As an East Coast transplant living in Southern California, I recently decided it was time my Los Angeles born and raised daughters Kit, 10, and Olivia, 6, experience a real winter season and learn to ski. We packed our bags and flew to Aspen, Co. for four days with daily passes to Snowmass, considered the most family friendly ski-mountain in the area.
Our trip began Thanksgiving weekend, which is traditionally when the slopes in Aspen officially open for the ski season. First things first was renting our ski equipment, as the girls would begin ski school bright and early the next morning.
With a population of just under 7000, Aspen is a little town and therefore, everything you need is pretty much within walking distance. We set off on foot to get our gear.
We walked in to Four Mountain Sports, so named because the facility has locations at all four of the area’s ski mountains, making it very convenient to swap out or tune-up equipment and quickly get back on the slopes. At the downtown Aspen location, the store’s knowledgeable employees measured us one by one, outfitted us head-to-toe, showed us how to snap everything in place and adjusted each strap to make sure it all fit comfortably. We left the shop with only our ski boots and helmets since Four Mountain takes care of the rest. They transport your skis and poles to the mountain you’ll be at the next day and will even store it there overnight, or transfer them between the four mountains at no extra cost. You’re never lugging anything around which I was especially grateful for since everything mother knows that under other circumstances, she would have been the one carrying her kids’ gear in addition to her own.
Once that was taken care of, it was time to fill our bellies with food. While there is an abundance of restaurants in Aspen to suit everyone’s taste buds, eating with children is sometimes more about making sure you get through a meal without siblings fights or accidental spills than it is about the menu. For us, we found something both functional and tasty in CP Burger, right in the center of town. CP Burger has an adjoining outdoor skating rink that doubles as a mini-golf park during the warmer months. Paying for your skates and your meal is done at the same cash register and you can even dine outdoors by the rink. My girls had a blast tooling around on the ice while waiting for their food. And when their burgers came, they’d alternate between eating and skating, zipping in and zipping out on their skates in way one would never be able to do at another restaurant. The food at CP Burger itself was more than just your standard American diner fare. There were also plenty of menu items for those wanting healthier or more upscale options including kale salad, parmesan truffle fries and edamame.
Rather than giving out an assigned number to call when the food is ready, a celebrity name like Morgan Freeman, Julia Roberts or Bob Dylan, is printed out on your receipt instead. Just another fun twist on an age-old practice in the service industry. Especially since we are all more than just a number and deserve to be stars in our own right!
The next morning, we walked past the ice skating rink to the Ruby Park bus station, whose routes between Aspen and Snowmass are free all day long. The twenty-minute ride took us right to Snowmass Village, where our ski equipment was waiting for us. My husband and I booked a half-day lesson with an instructor to refresh our muscle memory, as it had been a few decades since we both skied. Much has changed from the technique to the shape of the skis themselves.
First we took our girls to the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center, a daycare and ski camp where Kit and Olivia were signed up for daylong group lessons, which also included a lunch break and indoor game time. Kids 6 years and under always ski/snowboard for free at Snowmass so we did not have to worry about paying for Olivia’s lift tickets. Group lessons start at age 3 and the kids are put together in classes according to age. In a way I was relieved that that my daughters would not be grouped together. My girls’ three and a half year age difference often means little Olivia wants to copy her big sister, but she’s not coordinated enough yet. This always leads to tears of frustration on her part and resentment on Kit’s. Having them in separate peer groups took away any potential competition of who can learn to ski quicker, faster, better, etc.
I have to admit felt a bit nervous leaving my kids for the day. Twenty-four hours earlier Olivia had never seen snow in her life and now I felt like I was dumping her with strangers who would be dealing with her. Olivia didn’t seem to mind it much, but I felt like a cruel parent deserting her. I wasn’t so guilty about leaving Kit. At 10 she’s already an athlete who has mastered several sports so this was simply the next adventure for her. Kit set off with her age group on the ski lift with confidence and ease.
But Olivia is the type where something always doesn’t feel right – a boot is too tight, for example, or a jacket isn’t comfortable. It can get exhausting for me to deal with that, but how would an instructor handle it? My ultimate fear was that I’d come back at the end of the day only to find out that Olivia never set foot in the snow and stayed indoors in the daycare area all day.
I needn’t have worried.
When I came back at the end of the day to pick up my girls, both were so excited to have actually skied. The first thing they said was how they couldn’t wait to come back the next morning. That was underscored by the many hugs and high-5’s given out between instructors and kids. Clearly a day on the slopes created a special bond between them.
