Last year we made our first attempt at snowboarding with kids at the wonderful Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, NY, and we loved it! So I’m pleased to share this story by Aimee Heckel, who is a frequent guest of the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado. And after reading this, you can see why! Who knew luxury ski vacations with toddlers were even possible?
Luxury Ski Vacations with Toddlers are Possible in Colorado
I’m sometimes amazed by my daughter’s memory.
Proud, slightly nervous, but always amazed.
Bettie Anne is 5 now, and with a travel writer mama, she has been jet-setting since before she could even say the word. On a busy year like this one, we may travel as much as every other weekend, and in the summer, for weeks at a time.
The point is, she’s seen things. A lot of things.
And a lot of these things begin to blur into each other, even for me. So when an experience floats to the surface of my daughter’s memory and lingers there as her “favorite place in the world,” I take that seriously. More seriously than all TripAdvisor reviews rolled into one.
When she was a toddler, she told me she wanted to move into the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado.
I told her I did, too.
Maybe it was the bucket of gifts left in the room for her, or the pop-up tipi tent next to our bed. Maybe it was the special check-in for kids, where she got a coloring book and scavenger hunt game. Surely it was also the nightly S’mores roasting around the fire.
So. Many. Marshmallows.
Bettie Anne remembers all of these details vividly, and will tell you all about them when she proclaims, “The Ritz celebrates kids.” Where she learned this catchphrase, I have no idea, but it tickles me to hear her say such a big word, and it tickles me even more that this resort makes her feel that way: like she’s the most important guest there.
To me, she is.
There are too many factors that play into why the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch in Colorado has been my daughter’s favorite place to visit for years, and why we make sure to return there on a family vacation every year.
There are many reasons that Beaver Creek is our favorite ski town, too.
With winter coming up, many families are gearing up for a ski vacation. The Ritz is a ski-in, ski-out property in one of the most beautiful ski towns in America. It’s my favorite place to bring my family to ski and unwind in the middle of nature. It’s family-friendly, without sacrificing any of the things that adults want in a luxurious vacation.
Beaver Creek is for families
Bachelor Gulch is a region of Beaver Creek, a charming, mountain-perched ski town in the famous Vail Valley. So Beaver Creek retains the quality and reputation that skiers and travelers would expect from a Vail property. But Beaver Creek is perfect for families.
Because it’s about a 20 to 30 minute drive past Vail on Interstate 70, it tends to be a lot less busy than Vail. Many travelers must be sick of driving up the pass (which can be horribly slow, especially in the winter and on weekends), and they don’t want to put in the extra trek farther up mountain.
For those of us in the know, however, the extra drive will save you tons of wait time in the lines and get you much more action on the mountain.
This is imperative when planning a ski vacation with kids. And yes, ski vacations with toddlers are totally possible.
Kids hate waiting. Kids who are new to skiing (and Coloradans start them on skis as soon as they can walk) do much better in less-crowded scenes. And as an invaluable bonus for families with little ones, the Ritz-Carlton has a private, ski-in ski-out slope, which means you literally walk out the back door and onto the lift. The ski concierge brings your skis to you (with the boots all warm and toasty), you hop on the lift and get to explore the rarely busy (and relatively easy) private powder.
If you’ve ever tried to ask a kid to carry her own ski gear or tried to add it to your own pile to haul across the field, you can immediately see the purpose of a ski concierge. Essentially, the Ritz takes all of the worst parts about teaching your kid to ski and eliminates them, so it’s pure fun. The concierge will arrange lessons for your kids, and you can get the lift tickets right on site.
For the days when Mom and Dad want to hit the slopes alone, the Ritz offers a full- or half-day Ski Nanny service, which feeds kids and brings them to ski school. On nights when Mom and Dad want to grab dinner alone, the Ritz offers a Kids Night Out program.
On days when the kids are too tired to ski, there’s my daughter’s favorite: the Ritz Kids program, led by a naturalist. Kids do educational activities and crafts (indoors and out) and learn about the region’s wildlife, weather and history.
