Congratulations! You've decide to take your first ski vacation. No more Christmases to Hawaii or the World of Mouse - possibly forever if you do it right. Winter ski vacations have become a way of life for thousands willing to make that investment in time, energy and money.
Those who hate winter might think you're crazy but we'd like to welcome you to the brave new world of down puffy coats and après ski. We don't take this lightly. We know it's a huge, complicated decision that starts with a four-figure budget for airfare, lodging, lift tickets, food and extra-curriculars. You've sacked up and decided this will be the year. But, now what?! When do you go? Where do you go? What will you bring? What can you do to help insure you have the ski trip of a lifetime?
Consumer surveys reveal that it takes at least three positive ski days to make a skier or boarder out of you. Here are some basics that should calm your planning nerves and have you and your family on your way to a lifetime of winter escapes.
When To Go
Because you're new to the sport, "when" you go isn't as important. As you get more experienced you'll care about deep powder or challenging moguls but for now, all you need are reliable snowmaking and temperatures above 20 °F and below 60 °F; sucks to learn to ski when you either can't feel your toes or the snow has slushed up to the feel of quicksand. You'll, hopefully, be able to avoid a holiday week because smart travelers know that you'll spend top dollar fighting crowds. However, if that's the only time off you've got, so be it.
Where To Go
You don't need terrain or powder or high-speed lifts if you've never skied before; in other words save those glitzy glam Aspen and Whistler excursions for later in life. You just need a place with at least 25 percent beginner terrain and 40 percent intermediate, a phenomenal ski school (to get you off the beginner slopes asap) and good massage therapists.
If you have someone in your family that refuse to actually ski, make sure you pick a place with other activities like shopping, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, spa-ing, movie theaters, tubing etc. If you're solo, you'll want fun bars; a family, cozy condos with easy access to the slopes; a couple, good food, places to stroll and a fireplace. Most established ski areas have a collection of these types of lodging.
What To Plan in Advance
Ski Lessons - Besides lodging and air, book ski lessons - both group and private- as soon as you can. The best instructors book out early, and even kids group lessons can sell out on holidays and weekends.
You absolutely do not want to get to the resort and find out you will have to teach yourself how to ski. For starters, it's not safe and, secondly, you get better a lot faster with a pro. Speaking of which, when you book your lesson(s), insist on a PSIA level 2 or higher instructor (or the Euro equivalent). "Level ones" have very little training or mountain experience at your particular resort. They are great for the kinders but not for adults looking to get the most bang for their buck.
Rental car - Most resorts have efficient (free) local transportation so catch an Uber from the airport and shuttle it the rest of the time. If you are staying outside of city limits like Santa Fe or Salt Lake City you'll need to get yourself an all-wheel-drive rental.
Equipment - Do not, I repeat, do not purchase new skis and boards for the family. You have no idea who's going to be a lifer until after the third day (see above). You don't want to drag a hundred pounds of skis, boards and poles through an airport and hotel. Booking your gear through a local rental shop means never being stuck with skis too long or too short or boots that pinch. You can switch out after the first run if you must. That said, I'm a huge fan of owning your own ski boots; if you were a bowler would you use those bowling alley rentals? Ick. But try skiing first and purchase boots right at the resort if you are committing to the sport. Experienced bootfitters like those at Park City Boot, Surefoot or Bootworks will know exactly what you need for your level. Future adjustments are included in the price if you have any subsequent pain or issues.
Dinner reservations - It's no fun waiting 45 minutes to eat after a long day on the hill. If you want a nice night out at a popular spot, make reservations. Make sure you ask your instructor and other locals for recommendations first. Dining in a ski town can cost you almost as much as a night's lodging. Plan wisely.
What To Bring
This is not a beach vacation where all you need is a bikini, shorts and sunscreen. Skiing is gear intensive. In addition to the bikini (think of the hottub) and sunscreen (you burn faster on the slopes than on sand), you'll want thick socks, baselayers, midlayers, outer layers, gloves, helmet, cute hats, goggles, waterproof after ski boots, casual clothes for walking around town and dining (no one gets dressed up for dinner). If you don't have a washer and dryer in your room then bring multiple sets of socks and baselayers. These get stinky after just one day (even the antimicrobial ones). Don't wear jeans and don't wear cotton anything (except maybe your moose pajamas). Once those fabrics get wet, they stay wet and clammy on you all day. Also, make sure those ski outer layers are waterproof.
What To Do When You Arrive
You're at the base of a ski area. You have reached "altitude" unless you're skiing in Alaska or Pennsylvania. Drink lots of water, avoid caffeine and hottubs, and get tons of rest before your first day on the hill …. if you're able. But when your plane lands at 11 p.m. that might not be an option so be ready to scramble. Don't drink alcohol on the plane and go with decaf in the morning. The last thing you need is a pounding headache and strained breathing while your instructor talks pizzas. It's called altitude sickness and it can ruin a vacation.
Your Lift Ticket To Ride
Go online the night before or in the morning and only purchase lift tickets you'll need for the first couple of days. You will save a few bucks over the prices at the ticket window and you won't get stuck with tickets you may not use. It's hard to know before you get there if everyone will feel like skiing every day. There are no refunds so you might be stuck skiing (or losing money) if you feel like taking a day off. BTW, you will still need to go to the window to get your pass so it's not about saving time.
Now that you've got your first day underway, make sure you stop and take it all in- the clean, chill air, the smiles of your family members, the rush of a sport you can now do for the rest of your life. Skiing is addictive. It offers something for the whole family because it's filled with excitement, energy, play and beauty. Plus, the kids are wiped out by dusk.
A winter trip leads you to cities and countries around the world and introduces you to some of the most amazing folks you wouldn't have met otherwise. It spans generations and makes memories of a lifetime. It's about time you packed those bags for the white room.