What also makes things fun is that Snowmass employees working the lift closest to the Treehouse are always dressed up in different costumes, making the ski experience less daunting for beginners. Disneyland is not the only happiest place on Earth. Snowmass, with it’s own costumed characters and gondola ski-lifts, may just give the Mouseland a run for it’s money.
One of the sweet things the Treehouse does is that at the end of each day, the kids are given little “report cards” so parents can chart their children’s progress. I’ve never seen my kids so eager to move on to the next level, so confident in their skills and so independent in their abilities. I think it’s because when you ski, it’s all YOU. Any progress you make is because of the work and effort you put in. The feeling of completion when you start at the top and get down to the bottom is extremely satisfying – no matter how long it took you to get there.
Aside from the technique of skiing, the instructors taught my kids a bit of local history about the reservoir that’s visible from the slopes. In 2010, construction workers uncovered fossil bones belonging to a female mammoth. It was the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as bones of 26 different animals were further found on site including those of mastodons, bison, camels and even a Colorado first – a ground sloth – all of which were remarkably preserved, given they were all more than 45,000 old. For this young generation of skiers, all of who grew up watching the animated Ice Age movies, being on slopes that actually once had real-life mammoths sauntering through added a special allure to the entire experience.
There is a yearly tradition that happens in Aspen at the St. Regis Hotel over Thanksgiving is that’s must-stop if you’re there on that holiday. The entire town, including visitors from the other hotels, is invited to gather for the St. Regis’ annual tree lighting ceremony and party. The event, completely free to the public, sees everyone congregating around the courtyard of the St. Regis where a massive Christmas tree takes center stage. There is a buffet of sweet treats, mulled wine and hot chocolate. Live music plays and carolers from a local school perform. Guests socialize, or relax and sit on couches around fire pits to stay warm and comfortable.
A massive gingerbread replica of the St. Regis, housed in the lobby, is also officially unveiled and it’s quite a sight. The hotel uses its own building plans as a template and scales it to a smaller size. The engineering department provides a base from which to start the building. The kitchen makes sheets of gingerbread, cuts out windows, decorates the structure and by some miracle, is able to transport it to the lobby without any mishaps. In total, about 250 hours of labor are put in to this edible creation. It’s no wonder this particular gingerbread structure is often listed as one of the top gingerbread houses in America!
But while the Christmas tree is stunning, the food delicious and the gingerbread house jaw dropping, what every child looks forward to the most at this gathering is the arrival of Santa. A throne-like chair awaits him by the Christmas tree and a photo-taking machine is set up to snap, print and email free of charge any photos taken with Santa.
And Santa being Santa, does not come empty handed. He was prepared with parting gifts for every age group from Elmo board books for the wee ones to bouncing balls and slinkys for the older ones.
If your kids love to cook, for a fee, you can arrange for them to take part in the St. Regis’ Budding Chef program – a one-hour cooking class with the hotel’s executive chef David Viviano. These one-hour classes involve kids 12 years of age and under learning how decorate cookies and cupcakes including properly using a pastry bag with icing. Kids older than 12 learn knife skills, such as how to safely hold a knife, performing basic cuts and how to slice vegetables to create a presentable crudités platter.
It was fun watching my girls decorate. Kit was very deliberate and specific in her decorating. Olivia was all about the bigger-is-better, piling on candy and gummies until they threatened to topple over. At the end, the staff brought out to-go boxes and packed up every single cookie and cupcake for us to take home.
By the third day of skiing, Kit was ready to join my husband and I on the more challenging slopes. Olivia opted for one more day of ski school, because she could use the extra lesson to catch up to us but more importantly, she loved the camaraderie of being with the other kids her age. On the slopes, I was so impressed with Kit. I have no idea what magic they work at that Treehouse but it just made me want to hug and kiss those instructors. Days earlier, I gave them two inexperienced children who became amazing skiers who I know will soon surpass me on all levels. For Kit, she found skiing to be very liberating and freeing. Ten year olds are still so dependent on their parents to do things. For someone like her who craves independence, skiing was a sport she could control of in terms of speed and applying the techniques she learned. By the fourth day, Olivia joined us and we skied together as a family. Her instructor told us of the hill levels she was capable of so we skied on those paths. Olivia cracked me up because she would correct me on my technique and she was right every time!
What makes skiing so special is that it’s something that the whole family can do together. Taking the lift up as a group is like embarking on an adventure and everyone’s excitement builds the closer you get to the top. The sense of personal and team accomplishment when you finish a run is so satisfying. And there’s something to be said about being outdoors in the fresh air, surrounded by beautiful mountains, trees and lakes. My kids discovered a new side of themselves on this trip. Skiing made them step up to the plate in ways that made them stronger, more independent and confident young girls. I couldn’t be more proud of my daughters.