Perfect for newbie ski families, this Midwest resort offers water park fun, too!
While the Rockies and New England get lots of skiers’ love, the Upper Midwest has its fair share of small but lovely snow sport spots. With one son who is not a fan of the cold and one who has wanted to learn to ski for years, I had to find a resort that would keep both happy and active. Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin proved to be a perfect spot for my first-time skiers and made for a wonderful family getaway.
The resort is a premier destination for all four seasons with a world-class golf course, walking and biking trails, horseback rides, and other outdoor activities. But it really shines in the winter months when your family can enjoy a host of winter sports at the Mountain Top ski area: downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and sledding. Admittedly, the “mountain top” is more big hill than mountain, but it has 20 runs including plenty of bunny hills and greens for beginners but also some more challenging runs for experienced skiers and snowboarders.
Once your cheeks are cold from shredding the slopes, you can come indoors to splash and swim at the Moose Mountain Falls Water Park at Timber Ridge Lodge or get pampered at the Well® Spa + Salon at the resort. Families with younger kids (under 12) really can’t go wrong at the resort because of the wide variety of things to do as well as the laid-back atmosphere. And I can’t say enough about the friendliness of staff. It’s Midwest hospitality at its finest.
The Moose Mountain Falls Water Park and all of the kids’ activities made it an easy call for us to stay at Timber Ridge Lodge. It’s built for families! Ski lodge décor greets you at the entrance, but you’ll quickly find that it’s much more than a ski hotel. All the rooms are suites with full kitchenettes (4-burner stove, microwave, refrigerator, and utensils) and a queen-sized sleeper sofa. We stayed in a suite which slept six. It had a second-floor loft with a bedroom and bathroom. The kids loved having their own space to spread out, and Mom and Dad appreciated it, too. And what’s a ski lodge room without a fireplace? All rooms have one to toast the toes après ski and swim.
For a more resort feel, The Grand Geneva Main Lodge is a gorgeous, AAA Four Diamond hotel (and notably, a former Playboy Club - not explaining that to the kiddos) with a variety of deluxe rooms, suites, and villas.
KidTripster Tip: Parking is at a premium, so leave your car at your hotel and take the free trolley shuttle to the slopes. It makes stops at all the facilities and runs continuously, so you never have to wait too long for a ride.
KidTripster Tip: Packages are the way to go to save money. The Splash and Ski package includes a suite at Timber Ridge Lodge, passes to the Moose Mountain Falls Water Park, lift tickets, and 50%-off ski rentals for children (10 and under). The package starts at $329/night. The Learn to Ski package includes everything that the Splash and Ski package does with the addition of two group ski lessons for kids (7 and older). It starts at $379/night.
Photo courtesy: Timber Ridge Lodge
What to do on the slopes?
Three chairlifts and two wonder carpets access 20 different runs at the Mountain Top ski area. The maximum vertical is just over 200 feet, so the runs don’t take too long to get down, but with three lifts and no big crowds, you can quickly hop back on a lift or carpet and repeat. The six-acre Terrain Park has it’s own a dedicated lift. Cost: Youth (6 and under) Free with paying adult; Youth (7-11) $39; Adult $49.
KidTripster Tip: Save time and guarantee your spots by reserving equipment and lessons online. Though we only had to wait a few minutes before we got our gear, we were told that the lines can be longer. You also can make reservations at the hotels for gear, tickets, and lessons.
Snow Sport School at the Mountain Top provides several options, depending on skill level and age; even kids as young as 3 years old can learn to ski. Since my boys had never been skiing, and it had been 10 years since my husband and I had strapped on skis, we decided on a beginner group lesson. My 10-year old is pretty adventurous and coordinated (a good combo for skiing), and thanks to his fun and talented instructor, he progressed quickly. Our 7-year was more timid and unsure, so my husband helped him through the lesson with direction from one of the instructors. For a kid that didn’t want to put his skis on at first, he was sliding down the bunny hill holding on to a ski pole pretty quickly.
KidTripster TIp: Arrive at least one hour before your ski or snowboard lesson, particularly if you have first-timers who need extra help with ski boots. Picking up everyone’s gear, getting boots on, loading up lockers, and finding your instructor takes more time than you may expect.
KidTripster Tip: In hindsight, I wish we had done private ski lessons. There were seven or eight people in the group lesson, and with young first-timers, they may have been better served by instruction in a smaller group.
Photo courtesy: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
What to do besides skiing?
