While they skied in Beaver Creek, Colo., last winter, Jeff and Martha Melvoin plunked down $75 a day to have their two young sons cared for at the mountain. “That was the most worthwhile expenditure of the whole trip,” Martha said.
“It was wonderful,” she recalled. “This is a ski area that gears itself to kids. The child care is right at the base of the slopes. Everyone was so friendly.”
It was the third year the Melvoins had taken advantage of a service that is increasingly common at ski areas: on-mountain day care for children who don’t ski.
It was a suggestion from friends that sent the Brentwood couple to Steamboat in March, 1986, when their son Nick was 6 months old. The well-organized, convenient child-care center at that Colorado resort also impressed them.
“We felt very good about where our kids were,” Melvoin said. “We knew that they were well cared for. I’d go back to Beaver Creek in a minute. I’d go back to Steamboat in a minute.”
That kind of enthusiasm is just what many ski areas are trying to inspire.
“Skiing has always been a family sport,” Cal Conniff, president of the Springfield, Mass.-based National Ski Areas Assn., said. But nowadays, baby boomers who have the money to take yearly ski vacations also have babies, and “ski area operators understand that.”
Indeed, ski area operators didn’t have to look far to see the growing need.
“Ski areas looked at their skier base going down and looked at who those skiers were. They were the people having babies. They turned around and saw that in their staffs, everybody was having babies,” Dorothy Ann Jordon, founder and managing director of Travel With Your Children (TWYCH), said.
TWYCH, a “resource information center for parents planning successful and fun family vacations,” has kept track of nurseries at major ski areas for six years. In that time, Jordon said, the number of such programs has doubled to more than 100.
Steamboat, an early entrant in the on-mountain nursery field and an area noted for aggressively and successfully courting family business, has offered child care since the early ‘70s.
“Our market research found that a lot of families were staying away from the sport,” Barbara Jennings, a spokeswoman for the Steamboat Springs resort, said. “And it just became apparent we needed to do something to keep women in the sport.”
In addition to bringing more skiers to Steamboat, she said, the nursery makes money, a profit that is offset by the resort’s Kids Ski Free program, which provides lodging and lift tickets for children up to age 12.
Over the course of this season Steamboat expects to serve about 4,000 children in its nursery, public relations director Rod Hanna said. And nighttime child care at the mountain will be introduced this year so parents can have an evening out at an on-slope restaurant.
In California “the ski areas learned long ago that the family market is crucial and that most people learn to ski before they are 20 years old,” Bob Roberts, executive director of Sierra Ski Areas Assn., said. But while ski programs for children are ubiquitous, ski area operators only recently have become more aware of the need to take care of children too young to ski, he said.
For Southlanders the nearest ski area with day care is Mammoth Mountain. Opened in 1981, Mammoth’s on-mountain child care has grown steadily and can handle up to 51 children at a time. Still, said Donna Fleming, executive director of child care for Mammoth and June mountains, there is often a waiting list of 50 to 100 children at busy times during ski season.
The June Mountain center 18 miles away can accommodate some of Mammoth’s overflow, and plans are being made for further expansion in the next few years, she said.
Near Lake Tahoe, ski area child care has boomed in the last few years, according to Jordon.
Squaw Valley, for instance, last year introduced Diaper Set, on-mountain baby-sitting for children up to age 3. So great and immediate was the demand, said ski school director Leroy Hill, that this season the service will be expanded to take 25 youngsters.
Service at School
After scrambling for years to find baby sitters at skiers’ requests, Squaw management decided to incorporate such a service into Squaw’s Ten Little Indians Ski School. Though not licensed, the facility has a high (1-to-3) care giver to children ratio, Hill said, and charges slightly more than many of its counterparts at other areas.
“You could, quite frankly, charge whatever you wanted and parents would pay for it,” Hill said.
In their book “Great Vacations With Your Kids” (E. P. Dutton), TWYCH’s Jordon and Marjorie Adoff Cohen suggest asking these questions about nursery programs:
What age range do they take? What daily activities do they have? Is there outdoor play? What is the care giver to children ratio? What must parents provide? Is lunch served? May parents visit children? Are reservations necessary or accepted? When must you be there to get a place? How does the nursery combine with ski school?
A complete at-a-glance list of ski areas with child care is available for $5 from TWYCH, 80 8th Ave., New York 10011.
Information on California ski areas is available from the Sierra Ski Areas Assn., 340 Townsend St., Suite 420, San Francisco 94107, phone (415) 543-7036.
Once you’ve chosen your destination, consider the following advice offered by ski area operators on using nurseries:
Before you leave your child at a day care center, label all belongings with the child’s name. Take a well-insulated jacket, warm boots, sweater, hat, nonwoven mittens with leashes, a change of clothes, extra shoes and socks, disposable diapers and baby wipes.
