When you have your own ski equipment, it can save you time and money when you get to the ski hill. If you are driving to the mountain, just toss the skis in the back or on the roof, and you are ready to hop to it! However, flying with skis and snowboards is a little more complicated. Plus each airline can have a slightly different policy in regards to flying with skis.
You’ll want to know how to pack your skis and what fees you can expect to pay before you get to the airport. (Psst ... we also have some tried-and-true tips for saving money when flying to many popular family ski destinations!) Here are our top tips to flying with skis and snowboards so you're set for smooth travels!
Hoppin' Good Tips for Flying with Skis and Snowboards
How do I secure my equipment when flying with skis?
You can’t just show up to the airport with a loose set of skis and poles. You’ll need to purchase a travel bag (in advance) designed for skis, snowboards or boots. Ski bags range from a basic zip-up bag to contain them, to padded or hard bags that also protect them. Boot bags can vary from an inexpensive bag to hold just your boots, to higher-end bags that hold your helmet, as well, with pockets, nicer straps and maybe even backpack straps. You can find snowboard bags that can also act as your luggage, holding your boots and clothes for the journey. Generally, most airlines consider a ski bag and a boot bag together to be one item (as long at they do not exceed 50 pounds total). You can usually check the airline policy online on flying with skis under “sports equipment.”
Do your research before you pack your skis because some airlines might require a specific type of bag. Most airlines allow soft bags. But some require skis, poles and snowboard bags to be packed in a hard-shell case. If you have skied before and are deciding whether to buy or rent equipment, looking into the cost of renting versus buying ski gear can help you decide. The cost of getting your equipment there might help you determine what works best for you. Let’s face it; it’s kind of difficult to manage skis, boots and other luggage at the airport. (That's especially true if you have tadpoles to keep track of and strollers to push.) If you do not want to check ski boots, you can carry them on and put them in the overhead compartment, but those skis need to go underneath.
How much will it cost to check ski equipment?
The cost to transport your equipment may vary based on several factors. Airline baggage policies, credit card benefits and frequent flyer status can make a big difference. Finding out the cost is important before you book and even before you choose an airline. You can save money on a ski trip if you do your research. Some airlines (such Southwest) or certain cabin classes offer free checked bags, so your equipment will qualify for that. The state you are flying to and from can make a difference, as well. Did you know that airlines may waive oversize baggage fees for certain types of sports equipment for trips that are to or from California? It's something to look into when flying to Lake Tahoe or for Californians traveling out of state.
Free baggage can also be a benefit for airline credit card holders or people who have achieved a certain status with their frequent flyer miles. So read the fine print and ask questions to see if you have that benefit. Some general travel credit cards not associated with one airline will waive fees if you select a ” preferred airline.” On a recent trip, we discovered that a fellow traveler had free baggage benefits, along with free checked bags for up to five traveling companions! On a round-trip flight, that saved each person in the group $50 in checked baggage fees. That came out to $250 in savings!
Getting the best prices can require some research and planning. Discount airlines such as Frontier offer cheaper checked baggage prices for reserving baggage in advance compared to adding a bag at the check-in counter. Frontier also offers package deals or perks that give you checked bags, free carry-on bags, seat selection and priority seating for an additional fee when you book. These services cost more (and can vary based on peak travel), but buying the package is much less expensive than buying each perk individually, so you may end up saving money overall by adding a package. Note that on Frontier, the boot bag must weigh less than 25 pounds to qualify as one item when combined with a ski bag.
Take all of these factors into consideration when choosing an airline, because what seems like a more expensive flight initially might include certain benefits (perhaps checked baggage and seat assignments). That more expensive flight might save you money over the “bargain” flight after all of the factors are considered. Frontier also charges peak pricing, so your checked bag will cost more during the holidays than at non-peak times. Do your research before you buy that plane ticket when flying with skis. When I am researching flights, I make a chart with all of the extra fees for each airline to help me figure out which flight is actually the cheapest.
Generally, if an airline charges $25 (some airlines charge more) for each checked bag, then you’ll be paying $50 per set of equipment on a round-trip flight. Can you sneak more than one set of skis in a bag? Good question. We’ll cover that next as we continue our tips for traveling with skis.
One more thing about flying in 2021: You want flexibility without penalty. Be sure to find out your airline's cancellation or change fee policy before you book. Southwest has a great policy that allows you to apply the canceled flight's travel funds to future flights. Many other major airlines are waiving fees and being more flexible during this time so you can book with confidence.
What else can go inside the equipment bag?
Technically speaking, a ski bag usually has one set of skis and one set of poles. Have we sneaked an extra small set in? Yep. United Airlines allows up to two snowboards per bag or up to two pairs of skis per bag (as long as the bags are under 50 pounds). A boot bag should technically hold a pair of boots and a helmet. Both bags together should weigh less than 50 pounds total, so if you sneak that extra board in, it may set you over the limit when combined with a boot bag. Airlines usually waive the length of ski equipment and do not charge extra or oversize fees for ski and snowboard equipment.
