Let’s be honest, there’s a lot not to like about a family ski trip. Think stinging ice pellets hitting your face in near-whiteout conditions. Or those painfully-long lines at the lodge food counter for subpar, overpriced burgers and fries. Or the dreaded schlepping of ski gear - yours and sometimes your kids’ - from the parking lot to the lift in ski boots that should be certified as torture devices. So why bother? Well, because sometimes the snow gods grant you that perfect bluebird morning after an overnight snowfall. You’re the first to make a run down freshly-groomed powder. You lunch over a pot of cheese fondue with killer views from the top of a mountain. And after a long day on the slopes, you simply glide to your ski-in/ski-out hotel, where the oh-so-helpful ski valet stands ready to take the skis and poles off your hands. And these boots… take the boots, too!
Yes, those type of ski experiences do exist. Just follow our 5 keys to planning the perfect ski vacation.
Photo courtesy: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
1/Select the best timing
The best ski days always involve the fewest number of people on the slopes. Lift lines are shorter, and there’s a decreased chance of you (really, me) plowing over an unassuming child on the slopes. Forget the holiday weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, and don’t even think about the long MLK Jr. or President’s Day weekends. For the least about of traffic and the cheapest rates (both lift tickets and lodging), ski midweek.
What about spring break? Most families think sunshine and sand instead of snow in March and April. But if you’re skiing in the western USA or in some other areas of the world with serious mountains, chances are pretty good that you’ll still have snow. And often you’ll benefit from spring break discounts.
Photo courtesy: Stowe Mountain Resort
2/Pick a resort with plenty of on- & off-slope activities
Whichever ski resort you choose, it needs to be a good fit for your family. Check the terrain. Are there enough green or blue runs for the novice skiers in your group? If you have snowboarders, does the resort have terrain parks for shredding? Are there affordable ski lessons? And if you have little ones, is there child care with engaging programming?
But know that off-slope activities are just important, especially if you have non-skiers in the family or skiers who just don’t have the stamina to ski eight hours a day (yep, me again). At KidTripster, we think these kinds of offerings are so important that we dedicate a entire section to off-slope activities in every ski resort review.
Bonafide resorts will typically have tubing, sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Some more unusual offerings include giant snow forts, mini snowmobiling, dog sledding, fat tire biking, and even bobsledding.
KidTripster Tip: Want to add a cultural element? Skiing in Europe may be more affordable than you think. For example, airline tickets from New York City to Europe are only slightly more expensive than tickets to Vail. And on average, you’ll find that lift tickets in Europe cost less. The countries with the best skiing? France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. I’m particularly fond of Obertauern in Austria. It’s a hidden gem not too far from Salzburg.
Photo courtesy: Keystone Resort
3/Choose the right lodging
Did I mention how much I hate schlepping? I always have a better experience when my family and I stay at a ski-in/ski-out hotel, lodge or condo. For me, the convenience is worth the extra expense. And if you choose a slopeside condo, you can save a little money by cooking some of your own meals.
KidTripster Tip: Book a place with a pool. Your kids will thank you.
Photo courtesy: Larry Pierce/Steamboat Resort
4/To rent or not to rent
My rule of thumb: if you’re driving to the resort, bring your gear; if you’re flying, rent and just bring your boots, if you have a particularly comfortable pair. I’ve flown all the way to Europe with skis… big mistake!
KidTripster Tip: Look for all-in-one deals - especially midweek - that include lodging, lift tickets, and rentals.
Photo courtesy: Trevor Clark/Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
5/Bring less stuff
Go ahead and pack for your ski vacation and then take out half of what you packed. The fact is when you’re dressing in layers, you don’t need as much; you’re not really sweating up your clothes. More stuff equals more stress; just leave it at home.