How to Plan a Ski Trip

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 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.

Lift Tick­ets
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 Crit­icExpe­dia, 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.

Extra Ameni­ties
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.

Addi­tion­al Resources

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