Knowing how to pack for a ski trip will help you to maximize space and save money on luggage. If you have some lightweight items that you can stuff into boots (such as ski socks or neck warmers) and put your goggles, hat and gloves in the bag, you are likely to toadally get away with it. As long as the bag is not stuffed or heavy, it’s likely nobody will check. But be prepared to move things around if they call you out on it.
Have we stuffed a wet swimsuit, pair of gloves or hats in with the skis on our return trip? Every time. Have we stuffed our ski jacket in with the boots? Yes, we have. You can always pull a coat out of the bag and wear it on the plane if you have to, but it’s worth rolling it up and packing it in just in case. Ski clothes look bulky, but if you roll them up tightly, they tend to squeeze into tight spaces pretty well. Again, as long as you do it sparingly, you can get away with a few light items sharing space with your ski equipment. Keep in mind that if your bag is bursting at the seams, airline employees are going to have you remove items, so don’t push it.
Most snowboarding bags will easily hold all of your ski clothes. Tad has a wheeled snowboarding bag that doubles as his suitcase. It holds his boots, snowboard and all of his clothes. That makes it really easy to check one item and be done.
Where do I claim my equipment?
Once you land, head to baggage claim. When you get to baggage claim, you will usually find your skis and snowboards in the oversize luggage claim area. Ski equipment always seems to come out later than other luggage, so do not stress if you have your other bags and haven’t seen your skis yet. Grab a luggage cart to transport everything to your next step in transportation. Keep in mind if you happen to travel internationally and have a connection, sometimes you have to claim your checked luggage and recheck it if you have entered another country. When traveling from or through Vancouver to the United States, you go through U.S. Customs in Vancouver. If that is the case, make sure you have a lengthy connection to allow enough time. If your luggage does not make the international connection, neither do you.
How to make life easier when flying with skis or snowboards
It’s hard enough to travel with tadpoles, but adding on carry-on luggage, strollers and all of the ski equipment is physically demanding. As soon as you arrive at the airport, locate a luggage cart. Stack the suitcases and equipment on the cart to save your back. Pulling wheeled equipment bags is certainly easier than carrying them. A boot bag with backpack straps also helps. But definitely find that luggage cart!
Another tip for traveling with skis is to have each person count all of their bags before they start. That includes equipment, backpacks and suitcases (even car seats). This helps ensure that nothing gets left behind in a parking shuttle, car, plane or baggage claim area. You have a lot on your plate taking a family ski trip. These steps can save the day and your sanity!
If you are not sure if your equipment falls under the weight requirements, test it with a bathroom scale at home. That way you aren’t scrambling to repack at the check-in counter.
Tad offers some snowboarding travel advice amid our tips for traveling with skis. Flatten your bindings to make more room in your bag. If you like your straps in a certain spot, mark them with a permanent marker or paint so you can easily readjust them once you arrive. Always bring a Phillips head screwdriver with you to tighten your bindings, which get loose from the vibrations of travel. Yes, you can find them on the mountain, but it saves time and effort to have one with you.
I always stuff a small hand towel in my ski bag before the trip. With this, I can dry off my equipment before zipping it back up at the end of the journey. I leave it in the bag to absorb moisture while traveling and remove it once I get home. You want your equipment to last a long time, so you’ll want to take care of your investment. A padded bag can protect your skis better. However, we have a basic, thin bag, and it has never been a problem.
One of our favorite tips for flying with skis is to be realistic when packing. This also doubles as a space-saving tip. You generally do not need a lot of clothes outside of your ski gear. Unless you are going to a more fancy ski town, you generally need warm, casual clothes après ski. Snow boots may be the only shoes you need (unless you plan to hit the gym, in which case bring athletic shoes too).
Bring some warm, comfortable clothes. After a day of skiing, you will want to be cozy. And chances are, you'll be bundled up and nobody will see your clothes much anyway. You will only wear them for a few hours after skiing, so you can probably get multiple uses of them. After skiing and jacuzzi or pool time, we like to slip into some PJs and sit by the fire. Our regular clothes see very little use on a ski trip!
Rent a car that holds your equipment
Back when I first learned to ski as a froglet many years ago, skis were incredibly long and awkward to put in a car. With technology changes, skis are much shorter and fit in a trunk or back of an SUV or minivan. That being said, be sure to rent a vehicle that can hold your family and your equipment. A compact car is probably not going to cut it. We have more tips for managing ski gear on a ski trip to help keep you organized.
One more note about renting a car when flying with skis or snowboards. If you can choose a rental car company that is located at the airport, as opposed to a "bargain," lesser-known rental company that uses an off-airport shuttle, you'll save yourself some hassle and time with a shorter walk and easier rental car return (especially when flying in and out of Salt Lake City). When you book your ski hotel with Undercover Tourist, you can add on a rental car to unlock a hoppin' deal to save some extra "green" on your ride with a reputable car rental company.
You are on your way to an epic ski vacation! Hopefully, our tips for flying with skis and snowboards have you on your way to knowing how to pack your equipment and get it to the mountain. Just remember to do your research in advance and you won’t have any surprises at the airport! If you need a car to get you from the plane to the mountain or a place to stay near the slopes, be sure to check out our hoppin’ deals on car rentals and ski hotels. Your favorite froggy friends can also save you some green on discount lift tickets and Epic Pass Tickets. Ribbit!