a board, you want to make sure all the equipment works, and is the right size prior to the lesson.
1. Make sure your child wears a helmet. This is particularly important when children are learning to snowboard, as they are more prone to head injuries during this time.
2. Instill the importance of mountain awareness. This includes knowing safe and appropriate places to stop on a trail that does not put them or other skiers in danger. This also includes knowing how to merge onto trails, maintaining the appropriate speeds for different trails, and keeping a safe distance from other riders.
3. Go over a trail map with your child before hitting the slopes. Resorts make them readily available, so grab one before heading out.
Top photo: Mountain Creek. Photo by Anna Fader. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the resorts.
Originally published on January 4, 2012. Updated January 2017.