6 mistakes to avoid when planning a ski trip

Jan 5, 2020

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There’s nothing quite like a ski trip: The cold crisp mountain air, the rush as you schuss down the slopes — and the heart palpitations when you get your credit card bill. Ski trips can be idyllic, memory-making experiences but they can have their financial and logistical pitfalls. I lived and worked in ski resort towns for 14 years and have taken ski trips on my own. Here are six common mistakes to avoid on your way to a smooth downhill experience.

Not planning ahead

Making up the trip as you go along can be a major mistake. Lodging, lift tickets and rental equipment can hit your wallet hard unless you make arrangements ahead of time.

The best way to get discounted lift tickets is to purchase in advance. Passes like the Ikon Pass or the Epic Pass (which are no longer on sale for the 2019-20 season) are great if you are planning a long trip or several trips during the year — between them, most of the ski resorts in the United States (and some in Canada) are covered. However, if you didn’t or can’t purchase a pass, don’t fret: You can still receive a slightly cheaper lift ticket if you purchase ahead of time. Go online to the resort of your choice and you’ll find discounted lift tickets if you purchase at least one week in advance. These discounts may not seem like much, but that $10 you saved will buy you a beer on the slopes. Other options include searching sites like Liftopia.com or Ski.com for discounted tickets.

Read more: Planning your ski trip with points and miles

(Photo by Don Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Don Miller/Getty Images)

For equipment rentals, purchasing in advance will again save money. Sometimes you can bundle lift tickets and rentals to receive a discount. Other options include renting from big-box stores in the city before heading to the slopes. You’ll have to lug the gear with you, but you’ll save money.

When it comes to lodging, consider your location. Yes, ski-in/ski-out is convenient but you’ll be paying top dollar to stay close to the slopes. On the other hand, a property that is just “steps from the slope” could turn out to be several miles away if you don’t do your research. Keep an eye out for packages: Some resorts will bundle lift tickets, rentals and lodging or offer ski-free/stay-free packages which can provide considerable savings.

Read more: Hotels Near Ikon Ski Pass Resorts You Can Book With Points

Thinking you need a car

Before you rent that overpriced SUV (that doesn’t actually have 4-wheel drive or decent snow tires), consider ditching the rental car altogether. Driving in the snow can be challenging and, depending on where you are, getting stuck can result in a hefty fine.

Instead of driving, consider using a shuttle service from the airport to your lodging, taking the bus (there are ski buses in both Denver and Salt Lake City that service ski resorts) or even taking the train. Once you’ve arrived, your need for a car is limited. Many resort towns have a free bus service; your lodging may also have a shuttle service around town. By eschewing a car, not only are you avoiding the hefty parking and/or valet fees, but you’re also reducing your carbon footprint.

(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

Hitting the slopes in ignorance

Sure, you’re a double-black diamond skier in North Carolina but that doesn’t mean you’re ready to take on the couloir at Jackson Hole. One of the biggest mistakes I see on the slopes is folks who either overestimate their abilities or misjudge the difficulty level of the mountain. Every ski resort is different. The signage of green circle/blue square/black diamond is almost universal, but the pitch/grooming/fall line of these runs vary by resort. One way to ensure you don’t ruin yourself or someone else on the first day? Ask questions. There are folks hanging out at the base area just waiting to share the latest grooming report or to tell you which runs are best for beginners. Take advantage of their knowledge and pay attention when they point out slow zones and out-of-bounds terrain. Some resorts offer free guided tours which are another great way to scope out the slopes.

Read more: 5 Ways to Make Your Next Ski Trip Better Than Ever

Skipping the lesson

There are ways to save money on a ski trip but skipping a lesson is not one of them. If you’ve never skied or snowboarded, taking a lesson can make your days more fun and safer for you and those around you. An instructor will not only help you progress, but they’ll also share the skier safety code and help steer you around the mountain. On busy days at ski areas, instructors use a special lane at the lifts with their students so you can skip the line. Even if you’re an advanced skier or snowboarder, you’ll learn something in a lesson.

(Photo by Christian Kober/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Kober/Getty Images)

If you’re planning to teach your significant other, friend, kid or parent how to ski or snowboard … don’t. The resort has professionals on hand for this. Not only will your friend, child, parent or significant other get a proper education, but you’ll still like/love each other at the end of the day.

Bonus: Many resorts have packages of beginner ski lessons and lift tickets that’ll save you money. Check it out online before you purchase your multiday lift ticket.

Not exploring the other attractions of the town or resort

True, you’re on a ski trip but there’s something to be said for taking a day off. Most lift tickets are “3 of 5 days” or “4 of 6” days, giving you the flexibility to choose the days you spend on the mountain. Resorts now have a wide variety of options to entertain both visitors and non-skiers, including mountain coasters, zip lining, dogsledding, hot-air ballooning, tubing, ski biking, ice skating, snowshoeing, fat biking and more. Spas are plentiful and many are destinations themselves. Some resort towns have rich, colorful histories. Visit a museum or take a walking tour and you’ll hear ghost stories and bawdy tales.

Read more: 17 of the best ski towns in the US

Forgetting that other people like skiing, too

One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming that they’re the only ones who travel during the holidays, take a spring break or want to spend the least amount of time getting from a major city to a ski resort. As a result, they’re dismayed and irritated when there are crowds, lines or traffic.

(Photo by mbbirdy/Getty Images)
(Photo by mbbirdy/Getty Images)

If you can, travel during less busy times, ski during the week or stay in one place at a destination resort. Avoid long-weekend holidays and school spring breaks. If those holidays are the only time you can travel, consider resorts that are farther from major metropolitan areas (you’ll avoid folks driving in for the day or the weekend).

And if it gets crowded, take a deep breath and roll with it. In the end, you’re on vacation to have a good time.

Read more: Best credit cards to use on ski trips

Featured photo by © Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images.

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