6 Tips for Taking Big Family Ski Trips

Jan 27, 2019

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Think Disney World is expensive? Well, you’re right, but skiing can be (much) pricier. Not only are one-day walk-up ski lift tickets rates as high as $209 per day, almost double that of Disney tickets, but you also need significantly more gear and clothing to ski than you do to hop on Space Mountain. All that doesn’t even touch the costs of mountain lodging, meals, etc.

However, there’s nothing like skiing down the mountain with your kids, parents, cousins and more. If you can pull it off (and we’ll help), skiing is the ultimate multigenerational family vacation. But before visions of grandma and cousins on snow dance too much through your head, here are six tips for a successful multigenerational ski trip.

1. Prepare for Sticker Shock

Baby boomers may have started their love of skiing as young adults in the ’70s and ’80s back when ski lift tickets were much more affordable than they are today. There was outrage when Aspen jumped to $35 lift tickets in 1987, and now a walk-up Aspen lift ticket is more than $150, with Vail topping out at an even more jaw-dropping $209 for just one day of skiing. Adjust for inflation all you want, but lift ticket prices have well outpaced inflation. If the boomer generation in your group hasn’t seen what lift ticket prices have done in a few years, be ready to help them through this. Relatively affordable skiing has transitioned from the one-trip lift ticket to the multi-mountain season pass, which may be overkill for one trip.

Your best play for a multigen ski trip may be to target mountains that have solid kids ski free programs and good senior discounts. Believe it or not, Aspen Snowmass sort of falls in that category by allowing kids 6 and under to ski free (higher age than most mountains) and senior tickets (65+) are more affordable than at many major mountains coming in around $106 on peak days and $258 if you wanted to ski three out of 10 days ($86 per day). While I think renting a large home is the best route for multigenerational ski trips, if someone wanted to stay right on Snowmass, the Westin Snowmass is a steal during the ski season at 35k Marriott Rewards points per night.

Since you’ll likely outlay a nice chunk of change whenever you hit the slopes, make sure to brush up on the best credit cards to use on ski trips before you leave home.

Westin Snowmass (photo courtesy of hotel)
Westin Snowmass (Photo courtesy of hotel)

Depending on the age of the seniors in your crew, you might be able to do much better than Aspen-level senior rates. For example, Arapahoe Basin in Colorado offers a discounted Senior Pass for only $105. This pass gives seniors age 70+ unlimited, unrestricted skiing/riding at A-Basin for the entire season. Nearby Loveland is even a few dollars less offering its senior 70+ season pass for just $99.

Arapahoe Basin, CO. (Photo via Shutterstock)
Arapahoe Basin, Colorado (Photo via Shutterstock)

Have a super senior in the crew? Telluride offers a Palmyra Pass completely for free to those 80+. Just 10 more years Grandpa Points! Those 5 and under ski for just $25 all year at Telluride.

2. Look to Smaller Mountains

Continuing on the theme of making multigen skiing somewhat affordable, if senior and kid discounts alone don’t bring the major mountain resorts into range, look to the smaller mountains. Not only will you find smaller prices for lift tickets, but everything from parking to lunch to rentals may be somewhat easier to manage.

For example, my senior skiing parents swear by Brian Head in Utah. Children and seniors ski on weekdays for $30 (half-days $25). Brian Head isn’t tiny, but it isn’t Vail or Breck massive either. There are eight lifts and 71 runs that can be yours, which may be the right amount with a wide ranges of ages and abilities. Weekends and holidays are just a little bit more.

You’ll also find half-day ski school at Brian Head (that doesn’t exist at big resorts) and snow tubing for just $20. Tubing at Keystone in Colorado is an absolute blast, but it is $39 for one person for one hour and you have to book well in advance for peak dates or forgetaboutit. In other words, small mountains may be a bit easier to both manage and afford for a multigenerational ski trip.

$39 snow tubing at Keystone.

