5 things you must know before taking a first ski trip
I've been to almost 40 countries on every continent except Antarctica, yet I've never strapped on a pair of ski boots. That's right, I'm a novice to the wonderful snow-clad sport known as skiing — and so are my children. So when my family settled on a first-time ski trip to Colorado during Thanksgiving week, I had no preconception of what resort town to visit, which hotel we'd choose or how to find affordable ski lessons for a family of four. Thankfully, I was able to consult with our very own TPG ski expert Summer Hull on where to begin my research.
Now, with hours of research under my belt, I've got a bit more clarity on these questions and more for your first time hitting the slopes.
Here are the five things you should know when planning your first ski trip.
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When is the best time to go on your ski trip?
If you're like me and have date limitations due to your kids' school schedule or your work, then you know it's a requisite to choose dates around the holidays or long weekends, which are notoriously crowded with like-minded travelers looking to ski. Given our date restraints, we decided on Thanksgiving week for our ski trip to Colorado because the kids are off from school, it's early in the ski season (which means smaller crowds), and we'd have enough time to get our bearings and learn (or attempt to) to ski.
The issue with going so early in the ski season is you can anticipate snowfall to be sporadic compared to more ideal times, such as the months from December to March. Sure, many top resorts have snow-making capabilities, but your ski opportunities are relatively limited in November. Therefore, consider your destination and dates very carefully when planning your first ski trip.
Related: Best times to visit Colorado
Where should you stay?
One of the first things to figure out when you and your family are planning a ski trip is finding the right ski resort for you. Vail. Aspen. Beaver Creek. Keystone. Breckenridge. My head was spinning just thinking of all the ski resort options to choose from. There are tons of mountains and resort towns ranging from high-end, world-class resorts to budget options if you don't need all the bells and whistles. And most Colorado ski resorts offer beginner terrain and lesson programs to help get you started, so do your research and plan ahead. When digging into ski resorts in Colorado, I came across the question countless times: Should you book a ski-in, ski-out resort ( a hotel that is close to the base of the mountain for easy access to skiing) or is it not necessary?
While you don’t need to stay at a ski-out spot to have a great first ski trip, Summer encouraged me to strongly consider it for ease — especially since I'd be skiing with my children and for the first time. With a ski-out location, you likely won't need to schlep ski gear around and it's much simpler to take breaks without having to trek very far from your hotel room. As a big fan of Hyatt hotels, I read Summer's review of the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and decided to book a four-night stay at this ski-out luxury hotel. With ski season rates regularly over $1,000 per night, I transferred 120,000 Ultimate Rewards points to Hyatt and booked the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek for a stellar points redemption.
Related: 13 of our favorite ski-friendly resort hotels you can book on points
Budget for ski lessons
Speaking of ski lessons, if you're a novice to the sport like I am, you'll undoubtedly need professional instruction before you embark on your ski adventure. As I started digging into ski lessons for my family and me, the first thing that became apparent was the eye-opening sticker prices on ski school. Even if you get the best money-saving ski pass and use points and miles for a ski-friendly hotel and airfare, ski trips are still on the expensive side. However, as per the advice of Summer, you do not want to cut costs on lessons for a first-time ski trip.
There's no more surefire way to turn your kids off of skiing than by taking a DIY approach to learning how to ski or snowboard. I'm certainly prepared (mentally) for my fair share of falls and frustrating moments. My wife has gone on several ski trips as a child and she's already warned me that my athletic pedigree won't necessarily equate to me picking up skiing effortlessly.
You should probably refrain from any stubbornness and hire a pro who will teach you (and your kids) how to ski as quickly as possible and help you get through those first learning steps.
If your whole family is new to skiing, you can book a small-group private lesson, which may not cost much more than multiple group lessons with other people of the same skill level.
Related: The right age for kids to start ski school
Prepare for the elements
If you pride yourself on traveling the world with only a carry-on bag that can fit in the overhead bin, you may have to alter your packing strategy for your ski trip. You're likely to grapple with attempting to squeeze all your ski gear, outerwear and layers of clothing in a carry-on suitcase. You'll probably need to bring a decent-sized bag to accommodate your ski wardrobe.
