Insider Tips For Your Next Ski Vacation

Written by Alexa Owen • Mar 28, 2016

Several weeks ago, Snowpak distributed a survey to ski industry insiders to get as much helpful information as we could on how to have the best ski vacation ever at 30+ ski resorts across North America. While we we’ve been offering you plenty of tips on how to get the best deals, what to pack, where to go, and what to do when you get there, we also know that there are some secrets one simply cannot know about a ski resort unless you’ve lived there. Ski towns are chock full of local lore detailing the best powder stashes and areas to ski when the slopes get crowded, and knowing these things before setting foot in the place can make a good vacation great. This information is priceless in the ski world.

We asked insiders 3 questions:

  1. What is the biggest misconception about skiing your resort?
  2. What secret gem have you found while skiing there?
  3. Do you have any tips for skiers new to the mountain?

In the results, we listed resorts individually. Here, we’ll go through some of the main themes that came up for each question, and offer additional advice based on insider responses.

Question: What is the biggest misconception about skiing your resort?

Misconceptions centered around individual reputations that ski resorts have developed over the years. It’s common to hear that a mountain is flat or easy, when in reality, you can find challenging pitches off-the-beaten path. Here are some examples of resorts that are known for their mellow aspects, but according to these insiders, have challenging terrain to offer:

Heavenly, CA

Kyle says…

What is the biggest misconception about skiing Heavenly?

"That it’s not steep."

Keystone, CO

Alex says…

What is the biggest misconception about skiing Keystone?

"That there’s not enough advanced terrain."

Steamboat, CO

Steve says…

What is the biggest misconception about skiing Steamboat?

"That there’s not enough challenging terrain."

Okemo, VT

Tom says…

What is the biggest misconception about skiing Okemo?

"That Okemo only has intermediate and beginner terrain. There are some great glades trails if you ask around."

Some resorts have a reputation for being too easy, some too difficult, some too crowded. But what we’ve seen in these results is that you can’t judge a ski resort by what the masses say. Why? Because the masses are usually visiting once a year, and during the busiest, most stressful vacation periods at that.

According to Vail insiders, the resort doesn’t suffer from painfully long lift lines, especially if you avoid vacation weeks.

According to folks at Whiteface (and despite its nickname, Iceface), the resort is not “too icy to have fun.”

If you’ve been avoiding Montana because you think it’s too cold, check out what locals had to say about Bridger Bowl: as it turns out, the resort is not always cold.

Curious about the other misconceptions? For the complete results, click here.

Question: What secret gem have you found while skiing there?

This was a loaded question, and as you can guess, some of our insiders didn’t want to spill their best secrets. But lucky for you, a lot them did! If you find yourself living in a ski town one day, you will discover that some powder stashes, backcountry lines, and even après watering holes take years to discover. Think of it as a rite of passage. From what we’ve seen in these results, the biggest, best secret gems may not have been revealed, but there are several that will help you pick your best line on a powder day. Here are a few of our favorites:

Mt. Bachelor, OR

Matt says…

What secret gem have you found while skiing there?

“Tree drops set up all over the place if you know where to look; steeps; cliffs; pillow lines; crazy wave-like windblown features…just to name a few.”

Fernie, BC

Bryan says…

What secret gem have you found while skiing there?

“The area between Cedar Bowl and Lizard Bowl leading to boomerang chair has some great tree runs that barely anyone goes down.”

Sugarbush, VT

Amy says…

What secret gem have you found while skiing there?

“Mt. Ellen. No one ever goes, it’s more natural snow, and there are rarely any lift lines. Trails are much more classic Vermont.”

Secret gems - like trails to ski to avoid lift lines and north-facing aspects to ride for the best snow - will help you find the best slopes on your first day. Stay within your ability level, but know that not all green circles or blue squares or black diamonds are created equal. Some will have much better snow, less crowds, or interesting features than others. For all the insider secret gems, check out the full results here.

