Flying With Skis: Ski Bag Options and Tips for Air Travel

Published on 09/30/2023 · 10 min readWorried that lugging your skis to the airport isn't worth the hassle? Ski Expert Matt B. shares how to make flying with skis (and the rest of your stuff) a breeze.
Matt B., Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Matt B.

The Dakine Fall Line Roller Bag. Photo courtesy of Dakine

Maybe you're stuck in the flatlands, dreaming of pow days in the Wasatch of Utah; maybe you can't wait to take in the scenery of the Canadian Rockies; or maybe you're gearing up to test your skills on the epic slopes of Europe. Either way, you might be asking yourself one question: how the heck am I going to get there?

Air travel these days is already hard enough, right? Getting there two hours before take-off, security, expensive water—the works. The last thing you want to do is throw in your precious, expensive six-foot-long twigs and hope for the best.

And you're right! You don't need to hope for the best, because with a little preparation, you'll be touching down at your destination and on your way to your adventure, whether you're flying Alaska Airlines or Southwest Airlines.

Should I Rent Skis?

Photo by Nuclear Lily

If you're wondering whether you should bring your skis with you on that upcoming ski vacation, chances are good that you're also asking yourself, "should I just rent skis instead?"

Most of the time, I'd offer you a resounding, "no!"

Just face it, unless you're planning to demo top-of-the-line skis, chances are good that your carefully selected ski setup is going to work better for you than off-the-shelf rentals. Your boots will be broken in, letting you put in hot laps at the resort; your skis are mounted to where you want them; and your bindings are set in that sweet spot where you know how hard you can push things.

Rentals? Not so much.

Yes, flying with skis will incur some normal baggage fees—and you may also have to buy a ski bag, but it pretty quickly becomes more economical to BYO (bring your own) than to rent.

So with that out of the way, let's look at how to get you, and your skis, to the mountain.

How to Fly With Skis

Good news: flying with skis really is pretty easy! Honestly, basically, the same rules for general luggage apply, but there is going to be a strategy component that you'll want to take into account to make sure you're maximizing space, limiting applicable fees, and controlling any variables that you can (especially when it comes to lost baggage).

Do Airlines Check Skis?

Photo by V. Pales

You bet they do!

With so many airlines these days flying into ski-specific locales, they know that there will be loads of skiers are going to bring their gear, and that means long ski bags and funny-looking boot bags, too.

Airlines are pretty accommodating for lots of sports gear, so your golf clubs, fishing rods and reels, and kiteboards are all able to make it to your destination, just like your snow ski equipment.

What About Baggage Fees?

Photo by Svitlana Hulko

Alright, here's the money question—literally. How much does it cost to check your skis and boots? Do you need to worry about excess weight charges? Do they count towards my baggage allowance or will I be paying oversize charges? What exclusions are there? Let's break it down:

Checked-Bag Fees

Just about all major airlines will let you fly with an accompanying ski bag, so rest assured that your twigs will be making the trip to the resort and back with you.

They all do, however, have their own, specific airline baggage item policies, which you'll need to follow to avoid getting hit with an extra charge. Below, I've linked to most major airline policies, so make sure to check these out before jet setting. (Note: These are subject to change, so it's always a good idea to check directly with your specific airline and their checked baggage policy.)

In general, most airlines' policies say that ski equipment counts as one checked bag, like any other piece of luggage, within the guidelines below:

  • 1x ski bag, with a set of snow skis and a set of poles.
    • Note: Typically, you can bring more than one pair of skis or set of ski poles, provided your bag doesn't exceed certain dimensions outlined in the airline's policies.
  • 1x boot bag with a pair of ski boots.

Airline-Specific Policies (see sports equipment sections):

Expert Tip: Some airline policies state that including additional clothes and other items in your ski/boot bags could incur an additional charge, typically the applicable overweight charges. While your mileage may vary, I personally have not had many issues with this. As you'll see below, I like to use a ski and boot bag, and I use my clothing (sweatshirts, pants, etc.) as extra padding around my skis in the main compartment.

What About Weight and Length Specs?

If you take a look at the airline policies above, you'll see that there are typically two dimensions to consider when checking skis that factor in determining any additional baggage charge, weight, and length.

