Family ski trips (Part 1): Tips and lessons learned from parents who have done it successfully

Traveling with a young family can seem overwhelming, no matter where you go. A beach vacation is one thing. Family ski trips can be an entirely different animal. Bringing the entire family on a destination ski trip is an investment, that’s for sure. It’s an investment not only in money but in time, logistical planning, and energy. This makes it really important to look at the big picture and do the trip planning legwork ahead of time. Doing this helps things go smoothly while you are at your destination. 

Given the investment you’re making in taking your family on a big trip like this, I wanted to dedicate a three-part series of blog posts to this subject. This is Part 1. It will go over family ski trip tips from a generic sense. What to look for, what to avoid, lessons learned, and more. You’ll hear from parents who have done trips like this many times before, and they’ve done them successfully.

There will be two follow-on posts. One will focus on European family ski trip destinations. The other will focus on North American family ski trip destinations (US and Canada). Look out for those posts in the coming weeks!

If you want to learn about all the craze with Japan and its booming ski scene, I’ve got you covered. Check out my skiing in Japan article here!

You know that feeling when you get back from a family vacation and you need a vacation because your trip was complete chaos? Here’s your first tip: you don’t want that! You want the family ski trip that feels like a vacation and is rewarding for everyone.

Family ski trips mean extra logistics

Let’s talk about some of the things that contribute to family ski trips being especially difficult. First of all, you are taking your family to a destination away from your home. Then, you’re adding in a bunch of logistically challenging obstacles. Equipment. Outer layers. Under layers. Winter weather and travel delays. Unpredictable conditions. Bathing suits for the pool and hot tub. Transportation to and from the airport. Getting to and from the mountain. Ski lessons and guides… The list goes on! 

What if your kids are young and they need toys to play with? Or if the parents want to have a date night and need to coordinate a babysitter? Some of this is standard for any family vacation. Add on all of the extra STUFF that is required for skiing and it gets a whole lot more complicated.

We didn’t even talk about the situation when a family has expert skiers who want to hit the backcountry, first-timers who need beginner lessons and bunny slopes, and everything in between. Oh, and there’s your 2-year-old daughter who isn’t even on skis yet. It’s not like you can just plop everyone on the beach and be a big happy family.

So how do you handle all of these variables on family ski trips? Read on to get expert tips from people who have done it…

Planning ahead makes a big difference

There’s one overarching tip to consider from the start. When the legwork is done ahead of time and everything is in synch and goes as planned, these kinds of trips are guaranteed to make lifelong memories for everyone. On the other hand, if minimal planning is done and things start to go off the rails, it can turn into a nightmare.

I wanted to get a better understanding of what it means to travel with a young family on a ski trip. What are some planning and preparation tips to put you in the best position for a successful trip?

So I sat down with a few parents who have a ton of experience when it comes to destination family ski trips. They’ve seen the highs, the lows, and everything in between when hauling their growing families and everyone’s extra layers, bulky gear, and attention seeking moods on a long flight to their ski destination of choice.

They were happy to share their advice and recommend first-hand tips to help make your next family ski trip less stressful. Here’s what they had to say: 

What has been one of your best experiences on a family ski trip?

It’s really hard to pick just one! Honestly though, it’s just the fact we are able to ski as a family. We live in Boston, so our favorite family ski spots in New England are Stowe, Okemo, Sugarbush, and Stratton (although Stratton really only has ski school and daycare compared to some of the other family friendly amenities you might want). 

So far, as a family, we have traveled to Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Whistler, and Banff. All were very successful. Big Sky offered dog sledding which the kids loved. The condo we stayed at in Jackson Hole was close to the mountain and had a great outdoor pool and hot tub. The kids had a blast! Whistler was awesome for everyone in the family; it really does have everything a resort can offer. In Banff, we got a list of babysitters from the hotel we stayed at, and we were able to interview her first so we felt comfortable. We liked her so much, we had her come back another night!

We also took our 9-month old to Snowbird, which was not our favorite. The skiing is obviously amazing at Snowbird and Alta, but from a baby friendly perspective, maybe it wasn’t the best destination choice (at least the hotel we stayed at). There also isn’t really a super centralized village with restaurants and shops. Things are a bit spread out, which can be difficult with young kids. People go there for the epic skiing, there’s no doubt about that. We will definitely return once the kids are a little older!

What has been one of your worst experiences on a family ski trip?

Travel is hard with young children for many reasons. Entertaining them on the flight, keeping track of bags and other items, and avoiding getting sick (on the flight or at daycare). If they get sick, we usually get sick! One of our sons gets motion sickness, so add that to the list too. 

No matter what, avoiding long flights, connections, and long drives is key to making family ski trips less stressful for everyone. Long, logistically complicated trips are no good. Also, the fewer opportunities for your trip to get derailed by the unpredictable winter weather, the better. This means direct flights whenever possible!

