How to Plan Your Next Ski Trip

Ski expert Robbie M. walks you through everything you need to know about planning the perfect ski trip—from location to lodging to transportation.

A close-up image of sparkling, groomed snow as you look down the slope towards low-lying hills in the background.

Photo by Robbie M.

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As the snow melts on the mountains and your skis give you a sad look knowing they won’t be shredded upon for several months, you may begin to wonder what to do next. In my own personal experience, the best way to deal with postseason-ski blues is to start building the hype. Rewatching GoPro footage from past trips is great and all, but there’s nothing more exciting than having a blank canvas in front of you to plan out the upcoming year’s ski trips.

Like many artists first beginning their masterpiece, staring at that blank canvas can be intimidating, even unmotivating with the seemingly overwhelming amount of choices. There are so many variables and logistics that come with planning a ski trip, especially if it’s your first ski trip, such as location, budget, transportation, and lodging that it can be hard to know where to start. However, after planning a dozen ski trips for my friends, I’ve come up with a successful recipe to reduce the burden that comes with planning and replace it with the stoke of having first tracks down a fresh line.

Location, Location, Location

An image of the line outside the Big Red chairlift at Jackson Hole.

“Big Red” at Jackson Hole provides over 4,000ft of vert in one run. Photo by Robbie M.

The first and biggest step of planning your next ski trip is picking the location(s) of the trip. This is no simple task, as there are thousands of different ski resorts and local hills throughout the world. There are many ways to go about selecting where you want to ski, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to prioritize what you’re looking for the most. I’m a big fan of writing down a list of the top 3-5 things that I want to prioritize for the trip, which can help me narrow down my choices. A well-planned ski trip involves a good amount of research, so my recommendation is to sit down with your favorite coffee or adult beverage of choice, crack open your computer, and dive in with a notepad and pen (or spreadsheet if you’re a nerd like me) handy. Here are a few factors to consider and research when picking the location of your next ski trip:

Budget

It’s always a great idea to start your planning around your budget, as money is typically one of the biggest limiting factors when looking to plan your next ski trip. Your budget will determine how and where you get your lift tickets, your method of transportation, where you stay, and what you eat. Given enough time (see next bullet point), just about any ski trip location is plausible on most budgets. Even the most expensive ski locations can be accessible on a smaller budget if you’re willing to drive, pack your own food, and camp out of your vehicle. Having a set number upfront that you’re willing to spend can help narrow down several trip details such as transportation and lodging once you pick the location of your trip.

Time available for the trip and convenience

Knowing how much time I have to go on my ski trip helps me choose the most ideal destinations for my trip. As someone who values my vacation time, I try to optimize minimizing travel days and maximizing skiing days. I tend to pick locations that are easy to get to via plane and within a 2-hour drive of an airport. Some locations, such as Snowbird and Alta, are within a 45-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport, making skiing and flying out on the same day possible. However, if time is not a limiting factor, you may decide to drive to your desired location, saving money that can be spent in other ways (lift tickets, lodging, food, après beers, etc).

Along with time, the convenience of picking a resort with lodging close to the slopes and available shuttles for transportation may be of importance to you, but will significantly increase the overall cost. More time (and money) can also open up destinations outside of the US, such as Japan, New Zealand, and Europe.

Ski passes

This is my main deciding factor when planning out my trips for the year. If you’re looking to ski several places during one trip or go on more than one trip, buying a multi-mountain ski pass is an awesome way to do so. Depending on the pass and how many days you plan to ski, multi-resort passes can end up saving you a lot of money. The past three years I’ve gone with the Mountain Collective pass because of the resorts included on the pass, creating a few multi-resort trips to remember. If you need help deciding which pass to buy, check out this article by another Curated expert talking about some of the main passes available. One multi-resort pass not included in this article is the Indy Pass, a super budget-friendly pass that gives you two days of skiing at each of the 63 resorts. Two of my friends leveraged this pass for 8 days of skiing out West, along with skiing in Minnesota where we live, racking up over $2000 of skiing for $200 (the cost of the Indy pass).

Skier ability and available terrain

It’s important to understand your ski ability and the ability of the others in your group before making a decision on a location. Ski resort terrain varies incredibly from resort to resort; not all black diamonds are the same. A black diamond at your local Midwest resort pales in comparison to a moguled-out black diamond on the backside of Copper Mountain. In the words of Blister Reviews (check them out if you’ve never heard of them) founder Jonathan Ellsworth, “Know thyself” when it comes to your ski ability.

Knowing whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or expert-level skier can help steer you away from resorts where you may not have the best time. A quick google search of “best ski resorts for beginners” or “best ski resorts for experts” will give you a quick list of places to check out.

