Planning a ski trip has many steps. You need to determine your travel dates, find the right location, locate the best ski resorts in the area for your family, book lodging, get lift tickets, reserve lessons, think about your equipment and clothing needs and perhaps book flights or a rental car. There are other steps to take beyond reservations, as well. It takes some time to make decisions, find the best deals and get things booked. Some things are best done well in advance, whereas others can be taken care of later on. Here’s a handy timeline for planning a ski trip to help save some green (and your sanity) before making the hop to the slopes.
Timeline for Planning a Ski Trip with Family
Skiing as a parent is a bit different from skiing as a single person, so it requires more planning. I remember those last-minute college ski trips that magically came together when there was an epic snowfall and I was able to hop in an SUV with someone else and crash on their lily pad with them and 10 to 20 other friends. I have fond memories of those ski trips as a younger frog — perhaps I have mentally blocked out the sleepless nights surrounded by snoring people and surviving on sugar and caffeine, because that definitely went with the territory. But now I have my husband, Leap, who is learning to ski, and two tadpoles hopping along on our mountain journeys. Most of our favorite ski destinations require a plane ride, which is not easy to do last-minute, plus our schedules are complicated. It also turns out my standards and operating hours have changed so that sleeping on a couch or floor with near strangers is no longer my idea of a vacation, so I have to put some thought and advance planning into my ski trips and meet the needs of a family that includes a toddler, a tween and adults. If you have a family to take care of, or are a mature adult who needs a proper bed and meal (thank you very much), you’re probably on board with me. This post will help you plan that perfect ski trip!
Skiing During Holiday Periods
Before we get started, let’s discuss holiday and peak skiing. The time of year you want to ski will heavily influence how early you need to start planning and booking. If you want to ski between Christmas and New Years or even President's Day, which are peak holiday times at ski resorts, ideally you’ll want to start looking at deals in spring or summer (and sometimes up to a year ahead if you want a prime location). For other times, like spring skiing, it is not that critical to book so early — you might even leap for some last-minute ski deals during late season. So take any recommendations involving the best time to book a ski vacation and move earlier by a few months if you are skiing at a peak time for the best availability and prices. If you are a more experienced skier who is lucky enough to live within driving distance from a ski destination, your timeline may be shorter and you be able to take off-peak trips without as much advance planning.
6 Months to 1 Year Out — Plan, Research and Buy Passes
Up to a year in advance, you'll want to start researching your ski vacation. Identify the ski area(s) you’d like to visit. For example, narrow down a general location; maybe you want to check out the Denver area, Lake Tahoe or Utah. Research ski resorts in those areas to find the best ski resort for your family. Look over trail maps and mountain stats to see if they have the percentage of runs that will appeal to your family. You might see that a resort has a lot of terrain for begginer to intermediate skiers compared to others.
It can be challenging to look at prices during the off season when there are no lift tickets and lessons for sale, so let’s say you know a year in advance that you want to ski in Colorado next season. Go ahead and look on ski resort websites over a year in advance to get an idea of how much 7-day advance lift tickets and lessons cost for that time of year and compare the costs of different resorts in the area at both peak and non-peak times to help you plan and get an idea of costs so you can budget. You might learn that Keystone and Breckenridge cost a little less than, say, Vail and Beaver Creek, while still offering a great family environment, or that you can save a lot of money skiing when it is not a holiday weekend.
In your research, you might find that Northstar in Lake Tahoe has a lot to offer, and that the price is worth the pampering and terrain geared towards learning skiers. Or, you might decide to get an Epic Pass many months before the ski season begins that will be good for any of those resorts without blackout dates during the holidays so that makes it a stress-free, no-brainer decision and takes worrying about lift tickets off of your plate. Lift tickets are a large expense and are much higher these days compared to what they they were back in my college days, so locking in low prices early is a priority to me.
Start learning about the best time to ski for the areas you think you'd like to visit — some areas have better early or late season than others. Also, take a look at your school, sports and work calendars to choose the best time for your family. It may be when the tadpoles are off school, or maybe you can swing a trip during a less-crowded time. As one ski season comes to an end, the deals like multiday passes and multi-resort Epic Passes start sprouting up for the next year. When you start your planning early, you can get a jump on those savings. Plus, having a pass burning a hole in your pocket locks you in so you know you’re guaranteeing yourself a ski trip to use those passes and get your money’s worth!
Start shopping for flights to get a sense of airports you can fly directly into and which airlines fly there. Apply for a credit card with one of those airlines closer to a year in advance to get bonus miles, start earning more miles and maybe take advantage of perks like free checked bags for your party, or even free companion fares to save money. Maybe you can earn free flights by the time you are ready to book! Then, keep your eye out for sales and low price alerts. Sign up for email alerts for certain dates and cities so you can get the best deals.
If you want to get the very best deals on lift tickets or passes, then purchase a season pass or multi-resort pass between springtime the season before and up until early September. The Epic Pass is a multi-resort pass that is good at 24 ski resorts including Tahoe resorts (such as Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood), Park City, Utah and the Colorado resorts (such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and now additional days at Crested Butte and Telluride). Undercover Tourist sells 4 day, 7 day and unlimited Epic Passes good for the whole season with no blackouts or restrictions! What can we say? It’s epic. But prices steadily begin to climb starting in September, and the passes are only on sale before the season lifts off, so definitely buy early. You can buy before even nailing down a specific ski resort if all your choices happen to be on the Epic Pass. You can use the Epic Pass all at one resort or hop around, making them very convenient. Plus, if you choose to use them at the pricier resorts, you don’t have to stress about the cost of those lift tickets. Hop here for guidance if you aren’t sure how many days you need for a ski trip so you can buy the right Epic Pass for you.
