For years, I’ve been dreaming of the perfect family ski trip. Once we had our twins, I yearned for the chance to travel to the mountains and head out on the slopes with family. I pictured cozy evenings back in a cabin and warming meals in lodges together retelling our favorite parts of the day. We’d discuss our favorite trails and the best slopes. Of course we’d apres off of the slope together too. Our first trip out west to Colorado was just as I pictured and two weeks later, I can’t stop thinking about going back.
Last summer, our good friends packed up their bags and moved from Philadelphia to Denver after changing jobs during the pandemic. We knew we’d want to get out to visit them, but weren’t sure exactly when we’d make it. The stars started aligning earlier in the winter when one of them took a job with Vail resorts and it looked like we’d be able to get heavily discounted lift tickets at Beaver Creek and Vail. Later, she ended up leaving but it was still the perfect destination for our family. We decided to stay a week, skiing four days total, two at each resort, and two nights in Denver, giving us time to also explore the city and take in a hockey game before leaving.
We’d been skiing all winter at our local mountain where the entire season for all three of us cost the same as a single day for me at Vail. We ended up going almost every weekend, getting plenty of practice and even hitting the terrain parks and black diamond runs by the end of the season. It’s a great mountain for learning to ski and for the twins and me since they could learn on the magic carpet area, move up to the standing gondola rather than giving me the challenge of lifting the two of them onto a chairlift, then finally move up to the full mountain and the lift. And best for me, there’s an outdoor beer garden where I can get some refreshment while they snack to keep their energy up. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone eat as much as the two of them can put away over the course of a day on the slopes. We already have our season passes for next year.
This winter we also took a family trip up to Stowe for a long weekend of skiing. The whole family went up including my wife who doesn’t ski and stayed back with our two year old. Our same friends from Denver decided to meet up with us and skied both days as well which made my life easier and the twins had a blast. We knew after that trip that they were ready for a big mountain and a bigger trip. With the pandemic manageable, we decided it was finally time to get back on a plane and head to Colorado. Though unlike Vermont, we decided to leave the youngest at home with his grandparents so that we could all ski, including my wife who agreed to take three days of adult lessons.
Our first flight after the start of the pandemic was just the two of us last fall when we got a way for a few days to Palm Springs and San Diego for a kid-free getaway. The twins hadn’t flown anywhere since our pre-pandemic summer trip to Spain in 2019. For their first flight in two years, they did great and were completely happy to just look out the window and watch a movie for the entire four hour flight. After one of the easiest rental car pickup experiences ever thanks to Hertz Gold membership from my wife’s work benefits where we were able to just walk over to our car and drive it away without speaking to anyone, we were off to the mountains for our stay just off the trails in Beaver Creek.
On our drive out, we had the perfect family Colorado experience. We stopped briefly to look at the Bison herd in their preserve right off the highway before spotting some wild bighorn sheep also right off the highway. We stopped in the old mining town of Idaho Springs at Tommy Knockers Brewery, a favorite since first stopping there on the drive out to Breckinridge for one of our first guys ski trips back before we all became dads. The menu was a bit less enticing since going primarily vegetarian, but the fries were still awesome with their green chili as was the veggie burger. This time, either the altitude didn’t affect me as much, or I drank enough water before the trip to handle it, and the green chili didn’t take revenge on me for the rest of the trip like before. Or maybe it’s my running bringing my VO2 Max up so much I am basically altitude trained. Probably not.
One of the greatest joys in ski trips is in bringing your own gear to the mountain with you. Not the actually carrying around of one hundred pounds of gear for yourself and two kids, but in having something that’s comfortable and familiar available right out the door. I bought my own boots, skis, and poles - though I don’t use the poles or travel with them when I ski with the boys - a few years ago and while I don’t think they’re the best, I know them in and out and am quite comfortable with them. We also brought the boots and skis we rented for the boys for the whole season and while they are already getting small, they had become quite comfortable on them too. It also meant that we could just head out the door of the rental condo with our stuff and hit the slope.
