Family ski vacation expert Amy Whitley answers 4 of the most commonly asked questions by skiing families.
Question #1: "Should we rent or buy ski or snowboard equipment for our kids?"
Great question! It can be hard enough outfitting an entire family for skiing and snowboarding once, let alone once per year, every year! Kids grow fast, and ski equipment is expensive. However, whether to rent or buy depends on how often you plan to ski, and where. If you plan to take one or two destination ski trips far from home, renting at the resort can be your best bet. Opt for week-long rentals instead of daily, or look for a ski package that includes rentals. If that's not possible, do your research and find a ski rental company local to your resort. Many will deliver ski rentals to your vacation home or condo and charge less than the resort ski rental shop.
If you plan to ski consistently throughout the season at a home resort, check for a ski or snowboard exchange program at your local ski shop. Here's how most work: pay a one-time fee per child, outfit him or her in skis, boots, and poles (or boots and board), and exchange the equipment for the next size up annually for up to three years. Want to buy outright? Start at your local ski swap or your local Craigslist page. Kids' gear is always on the market, always a bargain, and often almost new.
Question #2: "What age should my kids start skiing and snowboarding?"
As with any skill, the answer depends on the child. That said, we started all three of our kids on skis at age three. Was it always easy? No, just getting them into snow pants can be daunting! But starting early pays off: at most resorts kids ski free or for a deep discount until age 5-6, and beginning early ensures they consider skiing a natural part of winter fun.
The prime goal for early skiers is fun: don't sweat it if your preschooler takes two runs and decides to spend the remainder of the day making snowballs or drinking hot chocolate (his lift ticket was free, remember!). At the end of the day, if young skiers are smiling, it's been a successful 'lesson'. There's a reason why most resorts offer ski and play programs for this age group: experience on the snow should be coupled with lots of games, breaks, and play. During a ski vacation, look for a ski school that offers lessons for two hours or less for this age group, then indoor and outdoor activities in addition to a quiet time or nap.
Question #3: "Are there ways to save money on ski and snowboard lessons?"
Your vacation budget definitely takes a hit when ski or snowboard lessons are added to the itinerary. But they're an important part of any family ski vacation with beginner or intermediate skiers and riders. Plus, enrolling the kids in ski school gives parents some alone time on the slopes (or in the spa...your choice!.
There are ways to save money on lessons. First, consider a private lesson instead of a group lesson. Yes, yes, private lessons are more expensive, but wait! At most resorts, it's permitted to enroll up to an entire family in one private lesson. Allowing siblings to share one lesson (or Mom and Dad, too!) is often less money than enrolling each child in a group lesson. As a bonus, they'll get more individualized attention and get to stay together.
Look for packages that bundle lessons with rentals and lift tickets. This is only a deal if your child is of lift ticket fee age (as opposed to free), but if you do have to pony up for his or her ticket, getting a lesson as well can sure take the sting out of it.
If you plan to ski at a local resort all season long, look for a youth ski racing or freestyle program. Our kids learned to ski in an alpine downhill racing program, and had fun racing while learning basic skills. The cost of a racing program can seem high, but most include full-day lessons at least once per week for up to nine weeks. When compared to the cost of nine one-day lessons at a resort, you're getting a deal!
If your family is already advanced in skiing or snowboarding, consider a mountain tour during your ski vacation. Most resorts offer these tours for free at designated times (often 10 am and 1 pm). A mountain tour is a great way to learn inside tips from a local expert, find 'secret' runs and hidden stashes, and learn more about the resort in an intimate setting.
Question #4: "How can we save money on dining during a family ski vacation?"
Three words: your own kitchen. Many ski resort condos, town homes, vacation rentals, and even suites now include a full kitchen. Grocery shop before arriving, and make your own breakfasts and dinners in-house. We like to treat ourselves by eating lunch on the mountain in the resort lodges, but if you're in ski-in, ski-out accommodations, you could stop back 'home' for lunch, too.
Pack healthy snack options in each child's ski jacket pocket before heading to the slopes in the mornings (we like granola bars, trail mix, or energy bars), and use hydration packs to stay hydrated all day. (Kids won't need multiple bottled drinks in the lodge.) In the evenings, we like to treat ourselves to s'mores: many resort villages include communal fire pits where families can gather to share s'more making ingredients, or resorts themselves may pass out the goods.