Is this the year you pack up your crew and head to the mountains for that long-anticipated winter vacation on the slopes? If the answer is yes, then congratulations, you have just taken the first step toward an iconic and memorable winter holiday. A family ski trip is an exciting way to enjoy winter, whether you’ve never been on skis before or are a seasoned pro on the slopes.
To make the most of your family ski trip, you will have to do some planning. This won’t be a budget vacation, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find awesome deals along the way. The secret to planning an awesome family ski trip is to start the process early – eight months to a year before you plan to hit the slopes. Let’s break down the process of planning your perfect family ski trip, from start to finish. I promise it’s not as difficult as it seems!
Create a Budget for Your Ski Trip and Look for Deals
Money. It’s that pesky stuff that makes the world go round, and unfortunately, dictates how we spend our winter vacations. If finances aren’t a primary issue for you, feel free to skip this section. If you’re on a budget, like most of us, read on.
Many of the decisions you’ll have to make surrounding your winter vacation will be based on how much money you have or want to spend. Your ski vacation budget will help you determine some of these important questions:
- Will you fly or drive to your ski destination?
- Where will you stay?
- How long will you stay?
- Will you buy or rent your equipment?
If you are planning your family ski trip 6+ months in advance, you are in good shape. As far as money goes, start with a ballpark figure of 5% of your household’s yearly income. Sound like a lot? It is! But this figure will have to include lift tickets, equipment rental, winter clothing, lodging, meals, and likely airfare and car rental fees.
This can be a baseline figure for you to work with, but of course, every family’s situation will be different. Now based on that initial figure, decide how much you want to contribute to your ski-trip savings plan each month. This can be tweaked throughout the coming year as you answer some of the questions mentioned above.
Look for Deals on Lift Tickets and Lodging for Your Family Ski Trip
If you are willing to do some legwork, you will save hundreds of dollars on your family ski vacation. It can be daunting to figure out where to begin your search, so here are some ideas to help you get started.
- Consider the Epic Pass – The Epic Pass gives you access to 17+ ski resorts throughout the US and Canada. You can get full season passes for your family, as well as single day to week-long passes. In addition, you can buy Epic passes that are specific to the region you’re visiting. The more you plan to ski using the Epic Pass, the more money you will save. In addition, there are special Epic Passes at special prices for senior citizens, college students, and members of the military. While the Epic Pass may not be for you and your family, it’s the first place you should start when looking for deals.
- Sign up for email newsletters of your top ski resorts – Nobody needs more email spam coming to their inbox, but many ski resorts use email to market their best sales of the season. Don’t miss out on these!
- Take advantage of Black Friday Sales – This is for all of you that are last-minute planners! Ski resorts offer incredible Black Friday discounts on lift tickets, rentals, and lodging. Once you have an idea of where you want to go, visit the resort website and Facebook page on Black Friday and the weekend following. We recently scored a three-pack of lift tickets to a local ski mountain for $150 with a steep discount on rentals too.
Choose a Location for Your Ski Trip
Where you go on your family ski trip depends on many factors. If you live in sunny Florida or the south of Texas, you will probably have to fly to your skiing destination. If you are a Vermonter (like me), your trip might be a bit shorter (and cheaper). When choosing the perfect ski mountain, proximity is one of your major considerations.
If you know you are going to have to fly to your ski destination, look for deals on flights first before finding the perfect ski resort. Flights into major airports will usually be cheaper than flights into smaller airports. I’ve had great luck finding deals to Salt Lake City, Denver, and Boston using Kayak, which also has great deals on rental cars.
Things to Consider When Choosing Where to Ski or Snowboard
Cost may or may not be your number one factor when choosing your ski vacation destination, but it’s probably one of them. Here are a few more things to consider:
The skiing or snowboarding ability of your family – If you are a family of beginners, make sure the ski mountain offers lots of beginner trails, lessons, and off-the-slope activities. If you have advanced skiers in your group, you will want a good mix of challenging trails.
Ski mountains in the east, while smaller, often provide very challenging conditions due to wet snow and ice. Eastern mountains also have great forest trails, which can be a real challenge for all types of skiers and riders. Mountains in the west are often sunny with great powder, but the trails are steep and avalanches are always a concern. Talk to any passionate skiers or snowboarders and they’ll convince you why skiing the east or skiing the west is best.
Activities available off the slopes – Perhaps you plan to spend all day, every day on the mountain perfecting your technique. If you are going on an extended family ski vacation, you may want to find out what else the area has to offer, especially if you have kids. Many ski resorts cater to families and offer sleigh rides, sledding, snowshoeing, movie nights, shopping, dance parties, and more. Find out what the surrounding towns have to offer as well.
Outfit Your Family with Winter Gear and Clothing
If you already own ski equipment, you are ahead of the game. Now is the time to have your skis sharpened and waxed in preparation for your trip. If you are new to the sport, I recommend renting your skis, boots, poles, and a helmet. Many mountains offer rental packages at a discounted price with your lift ticket.
As for clothing, I recommend getting the best you can afford. There is nothing worse than grouchy, cold, and uncomfortable kids on a family ski trip. If you already live with cold winters, you may not need to invest in much. You can also find some good deals at second-hand stores, especially for younger kids. Here are the basic necessities for most family ski trips:
- Ski goggles – found at many sporting-good stores or online. We have found great deals at REI, especially in the spring and summer. Ski goggles are not usually available for rent, and they will cost a fortune if you buy them near the slopes.
