An Insider's Guide to the Best Family-Friendly Winter Activities at Sunday River

The Sunday River experience is built for families, with day care, ski school, ski-and-stay deals and plenty of kid-friendly eateries.
The Sunday River experience is built for families, with day care, ski school, ski-and-stay deals and plenty of kid-friendly eateries. Courtesy of Sunday River
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Many a modern-day Rocky Mountain ski bum can trace his or her roots back to childhood weekends spent at Sunday River. The large contingent of families who spend their winter seasons at the River would argue that no resort in the East is as family-friendly for the price. Child-toting parents can choose from a wide range of activities and accommodations to keep all members of the family smiling from sun up to sun down.

There are seven condominiums complexes at Sunday River, all of which are perfect for hosting a family skiing adventure. Check out the Brookside and Sunrise condos. If you’re looking for a more traditional hotel, choose between the Grand Summit Hotel or the Jordan Grand Hotel, both slopeside and comfortable. The hot tub at the Grand Summit is a particular attraction as it’s large enough to easily absorb the 5 o’clock rush. And, it faces the Moonstruck trail, so if you call it an early day, you can still get your skiing fix vicariously by observing the afternoon skiers. Also highly recommended are the funky inns of nearby Bethel. A top recommendation is the Inn at the Rostay. The Bethel Inn Resort, which celebrated its hundred-year anniversary in 2013, has traditional rooms with fireplaces and separate “townhome” units that can accommodate larger families. 

The resort runs a licensed daycare facility at the South Ridge Lodge and the well-regarded Perfect Turn ski school for youngsters. Tiny Turns is a program designed to introduce skiing to three- and four-year-olds and includes a one-hour lesson with a private coach, a lift ticket, and rental equipment. For children who have skied before, the Mogul Munchkin program includes a half-day group lesson and day care. The Children’s Festival at Sunday River, which takes place in January, is a great deal, as kids stay, eat, and get rentals, passes and lessons for free with a three-night stay.

Hitting the slopes with your kids offers many options at Sunday River.
Hitting the slopes with your kids offers many options at Sunday River. Sherri B

For those who prefer to ski with their children, families can spend all day on the North Peak and not get bored—with tons of easy trails, the kid-friendly Yetiville glades, a beginner-level terrain park (Whoville), the fast-moving Chondola to keep the kids warm, and the South Ridge Lodge in case they get hungry. Be sure to take a break from skiing and visit the Sugaring House off the Sundance trail near the South Ridge Lodge. During the March sugaring season, the shack produces maple syrup and offers tours and demonstrations. Youngsters will love the free candy and syrup samples. Kids also can’t get enough of the Waffle Cabin in the Barker basin.

If your kids are of the high-energy variety (and whose aren’t?), night skiing is a great way to drain the last bit of excess energy out of them. Sunday River offers lighted skiing from 4pm to 8pm on eight beginner and intermediate trails through winter weekends and holidays. Daytime lift passes work for night skiing or you can buy a night-only ticket.

After skiing, while parents seek out a hot tub or an aprés-ski beer or cocktail, kids can continue the fun with the resort’s twin 750-foot zip lines (top speed 40 mph), towline-assisted snow tubing on the Sundance trail, and ice skating on the rink near the Snow Cap Inn (free but no rental skates available). There’s also dogsledding available through the Bear River Mushing Company and sleigh rides and horseback riding at Meadow Creek Farm.

Sunday River can help visitors of any age learn to ski.
Sunday River can help visitors of any age learn to ski. Courtesy of Sunday River

For evening entertainment, look no further than the Black Diamond Series. Throughout the winter, the series brings in family-friendly entertainment including magicians, fire dancers, break dancers, comedians, and even laser tag competitions. The mountain’s mystical mascot, Eddy the Yeti , makes frequent appearances at these events. Check out this year’s schedule for more information. Regular fireworks shows, taking place at 8:30pm on selected dates throughout the winter, also light up kids’ faces.

The nearby town of Bethel, only a 10-minute drive from the mountain, provides great options for a family-friendly night out as well. A year-round destination with a classic New England feel, Bethel has two great pizza places (Homeslice and Pat’s) as well as a movie theater. Early in the evening, the Matterhorn Ski Bar is also an excellent option as it has kid-friendly menu items, Geary’s Maine draft root beer, and arcade games on its second floor. The Mountain Explorer, a free shuttle bus, makes regular rounds between the town and the resort area throughout the day and evening.

Further out of town, in Oxford, you can find the Lil’ Leapin’ Lizard Family Adventure Center, featuring inflatable slides and jump castles, obstacle courses, and arcade games. It’s open from 10am until 8pm and as late as midnight on some Fridays and Saturdays. 

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