Planning a ski vacation can seem daunting at first, but really, the biggest task is deciding where to go, and the earlier you decide, the easier it will be to put your whole vacation in place. By planning ahead several months, you'll secure your top choices for accommodations and restaurants as well as enrollment in ski lessons or kids' camp. Here are some simple tips to help you get started on your planning and ensure you have a smooth, safe and enjoyable trip!
Consider Vacationing with Extended Family or Friends
Ski trips with a larger group of parents and children can be particularly enjoyable for everyone, as little ones may feel more comfortable going off together to kids' camp, teens may enjoy a little grown-up freedom skiing the most challenging trails together, and adults may enjoy apres ski. Additionally, it's both fun and economical to all go in on a slopeside condo or townhome where you can spread out, prepare some of your own meals, and enjoy the convenience of a mountainside location. (Find a rental using our Vacation Rentals section.)
However, a ski vacation can still be quite enjoyable with just your immediate family, and you may find that it is one of the family vacations that actually works when you're not vacationing with extended family or friends!
Check Your Dates
Decide on when you'd like to take your trip. After opting for slopeside accommodations, avoiding huge crowds is the second most important factor to consider for ensuring a great trip. Although many families are limited by their children's schedules, weekends, holidays (especially Christmas week and President's Day weekend), and school vacations are the priciest and most crowded times at ski resorts.
If you can, especially if you are beginner skiers, plan to ski mid-week, and look for ski resorts with a separate beginner ski area with its own easy-to-ride lift like a Magic Carpet -- a conveyor belt that you literally just stand on as it gently takes you up to the top of an easy slope. Also, certain mountains are typically more crowded than others due to their general popularity along with their size and the number of skiers they allow on the mountain at one time -- do a little online research before you make your final decision. Some mountains also restrict snowboarders to certain trails, which can make it more enjoyable and safer for new skiers made nervous by daredevil snowboarders. If you'd like to plan a full week's vacation, consider visiting a nearby attraction or enjoying another activity at the resort on the weekend. Many family ski resorts also offer skating, tubing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, and more. In general, most kids (and parents, too!) will wear out after two or three days of straight skiing. And, if you're planning on skiing at higher altitudes than you're used to, consider allowing an extra day to let yourselves adjust before hitting the slopes.
Decide on Your Destination and Book Your Stay
Once you know when you'd like to go, how many are in your group and what the ski-levels of the group are, start researching the best ski resorts for families. Most importantly for families with young children, look for mountains with a designated beginners' ski area with plenty of easy and wide-open terrain. Also check for online reviews of their ski school, number of kids per instructor, and apres ski activities. Find out what happens if your child gets too tired and how they will reach you if there is an emergency.
When you've narrowed it down to two or three top choices, start checking prices. Many ski areas offer early-bird vacation packages including onsite accommodations, lift tickets, ski rentals, lessons, and meal vouchers that can save you a significant amount of money. (You can check deals and rates with our Deals section.) Ski and Stay Packages usually include free lift tickets, lessons and lodging for kids 12 and under and in general, the longer you stay, the more you save. You'll pay more for a ski-in/ski-out location, but for families, this is truly where you'll be happy you spent a few extra dollars. Kids never want to schlepp there own stuff, and you'll get tired pretty quickly of carrying all their gear as well as your own! It's enough to get everyone dressed and in their ski clothes, never mind having to haul all the equipment to and from the mountain. Ideally, your accommodations will also include a kitchenette, adjoining rooms and access to a pool, sauna and hot tub. Lastly, check for concierge, valet and shuttle services, all which may enhance your stay.
And adults can benefit from ski lessons as well, especially if you haven't hit the slopes in a few years (or are a beginner yourself). You'll be surprised how much just a few private lessons will improve your skiing and have you swooshing down the slopes again in no time.
Create an Itinerary
Think ahead about how your days will go -- where you will want to eat your meals and what you might like to do in the evenings. Making dinner and special activity reservations before you arrive can be essential at the most popular ski resorts. Don't forget to avail to your concierge for ideas and assistance in planning. If you're staying in a condo or rental home, you may want to plan on dinners at home, as kids (and adults) will be tired after a day on the slopes and you can save money by cooking at home. Also, think about the ages of the kids in your group. Most young children will only last for a few hours at a time on the mountain and teens will want to be the first ones out and the last ones in. If your little ones are not going to be enrolled in an all-day kids' camp, and other family members will want to ski a full day, check with the resort for additional childcare options or consider bringing along your own nanny or babysitter.
If you'll be vacationing for more than three nights, consider incorporating other activities offered at the resort or nearby. And you may need to plan for a few hours of adult-only time if you really want to visit the spa or do some area shopping!
At this point, be sure to create a special folder or binder to hold all of your reservations information as well as any brochures or additional information you have on your destination.
Rent or Buy Your Ski Equipment
Sometimes families are anxious to buy their own equipment when they first start skiing, but really, it doesn't always make sense from a practical or economical standpoint. If you'll be flying to your destination, for adults, consider bringing your own helmet and ski boots but renting your skis and poles at the resort, and for kids it usually makes more sense to purchase a package from the resort including skis, poles, boots and a helmet.