So what makes a ski resort family friendly? 

It has to offer all types of terrain levels to satisfy everyone in the family. This means plenty of beginner terrain and preferably some bunny slopes for the younger kids to learn. Centralized or easy to access lift areas can provide a nice meeting place if the family gets separated. Not all mountains have something like this. And don’t forget about advanced terrain for mom, dad, or the older kids if they are into that!

If this is your first time to a destination, another thing to consider is hiring a ski guide for at least a day. This can be a huge help for everyone to get to know the mountain when you’ve never been there before. 

You have young kids. What about childcare?

The resort needs to have a range of childcare options which include planned activities for kids of various ages. For example, arts and crafts, s’mores making, ice castles, winter themed games, etc. Half-day lessons or “camps” and a full-day ski school or daycare are all great options to have depending on what the kids are ready for, as long as they are well run. This means clean, organized, and appropriate staff to child ratios.

Let’s talk about non-skiing activities to keep everyone entertained. Do most resorts have that?

Not necessarily, it varies. But of course it’s very important to have some great family activities off the slopes. So we look for that kind of stuff when choosing our destinations. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but things like snow tubing, ice skating, “mountain coasters”, snowshoeing, and dog sledding are all great options to keep the family entertained. This can be a big help when building in non-skiing days with fun activities during the trip.

And for dining, we want options that are close walking distance to where we are staying. This is key. It’s also really comforting to know that there are casual restaurants that cater to families. This means parents can relax and don’t have to worry about their kids potentially disrupting other diners at a fancy restaurant. Places like this are also more enjoyable for the kids.

What might you look for in a family friendly hotel or other accommodations? 

In general, we like staying really close to the mountain. It does not have to be ski-in/ski-out. As long as it is a short walk or an easy shuttle ride away, it allows us to go back for naps or if someone is done skiing for the day. 

If we are going the traditional hotel route, it needs to be something with extra space that offers multiple rooms, like a multi-room suite or condo style arrangement. Otherwise, once the kids go to bed you have to sit in silence in a dark room so you don’t wake them up! 

So do you typically stay in a hotel or other types of accommodations?

Many resorts continue to offer more and more condo style accommodations with multiple bedrooms and common living areas for families. This often makes a lot of sense when traveling with our kids because we all have a little more room to spread out, the kids can play with their toys, my husband and I can hang out without being in silence in the dark (haha!), etc.

Here’s another tip. Whichever direction we go for accommodations, this is a must have for family ski trips: a pool and hot tub or other fun indoor option. This helps when the kids don’t want to ski, or it gives them something to look forward to after skiing. It’s also nice for parents who need a day off from the slopes! We have been to destinations with big indoor facilities that offer a “childcare drop-in” option where the kids can hang out while the parents work out and hit the hot tub. Other kids programming or amenities like game rooms and movie theaters are a nice bonus.

How do you deal with all of the extra “stuff” that comes with traveling with kids for a ski vacation?

An obvious option you can consider is renting your ski gear once you get there. I’ve also heard of companies like Ship Skis that will ship your ski equipment from your house to your destination. It will be waiting for you when you get there. Both of these options definitely work for some families. Avoiding hauling all of that bulky equipment through the airport can help reduce the chaos that comes with family ski trips.

This is something that is often overlooked, but it’s super important and has been really helpful for us: baby/kid rental gear. For example, crib, high chair, baby gates, infant bath tub, bins of toys, strollers, booster seat, hiking backpack, etc. At every destination we travel by plane, we always look for companies that rent these things out. We just let them know what we need and where we are staying and they set everything up for us before we arrive. This is key because most of the time we travel at night and get to the destination super late.

What other tips do you have for families to help make their ski trip stress-free? 

When we plan a family ski trip, it is important to consider the breakdown of time. For example, finding time for the parents alone as a couple, for all of us as a family, or for each of the parents individually (e.g. to get a massage or go off and ski the backcountry). And then of course we like any time that we can spend hanging out with friends who might be on the trip as well (e.g. on the slopes, après ski, restaurants, bars, etc.).

In order to do all of this, we always consider who will be watching the kids. We want to make sure they are still having fun even when they aren’t with us. We try hard to balance all of this which is certainly not easy. It helps if we bring along a grandparent or two, or even sign the kids up for ski school/daycare in advance. This way, we know we have at least one or two days with a few hours where they are engaged and having fun, and we can break away to enjoy ourselves doing adult things.

There’s still time to take your family on a ski vacation for the 2019/20 ski season. Planning a ski vacation is overwhelming and time consuming. Let us take care of the details for you. You’ll get a custom ski package and take your best ski holiday yet. Contact us today to start planning!