Photo © Steven Gnam

Snowball fights and snow angels, snowman making and tobogganing—the winter of our youth. As family time is filled with indoor soccer and violin lessons, those special winter moments of younger years may seem fleeting for our own children. But one special place brings it all back. In the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana, winter is nostalgic and brings families together for the season.

A winter family vacation in Kalispell at the center of the Flathead Valley is all about the simpler things: snow and ice and lots of hot chocolate mixed in. Located between two ski areas, next to the winter wonderland of Glacier National Park and full of places to explore in town, Kalispell is the place where family memories are made.

Just north of Kalispell, Whitefish Mountain Resort welcomes families to its world-class slopes, rated by SKI Magazine readers a 2017 Top 10 resort for value, service and overall satisfaction. High-speed quads have replaced the open chair lifts and T-bars of our youth, but the same predictable powder falls on the resort’s Big Mountain. For the novice skiers or snowboarders private and group lessons are available and for the already seasoned shredders in the family, the options are limitless on the mountain’s 105 runs, 14 lifts and five terrain parks. As you admire the breathtaking views of the peaks of Glacier National Park and the odd, bending, snow-covered trees (called snowghosts by the locals) from the lifts, you’ll revel in the simple conversation and one-on-one moments with your kids at your side.

A short drive to the south of Kalispell and overlooking the shores of Flathead Lake, Blacktail Mountain was created with families in mind offering affordability and great skiing. A local favorite, the ski area offers lessons, a wide selection of beginner and intermediate runs on its 1,000 acres and a rustic lodge with all the comforts: homemade food and fireplaces to warm up by.

There is no better place in Northwest Montana to escape the chaos of the everyday than Glacier National Park in the winter. Mostly closed to cars during the snow-covered months, the park’s roads and trails transform into paths for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. On the weekends park rangers guide families on snowshoeing excursions from Apgar Village on the west side of the park closest to Kalispell. Expect no other field trip to live up as the rangers lead you through the snow-blanketed valley floor pointing out signs of wildlife and explaining the delicate winter ecosystem. Don’t forget: your fourth grader can get the whole family into the national park for free with the Park Service’s Every Kid in A Park program.

And if the kids (or you) want another backcountry experience, try dogsledding—the perfect activity to include everyone in the family from babies to grandparents. On the soft warm sled let the huskies of Dog Sled Adventures guide you through the stunning Montana wilderness.

In Kalispell, you’ll be at the center of it all. The cultural hub of the Flathead Valley offers affordable lodging with pools for the kids and hot tubs for the adults, casual dining options from pizza and peanuts at Moose’s Saloon to shakes and burgers at Norm’s Soda Fountain, a quaint downtown with toy stores and local shops to buy that special Montana memento, and its own Norman Rockwell ice rink. At the end of the day grab free skate rentals and hot chocolate at the rink at Woodland Park.

A winter family vacation in Kalispell—you’ll be so glad you did.