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How to Plan the Perfect Ski Vacation

a sign on the side of a road

Planning a ski vacation can often feel overwhelming with so many questions to be answered. Where do we go? Do we fly or do we drive? Do we stay at ski in/ski out spots or are we okay with walking, public transportation or shuttling? Do we rent gear when we arrive or bring our gear with us? Do we pre-purchase lift tickets before we arrive or buy them onsite? What kinds of dining, activities and nightlife are in the area?

Let me see if I can offer some suggestions that might be helpful as you attempt to plan the Perfect Ski Trip.

#1 – Location, Location, Location!

a harbor filled with lots of snow

It’s all about picking the right spot.  Make sure that the ability of your skiers matches the mountain.  Just because your friends like skiing steep and deep doesn’t mean that your little ones will enjoy being perched atop a Double Black Diamond with no easy way down.  

Snowbird has created a clever marketing campaign that uses 1 star reviews their customers have written to describe the horrible experience they had trying to navigate “The extremely difficult steep terrain” with quotes things like, “This wasn’t even a run. You had to jump over rocks and narrow chutes to make it to the bottom.” While that sounds like heaven to some (me included) it’s probably not ideal for the entire party in your family ski vacation. I always like to pull up the trail map and see how many green/beginner runs there are compared to blue/intermediate and black/advanced runs.  

Make sure the mountain suits the needs of your skiers!  Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley have a great mix of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced terrain.  Most lifts have an easy way down that the younger kids can ski while advanced skiers can be challenged and then you can meet and all ride the same lift to the top.  Park City has a signature 3.5 mile run called “Homerun” that will take you from the top of the mountain to the bottom.

a young child riding on top of a snow covered slope

Pro Travel Tip: There are 9 ski resorts within a one-hour drive from Salt Lake City International Airport.  SLC is much easier to fly into than the Denver area.  You can leave the East Coast on a 7 AM flight and be skiing in Utah that afternoon.  How great is that?

#2 – Ski in & ski out?

a group of people standing in front of a pile of snow

The best and most memorable ski vacations we have had as a family involve us staying at ski/In ski/out locations.  With kids and teenagers this is the only way to go! Make it as easy as possible. You will pay about 3 times the cost but it is certainly worth the expense. The experience is so great that you quickly forget what you paid, and the memories will last forever.  

On the flip side, if you are traveling with a bunch of friends you can save some serious cash by staying further from the resort in smaller hotels with fewer amenities.  I have had several budget ski trips where we have scored great snow and it was all about the skiing.  Match the purpose of the trip with the proper accommodations.

#3 – Do I rent gear or do I bring my gear with me?

a close up of a car

The easy answer is based on this question: are you flying or driving? Most of the time when we drive we take our own gear.  When we fly we rent gear there.  If you are skiing for 3 days and you rent gear it is close to the same cost of paying for extra baggage on your flight.  It’s also so much more convenient to rent.  You don’t have to figure out how to get all of the gear from the airport to the condo or hotel in your tiny rental car that may not have a ski rack (they tend to run out during ski season). 

If your gear is more than 3 seasons old you might enjoy skiing on some new technology that will make your experience even better.  Rental ski boots have gotten better and better and are not the old, stiff and stinky uncomfortable boots you rented in the 80’s with your school ski program.  

There are lots of options for ski rental companies that do a great job.  One of my favorite options is ski delivery, especially if you are staying on the snow.  Stop hauling gear all over town and have your gear delivered and picked up by a friendly ski technician. The more things you can do to make your trip easier is an absolute win.

Pro Travel Tip: If you love your ski boots you may want to consider traveling with only your boots. When you rent from HWY 40 Ski Delivery and bring your own boots your rental will be discounted and we’ll be sure to adjust everything to your personal boots. And don’t forget, if you are flying you can take your boots onboard as your carry-on. 

Shop Tip: Most shops will rent helmets but not goggles. Buy a good pair of goggles that won’t fog and fit well with your helmet and travel with them. Seeing is skiing! More shops have started renting clothing as well but not all of them.  If you only plan to ski for 1 or 2 days, this is a good option.  If you are skiing 3 or more days, then you should just purchase good ski gear that will last several seasons and fit and function properly.

#4 – Research what you can do in the area when you’re not skiing.

a building covered in snow

Check out the nightlife, shopping, and day-off activities like snowmobiling, snowshoeing or dog sledding.  Park City is always rated as one of the best ski towns in America.  It has a rich history in silver mining with historic Main Street shopping.  It also has a fantastic nightlife scene with plentiful 5-star dining options, nightclubs and bars.  

a man riding skis down a snow covered slope

Utah is known for its great access to incredible snowmobiling.  Plentiful powder fields, groomed trails and rugged terrain will fill any need for adventure. Deer Valley is the location for the World Cup Freestyle events that are normally held in the evenings under the lights.  Another great option are local sporting events. Ski season is the same time as NBA basketball.  It’s always a good time going into SLC to watch the Utah Jazz play your favorite team.  

I mention these ideas because although the purpose of the trip is skiing, people tend to forget that the mountain closes at 4pm and that leaves a lot of downtime.  It’s always fun to have some different activities lined up outside of world-class skiing.  Make sure you plan some extra adventure into your trip!

So there you have it! You should now be able to start doing your research and put together a memorable and exciting ski escape.


Now get to the mountain already. 


Jonathan Wagstaff

Jonathan Wagstaff

Jonathan loves pushing the limits and has been skiing since age 2. He’s a father of four, an entrepreneur, and owns and operates HWY 40 Ski Delivery with his wife Jessica. Jonathan has a passion for creating outdoor experiences for others, boating, adventure travel and he only sleeps when the wind blows.