And even if you're driving, young children's skill levels and sizes change so quickly that it rarely makes sense to purchase skis for them before they stop growing. For adults really wanting to purchase their own skis, it pays to wait for end-of-season sales, but if you're the type that always likes to have the latest and greatest, you might find that your equipment gets outdated fairly quickly. Consider skipping the skis and putting your money into comfortable boots, and you'll be more likely to enjoy more time on the trails versus in the lodge with sore feet -- believe me, I've been there!
A new alternative to renting equipment at a ski resort is the online site Ski Butlers, offering high-performance ski rentals with delivery right to your resort. You can book your reservation ahead of time online, and they'll deliver your skis to you when you arrive and pick them up when you're ready to leave. They even bring extra boots "for a guaranteed perfect fit." With this option, you may pay a bit more, but you'll have top notch equipment and enjoy hitting the slopes from the get go versus having to wait in line with antsy kids at the rental shop on your first morning of skiing.
If you absolutely insist on bringing your own skis, ship them ahead of time via FedEx and you'll save on hassle, and it will most likely cost you less than extra baggage fees. Or try Luggage Ahead, a super-efficient ski shipping service that picks your skis up at your doorstep three days prior to your trip and delivers them to your destination on the day you arrive.
Think Ahead About Ski Gear and Clothes
It pays in spades to do your shopping for ski clothes and gear early in the season and definitely before you reach the resort. Ski clothing supplies are limited each year and by mid-winter, you may have trouble finding the styles and sizes you prefer. Although resorts do a pretty good job of having what you'll need on hand, unless you are skiing at the end of the season, you'll pay significantly higher prices for the convenience. (If you are skiing at the end of the season, this is the time to take advantage of resort sales on ski wear and pricey accessories like sunglasses and goggles.)
So, here's what you'll most likely need for each family member for ski-clothing and gear:
o Long underwear
o Ski-socks (consider Smartwool for socks and long underwear known for moving moisture away from your skin better than other brands and make sure to bring multiple pairs)
o A few turtlenecks and sweaters
o A neck warmer and for kids a face mask
o A ski jacket (or a fleece and shell if you prefer, particularly for spring or west-coast skiing when its best to dress in layers)
o Ski pants (women may prefer a more stylish stretch ski pant to the kids' bulkier version)
o Ski mittens for kids and ski gloves for adults along with glove liners that may be worn separately if it's a particularly warm day
o Ski goggles and or sport sunglasses for adults (you'll be sorry if you don't have one or the other)
o A ski hat that can be worn off the mountain and under a helmet
o Sunscreen lotion and lip balm (don't be fooled, the sun is much stronger out west than on the East Coast)
And don't forget that you'll need apres skiwear as well, including a few outfits for dinner or evening activities. For kids, they'll most likely wear their ski jacket round the clock, but particularly teens and women may like to bring a dressier coat and gloves for the evenings, and you'll definitely all need warm boots of some type for off-the-hill walking and fun. Lastly, be sure to throw in a few swimsuits, flip-flops and cover-ups if there is an indoor pool and/or hot tub at the resort where you will be staying.
For ski equipment, you'll need:
o Ski boots
o Skis or snowboards
o Ski poles
o Helmets (a must for kids).
If you're bringing your own gear (skis and poles are not necessarily advised as suggested previously), be sure to purchase ski and boot bags (boot bags usually accommodate a helmet as well). If you're flying, you'll want to take your boot bag on the plane with you along with the other essential clothing items needed for skiing in the event that your luggage is lost. You can also store your boots and helmet in the boot bag year-round, making it convenient to locate the right set whenever needed.
A Few Packing Tips
If you think there's even a slight chance you may take another ski trip down the road, begin by creating a family ski-trip packing list. Try our online packing list, where you can add your own selection of additional seasonal items you want to remember. You'll save hours the next time you start packing and don't have to rethink all the gear and paraphernalia that you'll need on your trip. You'll also have peace of mind knowing you haven't forgotten anything essential!
For ease of packing, consider packing all of your ski clothes and accessories in a separate suitcase and then taking smaller bags or suitcases for each child's everyday clothes like underwear, shirts, sweaters and pajamas. If you're driving, you'll save money by bringing along basic food supplies and snacks. If you're bringing along skis, you'll need a ski rack or roof carrier; many families find a Thule is a great option.
Planning for Travel Activities
Whether driving or flying, you'll all be happier if you've planned some type of en route entertainment for your kids. For plane trips, bring along activity books and a few markers as well as a handheld gaming device for each child that's old enough to use one -- it's the perfect time to offer use of this special treat! If traveling by car, bring along DVDs and a laptop computer with a car charger if you don't have a built in player, kids' books on tape (Harry Potter is a great option), and plenty of snacks. Also think about what your family might like to do in the evenings together at the resort. Ski trips are great for an evening of family games like Pictionary, Apples to Apples or Cranium. And for ideas on how to keep your kids entertained at the airport, see 10 Ways to Amuse Kids at the Airport.
Now sit back and relax and get ready to enjoy a fabulous family ski vacation!
This article was updated January 13, 2014.
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