Spending the holiday season on skis or a snowboard is a great way to bond as a family and make lifelong memories together. Celebrating at a resort means there’s plenty of warming up by the fire, watching the snowfall, and cozying up for all the other delights of the season. The decorations, twinkle lights, and all-around festive atmosphere can make for a trip your family will never forget.
Planning a holiday family ski vacation can feel like an overwhelming task, but with these tips, you’ll be able to streamline all the logistics of travel, lodging, dining, and getting out on the slopes.
1. Decide What Kind of Experience You Want
Choosing a resort is the most critical part of your preparation. Do you have a family full of rippers that need no instruction and could care less about anything else at the resort besides skiing? You might want to pick a resort that offers more advanced terrain, like Kirkwood in California. If you have younger kids who are new to the sport, look for a resort known for its ski school, like Beaver Creek in Colorado. If your group is a mix of abilities, you might want a big resort like Vail in Colorado that will have something for everyone.
What else do you want to do while you’re there? Are you someone who like a spa day in the middle of the trip? Is shopping important to you? Those who want a village experience may prefer a resort like Utah’s Park City, which has a historic downtown to explore—and it’s only 30 minutes from Salt Lake City.
2. Think About Lessons
If your kids are just starting out, look for a resort with a ski school where you can drop the kids off with their instructors and get plenty of turns in on terrain yourself. If you’d instead like to learn with your children, many resorts offer family lessons where you can stay together. Even if you or your family has skied before, lessons are a great way to get reacquainted with the sport, learn the mountain from the experts, and pick up some new tips.
3. Plan a Budget
There is a wide range of options at every ski resort, and having a budget in place beforehand can help ensure that you don’t end up with sticker shock. The resort’s concierge can help you stick to the budget by finding accommodations and activities that fit with what you’re able to spend. If money is tight, pick one splurge event—maybe it’s that horse-drawn sleigh ride or one fancy meal by the fire.
4. Look for Special Holiday Events
North American resorts—especially the bigger ones—are no longer just about skiing. They’re a place to come together and celebrate the best parts of the season, and they do a lot to make you fall in love with the magic of winter. Vail-owned resorts covered by the Epic Pass are especially good at this. (The pass gives skiers access to all the Vail-owned properties as well as additional resorts around the world.) Don’t be surprised to see Santa and his elves visiting the village area in the days leading up to Christmas, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and the makings of s’mores set out by the fire pits.
Some resorts might even host a New Year’s Day parade or other fun family-friendly activities. Vail offers a Kris Kringle Market in December that offers holiday gifts, handmade ornaments, and season food to enjoy. Other resorts have signature holiday attractions like tree lightings, fireworks, parties, or parades.
5. Plan Your Trip Early
Expect more crowds if you visit during these popular times, especially on the weekend. Get your lodging reserved early in the season to ensure a spot. Also, remember to double check your pass if you opt for something other than just day tickets. Holiday dates are blacked out at most resorts if you purchase a less expensive pass.
Most resorts have excellent customer support to help you plan your trip, so take advantage of them. They will tell you if you need to make reservations early for ski lessons, dining reservations, or other mountain activities. It’s better to figure it out now instead of being disappointed when you get there.
6. Get Your Gear
Ski equipment is expensive and cumbersome. For many families, renting all the gear once you get to the resort makes the most sense. That’s especially true if your kids only ski once or twice a year, since they will likely outgrow your investment before they can use it again. You will also always be skiing on the most technically up-to-date equipment.
7. Enjoy Activities Besides Skiing and Snowboarding
How much time will your family actually want to spend skiing? Smaller kids and those newer to the sport will likely only last an hour or two in ski boots or on the hill before needing a break, which is why resorts that also offer tubing, snowshoeing, fat-tire bicycling, ice skating, and other winter activities might be a welcome reprieve for tuckered out skiers. Some of the larger resorts offer things like childcare, spa services, and women’s specific clinics, as well.
Don’t be afraid to give each other space to pursue the activities that appeal to them. At a winter resort, there’s plenty of reasons to come together as a family at the end of the day.
8. Get Everything Else You Need
Think ahead and start planning for all the gear you need to bring apart from the skis and snowboards: water-resistant gloves, wool socks, base layers, snow pants, and a jacket. Helmets can be rented, but perhaps you want your own? Don’t forget you’ll also need a couple outfits for après ski and all the winter holiday activities you plan to attend. Take advantage of end-of-season sales whenever possible, and you can slowly start accumulating everything you need.