This sounded like it would be easier than it turned out to be. While my wife took the free shuttle to the main base area to pick up her rentals and join her lesson, the rest of us went out to trek across the mountain to take the ski-on trail. Our friends' brother, wife, and stepson all live nearby and love skiing even more than us, and met up with us for the first day skiing. Their 8 year old was the perfect new friend for the twins, a few years older but very patient and just good enough to push them in their skiing. They loved racing with him and exploring the trees and glades across the mountain. But first, we had to make it to the slope. Perhaps in the peak of the winter snow the trail would have been snow covered enough to ski down, but we ended up having to hike across a muddy trail for quite a bit before finding enough snow to proceed down. We’d make the same mistake coming back where the hike was just tough enough to cause a complete meltdown from the twins.
On our first day, we had a perfect spring skiing experience. The night before, about two inches of snow fell on the mountain, giving just enough powder for making fresh tracks throughout the day. The sun also stayed out pretty much the whole day, keeping us all warm. We pretty much stayed at Red Buffalo, one of the primarily green areas for family skiing at the top of the mountain for most of the day. With the deep powder it was challenging for the boys who are only used to skiing on East Coast ice and slush. We managed to hit a few blue runs too, but nothing too crazy since very little was groomed much. We got back to the condo after a long day for the boys where they held up great until the trek back. That night we all hung out in the spacious condo, adding two more friends who were in town for a quick kids-free vacation and swung by. We all socialized around the kitchen while the boys all played hide and seek together until everyone started crashing from the long day.
On our second day at Beaver Creek, we began the day with just the twins and me. We took the shuttle with my wife and got obligatory family ski pictures until her lesson started, then took off to the other side of the mountain. Our friend’s brother and family had to be back at work and school, and our friend was feeling a bit sore from a tumble the previous day. The twins and I did laps of the brand new McCoy Park area which had only been built out the previous winter. We were pretty much alone for the entire morning on the mountain, taking it slow while we explored glades in and out of trees and dropping into bowls that were still largely untouched from the previous storm. One of the big advantages to skiing this late in the season was both the warm weather and the complete lack of crowds. In a normal year, there might be almost no snow left, but this year we were exceptionally lucky with nearly every trail still open and the fresh snow. In fact it was so great we’ll probably expect it to be similar next year when we go back and instead it will be completely bare.
We stopped in the brand new lodge at the top of the area which both because of the time of the season and honestly probably because of the staffing difficulty Vail has had all year, was not open as a restaurant but only to sit at the tables in the warmth. Luckily we had brought tons of snacks. Perched right at the top of the mountain with a view down into canyons of the park area behind the resort, it was a great spot to take a break and recover some energy. After lunch, our friend met back up with us for a few more runs through the bowl before we made our way back across the mountain with the goal of meeting up with my wife for some apres time. We took a brief break at a picnic table at the top of the mountain with a beer while the boys snacked again, then snuck in a few more long runs across the mountain before meeting up at the base area around a massive firepit with a round of drinks in the sun. While waiting, we even got treated to the famous Beaver Creek cookies which the staff brings around, warmed up to a melty chewy treat. Apparently not realizing that the resort was nearly empty, we each got three before having to start declining more. It ended up being a perfect little end to a day skiing with everyone exhausted but running high on cookie energy. The boys even threw an impromptu dance party as the tunes cranked from the nearby restaurant.
That night was our first calmer night in the condo with the boys falling asleep pretty early and just the four of us adults. We played some Sushi Go and Uno, including a round with the boys, before hanging out and relaxing by the fire before all nearly falling asleep on the couch. The next day would be our third straight day on the slopes, our first at Vail, and the snow had just started falling, starting what would become a fairly major spring winter storm in the mountains.
The next morning, we wore to continued snowfall and some fairly high winds. Enough snow had fallen overnight that the shuttle wasn’t running and we didn’t think we’d be able to make it out to the slopes. We spent the morning trying to move around our lift tickets and my wife’s lesson without much success. Then, right before the lesson was slated to start, the snow let up and plows started coming through. I was able to get her to her lesson just on time and we made a rapid departure to get over to Vail for a late start, but managed to stay out on the slopes for hours.
