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Ski Trip Planning: Beginner Tips to Plan the Perfect Ski Vacation

Wondering how to plan a ski trip? Ski vacations are a great way to enjoy the snow and have fun as a group but there are a few important ski trip planning tips you need to know and keep in mind to help you enjoy the trip.

ski chair lifts at sunset
Tips for planning a ski vacation

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Choosing the Right Ski Resort

The first tip for planning a ski vacation has to do with making sure you choose the right ski resort.

Resort Access

First, you should decide what resorts you can access easily. Are you looking to drive to a resort? You’ll need to be sure to monitor mountain pass and road conditions. You’ll likely need to pack properly for a winter road trip, including bringing chains.

If you’re planning to fly to a ski resort, you’ll need to determine how easy it is to access the ski resort from the airport. We love Keystone, Colorado, but it does require a shuttle service that takes almost two hours to get to the resort from Denver Airport.

If you’re not staying where you have easy access to the resort chair lifts and restaurants, you might need to rent a car to navigate to and around the resort.

Trail Map

Another tip I have for choosing a ski resort is to look at the resort trail map online and make sure the resort has chair lifts and ski runs that fit your family’s needs.

If you’re all novices, you’ll want a resort that has a few green runs that are perhaps varied in length. Often the main chair lift will offer easy access to the green runs but verify what runs the main chair lift feeds into.

ski run sign
Be sure to check what ski runs are available for your skill level when choosing a ski resort.

Winter Activities Beyond Skiing

Another thing to consider with your ski trip planning is whether the resort offers activities other than skiing. Sometimes families can get tired of non-stop skiing, especially young or novice skiers.

Often resorts will offer fun activities like tubing, snowshoeing, and even sleigh rides. We loved tubing and our sleigh ride dinner on our Keystone, Colorado vacation.

tubing at keystone
Do you want to do more than skiing on your trip?

Deciding Where to Stay

Now that you know what ski resort you want to go to, it’s time to choose where you want to stay at the resort. Here are my tips for picking the best accommodations for your ski trip.

Chair Lift Access

When you’re planning a ski vacation it’s a huge benefit if you can stay within walking distance to the main chair lift you plan to use. Some resorts will promote accommodations that have “ski-in/ski-out” access. This means you can access the chair lift easily by walking, no car or shuttle needed.

We stayed at the River Run Village at Keystone and I loved that our condo rental was in easy walking distance to the Summit Express Chair Lift and the main village. We would walk easily from our room to ski and eat. This also meant it was easy to take mid-day breaks and eat lunch in our condo.

These types of accommodations do often come with a higher cost, however, our family finds it worth a bit of added expense because we actually get more time on the slopes and don’t have to fight with full parking lots.

Kitchen / Grocery Service

Our family loves to stay in rooms that have a kitchen. With ski vacations, you’ll often get tired on the hill and there’s nothing quite like being able to come back and get cozy for dinner. It’s nice to take mid-day breaks for lunch and really nice to enjoy some soup for dinner in our PJs after being cold and busy all day.

You can also sometimes get grocery delivery services to your resort, so consider asking about that when you’re choosing your resort. If you have a kitchen but the resort doesn’t offer grocery delivery service, research other delivery options, or make sure to plan to shop before you head to the resort.

Amenities

If you’re staying for a longer trip you’ll probably want to have some things to do when you’re enjoying downtime off the slopes. Hot tubs are extremely popular, it’s fun to relax in the warmth when it’s cold outside. Indoor activities like pool tables or movie theaters can be another great off-slope amenity.

keystone river run pool
Tips for choosing where to stay on a ski vacation.

Buying Lift Tickets

Once you’ve picked your resort and figured out where to stay it’s time to get your lift tickets. Here are some tips to help that might help you save some money.

Discounts

If you’re planning a family ski trip, it’s a good idea to look into any free lift ticket programs for students. Epic Pass offers kids in K-5 to get four free days as long as they’re registered by mid-October. Utah, Colorado, Idaho, and other states often offer a free ski pass to 5th (and sometimes 6th graders), although there can be blackout dates. Some resorts might even offer student discount lift tickets for other ages, such as college kids.

