There is a reason winter mountain resorts and hotels are increasingly pulling out all the stops to attract families with children and teens: Kids who are introduced to skiing and snowboarding at an early age are the likely repeat visitors of tomorrow.
And this kind of loyalty is a must in an industry so dependent on the vagaries of Mother Nature. Due to unseasonably warm temperatures, last season's 51 million skier and snowboarder visits was the worst showing in a decade, according to the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA).
On the bright side, children age 12 and younger accounted for just over 14% of those visits, and kids ages 13 to 17 made up nearly 15%, according to the NSAA.
While good snowfall would attract more visitors this year, so would kid-friendly activities and packages designed to appeal to young visitors and their families.
Here are a few examples of how mountain resorts are getting serious about family offerings.
At Colorado's Keystone Resort, children 12 and younger ski and snowboard free all season with a two-night or longer stay. What makes this noteworthy is that there are no blackout dates, even on weekends and holidays, and that it applies no matter how many children accompany the paying adult.
Keystone, which boasts more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, also offers a Kidtopia program that includes everything from weekly parades and dance parties at the resort's two ice skating rinks to kids' apres ski parties.
Children ages 3 to 6 will be able to learn snowboarding at the Burton Riglet Park, set to open this season.
Kids are guaranteed to have the same instructor with bookings of three or more days of lessons at Camp Keystone, and Mom, Dad and Me Lessons offer private instructions for families. Go to www.keystoneresort.com
At the ski-in/ski-out Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa in Colorado, hard-to-please teens are the focus with a new series of free Teen Cooking Classes, offered in conjunction with the property's 8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill.
A step up in sophistication from the traditional cookie-making classes for younger children, the lessons include tips on making sushi and barista-worthy coffee.
Younger children can warm up with a S'Mores Happy Hour, offered daily from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the outdoor fire pit, while family members who ski at an intermediate level or above can join the complimentary Thursday Night Lights guided ski run with glow sticks and fireworks.
The 190-room property offers access to Beaver Creek's 146 runs on 1,805 acres of skiable terrain, and lift tickets are also good at Vail Ski Resort. Vail offers a mountaintop Adventure Ridge entertainment center at 10,000 feet with such activities as snowtubing, snowmobiling, sledding, ice skating and indoor laser tag.
Rates begin at $228.65 for two adults and two children per night. Go to http://beavercreek.hyatt.com
At the Four Seasons Resort Whistler at Canada's Whistler Blackcomb, young guests are pampered with Glacier Kids spa treatments, like chocolate- or strawberry-scented massages and scrubs. The property also employs a Ski Concierge to ease the hassle of getting kids in and out of their boots and even carries kids' skis to and from the slopes.
Families can kick back with a DVD from the library or toast s'mores at the open fire pit, while on-mountain fun includes a tube park and a snow slide.
The 273-room property is luring early season visitors with an Early Bird Family Ski Whistler package that includes accommodations, daily lift passes and buffet breakfast for two adults and two children under 12, for bookings by Nov. 15. Rates start at $405, and a minimum five-night stay is required. Visit www.fourseasons.com/whistler
At Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont, older kids can soar over some of the area's prettiest scenery on the winter zipline. The zipline excursion can be combined with a two-hour showshoe trek and a spa treatment in a two-night package, priced from $699 per night.
The 312-room resort offers a kids' spa menu for ages 6 to 12, including Mini Me massages and a Chillax relaxation treatment.
A Family Ski Scavenger Hunt that takes place on weekends and holidays has families following clues while skiing or snowboarding on the mountain and competing for prizes. See www.stowemountainlodge.com
Fans of Aspen Snowmass can take advantage of the Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center, which offers movies and other indoor fun and instructional programs in skiing and snowboarding. Family-friendly trails include a race arena just for kids and a beginner terrain park with half-pipes, where children ages 6 and under ski and snowboard for free.
This season sees the reopening of Westin Snowmass, formerly the Silvertree Hotel, which offers ski-in/ski-out accommodations, a heated outdoor pool and a children's club. The property is marking its Nov. 15 reopening with an offer that includes a $100 dining or spa credit. Visit www.westinsnowmass.com