5 Tips For a Foolproof Family Ski Vacation

Jan 13, 2016
By: Ann Whittaker

The first family ski trip will either make your kids into lifelong ski bums or turn them off of it forever. Here’s how to do it right...

Barring any major meteorological–technological breakthroughs, skiing and snowboarding must take place in the cold. You probably can’t keep every one of your family’s fingers and toes and noses warm, but if you do your ski trip right, you can have so much fun they’ll forget to whine about it.

Why else would there be human beings who claim “ski bum” as a legit job description? It’s because people — who were once children — overwhelmed Old Man Winter’s chilliest spells with memories of speeding down slopes, winding through snowy pines, and hot chocolate.

Will your kids cry when they get a face-full of powder? Yes. Plan on it. Might they become frustrated when they can’t get their boot in their binding? Absolutely. And who can blame them when their eyelashes are frozen to their eyebrows? But, (but!) they will whoop and holler with pure joy; they will speed past you with scornful glee when the student becomes the teacher; they will ask to go through the trees again and again and again; they will scare the bejeezus out of you when they hit that first jump a little too fast; they will share their last French fry with you; they will tell you knock-knock jokes on the lift; they will courageously go down a black diamond run that terrified them the day before; and they will most certainly find solace in the winter mountains for the rest of their lives.

So, as ski town junkies, we offer a few pointers for constructing a family ski trip that’ll keep your kids stoked about skiing cold winter mountains year after year.

Snowbird Ski Resort

5. Can you have too many diamonds?

There are lots of variables to consider as you plan a great family/beginner-friendly ski day, but the biggest one is probably the number and location of your resort’s green and blue runs. (Runs are classified by difficulty and marked with corresponding signage on the mountain: green circle = beginner; blue square = intermediate; black diamond = advanced; double–black diamond = bananas.) Research resort maps and find the lifts that access appropriate terrain so you don’t accidentally get stranded at the top of a mountain that looks like where the Grinch lives.

4. The resort matters.

Ski resorts have personalities influenced by terrain, tradition, age and the crowds they attract. Do your homework and find a good match for your family’s age, ability and adventure level. The last thing you want to do is show up at a resort with your three year old where all the other riders are sponsored by European-sounding brands, carving so close to your precious darling you start shouting curse words you’ve never even heard of.

Some things to consider as you research resorts: acreage; number of lifts & runs (and how many are green/blue/black); location (city access? public transportation? distance from airport?); lodging/amenities (ski-in/ski-out options? pool/hot tub? on-site rentals? dining options? ski school?); other activities (Nordic skiing? backcountry skiing? sledding? snowshoeing? yurts?).

Snowbird Ski Resort: is not the best place to teach kids who need help putting on their mittens. It’s big and wild. Save it for their third season, or for your fearless teenagers.

Alta Ski Resort: embraces all skiers (but no boarders). It’s a classic resort with a bit of a split personality: Drop the kids off on Sunnyside where they can stick to green groomers or get their first taste of easy trails through the trees while you head over to Collins for steeper slopes gone gangbusters.

Solitude Ski Resort: is a smaller resort, so it’s easier to keep your crew together. It’s less crowded (hence the name) so you’ll spend less time waiting in lift lines and more time on the handful of greens and plenty of blues.

Powder Mountain: is 7,000 acres, so you’d expect there to be plenty of all kinds of skiing. And you’d be right. It’s a fantastic place to start, with near-limitless upgrade options when you’re ready. Adventure central for explorers who are comfortable with vast terrain and want to keep things interesting. This one’s a global experience as you’ll run into skiers from Denmark, Italy, Peru, and, well, all the places.

Snowbird Ski Resort Alta Ski Resort

Solitude Ski Resort

3. The case for ski school

So it’s time to teach your kid to ski. Maybe you’re solidly in the advanced-intermediate range yourself — if there were a dark-blue octagon classification, that’d be your jam — but your technique is based primarily on instinct and pain tolerance. Not exactly skills you can (or want to) pass on. Plus teaching someone to snowplow burns up your own ski time, and it’s even been known to… umm… put a strain on relationships. (Your kid or significant other will resent you for being a bad teacher and double-resent you for making it look easy.)

So drop ’em off at ski school! Not only will they learn from instructors who actually know what they’re doing, the other pupils will become their best friends for life the day, and you’ll get hours of unfettered ski time when you can think very seriously about trying a double-black.

Utah.com’s favorite ski schools are at Brighton and Deer Valley, but we don’t know of a bad one.

Snowbird Ski Resort

2. Keep Those Bellies Full

There’s ski resort food, and then there’s ski resort nourishment for body and soul. We’re always up for a good burger and a bucket of fries — it’s amazing what a morning of hillside squats will do for your appetite — but have you ever felt the joy of walking into a mountain lodge to find they serve flatbread pizza, healthy salad (to go with your bucket of fries, obviously), homemade chili, and bread from the local bakery? A resort like Park City Mountain has more options than you have any right to expect on a mountain with 10 feet of snow.Oh, and keep your pockets packed with chocolate, granola bars and anything calorie-packed to keep the crew fueled for fun.

1. Cotton kills

There’s a reason you wear cotton t-shirts to the beach: They’re cool and breezy. They let heat out and air in — the opposite of what you want when it’s 10 degrees and snowing at 10,000 feet. Also, it takes forever to dry. That’s bad.

Invest in some capilene underwears for the whole family. Or wool. There’s a reason your great-great-grandma wore it when she crossed the Sierra Nevadas. It’s magic. And it doesn’t even have to be itchy.

Deer Valley Resort

Other sartorial necessities, obvious as it may seem: snow pants, fleece/down jacket, waterproof/windproof jacket, gloves (another place to invest in quality), goggles, helmet, neck gator.

That’s it. Put in a little time planning and it will all be easy. Pack some board games and tell your kids the hotel doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Your family ski trip is going to be perfect.

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