Many of the popular ski resorts will offer discounts for military personnel. I’ve occasionally found ski ticket deals at Costco. Most resorts also offer discounted passes for afternoon/evening skiing, although these often don’t work for a full ski vacation it might work for your first day.

Recently I’ve seen some great lift ticket prices at Undercover Tourist for many of the popular west coast ski resorts. You can also get deals on accommodations and packages with them as well.

If you’re planning to ski at a few resorts, or make more than one trip, look into the EPIC or ICON passes. They are like membership passes you can pay a flat rate for and get access to multiple ski resorts. You get the best deal when you buy BEFORE the ski season starts. We buy an EPIC four visit pass every year for our local ski resort, Stevens Pass.

I’ll also mention that Alaska Airlines has a ski pass program that gives you a free lift ticket with your boarding pass on the day you fly to certain ski resort airports. This can help you get a free day on the slopes, just be sure to read my tips below about altitude sickness!

Buy in Advance

If none of the above discounts work for you then your best bet for a deal is going to be buying your lift tickets in advance online. I know our local hill charges $112 for a one-day lift ticket, but if you buy online in advance you only pay $100.

Avoiding Altitude Sickness

Adjustment Time

Something that many novice skiers don’t account for is altitude sickness. Since we live in Seattle, basically at sea level, our family is especially susceptible to it. Whenever you’re traveling to a much higher elevation, your body will have some reaction to the less oxygenated air.

I highly recommend you allow a day of adjustment before heading up the mountain if you can. You need to give your body time to adjust to the thinner air and altitude change. Some people swear by taking these oxygen shots to help their bodies adjust.

Lots of Water

Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated is a huge factor in avoiding altitude sickness. And don’t just wait to get on the hill before you start drinking, start the day before making sure you’re well hydrated.

It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re eating well and getting enough calories. You’ll need more at higher elevations. And while I don’t like this rule on vacation, avoiding alcohol early on can be helpful.

Watch for symptoms of altitude sickness like a headache, nausea, dizziness, throwing up, feeling tired, shortness of breath. If you start experiencing symptoms, move to a lower elevation and rest. If you develop more severe symptoms seek medical care.

Gear Rentals

When you’re planning a ski trip, you’re going to have to figure out how you want to get your ski gear. If you’re an avid skier, you probably have your own ski gear. However, it’s important to consider baggage fees that will be charged for you to bring your skis or snowboard along. They count as oversized gear and often have added fees beyond the standard baggage fees.

All of the major ski resorts have gear rentals for packages that include the skis/board, boots, and a helmet. Depending on your airline fees it might be cheaper to rent gear for your trip.

If you are renting gear, try to pick it up a day early or ask if they will deliver it to your room/resort (this only works if you know what sizes you need). Gear rental lines can get long and it can easily take an hour out of your day if you show up during a busy time.

Also, ask your resort or if you’re taking ski lessons if they have any gear rental discounts. And check online for coupons. The gear rentals are normally done through a third party shop and sometimes they run specials that might save you money.

Ski Lessons

If you’re reading this, there’s a chance that you’re somewhat new to taking ski vacations. If that’s a case, then you might want to budget for a ski lesson at the resort on your first day. Even a half-day lesson can benefit you.

Ski lessons can help you get acquainted with the mountain and sometimes get you to shortcut access to the chair lift lines and gear rental lines. Your instructor can also help guide you to the best runs and give you some tips for unique spots at that specific resort.

Ski lessons also are great for parents who want to have a ski date while their kids work on improving their ski skills.

Packing for a Ski Vacation

My last bit of advice is all about packing. Making sure you’re well equipped for your ski vacation is a huge part of making sure you’ll enjoy the trip. Be sure to check the local weather forecast and pack clothing that will help you deal with the conditions.

In addition to packing your ski gear like jackets, pants, gloves, skis, boots, helmet, and goggles, you’ll also need to pack clothing to wear under your ski gear.

Plus, you need to pack clothes that you can wear around the village off the mountain and all the little extras that will help you on and off the slopes.

Get my full list and a printable ski trip packing list.

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