With several inches of snow on the ground, Beaver Creek claimed they had received 16 inches at the peak, and low visibility, we didn’t get a ton of runs in. The boys weren’t sure exactly how to ski through the snow which in some places was nearly shoulder deep for them. Not many runs were groomed and the best we found were trails that were smoothed out by larger crowds. Toward the end of the day, we decided to head up and over to the famous Back Bowls, despite their notoriety for getting slammed with crowds on powder days. Instead, we ended up having the run almost entirely to ourselves. Though the app showed that one run was a groomed blue, we found that in reality it was a completely ungroomed black run with chest high powder bumps. The boys (and my friend and I) did an admirable job of methodically making our way down even though it was a complete leg burner and quite challenging. Though we’ve done stepper and faster runs at Stowe and even some of the black runs at home, this was the hardest physical run they’ve ever done and we were skiing down the bowl for nearly an hour which had to have wiped them out.
After reaching the bottom and catching the lift back out, we still had some lengthy runs to get back from the side of the resort and back to the main area before a decent walk through the village to where we parked the car. The late start probably saved us as a few more runs would have completely exhausted us all. The next day we finally took a break and spent the day relaxing in the condo in the morning before exploring Vail Village on foot. We did some merch shopping, picked up helmet stickers of course, and then stopped for an incredible Swiss meal at Alpenrose of warm drinks, sausages, and pretzels in an enclosed deck that felt just like the Alps and got us out of the cold wind on what was definitely the coldest day of the trip. After, we kept warming up with a round of drinks at Vail Brewing Company’s Vail location for some great Nordic farmhouse style beer and a tasty tangy sour.
That night we spent huddled up playing games and talking in front of the fire again. We usually aren’t great about just sitting and relaxing on vacation. We’re usually so worried about seeing and experiencing everything that it’s very rare for us to just sit around. That all changed though in the last few years as we started to enjoy Airbnb and VRBO rentals more as well as have to get back for naps in the middle of the day and for early bedtimes, allowing us to just sit and relax before we went to bed. This was great on this trip since we had an incredible condo with extra bedrooms and great common areas in both the kitchen and living room. After the boys went to bed, I went out to soak in the hot tub and recover from the day before heading back in while we usually relaxed and fell asleep early after our big mountain days.
On our final ski day, we flipped the script and got an early start, aiming to hit the mountain for first lift because we’d have to leave a bit early to head back to Denver to catch the hockey game that night and get settled into our hotel. Our friends had to head back to Denver that morning for the inspection on their new house (congrats!), and my wife completed her lessons and spent the morning getting everything packed up and organized so it was just me and the twins at Vail. By this time the storm had fully passed and we were lucky with a warmish sunny day with most of the mountain to ourselves again. We found that Vail attracted more visitors overall than Beaver Creek, especially internationally, but that most of them stayed in the central area rather than heading to the sides of the resort, so by staying to the extreme ends, we were largely alone. We got in several runs at the Lionshead area which had some incredible groomed blue runs. With a full day after the snow stopped, they were actually able to get out and groom most of the trails for our final day. After a few rides there and on the gondola, we took a break for some snacks before heading to another of Vail’s areas, Game Creek. This bowl area was a little smaller than the famed Back Bowls, but the runs were just as good and pretty technical as well. The boys started off struggling on the ungroomed trails, but even when I asked if they wanted to do something else, they persisted and by the end were telling me it was their favorite trail we skied the whole trip.
Unfortunately, it was one of the few places on the mountain where there were no real facilities to stop and warm up with some food and after several runs, I started to lose the boys as their energy and attitudes dropped. We skied across the top ridge of the resort which was incredibly windy and had huge snow drifts blowing onto us which didn’t help things, before exploring the Avanti area again only to find that the lodges there were closed for the season. We ended up all the way back at the popular Mid-Vale area which was packed and had to wait to share a table. After a quickish break, we hit one more lengthy run, heading back across some of our favorite long trails from the previous Vail day before winding up back in the main village area to meet up with my wife. I had hoped to get one more run on the now groomed Back Bowls again for comparison, but I actually made a smart decision realizing we didn’t have enough time or energy left, and led them back down instead. It gives us something to look forward to on the next visit.