Another great research activity is to look at the trail maps of the resorts on your list, giving you an idea of the terrain type and variety of the resort. Terrain variety is important when skiing with a mixed bag of abilities and experience—a place like Kicking Horse, where the majority of the runs are single or double black diamonds, would not be the place to bring your kids or people trying skiing for the first time. Many Colorado resorts have a great mix of terrain to provide the whole family with fun runs that work for their experience level. Lastly, most resorts offer ski lessons aimed at everything from beginners to experts looking to taking their skiing to the next level.

Snow and weather conditions

This point brings out my inner ski snob, however, snow conditions are something to consider when deciding where you want to go. I’m a big fan of picking resorts that receive high yearly snowfall totals as well as regular snowfall throughout the season, making a much-desired powder day more likely. I also am a big fan of light and dry powder, as opposed to the heavier snow found on the West Coast, which tends to steer me towards the Rockies. Snowbird in Utah and Jackson Hole in Wyoming are regularly on the top of my list for these two factors, as they routinely get dumped on with the highest-quality powder I’ve yet to experience.

Along with snow conditions, weather conditions are also important to take into consideration. Canada in January can be incredibly cold, spring skiing can be incredibly warm, and sometimes you can go to Alaska and get rained on for a week straight. Doing a little research on temperatures and weather patterns for the time of year you’re looking to go on your trip can help you make decisions on what type of gear you need to pack and what to expect when skiing at that location.

Reviews from friends

Do you know friends who go on ski vacations every year? Reach out to them and ask them about their favorite locations! Several of my earlier trips were at destinations that some of my ski buddies had been to before, including many places I would not have initially gone to without their recommendation. Like many big purchases in life, reviews, especially from people you know and trust, can be incredibly helpful.

Lodging: Finding the Crash Pad

An image taken on a street corner in Downtown Banff. In the background, a jagged, snow-covered peak rises about the town, and the sky glows pink and blue in the cloudy sunset.

The Mount Royal Inn (right) in Downtown Banff, Alberta, CA. Photo by Robbie M.

Once you’ve decided on a location based on the variables above, the next step is to sort out where to stay. There are so many options when it comes to lodging and it boils down to budget, level of comfort, distance to the slopes, what’s nearby, and group size. Below are a few of the more typical options you can choose from.

Ski in-ski out

This is the most convenient solution for where to stay. Being right on the slopes has plenty of advantages, including being first out on the mountain. A bonus perk is when it snows too much and the roads leading to the resort shut down, leaving more powder for you and the others staying on-site. However, this is usually the most expensive option, with hotel rooms starting in the $400-a-night range. Another hidden negative to staying onsite is the upcharge on food and drinks which adds up quickly. Sometimes you can bundle deals with lift tickets, but in my experience, this is not the most cost-effective path despite potentially saving on transportation costs.

Airbnb / Vrbo

Staying at Airbnbs has been my preferred method over the last several years. There are so many options to rent at many different price points—anything from camping on someone’s land for $15 a night to renting an entire ski in-ski out house for $1000s a night. Pending the resort, there are usually condos in the mountain village or close by that can be rented for $250-$400 a night and usually include multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. Along with being able to accommodate more people, most Airbnbs have a kitchen, which can help you save significantly on food and drinks. It’s also fun to have the uniqueness factor, with each Airbnb making every trip an adventure. One downside of Airbnb is that you may not be as close to the mountain, which could require extra transportation (such as a rental car). Other things to consider are cleaning fees and taxes, which can add more to the price displayed on Airbnb.

Standard hotel chains and local hotel options

Hotels are a solid option if your skiing is close to a metropolitan area. Generally, standard chains are reasonably priced, and if you have points through frequent stays, you can get free nights. Some hotel chains have kitchenettes which can help with food costs, otherwise, you’ll end up eating out for most meals (which isn’t always a bad thing).

Camping

I have yet to camp on a ski trip, but if you’re super hardcore and not afraid of winter camping, this may be the most cost-effective lodging of them all. As someone who hasn’t winter-camped, I can’t talk through the logistics of food / how you refrain from freezing solid all night, but if you’re into that kind of thing, it can be a great option, and our Hiking & Camping experts covered it in this article if you’re looking for guidance. If you are interested in learning more about winter camping, visit Curated’s Camping site to speak with an expert!

Transportation: How to Get to the Goods

Taken from the passenger seat of a car, the author travels towards snowy hills and the low-lying sun.

Driving takes time but provides the best views. Photo by Robbie M.

Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to stay, the next step is to figure out how to get there and to the mountain. The two biggest things to consider with transportation are time and money. Like I stated above in the location section, I’m typically looking to maximize ski time and minimize time spent traveling, so I typically opt for flights and rental cars. However, if you’re looking to save some money, driving your own vehicle or leveraging public transportation or airport shuttles to and from ski areas to avoid rental cars can save you some serious coin. If you do opt for a rental car, make sure you get one with all-wheel drive, as snowy mountain roads are not a good time (plus many states require AWD or 4x4 going into the mountains). Here are a few tidbits of info to think about when planning trip transportation:

Flights

The majority of my ski trips involve a flight and several have been booked specifically because of cheap flights. There are many ways to track flight prices (Kayak and Hopper are two great services), but I tend to use Google Flights on my phone. I’ll punch in dates and an airport and refresh daily, sometimes playing around with different dates to see different prices. I’ve found the best deal on flights 1.5 to 3 months ahead of your targeted trip dates; if you book any earlier or later, you’ll generally pay a little more for the airfare. One thing to watch out for is hidden costs, especially with budget airlines, which can add up quickly if you’re traveling with gear. I typically stick to Delta as they have an awesome policy on ski and snowboard gear: ski bag and boot bag combined under 50 lbs counts as a normal checked bag.

Pro tip: when flying with ski gear pack your clothes around your skis and in your boot bag to take advantage of the 50lb limit and minimize the gear you have to carry on for the flight. I do typically carry on my goggles though, as they’re more prone to potential baggage handling damage.

Rental cars

Typically, if you go for the Airbnb / Vrbo or hotel chain options for lodging and aren’t driving your own vehicle there, rental cars make sense for day-to-day transportation. Most airports have onsite rental car facilities making this a convenient option. Depending on dates and availability, pricing can be more on the expensive side (especially during peak times, such as holiday weekends and February—typically the snowiest month for many resorts), however, there are perks to having a vehicle, such as being able to go outside of the resort for food and sightseeing.

Make sure your vehicle has AWD or 4x4 and enough room for everyone and their gear if you’re bringing your own. Another thing to watch out for is cancellation policies; many of the discount rental car companies and deals through sites like Priceline have hidden cancellation costs and policies that can hit you hard if you have to change plans. My personal preference is to book directly through companies like National or Hertz, or leverage Costco’s rental car service if you’re a member!

Shuttles

In my opinion, shuttles are a very underrated and cost-effective option, especially if staying onsite at a resort or at a nearby hotel with shuttle service to resorts. One great example of this is in Banff; if you plan to ski Banff Sunshine Village, Mt. Norquay, or Lake Louise (all part of the Big3 resorts), there are free shuttles from downtown Banff that will take you to and from the mountains. We rented a car and drove the 1.5 hours from the Calgary airport, however once in Banff, we never used our rental, as we could walk around downtown and use the shuttle to go skiing.

Public transportation

Public transportation can be an awesome cheap option to get to the mountain. Do some research on the area near your targeted ski location to see if public transportation or carpooling exists. Salt Lake City offers both a ski bus system and ridesharing to the mountains!

Someone stands on skis at the edge of a peak, facing the sharp slope. Clouds are covering the sky and the snow is thick.

Upper Cirque at Snowbird provides a chalky challenge. Photo by Robbie M.

Food and Après: Refueling and Hydrating

One of the most underrated and missed pieces of ski trip planning is determining how you and your squad will refuel and hydrate. Like all the other areas of trip planning, budget and convenience come into play when making your decision, along with where you’ll be staying. You can always eat and drink at the resort, however, you will almost always pay a premium for the convenience that provides (unless you opt for the free “tomato soup”, aka ketchup and hot water in a styrofoam cup). If paying $20 for a cheeseburger isn’t your thing, stopping by a grocery or convenience store before hitting the mountain is a great way to cut costs. Even if you’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen or don’t want to cook your big meals, simply getting some sandwich materials and snacks can cut costs for your on-mountain dining.

My crew and I typically stock our packs with PB&Js, protein bars, and gummy candies (because gummy bears taste better on a chairlift). One thing I recommend to most people is to ask locals at the resorts where the best places are to eat in town; unlike their personal powder stashes, they’ll be happy to share the best local eateries with you (such as The Bird in Jackson or Riverhouse BBQ in Big Sky). If you’re in New England, check out this guide to the best après-ski bars by fellow Curated Ski expert, Victoria B.

Don’t be a Ski Trip Planning Gaper—Just Send It!

Planning a ski trip can be quite intimidating, however like any spicy line, once you drop in and begin to “make turns” you’ll find it more and more approachable. Start early, do your research, crunch the numbers, and the plans will fall into place. If you need help in your trip planning or are looking to obtain your own ski gear, feel free to reach out to me or another Ski expert here on Curated; we'd be more than happy to help you plan and equip you for your next ski adventure!

Ski Expert Robbie M
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Robbie M
Ski Expert
Robbie here! How can I help?
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Written By
Engineering Supervisor by day; ski-addict by night/weekend. Skiing has taken me to Canada, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and Utah, and all are places I'd rather be skiing than my current location in Minnesota (which, to be honest, isn't that bad...see Marcus Caston's Minnesota Return of the Turn episo...

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