Image: SNOWMAN SOUP
Photo courtesy of One Ski Hill P
The hot-chocolate bar at One Ski Hill Place at Breckenridge, Colo, is a magnet for kids and adults.
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Tribune Media Services

Strike!

My daughter Melanie sashays back up the bowling lane. Her friends applaud; her birthday cake awaits.

Except she's not 10, she's turning 20 this weekend. And this isn't our neighborhood bowling alley. We're in Breckenridge, Colo., at a new deluxe resort knocking down pins at a two-lane bowling alley inside One Ski Hill Place, one of a slew of recently opened, luxury lodges in ski country. With an eye on families, these resorts offer everything to de-stress a family holiday, as long as you can afford the freight.

For instance, kids keep busy apres-ski at the Viceroy at Snowmass with available kids books and puzzles in the lounge. The tony and newly renovated Little Nell in Aspen, offers kids menus to go along with adult tasting menus designed to satisfy foodies of all ages. The Four Seasons at Vail has a teen hangout room, as well as a complimentary kids' club for younger children. The Montage in Deer Valley touts art programs and a huge spa that moms will love while the Ritz Residences at Vail offers spacious condo-type lodging with upscale appliances and steam showers.

These are the kinds of places where staff go out of their way to satisfy you — from getting your groceries delivered and put away, to driving your luggage home to Los Angeles when you were jetting off elsewhere. (Yes, that happened.)

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Well-heeled families are opting for services that offer convenience — even delivery and pickup of ski and snowboarding gear to your hotel room — Black Tie Ski Rentals will even swap them out on the mountain and kids rent free till the end of the season. At Snowmass, more are opting for private family lessons — even at more than $600 a day. "Parents want to see the kids learning," explains Sue Way, director of Children's Programs for the Aspen Skiing Company. They also love the convenience of having the ski instructor meet you at your hotel and tailoring the experience to your family.

That goes for the private chef too. Yes, families are opting to stay at Beaver Creek's Trappers Cabin — accessible only by snowcat, skis or snowshoe — where for an extra $599 for adults and $299 for kids per night (more than the $1,000 nightly cost of the cabin) you can have these services and others.

Late-season deals
Still, with a late Easter (April 24) when ski resorts traditionally close for the season, you'll find an array of late-season deals and festivals — including Spring Fever in Breckenridge — that could significantly cut the cost of staying at one of these upscale properties, says Dan Sherman of ski.com. For example, look for "Spring Break on Us" deals from Rock Resorts, which include One Ski Hill Place, as well as resorts in Vail, Beaver Creek and Jackson Hole, among others, that tout a free night. Stowe Mountain Lodge in Vermont has got one package that includes free skiing while the Ritz Residences at Vail — one of the most spacious condos we've ever frequented — also has a free-night deal.

I'm all for anything that makes a labor-intensive family vacation — and every trip to the slopes is a lot of work for parents — easier, as long as you can afford it, of course. There's nothing wrong with a little pampering either and I'm not just talking about the spas that are de rigueur at these hotels.

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Though my backcountry-loving daughter snickered, I loved the over-the-top service at The Ritz — from fixing our icemaker at 9 p.m. down to buckling my ski boots for me and shuttling our gear the short distance to the slopes. (Not all of these hotels are ski-in, ski-out. Check locations before booking!)

Strollers and kids are welcome apres-ski at Aspen's Little Nell (along with pups) and bowling at One Ski Hill Place is complimentary, along with media rooms where your gang can watch a movie (they have a library of DVDs) or play Wii. The place is small — just 88 units ranging from studios to four-bedroom suites — so kids won't get lost.

My gang gave a special thumbs up to the stellar apres-ski hot-chocolate bar they call Snowman Soup — also complimentary — that was a magnet for kids and adults (take your pick of toppings to put on your whipped cream: crushed Oreos, peppermint, cinnamon, coconut). I wish more hotels would offer such amenities. Why not a free kids' evening activity, if parents eat dinner onsite? They're clearly good for business.

"We're attracting a different customer," observed Kate Grattan, the general manager at Rock Resorts' One Ski Hill Place, the most upscale lodge in Breckenridge, which anchors a development at the base of Peak 8, complete with Alpine Coaster, as well as an apres-ski gathering place — the T Bar — that has become the place to gather at Breck, as locals call it. Breckenridge, a historic mining town, is famous for its high alpine bowls.

Business is going uphill
It's telling that despite the still recovering economy, business has been better than expected this opening season, Grattan said, especially among families. Jill and Adam Beck from Haverford, Pa., enjoying the hot chocolate with their three kids, say this new slope-side hotel is what drew them away from another ski resort they've frequented for years. "For what you get here, this is fairly priced," said Adam Beck. "This hotel is awesome."

But woe the fancy hotel that doesn't deliver. I heard a lot of grumping, for example, at The Viceroy at Snowmass because the units seemed cramped (I thought so too) and there were no complimentary shuttles into Aspen — an expensive cab ride 10-plus miles away.

There's another downside: Sometimes you're so comfortable at these places you don't want to go anywhere, except maybe to the expansive hot tub downstairs. You find yourself heading out to the slopes later in the morning and returning early — just to take advantage of all the amenities. The kitchen at the Ritz at Vail was so well-equipped and large that we even opted to eat in the nights we planned to go out, missing our chance to see first lady Michelle Obama, vacationing with her daughters, dining at the same Vail restaurant where we had reservations. We didn't mind a bit.

My husband's chili for Melanie's birthday celebration was a huge hit with her friends.

"A lot of fun, mom!" Mel said, giving me a hug.

I'll take that on any vacation with the kids.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2011 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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