- Warm Socks – thick wool or synthetic socks (no cotton). Ski socks are expensive, but they are also incredibly important. Wearing old, thin socks can ruin a ski vacation in a day. We love Darn Tough Vermont socks because they have over-the-calf cushioning and they always stick by their lifetime guarantee.
- Face mask – Also known as a balaclava, these are essential for cold or windy days on the slopes. Our favorite is merino wool from Smartwool.
- Snow pants – For toddlers and young kids up to age 5, I recommend a one-piece suit, which will keep them warmer. Yes, it’s harder to get everything off for a pee break, but well worth the extra effort. Older kids can probably get away with regular snow pants or overalls.
- Ski jacket – For kids, buy ski jackets a size too big so they can wear them for a few seasons. We usually buy whatever’s on sale at REI or LLBean.
- Mittens or gloves – Warm and waterproof! We all fight over these mittens, which were a Christmas gift, but we have endless pairs that cycle in and out of use. In fact, if at all possible, bring several pairs for each of your kids so you don’t have to shop while you’re on vacation.
- Long underwear– Tops and bottoms, made of synthetic material, wool, or silk. Generally, the kids get Duofolds because they’re affordable. For myself, I splurge a little merino layers by Woolly Clothing Co. They are so warm and soft, plus they wick moisture and don’t stink, even after several days on the slopes!
- Fleece top – For layering under your ski jacket.
- Hand and feet warmers – Everyone finds these gems in their Christmas stockings. They’re lifesavers on cold days!
Where Will You Stay on Your Winter Vacation?
Ski resorts and the towns that surround them offer a myriad of lodging options depending on your budget and your personal needs. We usually check all the options listed below before making a decision based on the size of our group, location, and cost. Here’s a look at some typical accommodations you’ll find near ski mountains.
Condos – Most resorts offer slope-side condominium rentals. This allows you to be close to the action. There is no commute to and from the mountain and if members of your group are tired or need a break, they can head back to the condo for a rest. Most condos come equipped with full kitchens and housekeeping services. You can usually find package deals that include lift tickets and lodging for a reduced rate.
Cabin rentals – Families and private companies often rent cabins near ski resorts. These cabins can usually accommodate large numbers of people and offer a level of solitude that you won’t find at a big resort. VRBO is a great resource for finding cabins or homes for rent.
Hotels – There will be many hotels to choose from near most ski resorts, from the most luxurious to the most budget-friendly. Generally, hotel rooms will not have kitchens, so be prepared to dine out most nights. We find like to read reviews and search for the best rates on TripAdvisor before booking.
The Best Time to Take a Family Ski Trip
If you have school-aged children, you may be limited as to when you can travel. Many ski resorts hike their prices during popular school vacations and holidays.
My vote for the best family ski trip is in early spring – late February to late March, depending on where you’re going. Spring is a great time to find deals on lift tickets. When most people are turning their focus to warm-weather activities, the mountain resorts will be clamoring for your business. Spring skiing can also be the best skiing of the year, with warm, sunny days and layers of fluffy, powdery snow.
Want to learn more about skiing with kids? Family Off Duty has some great tips for learning to ski with kids.
Have you ever taken a family ski vacation? We’d love to hear your tips for making it memorable in the comments below.
Read more about adventuring in the winter with your family:
- What to Pack in Your Winter Daypack when Hiking with Kids
- Awesome Winter Adventures for Families Who Don’t Ski
- The Best Winter Road Trips in the USA
- The Best Cold-Weather Layers for Babies and Toddlers
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Our Favorite Resources for Road Trips and Outdoor Adventures
These are the resources we use to plan road trips, save money while traveling, and shop for outdoor gear.
Car Rentals: While we use our own car most often for road trips, we also enjoy flying into major airports and then renting a car for more regional road trips. We use Kayak to compare prices and find deals from dozens of car rental agencies at once.
Flights: We use Kayak to search out flight deals.
Money-saving tip: If you find yourself using the same airline repeatedly (we are huge Southwest fans), consider joining their loyalty program and getting an airline credit card. With our Southwest Rewards Visa, we earn a few free flights each year.
Hotels: When it comes to lodging, we seek out small boutique hotels or quirky roadside motels. First, we search for hotels on TripAdvisor so we can read reviews from other travelers. Then, we use Booking.com to make reservations (they have the best prices, plus a flexible cancelation policy).
Camping: Camping is one of our favorite things to do on long road trips. It allows us to explore the outdoors, cook our own food, and save money. We use They Dyrt Pro to find campsites and read reviews before booking on Recreation.gov or state park websites.
Glamping and Vacation Rentals: For weekend getaways and shorter vacations, we love glamping (check out our glamping resource guide). We book glamping properties through Tentrr, Hipcamp, and Airbnb. For cabins and vacation rentals, we like to use VRBO (they have fewer fees and a better cancelation policy than Airbnb).
Guides and Maps: If we are visiting a new region, we usually invest in a Moon Travel Guide for the area. We pass them on to friends and family after our trip. If we are planning on hiking, we also purchase a Falcon guide in the Best Easy Day Hikes series.
Outdoor Gear: We are REI Co-Op members. It cost us $20 for a lifetime membership, but we get a yearly dividend based on our purchases, plus great deals and coupons throughout the year. REI also has a great return policy.
Check out our complete guide for planning a road trip on a budget