No doubt, the best way to stay cozy on the slopes is to dress in layers and prepare for the elements. Dressing in layers is paramount to staying warm and wearing waterproof gear is essential to staying comfortably dry as well. Accessories such as ski goggles are also a vital part of skiing or snowboarding gear, to protect your eyes from the elements and injury. On the slopes, you're out for a prolonged time, and your eyes are exposed to the harsh wind and bright sunlight. While you may have some clothing and gear essentials at home, you'll want to evaluate your wardrobe needs properly and plan to purchase at least some gear.
Our resident ski expert Summer recommends wearing the following on your first ski adventure:
- Ski jacket — This needs to be waterproof (or at least water-resistant) and insulated, with available pockets and made for time in the snow. (Quantity: One.)
- Ski pants or bibs — Again, waterproof (or at least water-resistant) and insulated pants or bibs with pockets that are made for time in the snow. This is always true, but when you are learning, you may need even more waterproofing than you will on future trips. Bibs are generally best for the youngest skiers. (Quantity: One.)
- Top and bottom base layers — Your base layer (also known as long underwear) should be made to keep you warm in the snow and should wick any sweat away from your body. You should have a top and bottom. (Quantity: One or two.)
- Ski or snowboard socks — Get ski or board-specific socks made of wool that aren’t too thick. Just wear one pair — more isn’t better. (Quantity: One pair per day until you can wash and have time to air-dry.)
- Middle layer — If you are skiing in the heart of the cold ski season, you may need a middle layer that goes over your base layer, but under your jacket. I like to use a Patagonia-type vest as a middle layer, but others prefer a wool or fleece middle layer. (Quantity: One or two.)
- Snow boots — You’ll need boots you can use in the snow, but don’t confuse these with ski or snowboard boots. These are the ones you use when you aren’t on the mountain. (Quantity: One pair.)
- Ski gloves or mittens — Get waterproof or water-resistant gloves or mittens made for skiing or snowboarding. (Quantity: One pair.)
- Goggles — These help with bright reflections from the snow, wind and the cold. The goggles will go over your helmet. (Quantity: One.)
- Helmet – Helmets are not usually required for adults, but are strongly recommended. Not only do they keep you safer, but they also keep your head warm and cozy. You can rent helmets when you rent skis or boards if you don’t want to own one or aren’t ready to commit. (Quantity: One.)
- Neck warmer and mask — You will need something around your neck to keep warm on colder ski days. For some, this may also serve as your required mask required during some parts of the ski day. However, others may find it easier to have an actual mask on hand in case your neck warmer isn’t great about staying up over your nose. (Quantity: One or two — obviously, if your neck warmer is also serving as a mask, you’ll need one per day until you can wash and dry.)
If you don’t know whether you'll love skiing or not and don’t want to spend a fortune on ski gear, you can rent all of the snow gear you need for you or your kids as a bundle. While we don’t have a specific rental source to recommend, from personal experience, an online search for “rent ski clothes” should reveal a variety of options. It’s also common for friends and family members to borrow ski gear from each other, too, especially for kids as sizes change so quickly — so don't be shy to ask around.
Related: Everything you need to know about packing for a ski trip
You likely won’t ski every day
No matter what ski destination you choose, there's a strong probability that many activities exist to take part in that don't involve a snowboard or skis. Think: snow play with the kids, tubing, ice skating or enjoying the hotel's hot tub. If you're anything like me, the plan is to take a few ski lessons initially, hit the beginner slopes for the first few days, and then relax and do fun, family activities for the remainder of the trip. While skiing is fun, everyone I talk to also says it's physically exhausting. Unless you are in top physical condition (or are just young and can push through anything), expect to want to give your legs a break after a couple of days on the slopes.
If you have a weeklong ski trip planned (like me) for your first time, do yourself a favor and consider taking a break in between days. Sleep in late, stretch your muscles and maybe even get a massage at your resort.
Related: 9 ways to enjoy a ski resort vacation without hitting the slopes
Planning your first ski trip can seem overwhelming at first. But with a bit of research, your first skiing or snowboarding trip is sure to be a blast. Don’t worry if it isn’t all perfect the first time, there’s plenty you can do to make the next ski trip even better. But you have to start somewhere, so start researching and get a jump-start on making plans for your first ski escapade.
Additional reporting by Summer Hull.