How to Plan Your First Family Ski Trip

Before you even start planning your first family ski holiday, you can already see the photo memories: classic snow angels, your kids’ huge smiles after completing their first ski runs, sipping hot chocolate together by your cabin’s fireplace. It sounds idyllic, but it can easily get overwhelming when thinking about the logistics, some of which are new to your family. Don’t fret: With a little planning and tips from this guide, your family’s first ski trip can be the gateway to a lifelong love and an unforgettable adventure.

When to Travel to the Slopes

While most American ski resorts open in late November or early December, the best conditions are usually January through March, when the snow pack is thicker and sturdier. Several school holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, fall within this time frame — and those long weekends present the perfect opportunity for first-time skiers to take one or two days of ski lessons and still have time to explore on their own. Friday and midweek ski schools will be less crowded and allow beginner skiers and snowboarders to learn without a lot of people around.

Planning a trip during an off-peak time, such as mid-January or early March before the spring break rush, will also make hotel and restaurant reservations easier. Plus, March temperatures are usually more comfortable for young ones not used to being in cold weather.

Traveling the first week of the new year — when many others are going back to work — may be another good option for families looking for a hotel or airline deal. Or capitalize on your kids’ school holidays by visiting a ski resort in Canada during a major U.S. holiday weekend. American ski resorts can be jam-packed during Presidents Day weekend, but head to the Great White North to Sun Peaks Resort or Whistler, outside of Vancouver, and those days will be far less crowded.

Book all ski trip essentials, including your plane tickets, hotel and rental car, and reserve any ski gear you plan to rent, at least two months in advance so you have plenty of time to shop around, compare prices and get the best deals.

For ideal skiing conditions and thinner crowds at the airport and slopes, plan your family’s first ski vacation after the winter holiday rush ends in January.


What to Plan for Your First Ski Trip

When planning your first ski trip, it pays to think ahead. The three major ski vacation costs are lodging, mountain or lift passes, and equipment rental. Though many people associate the term “resort” with lodging, “ski resort” actually refers to the entity that manages a mountain area and its activities. Ski resorts operate like small towns, and their hotel and lodging options allow vacationers immediate access to the resort’s lifts, trails and parks — and sometimes discounts. But lodging outside the resort could be cheaper. Compare prices and perks before you book.

Skiers can buy mountain passes and lift tickets in a variety of places, including online, at the resort or from gear and lift shops in neighboring towns. Once you pinpoint the few resorts you’d most like to visit, sign up for their mailing lists. Many resorts send special notices with reduced rates for buying lodging and passes together. After that, check out the official mountain website for multiday or family packages, which are sometimes available only if booked in advance.

Mountain passes, like Epic, grant skiers unlimited access to a resort, or multiple resorts, for a full season. Day passes, sometimes referred to as a single-day lift ticket or lift pass, grant access to a resort’s lifts, trails and parks for a single day. Looking for something in between those options? It’s often cheaper to buy a multiday pass (like a three-day pass) than daily lift tickets. However, if you plan to ski for more than five days, mountain passes might be the most economical solution. For example, if you’re planning to spend five days skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe, the Epic Tahoe Local Pass, which grants you unlimited access to ski at the resort for the entire year, is actually cheaper than an adult six-day lift pass.

For kids and adults, it’s always great to start your trip with lessons for a day or two to get comfortable on the slopes. If you plan to take lessons, find out if the ski school lessons include a day pass or if one must be purchased separately. Ski schools usually can be booked a day in advance, but if you’re planning a visit over a major holiday weekend, consider booking up to two weeks early. Additionally, if you plan to stay outside of the resort, you may need to book ski school and lift passes separately.


At ski school, learn and practice basic techniques like how to control your speed through wedging — also known as the pizza position — bringing the tips of your skis to a point, forming a V shape that resembles a slice of pie

When renting gear like skis, poles and snowboards, don’t be afraid to rent from a third-party vendor — like ski and gear shops in neighboring towns. For example, if you’re planning to ski at Park City Mountain Resort, you may find cheaper gear (and lift tickets) at gear shops in Salt Lake City. Going through a local vendor can often lead to significant savings if there aren’t package deals available at your destination or hotel. Plus, there are usually fewer people being outfitted at the same time. Wherever you decide to purchase your passes or rent gear, try to pick them up the afternoon before you plan to use them, as mornings are the busiest times at rental counters.

What to Pack for Your First Ski Trip

Not all ski destinations require the same gear. Once you determine your destination, research the average temperature during the dates of your visit.

A typical ski outfit is all about layers: breathable base layers like Smartwool made to cut down on sweating, which can actually make you colder; a second layer of fleece pants and shirts that are easily removed; ski pants and bibs; and a waterproof jacket and hat. For toddlers and babies, stick to a one-piece ski suit. These are easier to pack and keep track of, and they have fewer areas where heat can escape or snow can get in — ensuring your little one stays warm, even after a full day of making snow angels.

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the sun is any less powerful, so remember to pack and apply sunscreen before hitting the trails.

For first snowboarding or ski trips, you should also pack several thick pairs of socks (preferably wool), gloves, hand warmers and face and neck guards for warmth, plus goggles to protect your eyes. These first-time skiing and snowboarding checklist items are always available at the resort or in town, but they can usually be found considerably cheaper during seasonal sales, like Black Friday, or when ordering in advance online.

Make sure to also pack warm leisure clothing for après-ski social activities, dinner and lounging around the hotel or cabin, and a swimsuit for the hot tub. Finally, the sun is bright and powerful when reflecting off all that snow. Don’t forget to pack SPF lip balm and sunscreen for your face, hands and ears. Use compression bags to squeeze bulky items into your luggage, and make sure to wear your heaviest coats and boots on the plane to save suitcase space.

Not sure how to pack the bulkier winter weather items you need for a ski vacation? This 30-second video is filled with tips and techniques so zipping your bags will be a breeze come travel day.


Tips for the Slopes

Before you head out, pack a lightweight backpack with water, a few snacks like granola bars, and your other ski essentials (sunscreen, hand warmers and lip balm) to carry with you or store at a lodge locker.

Skis, snowboards, tubes and snowshoes (above) are frequently available for rent at resorts, so it’s easy for families to traverse the slopes without the hassle and expense of buying and traveling with big equipment.

Plan a mountain schedule for one or two days so everyone can enjoy skiing at their own skill level. If everyone is comfortable skiing individually or in small groups, the more advanced skiers in your group can opt for a more challenging run while those who are still learning can spend another day at ski school or tackle some of the resort’s beginner-friendly trails. Set meeting times throughout the day to check in on each other, and then set a place and time to reunite and swap stories for dinner. Tip: Once you know your plan for the day, make dinner reservations. Restaurants in resort towns get busy during ski season. Also, remember a first ski trip is about more than just skiing; make sure to save time for tubing, snowshoeing, sledding or sightseeing around town together.

Depending on how cold it is, your camera or phone may freeze up, making it hard to snap photos on the go. Whether you’re building a snowman or getting ready for your first run, keep your smartphone in your inside jacket pocket or your camera inside an insulated bag and you’ll be ready to capture all your family’s first ski trip memories, no matter the weather or the activity.

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About the Author

Jade Broadus is the mom behind the award-winning family travel blog She has taken her now-2½-year-old on over 110 flights, countless road trips and five ski trips, with the first at 5 weeks old. From California to Colorado, Canada to Sweden, she has personally tested these tips in the field. Beyond the blog, you can see her byline in National Geographic, The Points Guy and What to Expect, and follow along daily through the family’s adventures on Instagram @vagabond3.