How to Have Fun at a Ski Resort if You Don’t Actually Ski

Tips and tricks from someone who’s been there—a lot.

Ski resorts are places of arresting charm and wonder. In the winter, their mountains are filled with hundreds—if not thousands—of people zipping down (and up) the slopes, having a grand old time. You might not know it, but sometimes I’m at these resorts, too. Though to be clear, I’m not one of those people hurtling down steep mountainsides with two flat, skinny boards attached to my feet. I’m not even among those who have opted for a single wider board upon which to fling myself downhill. No, I’m not a skier, nor am I a snowboarder, my winter sports career long since cut short by a nasty fall and subsequent bruised ego. What I am is the mom of two snowboarding teens, and therefore a sometimes-visitor of almost every ski resort across the Rockies.

I know I’m not the only non-skier who may end up visiting resorts with friends or family during any given ski season. But out of sheer necessity, my years of trying to entertain myself while on mom duty at ski resorts have given me a lot of wisdom. I know what to do when I’m there, and I also know how to blend in among those who don’t share my dislike for throwing myself down slopes at terrifying speeds. If you're a non-skier dreading your next vacation at Mount Such-and-Such, there's no reason why your trip has to be filled with fear or tedium. Here’s a lowdown on how to have an amazing time at a ski resort, even if you don’t actually ski.

Fat biking with mountain backdrop
Fat biking, like skiing and snowboarding, is a real workout. | The Wort Hotel

Take advantage of other activities on the mountain

Sitting around the fire in the lodge can get boring after a while, so you’ll definitely want to take advantage of other activities offered by the resort. Some of my go-tos are snowshoeing and fat biking. They are tiring workouts, just like skiing and snowboarding, so you will have something to brag about in the evening with the rest of the crew. Big Sky Resort offers a two-hour guided snowshoe tour, during which you can explore the peaceful Moose Tracks Gully. Crested Butte Mountain Resort offers on-mountain fat biking during non-lift hours. As one of the top mountain biking destinations in the country, it is no surprise the resort was one of the first to allow fat biking on ski trails. Another popular activity you can find in most ski resorts is snow tubing, which feels like a safer way to get your snow jollies, in my opinion.

Gondola at Palisades Tahoe with mountain view
Ride a gondola to get a bird's eye view from the top of the mountain. | Palisades Tahoe

One of my personal favorite activities, however, is riding the gondola up and down the mountain. This satisfies my need to get a bird's eye view from the top of the mountain without sacrificing comfort. I love the Palisades Tahoe Aerial Tram that takes you all the way up to a high camp with views of Lake Tahoe. A close second is the free BreckConnect gondola at Breckenridge, which takes you from the town center to the Peak 8 base.

If you want a slightly more blood-pumping, off-the-beaten-path adventure, try dog sledding. Resorts like Big Sky and Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania offer dog sledding packages where you can see epic landscapes while sitting in the sled pulled by adorable canines—while someone else does the driving, of course.

dogsledding at Jackson Hole
One might call this large amount of snow a “big dump,” whether you’re skiing or dogsledding. | Visit Jackson Hole

Get to know the lingo

Most snowboarders and skiers use words that might be unfamiliar to a non-skier or newbie. It’s not strictly necessary to learn the lingo, but doing so could save you some confusion. I will never forget the first time I heard the words “gnarly” and “big dump” used in the same sentence, as an instructor was teaching my kids during their first lesson almost ten years ago. Needless to say, I was absolutely baffled. I vividly remember reassuring him that my five-year-old was, in fact, potty trained. Later, amidst much laughter, I realized that he meant that the recent heavy snowfall (the so-called “big dump”) meant it was sure to be a fun day on the slopes—totally gnarly. In that same vein, “French fries” and “pizza” refer to the position of the skies when going downhill, especially if kids are involved. And if you hang out with snowboarders, you might overhear them talking about whether they ride “regular” or “goofy.” They’re not talking about whether they do comedic moves on the slopes, though; these terms are used to describe the dominant foot while snowboarding.

mountainside ski town
There’s plenty to do in charming ski towns, especially if you like to eat. | Vail on Sale

Explore the town

Many resorts have a robust infrastructure built around them, resulting in charming ski towns that offer a whole host of things to see and do. Notable among these is exploring the area’s culinary scene, which you might find to be eclectic, edgy, and creative, in keeping with the vibe of the ski and snowboarding community. For example, Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s immense tourist population warrants classic and modern eats of all sorts. Pinky G's pizzeria has even been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.

Ski towns and resorts may also have their own coffee culture. From indie cafes and roasters like Ink Coffee in Aspen to Bonfire Coffee in Snowmass, you are bound to find something unique and flavorful.

If you get tired of eating and drinking, check out the area’s shops, spas, and more—you can always ask your hotel to recommend some options.

woman relaxing by fire pit near ski mountain
If you want to sip a spiked hot chocolate and watch other people zip down the mountain, that’s more than okay. | Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail

Relax and enjoy the downtime

While I am all for having an active vacation, sometimes doing nothing has its charm. Almost all resorts, like Teton Village in Jackson Hole, or Breckenridge in Colorado, have an outdoor fire pit where you can relax. Grab a book and a hot chocolate from the on-site cafe and enjoy the scenery. Some resorts, like Big Sky, or Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, have community libraries. Imagine having time to start and finish a book uninterrupted—a rare treat for most of us these days, but especially for parents.

You can even just choose to hang out by the pool. Hotel Terra, in the heart of Teton Village, has an outdoor heated pool that offers stunning views of the snow-capped Tetons, and the recreation center in Breckenridge has indoor and outdoor pools that are open to the public. For a small fee, you can enjoy a therapeutic soak or even the steam room and sauna, which is a truly blissful experience when the outside temperature dips to the single digits.

At the end of the day, vacationing at a ski resort isn’t so different from vacationing at any other resort. You’ll find plenty of amenities for everyone—skiers and non-skiers alike. So, if you want to sip a spiked hot chocolate and watch other people zip down the mountain without you, that’s more than okay. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Karthika Gupta is a contributor for Thrillist.