A trip to the snow and a day spent on the slopes with young children sounds like a great idea. You imagine sipping hot cocoa, matching snowflake sweaters, and plenty of insta worthy moments. However, teaching toddlers to ski is quite the endeavor. Like anything with small children, expect some tears (them) and some silent swearing (you) but also some great moments and priceless memories. Picking the right ski area for your family can help maximize the great moments and make for an overall more enjoyable experience. Read below to find out more about the best ski resorts in Lake Tahoe for kids!
The Best Ski Resorts in Lake Tahoe for Kids
Soda Springs Planet Kids: Best for your toddler’s first time
This is a very convenient intro to skiing or snowboarding option which makes it nice for families with toddlers. Purchase a ticket to their “Planet Kids” area, a designated section of Soda Springs for children under the age of 7, and your child can have a buffet of snow play options to choose from.
Included in your ticket is access to the tubing hill, snow play area and ski/snowboard rental. The rental shop is at the bottom of the bunny hill and it’s relatively easy to swap out a snowboard for skis if you’re child decides they want to try something else. Aspiring skiers take the “magic carpet”, basically a conveyor belt to the top of a little bunny hill and can ski down. If it turns out your child isn’t interested in skiing you can return your gear without feeling like you wasted a bunch of money on lift tickets and spend the rest of the afternoon doing tubing and snow play. Pros: Closer drive than driving to Lake Tahoe. Option of tubbing. On-site rentals for easy returns/size adjustments. Cons: No chairlift. Tiny ski hill. Max age of 7.
Cost: $30 for a child under the age of 7. Includes equipment rental, access to the mini tubing hill and small ski/snowboard practice area. One free parent ticket per child ticket. Check out the Planet Kids website for more info.
Soda Springs Ski Area: Best for young beginners
If you’re planning on skiing at Soda Springs it’s a separate ticket from the Planet Kids section of Soda Springs but a good value nonetheless. A sign near the bottom of the hill proudly states that Soda Springs is the oldest still operating ski area in California and it definitely has an old-school feel. There are only a few chair lifts, two-seaters of course, no high-speed quad chairs here. The atmosphere is laid back, family oriented and without all the glimmer of the larger Lake Tahoe ski resorts. On a perfect blue-bird powder weekend day we were pleasantly surprised to find that even with glorious conditions the lift lines were still short to non-existent. This quaint little ski area doesn’t boast a lot of runs but the short lines and affordability make it a nice place to let your kids burn off some energy for a few hours. Pros: Not crowded. Easy to navigate. Cons: Small. Doesn’t open until 10am.
Diamond Peak: Best for families who want convenience and affordability
If your child is excited about the idea of chair lifts and skiing a bigger mountain but you don’t boutiques and artisan coffee shops, this is the place for you. Diamond Peak caters to families and has several deals to make skiing with kids relatively affordable. You can buy a ticket that allows you access to both of the beginner chair lifts which is plenty for the novice skier. It’s an easy and short tram ride from the parking lot to the lodge, making transporting equipment or returning to the car for forgotten mittens a breeze. There isn’t a rope tow or magic carpet so your little one needs to feel confident enough to handle the chair lift. Fortunately the “School House” chair moves extremely slowly and is low to the ground, a perfect intro to chair lifts for both child and parent.. Pros: Affordability. Easy access to ski hill. Cons: No rope tow/magic carpet.
Cost: Kids 6 and under are free. An adult ticket for just the two beginner chair lifts is $44 ( $39 if you buy online in advance. ) Standard adult ticket is $79
Northstar: Best for a multi-day ski vacation
This ski resort has all the bells and whistles. There is an ice skating rink, shops, restaurants, a gondola and ski runs for every ability level. Unfortunately this comes at a price. It’s $136 for an adult lift ticket and $80 for kids over 4. (Kids under 5 are free) . To get the most bang for your buck I would only recommend this if you’re going to splurge on ski school and enjoy a day of skiing sans children or if your kids have the stamina to take advantage of the bigger mountain. Also, make sure that your child has enough energy to take the shuttle from the parking lot to the village, walk through the village, and wait in line for the gondola. Our three-year old was pretty exhausted from doing all that in ski boots so we had to take a snack break before even stepping foot on the ski hill. I would recommend considering having your child wear snow boots and change into their ski boots once they reach the lodge at the top of the gondola. This will make the trek from the car to the ski hill less painful for everyone. At the lodge there are lockers or you can stash your stuff under a table which is what many people do.. PROS: Enough beginner terrain to keep you busy all day. Lots of runs for all ability levels. Gondola ride is fun for kids. Outdoor fire pits scattered throughout the resort are a nice place to get cozy. Cons: Expensive. Time consuming /challenging to get small children from the car to the ski runs.