2 to 6 Months Out — Book Hotels, Flights and Rental Cars
Several months before your trip, you should know which resort you want to visit and book your lodging and flights. It’s always the best time to book a ski vacation as soon as you know your dates so that you can get the best locations for the best prices. Good news! You can get a jump on discount family ski hotels when you book through Undercover Tourist (and even take advantage of kids ski free deals with lodging at resorts like Keystone). Bundle your hotel reservation with lift tickets and a rental car for even more savings. (We frogs love saving some green!) If you’ll need a rental car, lock in savings by reserving as soon as you book your flights, because the price goes up as availability goes down. If you are flying in or renting a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, now is the time to book.
1 to 2 Months Out — Rent Gear, Book Lessons and Assess Clothing Needs
It’s time to take a look at your ski clothing and gear. Line up all of your ski clothes and try everything on the tadpoles, who definitely grew since your last trip. (They always do.) Hand things down to the younger siblings and make note of items you need. If it’s your first ski trip, you can hop over to this post to get a sense of the ski gear you and your kids need to rent, buy or borrow. We love borrowing and accepting hand-me downs or finding used ski and snowboarding clothes to save money on a first ski trip … or any ski trip! It’s best to rent snowboards and ski equipment in the beginning, so set up your rentals in advance at this point. Psst! Undercover Tourist offers discount rental equipment, too! You should also book your ski lessons in advance to save money and to get the lessons and times you want, especially if you will be visiting at holiday or peak time. Look at your lesson packages to see what is included or required. Most lessons do not include equipment rentals or lift tickets, but some beginner packages do. Lessons require kids to wear helmets, and they are a good idea for everybody, so don’t forget to protect your own noggin, too.
2 Weeks to 1 Month — Last Chance to Buy Lift Tickets, Plan Fun and Manage Transportation
If you still do not have lift tickets, did not get an Epic Pass in time and did not get lift tickets when you booked lodging, then you definitely need to hop on it and purchase your lift tickets online at least 7 days in advance. You will save by purchasing multi-day tickets 7 days before your trip. You will pay the most money possible if you buy your tickets each day at the ticket counter, and you will be happy we won’t be standing there shaking our heads and saying, “told you so.”
Consider booking other reservations like tubing and snowmobiling a few weeks in advance, especially if you are traveling during a peak period. On a trip to Breckenridge between Christmas and New Years, the Frisco tubing was sold out well in advance for many days in a row, leading to many disappointed kids who could not get in. Don’t miss out by reserving early when you can! Arrange any airport transportation if you are not renting a car. If you are driving your own car, you might want to purchase or borrow the correct size snow chains. Sometimes you need to put them on your tires to continue driving, and sometimes the highway patrol will check to make sure you have them in the vehicle just in case. Having a flashlight in the car is always a good idea, so pack one. If you happen to have your own gear and are flying with it, you’ll need proper bags for your skis, snowboards and boots. You can borrow or buy. A really good snowboard bag or ski boot bag can hold all of your ski clothes, too, making it easy to keep all of your stuff organized and in one place.
This is also the time to check out the event calendars for ski resorts, hotels and ski towns. Look ahead to find all of the free entertainment and other fun things hoppening during your stay. Are there fireworks, festivals, parades, musical entertainment, snow play times, character meet-and-greets, free treats after skiing, game nights at the hotel, themed ice skating events or dress-up parties? Your kids will flip for this stuff. You want to be there and be prepared, so look ahead to see what’s going on so you can put it in your itinerary and pack that Hawaiian shirt, 80s outfit or 70s disco vest for the flashback party if there is one. Or, maybe you just want to make it easy for your family to spot you on the ski hill. No judgment (unless you paid full price for your lift tickets).
1 Week Until Trip Time — Get Packed, Meal Plan and Prepare for Weather
Pack your bags, print out your tickets, passes and reservation numbers and get organized. Weigh packed bags using a scale to make sure you meet airline limits and avoid extra fees. Make sure you know where to pick up rental equipment at the resort and where to meet for lessons. If you are driving and will have a kitchen, do some food shopping and meal planning while at home. If you are flying, make your grocery list so you can easily grab what you need from the grocery store when you arrive. If you have a special restaurant in mind, make a reservation if necessary. Be sure to pack essentials like sunscreen (face stick types work well and are easier for plane travel), lip balm with SPF and hand warmers. Start preparing your family for the rise in elevation by reading up on how to prevent altitude sickness. Check the weather report and road conditions so you’ll be prepared and safe. If it is snowing, you might need to pack chains for your tires.
It’s trip time! Your timeline for planning a ski trip has finally gotten you to this point. We hope you found these steps hopful. You are ready to ski and snowboard and to make a mountain of memories with your family.
Spy any tips we missed for planning a ski trip? What is your timeline for planning a ski trip with family like? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!