Let’s delve into everything you need to know on making your next vacation the best ski holiday ever. From where to go depending on the time of year you want to visit. When to ride if you want to up your chances for that ever elusive waist-deep powder day. We even give you a few tips on how to avoid the crowds to help you with ski trip planning.
Trip Planning For A Ski Trip
For most of us, you can take one or maybe two big trips a year. No matter how much we’d all like to storm chase, that isn’t a reality for most of us. Luckily, you can increase the odds of seeing a powder day or at a minimum make sure the snow is in tip-top shape by ski trip planning accordingly. To help make it easier to pull off the best ski holiday ever, find the best snow, and reduce the lift lines, check out our article:
Another aspect to consider is to pick a destination with plenty to do in case Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate. From carefree singles to family sojourns, we’ve got you covered in our apres guide.
What To Pack
You’re going skiing. That means snow. It also means that it’s going to be cold, so pack for it! As a quick overview, here’s a few of our must have items for a ski trip:
Goggles Not Sunglasses
We see this quite often in warmer mountain ranges like New Mexico. Don’t be thrifty and attempt to wear sunglasses while skiing. Your eyes will water, and if it starts snowing, it’ll feel like you’re getting pelted by millions of tiny knives. If you’re in the market for a new pair, be sure to read our ski & snowboard goggle guide, and get the scoop on all the brands as well as how to pick the right pair for you.
Of course, you can go with the classic gloves, but if you’re a person that gets cold quickly or has issues keeping your digits warm, we highly recommend getting mittens instead. Their design allows the fingers to stay together which in turn generates more body heat. Also, if you’re going skiing in a climate that has wetter snow, be sure that they’re gore-tex. There’s nothing worse than soggy hands.
Jacket & Pants
If you’re only going to own one pair of pants and one jacket, pick a lighter weight version with minimal insulation. This then lets you control your warmth and comfort with your base layers. The most important part about outer gear is that it has a high thread count so if it does snow or rain, you’ll stay toasty, warm, and dry. We look for a MINIMUM 15,000 MM waterproof rating.
When it comes to base layers, we usually go with mid-weight for almost the entire year. A great options is the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Crew. If it’s going to be colder, we just layer up by putting on a fleece.
This might be the most important part of the gear. You might think a thick sock is a good idea… it isn’t. Thick socks absorb sweat. Rather, pick one that leans towards thinner and allows the moisture to go through them into the liner of the boot. Just like your base layer, merino wool socks are a great option. Focus on socks that are flat and with integrated seams so they don’t irritate your feet or cause blisters.
Something many forget about is to wear something that covers the neck and lower part of your face. A good all-in-one covering is a balaclava. They do all of this and make sure the heat from the top of your head doesn’t escape. In addition, the breathable material of balaclavas prevent fogging of your googles. When the snow is coming down at a furious clip or the wind is whipping around, you’ll be glad you’re wearing one.
Swimming Trunks & Flip Flops
Yes, it’s a cold environment, but there’s a good chance after a chilly day your lodging will have a hot tub. Or better yet, you’ll be near a natural hot spring to hop into. Now that’s our kind of apres!
One of the hardest parts of ski trip planning is getting there. If you have the time, one of the most flexible options is to drive. Just be aware that even if you’re from a wintry locale, driving in the mountains is a vastly different experience. Take your time, consider driving a car that has 4WD, and be prepared for the worst by having such things as:
- Windshield Washer Fluid
- Ice Scraper
- Shovel & Kitty Litter
- Jumper Cables
- Snow Chains
If you want to learn from other’s mistakes, here’s five of the most common errors we see on the road every winter:
And for those of you who are curious how all the mountain passes stack up against one another, we did some research and found that these are the most dangerous mountain passes in the US to a ski area.
Go By Train
Another option is to pick a resort that you can visit by train. You’ll skip the hassle of being stuck in traffic and remove the worry about winter driving. For a list of ski resorts you can visit in North America:
When it comes to lodging, the further out you book, the better the deal you’ll get. The flipside is you’ll take a gamble on the ski conditions. If the quality of snow is paramount and you want to wait until the last minute, there are a few options to think about:
When heading to popular drive markets like Lake Tahoe or the front range in Colorado, a good option to consider is to visit mid-week. It’ll be less crowded, AND you’ll save a few bucks.
Visit Early Or Late In The Season
The two best times from a crowd perspective is to visit a couple weeks before Christmas and late season. In December, most people are trying to organize for the holidays. And by April or May, most folks are now focused on other activities like golf or heading to the beach.
Remote Ski Resorts
If you aren’t flexible on when you can visit, consider picking a ski area that’s far away from major metropolitan areas. Places that are off the beaten path won’t have the throngs that major markets do and therefore the lodging will be a fraction of the cost.
Consider A Hostel
Another option to consider if you want to save A LOT of money is to stay at a hostel. Hostels of today are comfy, a great way to save money, and most of all, you’ll meet new friends. For a list of some awesome hostels just a snowball’s throw from the slopes, check out our article below:
When To Go
Best Ski Resort To Visit By Month
Just like many of you, we’re about chasing the endless winter. Of course, you can head down to South America or New Zealand during our summer, but for most of us that’s just not feasible. If you want to extend your winter, here’s a rundown on how to make this year your best and longest winter ever:
Best Bets For Early Season Skiing
By around August, the heat of summer is oppressive. You’ve had it up to your neck in summer fun. You’re biked out. Paddled out. And most of all, completely done with the beach life. Like us, you’re chomping at the bit to get on your skis or snowboard and go shredding.