As if this is not all enough, Beaver Creek has a new Candy Cabin — which my daughter thinks is straight out of “Hansel and Gretel.” It is an adorable cabin designed like a vintage candy store, packed with unique chocolates, chocolate snowflakes, and bulk candy sold by the pound. You’ll feel like you’re at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when you pick up a chocolate bar in a golden box.
The Beaver Creek Candy Cabin just opened last ski season at the top of the Strawberry Park Express and Upper Beaver Creek Mountain Express lifts.
All of these reasons and more factor into why we journeyed to Beaver Creek in the first place to begin with.
Inside the Ritz
The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch was named the World’s Best Ski Hotel by the World Ski Awards. Travel+Leisure named it the Best Hotel Spa in the continental U.S.
If there was an award for Best Hotel That Caters To Picky Children, I would nominate the Ritz for that, too.
Bettie is a cheerful, adaptable traveler, but figuring out how to feed her is a constant stress for me, because she’s obnoxiously picky. She would rather actually starve to death than try something new (such as a chicken finger instead of nugget). So for us, it’s a must to stay in a room with a fridge and preferably a kitchen.
The residential suites at the Ritz are perfect for a family like ours. The 900-square-foot space has a full kitchen with a stove, fridge, and microwave for making and storing Annie’s Mac and Cheese (75 percent of Bettie’s diet). One of the on-site restaurants, Buffalos, also has a huge breakfast buffet and makes chocolate-chip pancakes that are Bettie-approved.
Bettie’s other favorite restaurant is nearby in Vail: La Tour, a French restaurant in the heart of downtown. Although this is a white-tablecloth establishment and dining at its finest, she loves the spaghetti and fresh bread. It helps that kids’ meals end with a scoop of ice cream in a tiny waffle cone.
Another bonus of the Ritz suites is the separation between the bedroom and the living room, and two separate TVs. Although we try not to watch TV while traveling, “Sundays are for football,” is something my husband sneaked into our wedding vows, and turns out they are also a great time for me to take a bath in the deep tub and put on the Disney channel for my daughter so I can replenish.
But by far our favorite feature of the Ritz rooms is the Bachelor’s Lil Campout package. The hotel pops up a five-by-five tipi in your room, lined with a cozy feather bed and linens, and stocked with a “survivor kit,” including a head lamp, S’mores kits, a stuffed animal, an educational book, and other activities.
This educational, locally angled service for kids is truly above and beyond here.
New this year, the Ritz offers a different “daily adventure” for kids, such as Winter Sports Sundays (a snow hike, hot cocoa, a snowball contest) or Wild West Monday (decorate bandanas, build a snow fort, paint a mini log cabin).
On special nights throughout the week, kids can visit the spa’s stone grotto with a waterfall (although the water is a little too hot for Bettie), or go outside for star-gazing. A family game room is free and open 24/7. This is where my daughter learned to play Pac-Man and ping pong.
Sometimes, the most special memories are the simplest. One winter, my daughter wanted to build a snowman — “just like Frosty.” Our server at lunch overheard and had the chef pack my daughter a special “snowman kit,” with radishes for eyes, raisins for buttons, and a carrot for the nose. I sat in the lobby by the fireplace sipping hot tea while I watched my husband and daughter roll a snowman and decorate it near the base of the hill.
I think the best way to end a family vacation here is with the free photo concierge. The Ritz has an on-site photographer who took us around the beautiful campus and shot family photos with some of the state’s most jaw-dropping backgrounds. The photo shoot and first photo are free, no obligation.
But my secret is to order a package to give away as holiday gifts. So you can get a family vacation and your cards done, too — all in one relaxing, effortless swoop.
Aimee Heckel decided to become a writer at age 5. Today, she’s a features writer for the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper; the Colorado Travel Expert for About.com; a travel contributor for USA Today 10Best and Fodor’s travel books; a luxury spa travel writer for SpaTravelGal.com; and a regular blogger for Huff Post Weird. She also has edited more than 20 books, been the editor for multiple women’s magazines, and writes for ShopAtHome.com’s ShopBlog. She’s a Colorado native and a happy wife and mama, who is plagued and blessed with insatiable curiosity. Connect with her at aimeeheckel.com, on Twitter and Instagram.