(Tribune Media Services) -- Sorry, Cinderella. Five-year-old Hannah Sitzman has forsaken all things princess to be a Winter Queen, she announces as she makes her way to the huge ice throne in a castle at the top of a ski mountain that took more than 75 tons of snow and two full weeks to build.
Welcome to Keystone Resort's Kidtopia. At 5 p.m. on a recent weekend -- a time when parents at ski resorts typically carry their pooped kids back to wherever they are staying, Keystone's Snowfort was packed with pint-sized skiers and snowboarders (and their younger siblings) slipping and sliding through a tunnel, climbing atop the 12-foot walls, navigating a "hidden" trail in the woods and, of course, taking their turns on the ice throne.
"This gives you a reason to come back out because it's fun -- for the parents too," said local firefighter Scott Vinas, whose 3-year-old daughter, Tenley, had just gotten her face painted as part of the weekend's special activities that included everything from the inauguration of the SnowFort to hot cocoa by the fire in the resort's River Run Village, balloon animals and parades, including a Glow Stick Kids Ski Parade.
It's not too late to join the fun either. Kidtopia will be held again at Keystone Resort March 15 through 21 and again April 1 through 6. This has been the first year Keystone, the most affordable of Vail Resorts' Colorado ski areas and the closest to Denver (60 miles), has initiated such a family festival and, according to ski school director Bobby Murphy, himself the parent of two young kids, "It's been a home run."
So if your kids were mesmerized by Shaun White's amazing tricks, Lindsey Vonn's speed, as well as the other athletes' grace and athleticism on ice and on snow at the Winter Olympics and are clamoring for a trip to a snow resort, it's not too late, or too expensive. There are deals, packages and special events like Keystone's Kidtopia from now until the end of the ski season.
For example, kids ski and rent gear free while parents score an Olympian package at Steamboat (which sent 17 athletes to the Olympics this year) with discounts of more than 20 percent on lodging, lifts, rentals and more. For more Colorado deals, visit www.coloradoski.com.
Join the fun at the end of March at The Canyons in Park City, Utah, during Spring Gruv, a festival of music, entertainment and on-mountain events. (Ever see a pond-skimming contest?) Also, check out their Ski Free-and-Breakfast package. The Silver Star at Park City Mountain Resort touts a Family Value Package that includes four nights of slope-side lodging for two adults and two kids, plus two adult three-day lift tickets (up to $688 in savings). (Check also www.skiutah.com.)
Get a free first day throughout the month of March at Smugglers' Notch's first-rate Treasures Child Care Center in Vermont. The resort also offers an Easter package that includes lodging, lifts, lessons and family activities all for not much more than the price of a lift ticket ($109 for adults and $99 for kids). For more Vermont deals, visit www.skivermont.com.
In Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, with 46 inches of new snow, families can take advantage of Spring It On Ski & Stay packages that include half off of Kids Venture Kamps, childcare and more.
We chose Keystone for a long weekend family reunion on snow because it was convenient to Denver and offered something for all the kids, as well as the adults in our group -- 18 strong, ranging in age from five to 60.
My husband, son and daughter celebrated their birthdays by taking a Keystone Adventure Tour -- access to nearly 300 acres of Keystone's most challenging terrain through a guided Snowcat tour. My daughter Mel pronounced it "the best birthday ever."
The two non-skiers in the group went snowshoeing; I took a lesson from instructor Cathy Spierling, who teaches the resort's special Betty Fest women's weekend workshops. Moms, she tells me, should take time for themselves and invest in some instruction. "It is worth the time and the money. You will enjoy your kids' experience so much more and you'll be able to enjoy your kids' successes more."
One of the teens in our group tests his mettle practicing in Keystone's terrain parks -- considered some of the best in the country -- while the 7-year-old in the family, an excellent skier, heads to Keystone's ski school for a first-ever snowboard lesson, a bandana draped around his neck Shaun White-style. (If you are thinking ahead to next year, consider Vail Resort's Epic Pass, which will give you a full season of skiing and riding at all six of the Vail Resorts for roughly what you'd spend for a week.
We joined other families for a fondue dinner complete with Bavarian-style music one night at the top of the Gondola. (The chocolate fondue for dessert was the best.) Another night, the grown-ups headed to the historic Ski Tip Lodge, a former 1800s stagecoach stop, for a leisurely four-course dinner with dessert served near a roaring fire. The best night, though, was digging into the chili my husband made at home and then transported in his duffel for my daughter and her college friends, who pined for home cooking.
Keystone understands what families need -- from the plastic wagons they can borrow to cart the kids and their gear from the parking lot to the convenient condos to the myriad deals and offers, including the Adventure Passport packet of discounts you are given when you check in that covers everything from martini tastings to free ice skating lessons, yoga tours and introductions to snow biking. There's something for everyone.
And then there's the Snowfort. Honestly, I've never seen kids having so much fun at the end of a ski day. Because Keystone has night skiing, the lifts and gondola continue to run after dark and families take full advantage.
Did I mention the tubing nearby at the top of Decorum Mountain?
We locked tubes and screamed all the way down.
(For more on Eileen's trip to Colorado snow country, read her trip diary at www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)
© 2010 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.