If you don’t hit the slopes often, planning a family ski vacation can be daunting. Ease your worries with these 6 foolproof tips.
You love skiing. Or maybe you’re like me and snowboarding’s more your jam. Either way, you have great memories of a family ski vacation as a kid. And now that you’re a parent, you want to share that experience with your own kids. You have visions of your kids shredding up the slopes during the day and sipping adult beverages in the hot tub by night (you, not your kids).
But then you start to think about actually planning a family ski vacation and the panic sets in. Which ski area is family friendly? Should I put my kids in ski school or not? And packing? What the hell do I need to pack? Oh, and how will we get there? Should I fly or drive, and if I drive, do I need a 4-wheel drive vehicle? So many questions! But you can relax. My family skis two or three times a month in winter. So, we’ve got answers to pretty much everything you need to plan the ultimate foolproof family ski vacation.
Pick a Family-Friendly Ski Area
The last thing you want is to plan a family ski vacation to a mountain that looks like the Matterhorn. Steep, extreme terrain isn’t exactly the best place for kids to get comfortable skiing. Many ski areas try to cater to families, but it’s still a good idea to look at their terrain maps online to make sure they’ve got mellow slopes everyone can enjoy. If your kids are beginners, you want a ski area with lots of green runs.
What’s a green run, you ask? Well, ski runs are divided into three main categories: green runs, blue runs, and black diamond runs. Green runs are the easiest and flattest runs to ski on. They’re the best for beginners. Blue runs are a little steeper, but are usually pretty wide and don’t have bumps or moguls to maneuver around. They’re classified for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. And then you’ve got black diamond runs. These are the steepest runs, are often narrow, and have lots of obstacles like moguls and trees. Lots of fun, but definitely for advanced skiers and snowboarders.
My family went to Steamboat Springs Ski Area in Colorado on our last trip, and had a blast. If you’ve never been, you have to check it out! Learn more here >
Also, if you kids are totally new to skiing or snowboarding, make sure to pick a ski area with a well-rated ski school program. Which brings us to the next tip…
To Ski School or Not to Ski School?
To answer this question, you have to answer a bunch more questions first. But they’re easy ones so don’t sweat it.
- Are you a good skier?
If you and your better half are on the beginner side of things, stop here. Put the kids in ski school. Everyone will be happier. Trust me. Now, if you’re an intermediate to advanced skier, then go to the next question.
- Do you have a lot of patience?
If your answer is no, stop here. Put the kids in ski school. Teaching kids to ski or snowboard takes an incredible amount of patience. If you think you’re a patient person…well, let’s just say that skiing with kids will test that patience to the limit. My wife and I taught our daughter how to ski ourselves and it worked out, but there were days when I wanted to throw my board off the mountain and never come back again. (Only a slight exaggeration). But if you think you’re up for the challenge, move on to the next question.
- Do you want to spend most of your time teaching or skiing?
If the goal of your family ski vacation is to shred the gnar, show off your mad skills, and leave your kids in the dust, stop here. Put the kids in ski school. If you truly love teaching your kids new skills, then by all means, teach them yourself. It is incredibly rewarding to have your kiddo ski into your arms for the first time. The look of pride and excitement on their faces is so totally worth the effort.
- Do you plan to ski often with your family?
This next question is crucial. If your family ski vacation is a one-time deal, stop here. Put the kids in ski school. You want to make the most of your time, so don’t spend it walking next to your kids holding their hands down the bunny slope. But if this is something you plan to do every year, or even several times a year, then missing out on a few hours of ski time while you teach your kids isn’t a big deal. Go to the last question.
- Is your family ski vacation on a budget?
Ski school is not cheap. On the low end, it’ll be a couple hundred bucks for a half day. On the high end…well…basically, you could buy a used car with how much it costs. So, if money isn’t too big of a deal, go ahead and put the kids in ski school. But if you’ve got a tight budget for your family ski vacation, AND you’ve passed the previous four questions, then skip ski school and take it on yourself. Again, it can be super rewarding to share the experience with your kids.
How to Pack for a Family Ski Vacation
Packing for a family ski vacation can seem like a gigantic task. But it’s not so bad when you break it down. It’s really just a matter of layering. What’s layering? Basically, it means you don’t want to just pack a big, puffy jacket and call it good. To stay warm in the cold AND be able to adjust your body temperature when you get too warm, you want to dress in layers. Here’s a rundown of what to bring for yourself and your kids.
This means t-shirts, undies, socks, and long underwear. Avoid cotton at all costs for your base layer. Cotton absorbs sweat like a sponge. And when sweat gets cold and presses on your skin, guess what? You’re going to get cold. Choose sweat-wicking materials for your base layers like polyester or wool. Airblaster makes some of the best long underwear out there, so check out their stuff here >
These are thicker garments than base layers like sweaters, fleece tops, or hoodies. It’s best if they have zippers (even quarter-zips or half-zips) so you can open them up if you begin to overheat on the slopes.
This is where the big, puffy jacket comes in. If you’ve got base layers and mid layers, then your outer layer is the last thing you’ll need to keep warm and protected from the snow and cold. It’s best if your outer layer is water-resistant or waterproof so melting snow doesn’t soak in.
A few final notes of what to pack for the slopes: goggles and helmets are a must, but you can often rent these at the mountain. Neck gaiters are great to pack too. And don’t forget hand warmers and foot warmers. These things are lifesavers for the kids. Seriously. Read more about hand warmers here >
If You Drive, Drive a 4×4 Vehicle
I hear it all the time from old school dads that all-wheel drive cars or 4×4 trucks are overrated for winter driving. Shit, they learned to drive on ice and snow in a rear-wheel drive car with bald tires, so what’s the big deal? Well, remember that the title of this story is “How to Plan a FOOLPROOF Family Ski Vacation with Kids.” Foolproof is the keyword here. We want to have fun, safe, worry-free getaway here, so choose the four-wheel drive.
For my family’s last ski trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, we drove a 2021 Chevy Tahoe Z71 4×4. Our Z71 Tahoe was rock solid on the 156-mile drive from Denver to Steamboat Springs. We drove over two mountain passes, both blizzarding with near-whiteout conditions, and along icy, windy roads, and it never once slipped. The Tahoe is a tank, and I mean that in a good way.
Check out the 2021 Chevy Tahoe Z71’s drool-worthy specs:
Engine: 5.3L V8 engine
Power: 355 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 383 lb-ft of torque @ 4100 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Tow Capacity: 7,500 lbs
Sound: Bose 9-speaker audio system
Tech: 10.2″ diagonal color touch-screen on dash, plus 2 more screens for kids in the 2nd row
Bottom line: If you drive a Tahoe, then you know. These things are amazing. If you don’t and you’re thinking about a new SUV, get one. It stands up to any other vehicle in its class. Maybe that’s why Car and Driver and Motortrend gave the 2021 Chevy Tahoe a rating of 8.5/10 and 8.3/10, respectively.
Don’t Be a Tourist. Be a Guest.
Okay, last tip for your family ski vacation: be kind when visiting a ski town. I know you’re spending a lot of money to get there and you may feel like you deserve 5-star treatment, even at the 7-Eleven on the corner. It might seem like paradise, but most people who live in ski towns work pretty hard to afford to live there. I lived in a ski town for a couple seasons in my 20s, and I barely scraped by working two jobs. It’s even harder these days for locals to afford living expenses with skyrocketing real estate prices. So, show the restaurant server a little grace if he forgets to bring extra napkins for your kids. Just remember we’re all lucky to share some time together in the beautiful open spaces of our mountains.