Question: Do you have any tips for skiers new to the mountain?

The survey responses to this question are likely the most helpful for Snowpak readers and those interested in crafting their best ski vacations to date. Insiders shared helpful hints specifically geared toward showing tourists the best of what their mountains have to offer. Some of the responses were extremely specific in terms of which lifts to ride and what trails to ski:

Breckenridge, CO

James says…

Do you have any tips for skiers new to the mountain?

"Ride Kensho on a busy day, avoid Peak 7 base during busy hours, make the Peak 6 hike at least once, check for wind conditions before you go."

Park City, UT

Tyler says…

Do you have any tips for skiers new to the mountain?

“For powder days, go to The Canyons side of the resort. There’s a run called Ecstasy that’s fantastic in powder.”

Loveland, CO

Andy says…

Do you have any tips for skiers new to the mountain?

"If the snow is soft, pick up a free cat ride pass at the season pass office. Take the free ride up to Field of Dreams. Enjoy."

Others shared general tips for enjoying your ski vacation. We’re betting you’ll be surprised by some. Ryan from Jackson Hole, for example, tells skiers, “drink less and stay in shape year-round.” One of the biggest detriments to your ski vacation (especially to a monster of a mountain like Jackson Hole) could be not being able to ski the way you’d like to ski, or for as long as you’d like to each day. We agree with Ryan that staying in shape year-round is the best way to prepare for a ski vacation, but if you just booked one and you haven’t been to the gym in months, be sure to at least drink lots of water to prepare for high-altitude sun and oxygen changes.

Ben from Tamarack Resort encourages skiers and riders to “look between the runs.” Insiders from a few other resorts said the same. Hidden powder stashes, tree lines, and natural features are often between marked trails. Even on intermediate runs, dipping briefly into the trees on either side can be thrilling for youngsters. If there’s an orange rope or “closed” sign, don’t poach. It’s dangerous, and patrol will take away your lift ticket.

Steffen from Mt. Hood Meadows brought up snow quality: “Pacific Northwest powder is heavier, slower, and more difficult to ski than powder in Utah or Colorado.” We love skiing in the PNW, and so will you, but be aware that the snow is dense. It’s more difficult for young kids and less advanced skiers. If powder is what you seek, you’ll find the lightest quality in states like Colorado, Utah, and Montana

If ski vacation quality for you means less crowds, take this tip from Andrew at Steamboat: “If you can make it work, don’t come when all the kids have off school.” Peak vacation periods exist because of school vacations. Those periods are Christmas week in December, Presidents week in February, and Spring Break in March and April (this last one varies a bit). There will likely be more crowds, longer lines, and higher prices during these times. If you have the flexibility to travel outside of these weeks, the slopes will be quieter. (We will say that a perk to skiing during peak weeks is that there are tons of activities going on; choose what’s best for you.)

One of the tips insiders often give is to talk to locals for the best advice. This is a great way to get to know the mountain, the town, the events, and the quirky culture. Brendan from Big Sky recommends skiers “get to know folks, it’s a big mountain.” So look up from the “interactive” trail map on your phone, say hi to the person next to you, and get the best tips to enjoy your days on the mountain.

Lastly, there always seems to be a pressure to have the perfect vacation. But this is a ski vacation: it could rain or sleet, the lift lines may be long, the slopes may be crowded, the kids might get sick. You could also have the best powder days of the season, lap empty lift lines all day, enjoy the wide open slopes for yourself, and enjoy day after day of fun with your family. We like Linda from Okemo’s top advice for those who cling to the perfect vacation idea: “Have fun! Relax! Enjoy the beautiful scenery that the Green Mountains provide us.”

Enjoy. Relax. Have fun. Whether you’re flying to Tahoe or driving to the next state over for your next ski vacation, remember that it is, after all, a vacation. Curious if your next destination is on the survey results? Check out the full list here. If you have something ski vacationers should know about skiing at your home mountain, let us know in the comments below.