8 tips for planning a fun-filled family ski trip as a first-timer
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Editor’s note: Vail Resorts provided TPG complimentary ski lessons, lift tickets, equipment, several meals, some entertainment and a spa treatment. The opinions expressed below are entirely from the author and weren’t subject to review by Vail Resorts or any external entity.
I didn’t grow up going on the annual ski vacation as some others did. As a kid born and raised in South Florida, our family trips typically consisted of holidays to warm destinations. A few nights at Disney, a jaunt to nearby beach towns in southwest Florida or a visit to Colombia to see relatives.
However, now as a husband and dad, I wanted to scratch the itch of experiencing my very first ski trip — with family in tow.
We recently returned home from a weeklong family ski trip in Colorado with a new experience under our snow boots and lots of lessons learned.
Here is what I learned from our first-time family ski trip.
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This sounds obvious, but there is cold and then there’s cold.
And if you aren’t used to real cold on a regular basis, this tip is for you.
From layering up with the appropriate waterproof outerwear to snapping on ski boots and assuring you have appropriate gloves and hoodies to brave the cold, it’s imperative to be prepared with the right gear prior to your first ski experience.
As a South Florida family, the struggle began before we even put on our skis or went to a lesson as we dressed in layers and layers of clothing and put on all our ski equipment. Especially when you are learning, make sure your outer layer of clothing is waterproof for the invariable spills in the snow, and invest in some wool ski socks and thermal underwear to keep your body heat intact.
I tried to flex my bravery on the second day of skiing and wear only three layers (long sleeve shirt, warm fleece, and ski jacket). As a result, I spent the entire morning high up on the mountain attempting (unsuccessfully) to stay warm, which directly impacted my ski learning and overall enjoyment.
Ski school for beginners is a must
I made no assumption that I’d pick up skiing with ease, despite having a natural inclination to grasp sports without much trouble. And boy was I right.
Skiing is an entirely different animal, and I learned that attending ski school is an absolute must prior to your first time out on the slopes, even if you are generally quick at picking things up. Once we got out to Keystone Resort for our very first lesson, we encountered klutzy falls and the look of defeat from the faces of each of my family members — myself very much included. All of that happened in just the first hour of our first lesson.
By the time our next ski school session in Vail came around a few days later, we had grasped the fundamentals of skiing and could maneuver effortlessly down the beginner slopes. So not only do you need lessons, but you need to accept that the first day or two probably won’t be where the fun really happens.
Budget appropriately for a ski vacation
An annual ski trip in the winter months is the highlight of many families’ schedules.
Beyond airfare and lodging — which take up a big chunk of a ski vacation budget but can be offset with the right travel rewards earned from the best travel credit cards — a ski vacation consists of other high-ticket items. There are ski lessons, gear rentals, lift tickets and more.
While the cost of private lessons is extremely beneficial towards establishing the groundwork for skiing, the price can be exorbitant, especially if it’s just for one or two people. Naturally, the more in your group that can share the lesson, the less the per-person burden may be.
There are more affordable group lessons for up to six students that will facilitate your learning at a fraction of the cost of a private lesson, especially if there are only one or two in your group that need lessons.
As far as weighing the cost of lift tickets, consider whether or not a multi-mountain pass, such as the Epic Pass, is right for you — or if you’re better off with individual mountain lift tickets. Epic Pass products come with Epic Mountain Rewards, which offers pass holders ski trip deals, including 20 percent off on-mountain dining, lodging, group ski and ride school lessons, equipment rentals and more at Vail Resorts’ 34 owned and operated North American resorts.
Since we were visiting the popular Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek areas early in the ski season (when snowfall isn’t as abundant), I started looking at hotel options well in advance and had no trouble finding moderately-priced hotels and booking free hotel night awards.
If you’re flexible on your ski vacation dates and can book ahead of time, then you’ll likely have the best shot at snagging a good deal and saving on your ski vacation. If you’re planning your family ski trip, make sure to budget for flights, hotels, ski equipment and lift tickets as early as possible, which will help you estimate your trip’s cost more accurately.
