Winter is so much more fun when you ski—it makes all the hours of snow blowing and ugly-boot wearing almost worth it. Teach the kids, and you’ve suddenly got a fantastic family activity—all of you slushing down the slopes and warming up over hot chocolate in the lodge together. Wherever you live in New Jersey, great mountains with quality, encouraging ski schools are just a short distance away.
*Distance: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Stats: 50 trails, 8 lifts
A good family mountain in the Catskills, Belleayre has a well-supervised bunny slope and many long, lovely green slopes. Easy runs are clustered together on the lower mountain so your beginners don’t have to scramble to avoid hot-doggers getting off the chairlift.
Kids’ programs: Group lessons (with a parent) are offered from ages 4–6 ($30/1 hour). Group clinics are available from 7 to adult ($30/1.5 hours).
Tickets: Adult: $26–64, teen (13–19): $23–54, junior (7–12): $19–42, senior (65–69): $19–42, kid (6 and under): free.
Distance: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Stats: 36 slopes, 23 lifts
Jack Frost is half of a pair of family-friendly peaks in the Poconos (the other half is Big Boulder) with a good mix of beginner and easier intermediate slopes. Parking and lodges at Jack Frost are at the top of the mountain rather than at the base, so the first thing you do is ski down, rather than chairlift up.
Kids’ programs: Group lessons for ages 3–10 are $54–88/3 hours. Get there early as the pick-up and drop-off process for lessons can be a little chaotic.
Tickets: Adult: $46–55, youth (5–18): $35–45, senior (62–69): $35–45, kids (4 and under): $10.
Shawnee on Delaware, PA
Distance: 1 hour
Stats: 23 trails 10 lifts
Shawnee is a great close-to-home ski mountain, and because of its proximity, makes a great day trip. Trails run the gamut in length, and offer a nice variety of blue slopes (50 percent of the runs here are intermediate) perfect for families who’ve skied before.
Kids’ programs: Group lessons start at age 4 and include equipment rental and lift ticket $100/3 hours. Childcare is $40/day or $5/hour.
Tickets: Adult: $35–60, youth (18 and under): $35–45, senior (62–69): $35–50, child (46” tall and under): free.
Distance: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Stats: 57 trails, 12 lifts
Located in the Catskills, Hunter has a big mountain feel—though since it’s a favorite destination for NYC skiers it can get busy on prime winter weekends. There’s a good mix of trail difficulty (30 percent of slopes are beginner), but if you’ve got experienced skiers among you, Hunter has a truly challenging array of expert trails.
Kids' programs: Group lessons start at age 4 and include a lesson, lift ticket and equipment rental ($85/2 hours or $125/5 hours for ages 4–6). Daycare is available for kids ages 2–6 ($68/4 hours or $85/10 hours), and while they’re there kids can even head out for a mini lesson ($40/30 minutes).
Tickets: Adult: $33–76, young (13–18): $29–68, junior (7–12): $21–52, senior (65+): $21–52, toddler (6 and under): free–$10.
Distance: 5 hours
Stats: 65 trails, 11 lifts
Venture a little farther north to Sunapee for a taste of the big New England peaks. There are two mountains here—the main peak, which includes trails of all difficulty levels, and the south peak, devoted exclusively to long, soft beginner runs. If you’ve never skied in New England, green slopes here may feel more challenging than at home, but this is a great mountain to learn on. With twice as many blue slopes as green ones, there’s plenty to graduate to, too.
Kids’ programs: Daycare is available for ages 1–5 ($40–50/3.5 hours, $55–70/10 hours) Ski school offers group lessons for kids ages 4–12 ($115/2 hours $135/5 hours) and includes ticket and rentals.
Tickets: Adult: $69–79, young adult (13–18): $55–63, senior (65–69): $43–63, junior (6–12): $36–54, kids (5 and under): free.
Distance: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Stats: 53 trails, 12 lifts
Trails here fan out over two peaks and many chairlifts offer multiple ways down, which allows you to see most of the mountain regardless of your skill level. Extend your ski day with night skiing under the lights, a really fun take once the kids are old enough.
Kids’ programs: Daycare is available for ages 2–4 ($23/1 hour, $72/4 hours, $117/9.5 hours). Group lessons for ages 4–7 are $72/4 hours, $117/8.5 hours and ages 8–12 are $72/2 hours, $117/5 hours and include lift tickets.
Tickets: Adult: $68–78, young adult (13–17): $53–67, junior (7–12): $45–58, kids (6 and under): $10.
Ski smart a couple tips before you go:
• Ski when there’s real snow if you can. All resorts make it, but it’s not the same as the real thing.
• Good conditions make you a better skier. So if trails are a little icy, be conservative in your slope choice. If you’re skiing fresh powder, try a harder run than you’re used to.
• Call ahead about kids’ programs and reserve a spot. (Sometimes you can even score a discount.) Programs fill up quickly on prime winter weekends and you don’t want to show up at the mountain thinking you can ski while the kids are in their lessons and then spend the day on the bunny hill. (Yes, we’re talking from experience.)
• Decide if you’ll rent equipment at home (at a nearby sports shop) or rent at the mountain. Kids’ lessons often include kids’ rentals.
• If you skied as a kid, you may not have used a helmet. Use one now.
• If it’s their first time on skis, don’t try to teach the kids to ski yourself. One of you will end up crying.
Skiing isn’t exactly the cheapest sport in the world—so any way to save a few bucks is a good thing. Our current favorite discount site is liftopia.com, where you can search by state or date to score seriously discounted lift tickets. This is especially useful if you don’t have a mountain in mind and can ski wherever the deal’s best.
Distances calculated from Union county.
Liz Zack is the editorial director of New Jersey Family magazine and has been skiing all her life. She is so obsessed with the sport that she got engaged and married—on a ski slope.