When your non-adventurous kid decides that he's finished skiing for the day, there are two small sledding hills conveniently located next to the lesson area. The hills form a loop, so you never have to drag your sled too far up to go back down again. Sled rental cost: $10/hour (two-person sleds and smaller saucers). Or bring your own sled and get complimentary access to the hill.
Explore the beautiful Wisconsin scenery by trekking the 5.1-mile cross country skiing and snowshoe trails. Rentals for skis and snowshoes are available at the Lodge. Or your future Olympian can give skating a try at the rink. Skate rental cost: $10/hour.
Timber Ridge Lodge’s signature feature is the 50,000-square foot indoor/outdoor Moose Mountain Falls Water Park with the “fastest water slides I’ve ever been on,” according to my 10-year old. After a day of being out in the cold, the tropical 84° F is more than welcomed. Head to the shallow pool with small slides and splash areas for toddlers and children (under 7) or the activity pool with basketball hoops and a rope climb for bigger kids. A long lazy river and an indoor/outdoor hot tub is where you’ll find most adults, including this one.
It’s a younger kid crowd at the water park with an age range from infants to pre-teens - and no roughhousing. It was an ideal environment for my 7- and 10-year olds. I could barely drag them away each night when it was time for bed.
KidTripster Tip: The water park is most crowded about an hour after opening and on either side of meal times, so alter your plans accordingly.
When your skin is wrinkled from hours at the water park, hit the video games at Crazy Coyote’s Arcade Cave. It has more than 60 hip, new interactive games, simulator rides as well as old school video games and skee ball. My husband was very proud that he still had the touch and got the high score on the gigantic Galaga game.
KidTripster Tip: At the arcade, you can buy a game card with a specific amount of money on it, which - based on the cost of each game - will burn out quickly. Instead buy a timed card, which provides access to most (not all) games for 30 or 60 minutes. The timed card is a much better deal: $5/30 minutes or $10/hour.
KidTripster Tip: Check out the daily activity calendar at Timber Ridge Lodge and plan accordingly. On most days, the resort shows kids’ movies and offers bingo, arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts for prizes. Or catch the magic show on Saturday nights at The Main Lodge. Reserve tickets early by calling the resort.
If all of the activities have you wanting a little relaxation time, you’re in luck. The Grand Geneva Well Spa®+ Salon offers 65 different spa and salon treatments to pamper yourself from head to toe. Advanced reservations are recommended. The fitness center offers yoga and cycling classes, an indoor pool, and basketball courts.
Photo courtesy: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Where to eat?
Timber Ridge Lodge has one restaurant and a food court where you can feed your crew. Smokey’s Bar-be-que House is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and has adult and kid favorites. S’mores pancakes were a huge hit with my two boys. The Hungry Moose food court is located within the waterpark area and has a generous list of kid-favorite meals like chicken nuggets, fries, pizza, and even snacks like yogurt, granola bars, and cheese curds. (You are in Wisconsin, after all!) The food court also has a bar with a substantial cocktail and beer menu for parents.
The Grand Geneva Main Lodge has two upscale restaurants - a steak house and Italian - both with “young adult” menus as well as a cafe with gelato, coffee, light snacks, and breakfast offerings. Expect high-end resort prices but high-quality food. Most families that we saw, including my own, preferred the Grand Cafe which has a great selection of burgers, salads, and several kids’ options. It offers a dinner buffet on the weekends with everything from crab legs and prime rib to PB&J and spaghetti for the kids. My boys couldn’t believe their eyes at the sight of the dessert bar! Grand Cafe opens up to the hotel lounge, so we were able to enjoy live music while we feasted.
There are also food options at the ski area. Leinenkugel's Mountain Top Lodge is a perfect place to grab a drink or appetizer after hitting the slopes. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to watch skiers and snowboarders shred the slopes. But my recommendation would be to eat dinner at one of the other restaurants. Timbers Grill at Mountain Top is an ideal place to refuel with variety of hot and cold drinks, soft pretzels, snacks, hot dogs, and salads.
Photo courtesy: Grand Geneva Resort & Spa
Grand Geneva is in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, which is about a 90-minute drive north of Chicago and an hour southwest of Milwaukee. The resort offers shuttle services from both Chicago and Milwaukee airports.
Ski season in southeast Wisconsin varies, depending on the weather, but generally the Mountain Top ski area is open from December 15 until early March with both manmade and natural snow.
Writer Lori Green LeRoy is in the process of passing along her wanderlust and appreciation for different places and cultures to her two sons. The family lives in Indianapolis.