3. Take a Day Off

In college, my friends and I would drive all night from Texas to Colorado or New Mexico and ski (or board, more accurately) all day every day that we were there. Being crazy 20-somethings, we’d probably drink a bit and stay up late, too. But, on a multigen ski trip with littles, grandparents and tired parents, don’t expect everyone to hit the slopes sun-up to sun-down. Take advantage of other near-mountain activities like sledding, tubing, ice skating, sleigh ride dinners or just hanging out for the day. After a couple of days on the mountain, everyone will probably be ready for a little rest, especially if skiing isn’t a regular activity for much of the group.

Grandma skiing at 68 and granddaughter skiing at 3
Grandma skiing at 68 and granddaughter skiing at 3.

4. Streamline Logistics (get skis delivered)

OK, we’re now leaving the budget-friendly tips for a bit, but I like to keep things simple. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the logistics of a big ski trip, one of the options is to have skis and boots brought to you and skip the ski shop visit. This is most helpful when traveling with the youngest generation, but it works for everyone willing to pay a bit more for convenience.

While there are several companies offering similar skis-brought-to-you services, I’ve personally used Ski Butlers for five years and have nothing but good things to say. On a recent multigeneration ski trip to Breckenridge, Ski Butlers brought skis for my two daughters and me right to the home rental. This allowed us to be there to greet everyone that was arriving and skip running around town getting our gear with travel-weary preschoolers.

Getting fitted by Ski Butlers.

If you do rent from Ski Butlers, sleuth around online for discount codes, as I can usually find at least a 20% discount code if I look hard enough. That helps knock the price down at least a little bit.

Ski Butlers doing their thing in the living room.

But whether you use Ski Butlers or not, the real goal on an extended family ski trip is just to streamline logistics. Get your lift tickets online ahead of time, reserve ski school, make dinner reservations if desired and book your non-ski activities in advance. If you have multiple generations involved, that means there are too many people to just “wing it,” especially during peak season when things around the mountain can and do sell out.

Dog sledding can be a great non-ski-day activity image by Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld / Getty Images)
Dog sledding can be a great non-ski-day activity. (Image by Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld / Getty Images)

5. Take Family Private Ski Lessons

If it’s been a minute since folks in your group have been on skis or boards, consider kicking off your big family ski trip with a private family ski lesson. This will be an investment, but it might not be as bad as you think if multiple people were going to sign up for a group lesson anyway.

For example, at Breckenridge, child ski school can cost $235 to $259 per child per day during peak holiday dates. On our second day of skiing, we knew the youngest kids probably couldn’t do a second day of full-day ski school (there is no group half-day option), so for about the same cost as sending three of them to ski school, they had their own half-day private lesson together.

This works for more than just kids — at many mountains you can book a private lesson for a group of adults or even for a mix of adults and kids. Naturally, the lesson will work best if most of the skiers/boarders are in roughly the same ability level, but it keeps everyone together while helping folks stay safe and improve their skills at the same time. The logistics are also much easier than group ski school drop-off and pickup. Not only that, but during a private lesson you probably also get to skip the lift lines, which can be almost worth it by itself at busy mountains on holiday dates!

6. Pick a Mountain Meeting Point and Time

When skiing with a big group at a major mountain, someone is probably going to get separated from the herd. Phones don’t always work on the mountain, and even if they do, batteries can die quickly in the cold. If the goal is to ski together, I highly recommend talking through where you are heading on the runs (instead of just playing follow the leader) and have some meeting spots outlined, even if that meeting spot doesn’t come until lunch.

Ski Colorado while staying at vacation rental

Saying, “let’s all meet up at 11am at Blue Moose Pizza at Lionshead at Vail for the $5 lunch special” is a much better plan than no plan at all (and yes, we lost adults on our trip … twice).

Bottom Line

Skiing as a family sport has been holding steady in the United States in terms of annual visitors since the late-70s, but it has not been increasing as you would expect to keep up with the increase in population. There’s no question a family beach trip can be cheaper and easier than a multigenerational ski trip, but there’s something special about experiencing the mountain as a family and then all crawling to the apres-ski hot tub in the evening.

There’s no better way to pass down the love of the way the snow sounds as you carve from one side of the mountain to the other than to load everyone up and experience it together.

A big family ski trip that ranges from preschoolers to grandparents takes thought and planning, but it can be done and we’re here to help you make it happen.

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