"Large crowds, either on the highway or on the slopes, are the number one downer for family ski trips. Most kids under the age of ten won’t be requiring crazy nightlife, nor will they care if the vertical drop of an area is 500 or 2,500 feet. In fact, they’re far more likely to enjoy an empty 500 foot hill than a mad scene at a bigger mountain."
Family Skiing at Timberline, WV. Photo by Jim Kenney
Table of Contents
During the week rather than on the weekend
January or late March/early April
Spring skiing generally brings kid-friendly weather, lower costs, and far smaller crowds.
Select smaller, less busy ski areas, particularly if you have beginner skiers and your stay does not exceed two or three days.
Keep travel time to a few hours if the stay is short. Two hundred miles is the approximate breakpoint between a distance that is doable for a weekend road trip and a longer stay that should include three, four, or more days of skiing.
For longer trips, look for resorts that offer a variety of trails including terrain parks and halfpipes, a sizable self contained base village with slopeside lodging, a well laid out beginner area, and a good ski school with plenty of skier services.
Save a generic ski trip packing list on your home computer. Customize it appropriately for each new trip and update it as you learn through experience.
Pack games, iPod’s, videos, books, snacks, drinks, pillows, etc. to help everyone pass the highway time.
Consider traveling with multiple families or extra friends in one or more vehicles to enhance safety, introduce favorable group dynamics, and help with fuel, food, and lodging costs.
Psych-up your travel companions during the pretrip phase with resort brochures, ski flicks, or snow reports.
Get there early and take your rest and nutrition breaks before and after the noon hour.
Set-up the family base of operations at a secondary lodge/section of a ski area, rather then in the very heart of the action.
Select a ski destination that is more remote than one close to an urban market.
Leave home early and try to rack up mileage before the mid-day meal break.
Minimize potty stops and/or negotiate to have them occur at set intervals coinciding with gas fill-ups.
Use soft luggage for maximum vehicle packing possibilities. Roof racks and cargo carriers can also be a good aid.
A vehicle with four wheel drive is great for snowy conditions. Maintaining a good set of tires is a smart idea, along with paying attention to the status of your engine, wiper blades, and antifreeze.
Possible options for families include:
- prepaid online discount tickets
- discount cards
- retail specials through grocery stores, gas stations and the like
- military and student discounts
- multi-day/half-day/night-ski/beginner-only tickets
- early or late season discounts
- lift and lodging package deals
- season passes
A growing number of ski areas are offering very versatile four or six packs of heavily discounted lift tickets transferable among anyone during all or most of the season as long as they are prepurchased during the fall or early winter.
Keep your eye on ski forums like EpicSki for late-breaking inside scoop on deals.
Consider working/volunteering at a ski area in exchange for passes.
Staying slopeside costs more, but the convenience for families with younger children trumps all.
For stays a week or longer, check out VRBO -- Vacation Rentals By Owner -- for reasonably-priced slopeside lodging. Private homes or condos with a full kitchen can provide economies over a standard hotel/motel room, especially for larger families or groups.
Check if the resort has a centralized service to assist in booking residence-vacation lodging. Most do.
You can save money by choosing more basic lodging that is a short drive from the slopes. Motels along major highways about 10 or 20 miles from a chosen resort can offer some of the best underused bargains during the winter.
Suite-type motels with kitchens, especially well-equipped ones with a free breakfast bar and an indoor pool/hot tub, can make a great base of operations for family vacations where multiple neighboring ski areas are on the agenda.
Brown bag your food and drinks. Nothing beats dining alfresco on the mountain on a fine spring day.
Springtime tailgating in a ski area parking lot can be a low cost way to refuel and enjoy some aprés ski socializing before making the drive back to lodgings or home.