The first snow is falling, and all you can think is how are you going to take time off of work to head out to the fresh blanket covering rocks, grass, and trees. You start at the local mountain perfecting those turns and remembering the burning quad muscles. But the local resorts are familiar and you want more.
I’m itching to ski and feel the bitter cold wind on my face as I race down groomers and off-piste terrain. It’s time to start planning our winter skications. Where do you start?
You plan. You look at the terrain, best snow conditions, places you have friends or tickets, and hope that all the moving parts click to make a memorable trip to the mountains. Here are a few tips on how to plan a ski vacation.
Pick a resort that fits your skiing ability and research it. Memorize the bowls and the terrain difficulty. Plan routes and try to find the local stashes when the fresh snow arrives.
2. Create a Reasonable Budget
Set a budget for your trip and then work backwards. It will help plan how long you can afford to be out of the office and hitting the slopes since the prices can add up fast.
3. Resort Passes
Knowing the industry is super helpful when pricing ski passes. Holidays usually will be crowded and expensive to travel and may have blackout days on partner ski alliances. It will also be hard to negotiate discounted rates. Below are some tips to consider when buying ski passes.
Check for discounts or package rates on the ski resort’s website. If you don’t qualify for any, see if Liftopia or discount lift ticket sites have any offers. Skim local forums and discussion boards to see if gas stations or grocery stores offer any promotions for the resort. We have found buy-one-get-one in the past. If you’re by yourself or have an odd number, find someone at the resort to split the costs and make a new friend.
Some ski resorts partner with others to offer discounted or free passes if you have a season pass. Create a map of all the resorts covered under your season pass(es). If you’re obsessing at maximizing your skications, make a spreadsheet and group them by region and interest level.
Full Price Passes
You have your heart set to ski on a specific resort at a certain time and are unable to find any discounts or perks. Bite the bullet and save money elsewhere.
Want to save money and have learned how to assess snow conditions? Consider taking an avalanche course through an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE). After feeling comfortable, head to the backcountry for an overnight tour. Snow camping and skiing is a great break from crowded resorts but does require more gear.
Don’t have time to plan a backcountry ski trip on your own? A guided trip or hut-to-hut trip is an option. Ski huts can keep you warm and dry at night than sleeping in a snow-covered tent. Guided trips can cater to your experience levels.
Dirtbag, budget, or luxury? Reserving rooms and finding the best price takes planning, but it’s worth it. Ask yourself how you want to travel (see transportation below).
Car, Camper van, or RV
Save some money and sleep in your car or rent an RV. It’s ok if you don’t have to have a large RV or camper van. We have an SUV and fold down the backseats and sleep in the car. It may be best to pack a down sleeping bag and sleeping pad and store everything else in a roof box. It’s a great option if planning on hitting up multiple resorts for only a few days here and there.
Hostel, Motel, or Hotel
Save money and stay at a hostel, motel, or hotel. It’s possible to find a hidden gem that is affordable and close by. Don’t forget you paid for a ticket, so make the most of it stay on the slopes longer. Hostels are a great way to meet other riders if traveling alone or in a small group. However, if you have a few friends, it’s better to go in on a rental property and split the cost.
Rental properties are the hybrid between motels or hotels and ski villages. Rental properties are usually owned vacation homes and rented out by third-party sites like Glamping Hub or AirBnB. I have stayed in a 12-person cabin rental close to the resort. It’s always fun to have all your ski friends join you.
Location, location, location. Pay premium for proximity to the slopes. If lucky, find a rental property that offers the ski-in/out luxury. Some of the larger ski resorts also have ski villages. Shops, restaurants, art galleries, and spas attract skiers and non-skiers alike searching for a winter getaway. These are usually high-end hotel chains with amenities. It’s a great place for a romantic vacation.
Cars, airplanes, and trains! Buses and shuttles are also great options if you’re staying with a friend and need to get to the resort without a rental car. All can get you where you need to go, but what’s the best option for you?
Cars are more flexible as you set your own departure and arrival times. Want to add a ski resort or attraction? No problem! No need to limit packing though less can save on gas mileage and keep you organized. Add a roof box and store all the gear you can. Sleep along the way or try the red-eye road trip, where at least two people take shifts at driving. When you fly or take a train, you’re either restricted to shuttles or rental cars.
Create a map and break out the locations by days. Add the total mileage and divide it by your car’s average miles per gallon and multiply the average cost per gallon of gas. Add it to your budget.
Unlike cars, trains can’t get you everywhere, especially in the United States. I have yet to capitalize on this option but try when planning. I can’t think of a better way to travel than to spend the night on a train and wake up at the destination. However, trains, similar to airplanes, charge a fee for excessive baggage and oversized luggage, so bringing your skis may add to the train ticket.
If you’re flying, compare the prices for checking ski gear versus demoing rental skis. Airplanes allow you to sit back and relax without the stress of snow-covered roads and limited daylight hours. Flying is the shortest, most convenient option. Though, flights to popular winter destinations, like Jackson Hole, can be costly or a drive away. You may still have to rent a car to get to and around the towns.
Pro tip: Always pack your ski boots and helmets. Ski boots are usually custom fit or broken in for your foot. You will have a better time on the mountain if your feet are happy. As for helmets, I hope it’s a no-brainer.
6. Monitor Weather Conditions
Bank up the vacation days and be ready to hit the road when the conditions are good. Get a sense of how much snow is forecasted and find the resorts with the most.
7. Other Expenses
Rental gear, cars, and food all are added expenses that can be missed in the initial planning.