Who Is The First To Open?
If you’re looking for hope on when is the earliest your local ski resort may open, you may want to read our article about the 2019-20 ski season: Earliest Ski Resort Openings Ever. Or if you want to get the latest on who’s going to be the FIRST to open THIS SEASON, be it all natural or “enhanced” by snowmaking, continually check in as we update this page:
Best Conditions In The Early Season
Just because you’re first, doesn’t mean you’ll have the best early season conditions. Even though Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest ski weekends of the year, the snow typically hasn’t showed up the way we want it to. By early October, we have our eyes looking at how the storm track is progressing across the continent, reading ski reports, and dissecting the long-term weather patterns. With all this information, we then shake our crystal ball and release our early season report around the 1st week of November. To see who will have the best conditions for Thanksgiving by region, check out our page found here:
Skiing During The Holidays
Yes, it’s crowded. It’s true that lift lines will be long. Despite that, ski towns are decked to the nines in decorations. The atmosphere is electric and there’s just SOOOO much to do off the slopes. Another silver lining is to go skiing ON Christmas Day. When most people are opening up their presents, you can partake in empty slopes and soft snow.
On the other side of the spectrum is spring skiing. Our favorite time of year. The sun is warm. Snowpack is deep. And the crowds have reduced to a trickle. To learn more why this is THE time to visit, tips on gear, learn what is corn, and why it’s our 2nd favorite type of snow, and everything else about spring skiing, check out our guide found here:
Where To Go
Just in North America alone there are over 818 ski resorts with over 3,400+ lifts providing access to more than 9,000 miles of trails. The options can be a bit overwhelming, and so it makes sense that people try to pare down the list to the “best.” A few years ago, we tried our hand at picking one based on some facts instead of opinion:
Skiers’ & Snowboarders’ Bucket List
All of us can agree ski seasons are just too short. If you’re lucky, you’ll get in thirty maybe even forty days on the snow. One way to make sure your season doesn’t just fly by is to create a bucket list of places you want to explore or goals you want to hit before your ski life is over. Here’s our personal bucket list. Some we’ve checked off, but we still have a few more to go.
Even if a ski resort is well endowed, you’re going to be spending at least half the time or more off the slopes. Instead of barricading yourself in a cabin, why not make it the best ski holiday ever by staying in an authentic ski town as well:
Local Ski Areas Provide Authenticity
We’ll be completely honest with you. Yes, we have an Epic Local Pass. Heavenly is only a few minutes from our house, so we use it to get in a few laps when we don’t have a ton of time. But when it comes to vacation, we make it a point to NEVER visit Epic or Ikon resorts. If you’re wondering why, check out our article 5 Reasons To Ski Local And Skip the Epic or Ikon Pass On Your Next Vacation.
We’re suckers for ski areas that feel less corporate and have big (small) mountain town personalities. If you’re like us and are looking for less Disney World and more authenticity, check out these two articles showcasing independent ski areas:
How To Avoid Crowds
We hate crowds. Despise lift lines. Loath waiting. It doesn’t matter how great the terrain or how much it’s snowed, a mass of humanity just ruins a great day. We’re always looking for ways to avoid overtourism crowds on our next ski vacation. In fact, we’d pay more to preserve the powder. For a list of less crowded ski resorts to visit this season with the same vibes as the popular spots, check out the following article:
Hop A Heli
Another option to consider is to consider saving up for some heli-skiing or cat-skiing. Six years ago we bit the bullet and paid for a trip up to Baldface Lodge and have to say it was worth every penny. For a deep-dive into how it was be sure to read our article: Some Go To Disneyland But I’d Rather Say “I’m Going To Baldface Lodge!”. We enjoyed it so much that we’re planning a trip up to Canada for some heli-skiing at Northern Escape Heli-skiing. If you’re wondering why we chose them:
How To Ski For Cheap… Or Make It Affordable
The biggest myth you’ll hear in skiing and snowboarding is it’s just too expensive. That’s like saying, “Oh I can’t afford a Maserati so therefore I can’t own a car.” Instead, make the decision to visit a Mom & Pop operation in your area. From Lake Tahoe to the East Coast, here’s a list of ski areas that you can ski for as little as $20:
For those that want to take into account everything like ski rentals, a daily lift ticket, lunch, and lodging into their calculation for the best ski holiday location:
The Indy Pass
Last but definitely not least is the Indy Pass. Epic and Ikon might be the big beasts in the industry, but there’s an alternative for your ski holiday – the Indy Pass. Instead of dropping a minimum of $600 on a pass you might use for a couple of days, the Indy Pass gives you access to two days of skiing at more than FIFTY resorts. To help your imagination, we’ve put together a fun Washington ski trip finishing up in Idaho that you could do on an Indy Pass:
Soulful Ski & Snowboard Events
Another aspect to consider when ski trip planning is to look at the fun races and events going on at a ski resort you’re visiting. We’re not talking happenings like the X-Games or the World Cup. Corporations have homogenized the experiences at these larger shin digs. We suggest checking out a grassroots event like the 8 Bally Rally or even the legendary Mt. Baker Banked Slalom: