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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. For the most part, our family sticks to budget vacations, but because there are some die-hard skiers among us, we have been forced to splurge on occasion. There are many factors to consider when planning a ski trip, especially your first ski trip…
Here are a few planning tips to get you out the door and onto the slopes.
Create a Budget for Your Ski Trip
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 an issue for you, feel free to skip this section. The rest of you, 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 budget will help you determine some of these 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 this trip a year or more ahead of time, you are in good shape. Start with a ballpark figure of 5% of your household’s yearly income. 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.
Choose a Location for Your Ski Trip
Again, this 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, there are a few things you should take into consideration:
Skiing ability – 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 icy or slushy conditions, which makes for challenging skiing. Eastern mountains also have great forest trails, which can be a real challenge. Mountains in the west are often sunny with perfect conditions, but the trails are steep and avalanches are always a concern.
Activities 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 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 you 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 ski trip. You may be able to find some good deals at second-hand stores, especially for younger kids. Here are the basic necessities for most ski trips:
- Ski goggles – found at many sporting- goods stores or online. These are not usually available for rent, and they will cost a fortune if you buy them near the slopes.
- 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. If you buy Darn Tough socks between November 22, 2017 and the end of the year, you can get free shipping on your order.
- 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, whch will keep them warmer. Yes, it’s harder to get everything off for a pee break, but well worth the extra effort. REI garage is running a great deal on bib overalls by Obermeyer (winter 2017).
- 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 shop while you’re on vacation.
- Long underwear– Top and bottom, made of synthetic material, wool, or silk. Generally, the kids get Duofolds because they’re affordable. I splurged a few years ago on wool Ibex woolies (for myself) , and they’re still going strong. (Note: they’re on sale – winter 2017)
- 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. Here’s a look at some typical accommodations.
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.
Cabin rentals – Families and private companies often rent cabins near the ski mountain. These cabins can usually accommodate large numbers of people and offer a level of solitude that you won’t find at a big resort. HomeAway is a great resources for finding cabins for rent.
Hotels – Often the cheapest option, there will be many hotels to choose from near most ski resorts. Generally, hotel rooms will not have kitchens, so be prepared to dine out most nights. We find the cheapest rates on Trivago, which allows you to book all over the world.
Airbnb – Have you tried our Airbnb yet? There are people all over the world with extra rooms, apartments, and whole houses to share with you! Whether you stay for one night or a whole week, you’ll often discover significant cost savings. Your host will usually be a local, with helpful tips about the area where you’re staying. It may not be for everyone, but it’s worth researching Airbnb rentals near your mountain of choice.
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 is for early spring – late February to late March, depending on where you’re going. Spring is often the best time to find ski deals. 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? Family Off Duty has some great tips for learning to ski with kids.
Think skiing might not be the best winter vacation idea ever? Read this next:
Have you ever taken a family ski vacation? We’d love to hear your tips for making it memorable in the comments, and if you’re a pinner, we’d appreciate it if you would share this post.