I founded Passported with the belief that the whole world is family-friendly and there are no bad destinations for kids, just bad matches. With careful planning, I’ve taken my kids (now ages five and eight) around the world, but until last week, I hadn’t done the family ski trip. Between the cost, tricky logistics and sheer amount of “stuff” involved, the beach won our winter break every time. Now, fresh from six days in Aspen, I wish we hadn’t waited so long. If you’re even considering a family trip to the slopes — go! But first, read on for what to know, and plan, in advance, as well as all my Aspen finds. —Henley Vazquez
1. Sign up for ski school
Aspen is divided into four mountains, with Snowmass and Buttermilk offering the programs for the youngest children and beginner skiers. Their daycare centers also accept babies. Each has half- and full-day programs, giving parents some grown-up time on the slopes while the kids have a combination of ski school and playtime. They make friends, they learn to ski from the kindest instructors, and they return happy and exhausted. Pre-register online to have some of the paperwork complete, but show up early the first day since there are extra details to handle on check-in.
2. Get the gear
The cold weather isn’t bad if you’re wearing the right stuff. I love the Uniqlo Heattech line, which costs a fraction of the more famous thermal brands. Purchase kids’ jackets and snow pants in gender-neutral colors if you have boys and girls; they’ll outgrow this stuff in a year, so it’s nice to reuse it. In Aspen, rent gear through Four Mountain Sports, which offers free on-mountain storage overnight, and they’ll transfer your skis to another mountain if you want to start your next day elsewhere. Ski school will keep the youngest kids’ gear, but for the older ones and adults, Four Mountain is a huge help. Replay Sports is the place to pick up affordable second-hand gear in town. I forgot to pack my son’s new snow pants and bought a lightly used pair here for $10.
3. Don’t break the bank on a hotel
If you’ve got a budget that includes famous places like the Little Nell or the Hotel Jerome, go for it. Those are two gorgeous hotels and well worth a splurge. But there are plenty of places to stay, even in a town with as fancy a reputation as Aspen, that don’t cost a fortune. Aspen Square Hotel and Aspen Meadows Resorts are two less pricey options, the later with seriously cool Bauhaus architecture.
4. Know the lay of the land
Aspen’s most challenging terrain winds down Ajax and Aspen Highlands, two of the four mountains your ski pass accesses. Ajax overlooks downtown, while Aspen Highlands and beginner-friendly Buttermilk are next to each other, about 10 minutes from town. Snowmass, the biggest of the four, is 10 minutes farther. The free RFTA bus runs between the four mountains, but if you’re staying anywhere outside town, a rental car is useful. If you have young children and want to ski all four mountains but remain close to the kids, consider splitting ski school time between Snowmass and Buttermilk.
5. Make reservations
Aspen’s restaurants are incredibly kid-friendly, but during peak vacation weeks, they’re also incredibly busy—even for early dining hours (recommended since kids will be tuckered from ski school). We loved Kenichi, a hip sushi spot, and Brunelleschi’s, where kids can make their own pizza. Other musts: pasta at Mezzaluna, burgers at J-Bar and a fondue lunch at Cloud Nine. Don’t miss morning coffee from ink! and apres truffle fries at Ajax.
6. Take a day off
Don’t feel guilty if the healthy mountain air wears you out. Altitude adjustment can be difficult, and the mere act of dressing your children can feel like Barry’s Bootcamp. Whether it’s a day at the spa (the Viceroy has an amazing one, right next to Snowmass’s Treehouse center for kids, the one at the St. Regis has an oxygen bar) or scoping out the local culture, Aspen’s advantage stretches beyond the slopes. The new Aspen Art Museum is easy to navigate and has kids’ activities, plus there’s slopeside bowling, an Ice Age Discovery Center and even tubing or snowshoeing if you want the snow with a rest from the skis.
7. Ship your stuff
Another first for me—luggage shipping. I used Luggage Forward to ship a suitcase with our heavy ski gear, allowing us to travel with carry-ons only. They picked up from my office, delivered to where we were staying and gave us tracking updates along the way. On the way home, we checked our bags since I wasn’t paranoid about losing essential snow pants and gloves. With airline luggage fees it ended up costing more than the shipping, and we had to wait a half-hour at baggage reclaim.