The ideal time for kids to learn to ski is when they’re young so that swooshing down the slopes feels as natural as walking. California ski resorts offer excellent snow sports programs for kids as young as 3. While they’re learning to balance on skis or boards, you’re free to shred and carve up the slopes before regrouping as a family.
Although generally skiing can be a pricey, many California mountain resorts offer low cost or free skiing to kids with a paid adult ticket. Lessons cost extra. Here are a list of kid-friendly ski resorts:
Eastern Sierras, California
Located about six hours from L.A., Mammoth is a world-class ski resort well worth the drive. Small groups and playful snow sports classes make learning fun for kids. Pioneers teaches kids ages 3 and 4 to ski; Explorers is for beginner skiers and snowboarders ages 5- 7; Adventurers helps ages 8 – 12 learn and strengthen new skills. The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (owner of Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain) recently acquired Big Bear Mountain Resorts (Bear Mountain and Snow Summit) in SoCal. That means the new Cali4nia (Season) Pass is valid at all four mountains.
Best daily ski deals: $67 early bird lift ticket or early bird lift and lodging starting at $99.
Lodging: A range of options include village hotels, condos and slope-side accommodations.
June Mountain (about 20 minutes from Mammoth)
Many families prefer this smaller resort for learning to ski and snowboard before tackling bigger mountains. The cozy, budget-friendly ski resort has awesome ski deals. Kids ages 12 and younger ski free for one thing. Same children’s classes as Mammoth.
Lodging: Cabins, hotels and the family-friendly Double Eagle Resort & Spa.
Big Bear Mountain Resorts, Big Bear Lake
One lift ticket is valid for both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, about two hours from Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. While skiers and snowboarders are warmly welcomed at both resorts, generally families and skiers gravitate to Snow Summit (check out the Family Park) and snowboarders to Bear Mountain’s terrain parks. Kids ages 6 and younger ski/ride free at both resorts. Lessons: Little Bear Camp, ages 4 – 7; Little Bear Lessons, ages 5 – 7; First-Time Beginner and Next Steps Lessons, ages 8 – 12.
Ski deal: Ski free on your birthday! Show I.D.
Lodging: Stay in a hotel, cabin or a rental home and condo through Big Bear Vacations.
Situated at a lower elevation than Big Bear, the ski area gets less snow and has fewer trails, but is ideal for beginners and young families. Short lift lines and weekday discounts are another bonus. Children’s ski and snowboard group lessons for ages 4 – 12 are kept small and utilize an easy-to-load conveyor at the Children’s Learning Center. Kids ages 6 and under ski free with paying adult.
Ski deal: Save with the Family Fun Pack: Four lift tickets (two adults, two kids ages 7 – 12). Also, ski free on your birthday. Show I.D.
Mountain High, Wrightwood
The laid-back resort attracts mostly snowboarders, but its close proximity to LA (about 90 minutes) makes it a fun place to ski with kids too. The Children’s Academy gets ages 4 – 9 up on skis and snowboards (from $79 half-day). Rentals and lunch included. Plus, it offers numerous deals. Kids ages 6 and under ski free. SoCal fifth graders (from San Diego to Santa Barbara and extending to Las Vegas) get a free ski pass.
Ski deal: Ski free on your birthday. Show I.D.
Lodging: Lodging options vary in town.
Lake Tahoe has 15 downhill ski areas, including three Vail Resorts: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar California and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. One season pass is valid for all three.
The EpicMix app enables you to share photos and track where you’ve skied as well as newly learned skills in ski school (to be shared with all Vail Resorts, so you pick up where you left off).
The laid-back luxury resort has lodging, snow sports lessons and a fun alpine village with shops, restaurants, movie theaters and après-ski activities including daily s’smores, ice skating and live music. The Ultimate 4 Lessons cap students to just four so you get lots of one-on-one time with your instructor. Private and group lessons are also available. When you stay in village accommodations, skiing, shopping and dining are right outside your door. Or book a room at the posh mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton, which has a children’s program, spa facility, restaurants and handy ski valet (no more lugging your own skis in and out)
Heavenly Mountain Resort
While this resort caters to party animals, it’s also popular with families who like sprawling resorts. Lifts, trails, restaurants and entertainment span four base facilities in California and Nevada. Kids’ lessons include a helmet, lunch and snacks. Ages 4 and 5 learn to ski in Firecrackers while ages 6 – 13 jet to the next level in Rockets. Snowboarding classes include Blasters for ages 5 and 6, and Rockets for ages 7 – 13. The Ski/Play day care program introduces ages 3 and 4 to skiing. Après–ski family fun: weekly Ripperoo Parades with Heavenly’s mascot and hot chocolate.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood’s ski and snowboard classes for kids and adults bring you up to speed for the mountain’s steep terrain and big mountain skiing. Mini Groms introduces first time riders to basic skills on the snow. Ages 5 – 12 tackle the slopes in Mountain Explorer. The Groms snowboard program caters to riders ages 5 – 12.
Host of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the resort features slope-side lodging, shopping, dining, a ski museum and recreational activities. Kids’ lessons include Pioneers, a ski class for ages 3 and 4. Ages 5 – 7 hit the slopes in Grommets Snowboard or Explorers Ski Lesson. Kid ages 8 – 13 cruise the slopes in the Jibbers Snowboard and Mountaineers Ski Lesson groups.