Although I have gone back and forth in my head about whether it is worthwhile to invest in teaching one's four-year old to ski, my husband and I have taken our children to Tahoe a handful of times now. The highs and lows of our experience at the Northstar resort have been driven completely by our kids' personalities, because I don't think there could be a more lovely ski mountain. (No offense to Squaw, Kirkwood, or others. They are all amazing.)
Look! We are snowboarding! Without kids!
What Northstar has that none of the rest offer is a way to accommodate children under three years old. My friend Lisa, mother of three boys, said that by the time her youngest was two, she hadn't skied at all for six years and was feeling a very strong “Mama needs a ski day” urge. While she and her husband enrolled her two older ones at the Northstar ski school, they placed their toddler in the mountain's Minor's Camp, a daycare facility for kids 2-6 where snacks, diapers, and naps (for kids who stay a full day) are all managed by the staff. (Bring a birth certificate or passport; you must prove your child has reached 24 months of age.)
Care is available from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, so parents can enjoy a full day of adult snow sports. A pager allows the care providers to contact parents on the mountain.
Bigger kids — who are willing — can be enrolled in ski school where they will engage in age-appropriate instruction. Willingness is the key here. My daughter's first experience there was a non-starter and I was called to pick her up within an hour. The staff is willing and able to deal with a lot of whining and, “I'm cold,” and, “I want my mommy,” but apparently we tested the limits with total refusal to put ski boots on.
But, one year later, here she is.
This year, I kept my children in the same class, despite their age difference, by holding my older child back, and it served my younger one well. At the end of the day, however, I felt some regret that I had spent so much money on instruction for my son that was less than challenging.
Pro-tip: If you're considering ski school for two kids, check the various resorts for their age groupings. Siblings may be together in some locations, but apart at others.
Plan your visit to Northstar with little kids
Two adult lift tickets (without rentals) and two kids in ski school (includes rentals) is more than $800. (Ski school is about $250 per kid). Northstar's Minor's Camp for non-skiing kids 2-6 is $229 full day. Gulp!
The following day, we put the kids in ski school at Tahoe Donner, a tiny mountain, for about half the time and less than half the price.
Pro-tip: For children too young to participate at all, hiring a Tahoe-based babysitter may be the best way to allow for parents to ski. UrbanSitter.com has sitters in Truckee/Incline Village.
Family-friendly alternatives to Northstar
For East Bay families looking for snowy fun without diving into formal ski instruction, consider a day trip to Soda Springs for tubing. Should you decide to click your child's feet into a pair of skis, a coach will help you provide your child with experience on a magic carpet and a taste of actual skiing. Soda Springs is about 30 minutes closer to the Bay Area than the other major Tahoe resorts.