For some, the numerous hassles of planning a ski trip are more intimidating than bombing down couloirs. That’s why so many folks ski-trip the easy way—by tagging along and letting some other sucker do the mind-numbing planning. But there’s pride to be had in planning a successful trip and whether you like it or not a day will come when you are the most advanced skier/rider in the group (or you become a parent) and you inherit the responsibility. Here’s how to prepare for a trip they’ll remember forever.
Put a Date on it
For a bigger trip that involves accommodations, plan at least a month out. If it’s your first time, or if you have to coordinate with take-offs and landings, give yourself another couple weeks. To give you a gauge: Spring Break trips should be finalized in December or January. That’ll give you time to sort out all the hassles of pre-paid rooms versus reserved but cancelable rooms and other complications that accommodations bring. Search online for deals on accommodations and passes.
Know Your Snow (Weather)
Make sure you check out your specific mountain’s website every now and then as your snow day approaches. Although every mountain is in an alpine environment, the climates can change drastically from one day to the other. People were skiing in Colorado at Arapahoe Basin on October 17th this year, and the folks at Snoqualmie (as of January 2, 2014) were still dancing to the unresponsive snow gods as the winter continues on without them; know before you go.
This may sound obvious but: be prepared for the cold. Having bare skin exposed to the frigid temperatures at the top of the chairlifts is not gonna be fun for you or anyone you bring along. If your company includes absolute newbs, give them this standard inventory of stuff you need to go skiing for the first time. The stuff on this list is essential.
Print, Save, and Prepare Important Documents
Typically you can save yourself somewhere between 10–20% if you order and print out your lift pass and room confirmations beforehand. Once you’ve gotten ahead of all that, be sure to place these sacred papers somewhere safe. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world to ride up to the mountain and realize you forgot your ticket to ride—not speaking from experience or anything…
Transportation To the Mountain
Check the weather at the mountain before and the road conditions for the drive. Sliding all over an icy road isn’t always the best way to start a morning so throw some on some snow chains, an ice scraper, and whatever else you feel like you could use from this list of what the California DOT recommends you carry for winter travel.
And for those of you that don’t want to contribute to more cars on the road, the Amtrak train system lines up with a lot of the western resorts quite nicely, and it’s a very scenic, and somewhat fitting way to travel in the wintertime. And with lower fares on the Pacific Northwest tracks, getting around might suddenly not be as expensive it can sometimes be.
In fact, Amtrak has a pretty good deal with some of the different resorts in Colorado and Montana, so if you wanted to do it with some style, you could hop on a train, sleep in the cabin overnight, and wake up with your ski-pass in hand ready to hit the slopes.
And of course there is always the airplane route. If you’re throwing in plane tickets with your ski expenses, bundle your plane tickets and lodging accommodations together—it’ll saving you at least a couple hundred bucks. Priceline and CheapTickets are recommended ways for bundling everything together—but be sure to shop around.
And if you’re new to the sport, you can’t even be sure you’ll love it (you will though), so until then, check out some sites like RentSkis.com to get a bit of a better deal than the resort has to offer.
Transportation to the Mountain
If you’re coming from out of town, you’ll have to figure out how to get to the mountain. Lots of resorts, like Mission Ridge and Stevens Pass in Washington, are employing incentives for people to hop on the public bus. The Colorado Mountain Express (CME) will take you to most of the Vail Resorts in Colorado and Salt Lake City just extended their rail system so you can take the tracks from the airport, transfer on a bus, and be in Big or Little Cottonwood Canyons (Brighton Solitude, Alta, Snowbird, and the like) within a couple hours of landing. Check out your destination’s form of public transportation, and see if you can catch a ride with them.
More often than not, bigname resorts have some kind of deal like Breck for a Buck, or Park City Vacation Deals if you plan in advance. The big mountains out west all have everything you need for the beginner, and it will be gorgeous wherever you go. So follow the good deals.
Lodging & Bundling
As mentioned before, a really great way to save yourself some money and hassle is to buy all the big items at once. What you need to consider as the big items are things like your lift pass for the chair lift, your plane or train tickets if you took that route, your lodging confirmation, and finally your conformation paper if you rented a car as well. Luckily, with websites like Cheap Tickets, Family Vacation Critic, Expedia, and Clymb Adventures, a lot of different information and logistics are available at our fingertips. Undoubtedly however, one of the best places to just pick up lift passes is still Liftopia.
Food, Libations, & Mountain Town
Ready for $20 hamburgers and $10 domestics? The mountain shops can be a silent assassin on your debit card. Bring lots of TSA resistant beef jerkey to fuel up on (relatively) inexpensive protein in between runs.
Bring a camera, Ibuprofen, and some Emergen‑C and try not get get the flue right before your first planned ski trip.
Take it Easy
Just understand that everyone goes to the mountain for different reasons, and it’s not always about chasing pillow lines, hiking hills, and jumping bluffs. The mountain is not going anywhere, but it can sure send newbs back like a bad letter. Take the time in the beginning to learn correctly so you can do it the fun way for the rest of your life.
Ski Net: 2013–2014 Season Pass Roundup
Winter Vacation Tips — Lake Tahoe
California Department of Transportation — Winter Driving Tips
Newsday — A Beginner Guide to Planning a Ski Trip
Snowpak Blog — Robert Shirk