How to Ski With a Group and Make Your Next Trip Fun for Everyone
Stoked for your next ski vacation, but a little unsure how you’ll keep up with your friends? Ski Expert Matt B. dives into how to maximize your time on the slopes.
Do you have that one friend who, no matter what, brings up skiing at least once every time you see them? Sometimes you might be thinking, “Geesh, this person is pretty hardcore about skiing. Is that all they think about?”
Well, short answer: yes, you might be right.
As the token ski-obsessed friend in many of my circles, you’d be right to call me hardcore (or “intense,” which is what my wife calls my fixation) when it comes to sliding down the mountain. It’s my go-to daydream in the dog days of summer, and as soon as I can see my breath in the cold fall mornings of October, I go all the way down the skiing rabbit hole—fast. By the time November rolls around, I have my season passes all purchased, trips booked, and new gear in the mail.
I guess that’s pretty intense to some—but to me, man, that’s just the way I want it.
But it’s not for everyone, and many times, casual skiers may find themselves intimidated to venture onto the mountain with their ski-hound friends who they know are much stronger skiers. And it’s not just friends, either—family trips can get complicated if some are strong skiers while others are perfectly happy to stick to the greens and blues (trail ratings, more on that later).
If this sounds like you—on either end of the spectrum—read on for tips on how to make the most of your next ski vacation, even if you’ve got expert skiers or novices in tow.
Understand Your Skill Level
The first thing you need to do is get real with yourself. How good of a skier are you?
This is definitely a subjective question, but the process of thinking it through will help you decide where you should and shouldn’t venture on the mountain.
For example, if you’re a beginner skier, trying to keep up with your cousin who puts in 45-50 days a year will be a challenge, and will likely lead to more frustration for the both of you. And, if you’re the expert of the bunch, having lofty expectations of hitting that chute you scoped out last year with your intermediate friends may be a little much.
As you’ll see, the biggest and the best thing you can do to make sure your next group trip is enjoyable is to set and temper your expectations. And part of the way you should do that is by assessing whether the terrain you want to tackle is too hard or too easy for others in the group.
Once you have an idea of the general skill level of the group, you’ll be able to make an informed decision of what mountain to ski—as well as where on the mountain to ski. And it all starts with knowing your own skill level.
Know Your Limits
Once you know your skiing ability, you also need to know your limits. This primarily applies to the newer, less-experienced skiers of the group. Many ski resorts go out of their way to include great terrain for beginners and intermediates—but one wrong turn can still take you from zero to gnarly real quick.
If you’re a beginner skier heading out West for the first time, it’s probably a safe bet to say that you shouldn’t be hitting any black diamond runs while you’re there. Depending on the resort, some blues may even be a stretch. But here’s the thing: that’s totally ok!
Skiing is supposed to be fun and the last thing you want to do is get so scared that you call it an early day.
Once you know your limits, vocalize them! Take it from me—the strong skiers of your group will gravitate towards more technical, advanced terrain so unless you vocalize your limits, they may not pick up on them.
And for all the strong skiers out there: if you’re skiing with a group, deliberately ask your friends and family if they’re comfortable hitting certain terrain. You might find that some are hesitant to say “no,” but in reality, they may be scared out of their minds. Save the extreme stuff for your solo days, or when you’re shredding with your favorite ski partner.
What Do Trail Ratings Really Mean?
Alright, so you’ve probably heard about trail ratings without entirely knowing it. In the U.S. (and Canada), here’s the breakdown:
- Easy: Green Circle
- Intermediate: Blue Square
- Advanced: Black Diamond
- Expert: Double (or triple) Black Diamond
You’ll see these ratings peppered around resorts, on everything from trail maps, to signs, and even lifts. Take them seriously—they’re there for a reason.
A pitfall I have seen folks fall into dozens of times is this: you’re scoping a run from the chairlift that looks pretty mellow, but the trail map says is a black diamond run. You think, “Hey, I can handle that,” and set off once you get off the lift. Your first few turns are great and the mellow pitch is pretty fun, but suddenly, a third of the way down, things get hairy when you see a small cliff band with a mandatory air (meaning, you’ll have to get airborne over the rocks to go down the rest of the run.) Now you’re in trouble—and you can either spend an hour hiking back to the top of the run or go full send over some terrain you shouldn’t be hitting.
Man, that’s a lose-lose if I’ve ever seen one. But, what’s the point of that example? Trail ratings matter.
If you’re a beginner or intermediate skier, take these seriously. Don’t let your strong-skier friends push you to tackle “mellow” black diamonds if you don’t feel completely comfortable on blues, first.
Putting It Into Practice
If you’re saying, “that’s great and all, but how do I put this in practice?” Don’t worry, let’s get into it.
Here’s my step-by-step process for making sure everyone has a good time on a group ski trip:
- Pick a big resort with something for everyone.
- In general, the more skiable acres, the better the chance that there will be a variety of terrain in the green, blue, and black buckets. This variety is the “spice of life” when it comes to skiing with varying abilities, and helps ensure that no one is stuck skiing the same old runs every time.
- Look for chairlifts/zones that feed multiple types of terrain.
- Think about it—how often do you ski talking to your friends or family? Not a ton, right? Most of the conversation happens on the lift. So, to give you the same group-vacation experience, look on the trail map for chairlifts that have a variety of runs routing back to them, and lap those zones as a group, riding the lift up together each time.
- Set expectations early on if you want to try some spicier (or more mellow) terrain.
- Be upfront with the group—if you want to lap that bowl on the backside of the mountain with a chair that only serves black and double black terrain, say that. But remember, you’re here with a group so don’t spend your entire day back there. Conversely, if you’re a beginner who wants to take it slow and get some warm-ups in, set a time and chair to meet up with so each member of the group can decide what they want to do.
- Compromise is key.
- If you’re the strong skier of the group, be prepared to slow things down a bit in order to accommodate the group. And, if you’re the beginner of the group, recognize that some of your friends or family won’t want to lap green runs all day. Either way, communication—and compromise—is key!
How Do I Ski With Snowboarders?
It might seem like a silly question, but if your group has snowboarders in it, you’ll want to take two additional factors into account.
First, remember that they have to strap into their board. So, don’t be that skier who takes off right after unloading the chairlift. It’s ok to take a beat and let your friends or family strap in and have a plan for the run (except on a pow day!).
Second, if you’ve got some snowboarders in tow, try to avoid long cat tracks or traverses, which skiers will find to be less of an inconvenience.
Don’t Be Afraid to Do Your Own Thing
At the end of the day, don’t be scared to do your own thing on the mountain. Skiing with a group can be a ton of fun, but it’s also fun to pull off and take a run by yourself every once in a while. If you find yourself taking a trip with a big group of varying abilities, just remember to communicate, and chances are good that you’ll have a blast.
If you have any questions or want to get geared up for a fun group excursion, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated. We'll be happy to help you with free, personalized advice and gear recommendations.