Outings + Activities | Family fun | Active Kids

Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding for Seattle-Area Families and Kids

How to get everyone swooshing down the mountain without breaking the bank

The Summit - skiingThis article is part of a series on winter sports for families. Also read about best ski deals for Seattle families, ice skatingsnowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Here in the Puget Sound region, we have some of the best hiking, camping and mountain biking in the world. We have rivers, lakes, and tide pools. But for my family, the best part of living here is being able to play in the snow all winter and almost never having to shovel the driveway.

While the winter of 2015 never really happened (snow wise), 2016 is already looking up, with epic snowfall already blanketing the mountains. Here's how to get your family swooshing down the downhill ski trails this winter, without breaking the bank. 

Where to downhill ski or snowboard with kids around Seattle

There are four fairly close choices for skiing and snowboarding. Most families base the decision of which mountain to try on the distance they are willing to drive, but cost can also be a factor:

The Summit at Snoqualmie is an hour from downtown Seattle. It doesn’t get as much snow as other mountains, but it is the least expensive mountain.

Crystal Mountain is the largest ski resort in Washington State. Located two hours south of Seattle, it is the easiest to reach from the South Sound, but it’s also the most expensive, with season passes that cost twice as much as Snoqualmie’s.

Stevens Pass, with prices somewhere in the middle, Stevens Pass is just over two hours north of Seattle and gets the most snow of the three mountains — 450 inches on average. 

White Pass. A wonderful, lesser-known ski area about 2.5 hours from Seattle, on the eastern side of Mount Rainier, this unique locale offers the deep snow of the west side; the cool, dry air of the eastern slopes; and a fun family ski experience without crowds. Also find tubing and groomed Nordic trails. 

Mount Baker. At three hours north of Seattle, Mount Baker is more of a haul, but offers local flavor, fewer crowds, and deep snow (it holds the unofficial world record for snowfall), as well as affordability. Great deals include a Powder Pups program for 4-6-year-olds (kids ski free, accompanying adults get half-price lift tickets after 11 a.m.).  

Four tips for getting started on downhill skis

1. Lessons are a good idea. One lesson may be enough for adults and teens to learn how to stop, turn, and ride the lift safely. Children may need to take a multi-week series for the first couple of seasons. Ski lessons are offered beginning at age 4 (3 at Stevens Pass) while snowboard lessons are not offered until age 7. My oldest started skiing at age 4, and by the time she was 7, she could ski black diamond (advanced) runs. 

2. You can rent equipment at shops in town, before you leave, or at the mountain. Arrive at least 90 minutes early to pick up rental equipment.

3. Dress in layers — the top layer should always be waterproof. Don’t forget goggles, waterproof gloves, helmets, and sunscreen. Snowboarding dad Chris Moses says, "Put snacks you can open with gloves on in your pockets for when you pick the kids up from class."

4. Check the mountain’s web page or call customer service for “ski bus” options if you are nervous about driving on snowy mountain passes.

Courtesy The Summit at Snoqualmie
Courtesy The Summit at Snoqualmie

Three ways to save on downhill skiing as a family

1. Plan your season. An adult lift ticket for one full day without lessons or rentals start at around $60. Most season passes pay off after six visits. Crystal’s 5 day pass and Stevens' Advantage Pass will save money for folks who want to ski three or four times a year. Buy season passes in the spring for the following year to really save.

2. Research deals online — then call customer service to find the best deal for each member of the family. All local mountains offer a dizzying array of packages and passes for kids, teens, and adults that give different levels of access to the mountain, and may include lessons and rentals. The best deals are for families with young kids: Kids ages 6 and under ski for free (or almost free) at most local mountains. Fifth graders also ski free at Mount Baker and Stevens Pass. At Crystal Mountain, kids 10 and under ski free. See a full list of ski deals

3. Most local mountains offer a three-lesson package ($160-$200) which offers the best per day rate for adult and teen beginners. Half-day lessons for kids run from $100-$130, and are a good idea for the first time. If your child decides to go again, multi-week packages are more cost-effective.

This article was originally written in 2012 and updated in December 2015. Photo courtesy of the Summit/Snoqualmie Pass.

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