A quick guide to winter family fun in the Hudson Valley

Winter sports offer a chance for family bonding

The Hudson Valley offers an abundance of activities for winter athletics whether one is beginner or an expert, young or old. Winter does not have to be a time when families hole up in their houses and forget about the wonders of nature until the thaw of spring. Winter sports offer great opportunities for physical exercise, family bonding and developing new skills. The mountains of Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, and Sullivan counties provide excellent downhill skiing and snowboarding facilities. Local parks offer plenty of hiking, ice-skating and cross-country skiing, while some camps offer winter weekend retreats.

Go shred the mountain

When most people think of winter sports, skiing and snowboarding are likely to come to mind. The region has no shortage of options for neophytes and experts alike. Many ski centers have programs and specials catering to families. Here are the best of them:

Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center at Sterling Forest is offering “Kids Pay Their Age Day” on January 19th. There are classes for children. The ski center's managers call it “the perfect learning mountain.”

The Sawkill Family Ski Center  takes a decidedly different approach to instruction. Allen Fund, spokesman for the center says instructors are available for all skill levels, but they stay away from regimented programs. “People don’t want to be committed so we have no schedule, no big expenses. We’re not intimidating, we just want people to have fun,” he says.

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The Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland has two-day winter packages available which include a ski area with two dedicated ski lifts and a dedicated area for smaller children.

Holiday Mountain in Monticello is offering discounts “by the carload.” The more people you bring, the deeper the discounts. Family Night Specials are available on Thursdays and Saturdays. There will be Scout Weekends in early February and March. Scouts will be able buy lift tickets for $13.

Belleayre Ski Center in Highmount is operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and is an excellent mountain for beginners and those still learning skiing and boarding skills. David Cyrelson, the Mountain’s public relations director, says Belleayre has programs such as the “Just For Kids Learning Circle.” Children as young as three years old have begun skiing and boarding and parents can learn along as well.

Snow tubing, cross-country skiing and hiking

If skiing and boarding are not the activities your family members are interested in, there are plenty of other things for them to do in the great outdoors.

Bear Mountain State Park allows families to explore a variety of winter activities and discover which sport they’d like to pursue most. The park has over six miles of marked trails for hiking and cross-country skiing, as well as an outdoor ice skating rink.


The Frost Valley YMCA in Claryville has family sleep away camp programs. Melissa Pauls, the organization’s marketing and communications director, says the camps offer snow tubing and cross-country skiing.

Holiday Mountain in Monticello in addition to skiing and shredding, Holiday Mountain offers Friday night snow tubing. Manager Larry Valentia says a family of four can tube for $30.

Lake Minnewaska State Park in New Paltz offers hiking and cross-country skiing, weather permitting.

Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland has skiing as well as a 600 foot snow tubing run, ice skating and horse drawn sleigh rides.

Sawkill Family Ski Center in Kingston also offers snow tubing and is featuring a new tubing run for this season. Spokesman Allen Fund says that tubing is, “really popular with families,” because it does not require any skill or learning. “You just hop on a tube and you’re flying down the mountain,” he says.

Preparing children for winter sports

If your child is going to spend hours playing in the snow, it’s important to make certain that he or she is properly prepared. Even in the cold children will break a sweat participating in winter sports, so make sure that they know to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Experts agree you must stress to your child that falling is not failing and they should expect to fall. If kids are attempting to learn a new skill such as skiing or snow-boarding, falling is simply part of the process. So stress to them that when they fall they should just get right back up and try again. Falling is an unavoidable aspect of these activities and instructors can show beginners the safest ways to do so, if they feel they are about to go down.

Dress for success

Some facilities require that children wear helmets, when skiing or snowboarding. Even if the facilities you visit are helmet-optional, helmets are still a good idea. When not wearing their helmets, it’s advisable that children wear hats to keep their heads warm. Water-proof snow clothing is highly recommended, especially water proof ski pants, mittens or gloves. It’s also a great idea to bring along a change of clothes to make sure children stay warm and dry. According to Lou Herman, the general director of Rocking Horse Ranch, warm clothing is a primary concern. “If a child is cold and miserable, there’s no way they’ll have a good time,” he says.

James Meyers is a freelance writer living in Kingston. He is a frequent contributor to Hudson Valley Parent.