We’re a bit more than a month into the ski season, and it’s a stark contrast to last year’s weak winter.

Hammered by multiple snowstorms in the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Day, ski areas were able to ring in 2017 in great shape. Lost Valley saw capacity crowds, Sugarloaf had a 20 percent increase in Christmas week visits, and Sunday River reported that Dec. 31 was the biggest day in the resort’s history. Other Maine resorts posted similarly strong results.

In a press release, Ski Maine Association Executive Director Greg Sweetser noted that “this storm has put its stamp on the winter. A solid snow base exists across the state, including everyone’s backyard. People are seeing snow and thinking about skiing and snowboarding. The conversations when folks got back to work and to school have been about how fabulous the snow has been. Those conversations only fuel the excitement for winter.”

With winter in full swing, now is as good a time as ever to get your kids into skiing and snowboarding. One of the best ways to ensure the future of our sports is to make sure kids are hitting the slopes now, building a love of winter activities and the outdoors that will last a lifetime.

One great opportunity to get the whole family on the hill is Sunday River’s annual Children’s Festival Week, which runs this Monday through Friday. Parents booking three or more nights at the resort get free lift tickets, rentals, lessons and breakfast for kids between 3 and 12. Take the not-insignificant expense of each of those, factor the costs over three days, and you can see how much you can save on getting your kids started skiing.

In addition to the on-slope benefits, Sunday River is running programming all week meant to appeal to families. These include a “Pajama Bonanza” on Monday, an exotic animal presentation on Tuesday and a light show on Thursday, all at the Grand Summit Hotel. There will also be free fireworks and a fire-dancing performance on Wednesday evening at the South Ridge base area.

Sunday River’s sister resort, Sugarloaf, is also hosting a Children’s Festival Week, through this Wednesday. Like at Sunday River, families booking at Sugarloaf for three nights or more receive free lift tickets, rentals and Perfect Turn clinics for children. The Carrabassett Valley resort is holding a welcome party outside the lodge Sunday evening and has free events all week – a parade, fireworks and winter carnival on Monday, a family-friendly comedy show on Tuesday, and s’mores and horse and carriage rides on Thursday.

WinterKids, a Portland-based nonprofit with the goal of helping children develop healthy habits through outdoor winter activity, also devotes time and energy to getting kids outdoors during the winter. If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the WinterKids Passport, a long-running program that awards free and discounted lift tickets, lessons and rentals to fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders (often in conjunction with the purchase of an adult ticket).

One of its biggest activities is the “Welcome to Winter Festival,” which is held every year in association with Portland Recreation. The free event, in Portland’s Payson Park, kicks off the winter season with outdoor activities for kids and families. Activities include sledding, snowshoeing and skating, and volunteers and sponsors provide hot chocolate, healthy snacks, raffle prizes and other giveaways. This year, the festival is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21.

WinterKids also has several “Family Passport Days,” on which family members accompanying a WinterKids Passport holder get big discounts on lift tickets and rentals. These days aren’t only at downhill areas, but also at skating rinks, recreation facilities and Nordic areas. If you have a WinterKids-eligible kid in your house who isn’t a skier or snowboarder (yet), these days offer a great reason to get outside.

Want to get out on the slopes and contribute to the next generation of Maine skiers? The WinterKids Downhill 24, a 24-hour ski marathon that raises funds for WinterKids programs, is being held at Sugarloaf on March 3-4. Now in its fifth year, the event challenges teams of skiers to pack as many runs as possible into 24 hours. The event starts at 9 a.m. March 3.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

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