From lakeside mountain ranges to perfect alpine powder, these vacation destinations are perfect for snow-loving families.
And be sure to take some time away from the thrilling opportunities atop the mountains to explore local towns. Go sightseeing, savor local cuisine or find a souvenir to take home as a reminder of your adventure.
1. Lake Tahoe, CALIFORNIA
Scene: The glistening lake lies less than three and a half hours from San Francisco in the lush Sierra Nevada Mountains and is one of the most scenic bodies of water in the world. Snowy peaks towering over the lake are home to 15 ski areas. Heavenly Mountain Resort on the south shore is the largest and most luxurious. Unlike any other ski destination, Tahoe doubles as a winter sports hot spot and a top gambling destination. The base of Heavenly is in California, but a large part of the terrain lies across the state line in Nevada, so if you want to hit the slots after the slopes, this is the place.
Good to know: Heavenly has more terrain than any other Tahoe resort (30 chairlifts and 100 trails), high-end hotels and fine dining options. There’s also more vertical to ski – 3,500 feet from top to bottom – with a wide variety of terrain.
Don’t miss: The Unbuckle Aprés Ski Party at Tamarack Lodge. At 3:30 p.m. every day DJs spin music as a group known as the Heavenly Angels dance on tables and hundreds of skiers unbuckle their boots and join the fun.
Access: Reno-Tahoe International Airport
Snowboarder catching air in Lake Tahoe
2. Park City, UTAH
Scene: You would be hard-pressed to find so many incredible ski areas so close to an international airport. Less than an hour from Salt Lake City, you could step into your skis at any one of eight world-class resorts, each one boasting better snow and fewer crowds than just about anywhere. Park City is the most popular of the options, and it’s not just a ski destination but a bustling community of outdoor sports lovers, shoppers and families. After hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics, the town and ski areas, which include Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons and Deer Valley, stepped up their game. Of the 16 chairlifts at Park City Mountain Resort, four are high-speed six-seaters and one takes you up the mountain directly from the town’s Main Street.
Good to know: Park City is great for families and anyone who appreciates a dolled up former mining town offering plenty of shopping, cross country skiing and a post-Olympic professional appeal. Great athletes are everywhere, as is the headquarters for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.
Don’t miss: The Flying Eagle Zipline. If tearing down the mountain on skis or a snowboard isn’t enough of an adrenaline rush, the on-mountain zipline, transports you like a feathered Ferrari over the slopes.
Access: Salt Lake City International Airport
Mountains at dusk in Park City
Aspen + Vail, COLORADO
Scene: Once you leave Denver, there is a distinct feel of the Old West in the Colorado Rockies, which are home to the highest ski areas in the world. The air is fresh and thin at the base areas at nearly 3,000 meters above sea level, but the elevation is partially to thank for the famous champagne powder, which stays soft throughout the winter. After a fresh storm, gliding through it is pure, weightless magic.
Access: Eagle County Regional Airport or Aspen-Pitkin County Airport
Good to know: Just two hours from Denver, Vail is a luxurious paradise for affluent skiers and shoppers, boasting renowned restaurants, art galleries and hotels, as well as the largest ski area in the country. The slopes on the front side are wide open, and many are relatively mild in pitch and perfect for families. The sprawl of the famous Back Bowls could make any expert skier dizzy. On sunny powder days, you can see the majestic Mount of the Holy Cross from any number of spots. At 14,000 feet in elevation, the mountain has a natural cross symbol made from snow on the side.
Don’t miss: Vail and nearby Beaver Creek host world-class ski and snowboard events every winter, including the 2015 World Ski Championships, which features two weeks of racing starring the world’s fastest skiers.
Slope trails at Vail Mountain Resort
Good to know: Although it’s home to celebrities and designer shops like Louis Vuitton, the town of Aspen – dating back 150 years to the silver mining era – is surprisingly rustic. It boasts four ski areas, each well-suited to a particular level of skier. Aspen Mountain looms over the town with its long, steep runs perfect for experts. Snowmass has a large variety of intermediate terrain. Aspen Highlands is ideal for skiers who prefer a quiet, less crowded experience, and beginner-friendly Buttermilk is home to the Winter X Games and a massive half-pipe and terrain park for both snowboarding and freestyle skiing.
Don’t miss: The convenience of the local airport, sparing you the four to five-hour drive from Denver, and a cocktail at the J Bar, a favorite drinking hole of late Aspen resident and famous novelist Hunter S.Thompson.
Skiing on the mountain in Aspen
5. Killington, VERMONT
Scene: It’s hard to believe that New York City and Boston lie just a few hours away. Although Vermont and upstate New York are home to dozens of ski areas, Killington Resort, with six mountains and 140 trails, is the largest and most popular. It’s great for skiers who don’t mind hard-packed conditions and have warm jackets, as it gets colder here than any other ski destination in the United States. Topping out at an elevation of just 4,241 feet (lower than the city of Denver), it’s much easier to breathe here than in the Rockies and Tahoe. Although the terrain difficulty is split evenly among all levels of skier, there is a 3,000-foot vertical drop that measures six miles in length and will take you hours to complete.
Don’t miss: The area is known for several epicurean wonders: Melt-in-your-mouth Vermont cheddar, a pancake or waffle breakfast with locally harvested real maple syrup and a sample of the best-selling ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s.
Access: Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport
Skiers mountain-side at Killington Resort