Seek ski-in/ski-out access
Lugging around ski equipment from the hotel room to your rental car and back to the ski resort is no fun — at all.
While most of the resorts in Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek offer red wagons to help families schlep equipment from the parking lot to the base of the mountain, undoubtedly the most convenient and stress-free way to ski is to stay at a resort with ski-in/ski-out access.
I strategically chose two points-friendly hotels conveniently located near ski resorts — Hyatt Place Keystone and Park Hyatt Beaver Creek — but both still required a short drive to take part in actual skiing on our trip. The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek usually has true ski-in, ski-out access for hotel guests, but Beaver Creek was experiencing a heatwave and snowfall was in short supply, so the resort area was forced to delay its opening.
While Vail had better ski conditions, I had no qualms about choosing to stay at the fabulous Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and driving into Vail for this trip.
However, the next time I visit, I’ll make it a point of emphasis to research the hotels with easy ski access for guests and track snowfall, in order to facilitate a smoother ski experience as it makes a huge difference.
Don’t rely on snow making
The Vail Resorts and surrounding properties have impressive snowmaking capabilities, using snow cannons to force water and pressurized air into creating powdery white snow for skiers and snowboarders.
However, if mother nature isn’t cooperating, then it’s a tall task to expect these artificial snowmakers to produce enough snow to accelerate the start of the ski season. Therefore, when you go is as important, if not more, than where you go or stay. For planning purposes, the months of February and March typically produce the most snowfall in Colorado, so plan your trip accordingly if you don’t want to be at the mercy of snowmaking machines.
Related: Best times to visit Colorado
Temper your expectations
If you’re heading to high ski mountains, remember that altitude adjustment impacts your ability to ski, so temper your expectations.
When we first arrived in Keystone, my family almost immediately had a tough time catching our breath — and that’s even before we hit the slopes. With a base elevation of 9,280 feet at Keystone, and coming from Miami which sits just slightly above sea level, we needed our bodies to adjust to the elevation.
Thankfully, most hotels in high-elevation Colorado ski towns have humidifiers on hand to help ease the breathing of guests. You may want to lower expectations for yourself on your first day out on the slopes and give yourself (and your family) time to adjust to the elevation.
A rental car is essential
Whether you’re transporting ski equipment around from hotel to ski mountain and back or simply staying put at your ski resort with seamless ski-in/ski-out access, you’ll probably want a rental car to get around.
While I’m sure you could stay put at your hotel and enjoy all it has to offer, why would you want to when you are in a winter wonderland? The drive from Denver to the ski towns such as Keystone, Breckenridge, Vail and Beaver Creek offers majestic snowcapped mountain views. In addition, you can easily make the short jaunt by car to other ski towns on your non-ski days and spend the day shopping, eating, and walking through the pedestrian-friendly streets of Vail Village and beyond.
Related: 6 of the best Colorado ski towns
There are plenty of things to do other than ski
While Colorado is known across the world for its incredible ski resorts, most families who are visiting will likely not ski or snowboard every single day. In fact, as first-timers, I’d implore you to plan some “down days” to try out some other things.
When it comes to winter activities in Colorado, there are plenty of things to do besides hit the slopes. On the days we weren’t skiing, we went ice skating at Beaver Creek village, took in the winter lighting walkthrough experience of the Magic of Lights in Vail, judged a chocolate chip cookie competition and explored charming ski towns, while also reveling in an afternoon of sledding.
I’m so glad we finally took the leap and headed out on our first-ever family ski vacation. It was an all-new experience that was worth the effort.
We found that there are many opportunities on ski vacations to connect with your children, whether you’re struggling to stay upright on your skis or bonding over s’mores by the fire pit. While a ski trip can be costly and does require considerable planning to optimize the experience, it very well might be one of the most memorable family vacations we’ve had yet.
Featured photo by Juan Ruiz/The Points Guy.
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