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Great Ski Resorts For Families
And guess what? Learning to ski is a bargain.

By Larry Olmsted

Few outdoor pursuits can rival skiing for family fun. Children who learn to ski or snowboard at an early age can pursue it for the rest of their lives, and ski vacations make for great family time together, whether it is for a weekend getaway, or a whole week to a far-flung destination. Fathers can ski with their sons and daughters, or split up and meet for lunch, and for young children, almost every ski area offers dedicated, supervised programs.

While skiing is perceived as an expensive sport, it doesn't have to be. Almost all resorts offer a wide variety of lodging, including condos, villas and homes that are perfect for larger families, and with kitchens, you can save a bundle on dining. Competition for visitors is so fierce that all but the most famous resorts offer some great bargain packages. Certainly, learning to ski is one of the great bargains in all of sports. With a steady decrease in the number of skiers over the years, the industry has countered with extremely attractive "learn to ski" and "learn to board" packages to draw new blood into the sport. These often add free gear rental and even free lessons into the price of a lift ticket. Improvements in teaching techniques and equipment have greatly reduced the sport's learning curve, making it possible for kids to carve turns their first day out. And many shops offer seasonal equipment leases for growing kids, where you can trade up to new sizes each season.

When planning a ski outing with your kids, consider the following tips:

– Children should always wear helmets.
Many ski areas now rent helmets, as they have become much more common on the slopes.

– If you have older children who can ski on their own,
consider a pair of the popular new sports walkie-talkies. They have long range, are clear and lightweight, and let you connect easily with your teens for lunch, at the end of the day, or if your kids get tired. They are reasonably priced, but more and more mountains rent them as well.

– Get your kids professional instruction.
It doesn't matter how good a skier you are, the pros make a living as teachers, and many specialize in teaching children. Besides techniques, they understand children's fears, motivations and speed of learning. In addition, they have access to dedicated teaching facilities like magic carpet lifts (moving walkways) and safe teaching zones.

– Be patient.
It takes less time than ever before to learn to ski, but it still takes time, and kids get frustrated and cold more easily than adults. Be supportive and never rush your children along.

For the best family ski vacations and learning experiences, consider:

Deer Valley, UT:
When it comes to family friendly, it is hard to beat Deer Valley, with ample lighter than air snow, and the best customer service in the business. Those new to skiing will enjoy the mountain's renowned grooming, resulting in immaculate conditions all season long. If your kids get cold or wet, there are warming huts all over, and even dryers at the top of the lifts to warm up gloves or hats. Deer Valley operates a dedicated family skiing area on its Flagstaff Mountain, with two lifts, several trails, and a yurt, a hut-like lodge serving snacks and drinks. The resort has excellent instructors and a wide variety of children's programs, including full-day classes starting with three year olds. There are also classes for those 4 1/2 through kindergarten; first grade through 12; and teenagers. Deer Valley is a skiing-only mountain, and does not allow snowboarding (800-424-DEER,

Telluride, CO:
Kids will love the wooden sidewalks and wild west setting of the town where Butch Cassidy got his bank robbing start. Adults will love the first rate lodging, dining and skiing of this Rocky Mountain escape. Wannabe skiers and boarders can enter group classes for 3-6 and 7-12 year olds, and kids who are established skiers will love the Surge Air Garden, full of jumps and ramps. The exclusive Peaks resort even offers a Kidspa to reward the little ones for toughing it out in the cold. Best of all, the resort offers a fantastic family package, even in high season unlike many early bird offers. Two adults and two children get seven nights lodging and five days of skiing with a two bedroom condo for just $1856. The offer is good 12/17-22 and 1/7-2/9 (800-854-3062,

Whistler/Blackcomb, BC:
When it comes to bargains, this powerhouse resort is hard to beat, mainly because of the weak Canadian dollar. But that's the only thing weak about the resort, which is named best in North America by all the major ski magazines year-in and year-out. Its two peaks have the first and second highest vertical on the continent, and it is very easy to navigate. But the big selling point is the huge, car free pedestrian village, which is perfectly suited to families, with a wide range of restaurants, shops and attractions, all safely located at the base of the two peaks. Whistler Kids offers a wide selection of skiing and snowboarding clinics for kids 3-17, while the Kids' Adventure Camps offer a five-day immersion with the same group of kids and instructors, a kids après ski evening and weekly themes. Two-day mini-camps are available on weekends. Children under seven ski free, every single day. A huge variety of hotels, resorts and condos, all at reasonable prices, make Whistler the king of the hill (800-WHISTLER,

Okemo, Ludlow, VT:
It's no coincidence that so many residents of the Northeast learned to ski at Okemo, a family-owned, family-run resort with tons of ski-in, ski-out condos. Okemo has a great instructional staff, and clinics for kids 4-7, 7-12, and 13-16. With predominantly beginner and intermediate terrain, it's a mountain kids can go by themselves on with minimum worry. They also offer what may be the nation's only extreme skiing program for kids. Extreme skier Dan Egan, star of many off the wall ski movies, hosts a Kids' Big Air camp, where future Olympic free stylists can learn how to go big. But Okemo has plenty of saner, more sedate programs for the average teen (800-78-OKEMO,

Larry Olmsted lives in Vermont and writes frequently about travel and skiing.

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