Cost: $80 for children 5 and older. $136 for an adult ticket.
Tahoe Donner: Best for Kids Who Are Ready to Ski Alone
Tahoe Donner is a fantastic place for beginners and families. It is definitely one of the best ski resorts in Lake Tahoe for kids! The beginner runs have a nice mellow slope to them without being too flat, a big bonus if you have a child who is learning to snowboard. However, one of the things that makes Tahoe Donner so great for kids is that there are a surprising number of runs that are accessed by the two chairlifts. The ski area is designed so that all the runs funnel skiers back towards the same two chairlifts. This makes it easy to navigate the mountain and a little harder to get lost. For kiddos who want more autonomy, they can check out different runs without parents worrying too much about them getting lost.
Some other big perks for families is accessibility and lack of crowds. Being located slightly off the beaten path, Tahoe Donner is less crowded than most ski areas. We were there on a non-holiday Monday and there were times when we were the only people on the runs. As a beginner or parent of a beginner it’s really, really, nice to have a little extra space on the slopes to practice your turns.
If you need to throw a jacket in the car, it’s a two minute walk to the parking lot from the base of the chairlift. If you do happen to be there on a rare crowded day and end up parking a little further away, there’s a free shuttle that takes skiers from the lot to the main ski lodge. Although, I never rode the shuttle, I questioned whether it might be quicker to just walk because the parking lot is so close to the mountain. PROS: Affordable, close parking, easy to navigate mountain. CONS: Not many advanced runs or difficult terrain for experienced skiers.
Sugar Bowl: Best for Families Who Want a Shorter Drive
If you’re coming from the Bay Area, Sugar Bowl is one of the first ski resorts that you encounter. And of the resorts near the summit (Donner Ski Ranch, Tahoe Donner, Boreal *, Soda Springs), it is the largest. If you chose to go to Sugar Bowl instead of going all the way to the lake, it saves you about thirty minutes in the car. This might not sound like much but if you’ve encountered traffic or have kids bouncing around in the back seat, thirty minutes can feel like an eternity.
Compared to the other resorts near the summit, Sugar Bowl offer skiers a bigger mountain, more varied terrain, and appeals to a wider range of ski levels. Sugar Bowl has everything from challenging powdery black diamonds to easy green groomers. If you are skiing with a group where everyone wants something different, Sugar Bowl has something for everyone.
Snow quality is another reason Sugar Bowl is a good pick for families. Whereas is might be raining at Lake Tahoe, Sugar Bowl is just enough higher in elevation that it will be snowing instead of raining. If you’re going skiing it’s obviously preferable to be having little fluffy snowflakes landing on your cheeks rather than getting pelted by icy raindrops.
Unfortunately it’s Sugar Bowl isn’t all sweetness. Families with young children who are beginners be warned, the layout of the mountain is a bit sprawling. There are two different parking areas, one which requires a short gondola ride to access the mountain, and it’s a little awkward getting between the two zones. To get from the Disney Chairlift (near the gondola parking) back to Judah parking area took a few chairlift rides/runs. Just make sure you plan accordingly, otherwise you might have a tired kiddo meltdown on your journey back to where ever you parked. PROS: Closer to the Bay Area, higher likelihood for fresh snow. CONS: runs are a bit short, layout has some flat sections/ is a bit disjointed.
Other Hints/Tips for a Successful Ski Trip
- Rent your equipment before going to the ski area (unless you’re going to Planet Kids at Soda Springs). It’s usually cheaper and will save time on your ski day. I love Tahoe Daves for their great service and prices.
- Ideally go on a day when the snow is fresher, inevitable falls will be less painful
- Throw a few snack bars in your pocket to give your little ski bunny a quick energy boost without having to make the journey back to the lodge
- Test out snow clothes for flaws (like mitten issues) with some fun snow play the day before attempting skiing.
- Do a final bathroom break before hitting the slopes.
- Expect children under the age of 5 to be interested in skiing for an hour or two.
- Drink more caffeine than you normally would. Teaching your child to ski is like the double black diamond ski hill of parenting.
- Avoid holiday weekends. Crowds and lines are especially painful with small children
Bottom Line: Skiing with kids is a lot of work. There will probably be some internal swearing when you adjust your toddlers mitten for the tenth time in ten minutes. If it’s your child’s first time on the slopes one of the smaller, more affordable ski area is probably all they need to have fun. Laugh, have a sense of humor, and good luck!