Don’t you just love the idea of taking the kids on a family ski vacation to a snowy winter wonderland? Building snowmen after a day on the slopes, sipping hot chocolate by the fire, rosy Norman Rockwell cheeks and the photo for next year’s Christmas card (or at least a braggy Facebook post). Sounds amazing until the reality sets in: The price of lift tickets, the overpriced food, the cost of a family ski lesson, the cold… Why the hell do people do this?
Ski vacations can seem HELLA expensive, but in reality there is a lot to do on the cheap if you know what you are doing. Every ski town is a little different, so here’s a general guide to help you plan your vacation and have more fun with less crying…
1. If you don’t want to deal with parking and schlepping all your ski equipment from the car to the lift and you want to hit the hot tub afterwards, staying at a resort is your best bet. While that may sound ideal, it can be the least convenient as far as what to do when the mountain closes or what to do if some of you don’t ski. Restaurants and shops at the resort are always the most expensive. You can still stay on resort property, but in a privately owned condo. While this is a great way to save money, if you have an issue you need to contact the owner and not the lodging desk. Be sure to find out if you can access all the typical amenities by going this route. VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) and sites like it typically have the best deals. Staying in town is your best bet if you have small children and non-skiers and generally costs less than staying at the resort. Make sure you Google map the condo/house in relation to Main Street, otherwise you might find yourself renting a fabulous house that’s in the middle of nowhere. Also, be prepared to pay for parking at the resort.
2. Don’t forget thin ski socks and quality mittens/gloves, especially for the kiddos. They will complain less if their extremities aren’t freezing cold and I think we all agree that the less whining the better for everyone.
3. Pack sunglasses and goggles for everyone. It’s called a retina burn and if you aren’t wearing eye protection when you are outside that glorious white snow will send you home with eyeball sunburn. Plus you get wrinkles from all that squinting.
4. The best ski and snowboard deals can typically be found at the ski shops located away from the actual resort. Some even offer a discount if you pay in advance online (and you get to skip the long ass line when you show up to pick up your equipment).
5. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on kid stuff that will never be used again, find out where the thrift stores are in the local towns around the resort. You can get some quality layers, snow suits, etc for a fraction of the price of new ones. Ebay is another place to check. Or suck up to that family who just got back from a ski vaycay and probably has everything you need.
6. Find the deals in the local newspaper. Every ski town has a local newspaper, and said newspaper will be full of advertisements for local businesses offering discounts/coupons etc. Grab one when you check in and look to see what you can find. Also check out the calendar of events for potential fun stuff going on.
7. If you’re at a hotel, use the concierge. You have a 50% chance of talking to a stoner dude “local” who just got off the Greyhound from Iowa to live out his dream of becoming a professional snowboarder, despite his solid intermediate ability. He will not be helpful. Despite the risk of encountering a “Bro-Bra”, usually the front desk of wherever you are staying will have the inside scoop on the best deals. Staying in town in a house? Just walk into any hotel and ask or find the local visitor’s center in town.
8. Strange but true, the customer service desk at the grocery store is usually the best deal on lift tickets. Why? I honestly have no idea. But in Colorado this seems to be the case.
9. Liftopia is a great website to look for deals on lift tickets. This is my personal favorite option because I’m lazy and like to do stuff online.
10. Have a list of non-skiing activities for the babies, indoorsy types, those who don’t want to ski every single day, grandparents etc. Some free and cheap ideas: Story time at the local bookstore or library, sledding, historical tours, gondola rides (some resorts don’t require a lift ticket), indoor pools/recreation centers, children’s museums (not to be compared with the one where you live that is huge and amazing, but still fun for the kiddos) or ice skating.
When should you go?
Early season (November and December) Pros: Usually cheaper and quieter than the rest of the season, not as cold as it will get later in the season. Cons: Snow is iffy. Much of the mountain terrain can still be closed because there isn’t enough snow. Making snowmen, sledding, and really pretty pictures are least likely this time of year. Exceptions: Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, and New Years are all significantly more expensive and busier than the rest of early season.
Mid-Season (January and February) Pros: All of the mountain terrain is usually open my mid-January, depending on the snow year (expert terrain typically opens last while beginner and intermediate terrain opens first thanks to snow making, slope angle, and all sorts of things). Not super busy, no long lift lines. Cons: It can be brutally cold. Remember when everyone was freaking out about a Polar Vortex? #bitchplease That is just a cold Tuesday in February in a ski town.
Spring Break Madness (March) Pros: Your kids have time off from school. Daylight Savings. The weather is getting warmer. Cons: Incredibly crowded, most expensive time of the season. Long lift lines, lots of collisions on the mountain. General hot mess. Fairly frat-tastic with loads of obnoxious 20-somethings on a mission to get wasted, possibly reminding you of what a self-centered asshole you were in college. No deals, no discounts, just lines. Where did all these people come from? Why are they driving so slowly, if you are lost pull over! March is not my fave, but do what you gotta do.
Late Season (April and sometimes May) Pros: Warmer, usually lots of end of season celebrations, cheaper than March. PERFECT snow for making snowmen and killer snowballs. Perfect outdoor drinking weather (see below). Cons: Slushy snow, terrain starts to close, lots of partying at the base of the mountain (okay this can be a pro; there is no judgment if you get your buzz on while in the presence of your kids at a free, family friendly concert. Do a Fireball shot from the ice luge, live a little!). Oh, frozen dog poop begins to appear all over the place now that the snow is melting, thanks to all the people who just happened to look the other way for the exact amount of time it took their dog to crap and therefore totally didn’t realize they needed to bag it because it isn’t like they knew the dog pooped. And now we have smelly chocolate chip snow all over town.
Congratulations, you are now privy to the Ski Town 411 and can feel empowered with your newfound decision making abilities to plan the best family vacation ever. As a long-time ski town local all I ask is that when you do come visit, and on behalf of all ski town locals we do enjoy your company for the most part, you remember to be nice, pick up your litter, and for Pete’s sake pull the fuck over if you are lost instead of driving five miles an hour.
Have a great ski vacation!