Having a little time left before we needed to drive to Denver, we stopped for a bite at the Austrian inspired Pepi’s Restaurant right near the base of the main gondola. As we sipped some German beer, the boys recovered with some sausages, mashed potatoes, and cabbage and we warmed up with the best goulash soup we’ve had since Germany. We knew it would have to be good with our ski idol, Lindsay Vonn’s signed picture on the wall. It wasn’t quite the alps skiing adventure I’ve pictured for our family, but it was close and gives me a vision of what it’ll be like when we all go skiing together in Germany, Italy, or France in the years to come. The only things missing were my wife joining us for the skiing during the day and of course our youngest son who will probably be joining us in the next two years.
Our drive to Denver provided an opportunity to get a nap in before the hockey game that night. The Devils were in town playing the Avalanche, so we had bought tickets while planning the trip, back before it would turn out to be a pretty meaningless game as the Avalanche are near the top of the league and already clinched the playoffs while the Devils were so bad they were already eliminated. Worse, most of the exciting players weren’t even playing. Still, the boys love watching hockey and get super excited for it, even if they end up comatose by the third period. The arena was fun to visit as well as Breckinridge Brewery has a mountain lodge themed restaurant inside which we visited before the game for some drinks. We put in for a table but never actually heard back about it, so ended up without food unfortunately because the menu looked pretty good. At least we got to hang out under the grizzly bear.
The next day, our final full day in Colorado was one for us to explore the city. Even though I’d flown in to Denver before, I’d never actually visited the city as we drove straight out to the mountains. This time, we wanted the boys to get a chance to actually see the city and some of the attractions before leaving since they hadn’t had a proper trip in years. We started the day with brunch at Union Station, the historic train station which still connects Denver to major cities in the East and further West, but is now also home to several nice restaurants. At the Mercantile, the boys had croissants while I had the salmon toast and a delicious latte.
From there, we walked over to the aquarium where we met our new homeowning friends. Because it was the start to the Easter weekend, tons of kids were off from school and it was very crowded, though we were still able to see everything in the pretty extensive aquarium. The boys loved touching the sting rays especially and I thought the octopus was super cool. They even have a tiger though it was busy sleeping while we were there. The otters were surprisingly active and reminded me of the twins racing each other on the ski slopes.
From there, we had planned to go over to a pizza place near a few breweries I found, but realized that it was only open for dinner. Instead, we decided to visit the large beer garden at Improper City because the sun was out and it turned into a beautiful day. For some reason, maybe the altitude, the sun makes it feel about 20 degrees warmer in Colorado than it feels at the same temperature here. Even though it’s not a brewery with their own beer, it worked out great because we were able to try out a huge selection of Denver breweries while we hung out in the sun. The boys were entertained with Cornhole and petting the dogs there while we relaxed. The work culture was on full display as the place was packed with people working on laptops in the morning and got increasingly busy throughout the day as people left work early. We even ended up ordering pizza delivery to the beer garden from Grabowski’s Pizza which everyone ended up devouring. It worked great as they had options for the gluten free vegetarians in our group.
That night, without any real plan, we ended up visiting our friend’s brother’s house for the kids to meet up again and play while the rest of us socialized, drank, and got some tasty Indian (and Nepalese momos) food from Yak and Yurt. We enjoyed the outside as much as possible, sitting on a converted chairlift swing with a propane heater going, until the sun set and it got too cold. While the kids played with every single toy in the basement, we hung out in the dining room discussing ski destinations and our trip. It was a great way to decompress and reflect on our trip before flying back the next morning. We hadn’t counted on spending time with them, but it was great to make stronger connections with fellow skiers who we’ll certainly meet up with on our next visit out.
No trip is perfect, and we certainly had some rough times when the boys and I fought about dumb things and they got too tired, but considering they crushed two huge ski resorts in the Rockies across four days, two with fresh powder, I couldn’t be prouder of them. The time we’ve spent together on the slopes has become my favorite time to bond and get daddy time with them and the investment has already paid off with them being incredibly comfortable and willing to try new things that might be scary to them on the slopes. What other five year olds can say they have skied the back bowls at Vail with over a foot of fresh powder? Between the legendary ski days and the great family time relaxing at the condo at night and the apres ski fun, our first trip out west as a family already surpassed my dreams. I can’t wait to continue with our family ski trips, bring the whole family together on the slopes, and go even bigger in the years to come.