A favorite blanket or toy may help the child, and if he or she will be playing outside, sunscreen is a must. Goggles are a good idea for children who will keep them on. Make sure that the clothes you leave are easy to get into and out of.
Some centers also require a record of immunizations, so be sure to ask before your trip.
Reservation policies vary. Some centers are strictly first-come, first-served and some require reservations well in advance. Not all are licensed.
Many ski destinations across the country offer nurseries. Here is a sampling of ski areas in California where families with infants can vacation:
Mammoth Mountain, P.O. Box 24, Mammoth Lakes 93546, phone (619) 934-2571. Small World Day Care takes youngsters from newborn to age 12. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day during ski season, it has infant, toddler, preschool and school-age divisions.
Activities: Arts and crafts, music; optional ski lessons for kids 3 to 12. Prices: up to $32 a day, additional charge for ski lessons. Full- and half-day programs. Baby-sitter referrals available. Make reservations two to three weeks in advance.
The same services are available at the smaller June Mountain, same address and phone.
Northstar-at-Tahoe, P.O. Box 129, Truckee 95734, phone (916) 587-0278. Kids 2 to 6 (they must be toilet trained) can go to Minors’ Camp, which is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Reservations are accepted for holiday periods and weekends only.
Preschool has supervision in art, science, drama, cooking, music and snow play. Skiing lessons are available for kids 3 and older. Prices: $30 for nonskiers, more with ski lesson. Special rates for additional kids in the same family or additional days.
Badger Pass, Yosemite Park and Curry Co., Yosemite National Park 95389, phone (209) 372-1300. The oldest ski area in California, Badger Pass offers informal baby-sitting for kids 3 and older and toilet trained.
Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day during ski season, late November to around late March. The $2.50-an-hour fee includes snacks but no lunch. Drop-in only, but there is usually plenty of space. All activities are indoors.
Dodge Ridge, P.O. Box 1188, Pinecrest 95364, phone (209) 965-3474. Along with its highly regarded children’s ski program, this area in the central Sierra offers baby-sitting in the Bunny Den for toilet trained children ages 2 through 8.
Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Daily fee of $14 includes lunch and two snacks. Children play indoors and outdoors. No reservations, but most of the time there is ample space to meet the day’s demand.
Squaw Valley, P.O. Box 2007, Olympic Valley 95730, phone (916) 583-6985. Diaper Set, an integral part of the children’s ski school, takes children aged 6 months to 3 years. Open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. during ski season. Full-day fee of $40 includes snacks and lunch; parents provide formula for infants. Reservations are required, and referrals to baby sitters are available.
In the Rockies, resorts with child-care programs include:
Steamboat, P.O. Box 774408, Steamboat Springs, Colo. 80477, phone (303) 879-0740. Children 6 months to 6 years can find care from Nov. 23 to next April 9, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Prices: $28 for the first child in a family, less for additional children or half days; extra charge for lunch for kids 2 and older, parents must provide food for younger kids. With a staff of 60, the nursery rarely turns anyone away.
Copper Mountain Resort, P.O. Box 3001, Copper Mountain, Colo. 80443, phone (303) 968-2882, extension 6344. A 2,500-square-foot child-care facility offers arts and crafts, reading, story time, indoor and outdoor play.
Belly Button Babies takes kids 2 months to 2 years. Children over 2 go to Belly Button Bakery, where activities include baking, blocks, music, water play and dress-up. Open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Prices: $33 for a full day, lunch included; three-day rate $86. Reservations are required.
Vail Resort Assn., 241 E. Meadow Drive, Vail, Colo. 81657, toll-free (800) 525-3875 or (303) 476-1000, and Beaver Creek, P.O. Box 915, Avon, Colo. 81620, (800) 525-2257 or (303) 949-5750 , (800) 525-2257.
The two resorts, 10 miles apart, are owned by Vail Associates and offer similar facilities for children. Small World Play School has a separate program for each age group: 2 to 18 months, 18 to 30 months and 2 1/2 to 6 years. Reservations are recommended, call (303) 476-1088 or (303) 949-1437. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Full-day fee $35 to $40. Nursery ski lessons for 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-olds for an extra fee.
Sun Valley Resort, Sun Valley, Ida. 83353; phone (208) 622-4111, (800) 635-8261. Sun Valley Play School/Ski School will care for children from infancy to 6 years. Open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Reservations recommended, as the center can keep only 24 children. Kids play indoors and outdoors. The Play School can refer you to baby sitters with a day’s notice. Call for 1988-89 prices.