It's fair to say that families who live 3 or more hours from a small ski area are likely to make different decisions than families who live relatively close to a large ski area. In the southeast U.S., parents are considering whether or not to drive 3-5 hours to a mountain that has a few short green or blue runs covered with man-made snow. By short, I mean a run that an adult intermediate skier can finish in less than 5 minutes.
Also depends on whether or not one or both parents can ski well enough to help a preschooler onto a chair lift. At a small mountain like Massanutten, often the kids are put into ski school by parents who do not ski at all or are beginners themselves. Before they installed carpet loading for the beginner lifts, the lifties had to stop them all the time because the adults didn't know enough.
Actually you don't need that much to put your kids on skis. All you need is snow, time and energy.
Early January... This is our first hill... Could be 1 meter of vertical... When cars were parked in front of this hill, I simply pushed the little guy arround in the back yard of the house.
Then we went to a bigger hill... Maybe 3 meters of vertical. We did it at night when it was empty because other kids where going down that hill on everything that slips during the day.
And this is our first lift served hill on late March... http://www.epicski.com/gallery/image/view/album/100846/id/95337/sort/display_order
The little guy was 1y 11m when we started, but he is strong for his age.