Weight refers to the combined weight of the ski and boot bags (if using separate ones). This means that you could get hit with oversize fees if you go overboard packing extra stuff in your ski bag without accounting for the weight of your ski boot bag. When you arrive at the airport, you'll put both on the scale at the check-in counter at the same time to get the combined weight.

Length refers to the sum of the linear dimensions of the bag, and this typically only applies to ski bags. Basically, if the total linear inches (aka the total circumference) of the bag is more than the standard size requirements, you'll get hit with excess size charges.

Expert Tip: In my own experience checking bags, the combined weight of the ski bag seems to be the more enforceable of the two measures. Not once have I seen a check-in agent take out a tape measure to tally the linear inches of a ski bag!

What Should I Look For in a Ski Bag?

Alright, so we've covered how to fly with skis, but what do you actually bring them in?

Fortunately, there are a couple of options: a roller bag or a separate ski/boot bag combo.

Let's break them down further:

Roller Bags​

Roller ski bags are a great, one-bag solution for your next trip. Typically, these are a little more expensive than a ski/boot bag set, but what you get in return is improved convenience (one bag to manage), different carry options (easy carry handles, wheels, etc.) and better protection, a durable polyester material with more padding around the skis or a even hard-shell case. Many have a lockable zipper to deter theft.

Smaller roller bags can fit a single pair of skis and double-ski bags have enough width to fit at least two pairs of snow skis, a pair of boots, poles, and still have plenty of room to spare. Snowboard bags will often work here, too, since they are generally the same shape, but since most skis are longer than snowboards, you'll want to confirm the length.

Another benefit of a roller bag that is often overlooked—there's only one bag to check! Now, this does not mean that you'll pay less since most airlines treat a ski and boot bag set as one total bag. However, this means that there's less luggage and other pieces of baggage for the airline to lose. After all, flying with ski gear really only works if your gear makes it to the ski resort!

Separate Ski and Boot Bags​

The alternative to a roller ski bag is a ski and boot bag combo. This two-bag set lets you pack skis and a pair of poles in the ski bag, and boots, helmet, goggles, and any other additional items in a second bag.

The pros of this setup are that it's typically cheaper than a roller ski bag, you often get more overall storage and volume between the two bags, and because both the ski and boot bags lack the foam padding that a roller bag has, there is more room in the weight limit to pack things like clothes, outwear, etc. A removable boot bag usually has comfort features such as shoulder straps to help carry around, and exterior and side pockets for quick access to googles, gloves, etc. Some other key features of a boot bag usually include ventilation allows moisture out and prevents them from stinking up and a standing mat or tarp for putting on your boots in the parking lot or the lodge if the floor is wet from snow.

Which One Should I Choose?​

Basically, it comes down to personal preference. I chose to go with separate ski and boot bags because I got a killer deal on the set. But when I'm lugging them through the airport, I do sometimes look longingly at folks in transit with their nice, compact roller bags. If you can't make up your mind, check with a Curated ski expert who can help you figure out the best piece of ski equipment!

How Do I Pack my Ski Bag(s)?

Inside of the Dakine Boundary Roller Bag. Photo courtesy of Dakine.

And finally, if you're wondering what to bring on your next ski trip, read my complete overview of what to pack, and most importantly, where to pack it. And below, take a look at on-mountain essentials I pack when flying with skis using a ski bag, boot bag, carry-on, and other hand baggage.

Ski Bag (Checked Bag)

  • Skis (tip: Use ski straps or a rubber band to keep your skis together during travel, and limit scratches. Many bags come with compression straps with buckles or a lock on the outside to help with this.)
  • Ski poles (tip: Cover the tips of your pair of ski poles with tip covers or wrap foam pipe insulation around the tips and hold it in place with a rubber band to prevent the poles from tearing the ski bag.)
  • Skiing backpack or hydration pack (tip: If you need a bigger ski pack that can fit in your ski bag, carry it as your personal item.)

Boot Bag

  • Ski boots
  • Helmet (tip: Up to you if you want this in your boot bag or in your carry-on backpack. Decide what accessories you can’t ski without, or what you would be okay with having to purchase should your luggage get lost, and go from there. Many boot bags are designed to accommodate helmets.)
  • Extra gloves or mittens and you can also throw in hand warmers if desired.

Carry-On

  • Ski jacket
  • Ski pants (tip: Compression bags may help condense the size of your jackets and pants.)
  • Any ski clothing you need such as base layers and ski socks.
  • Ski gloves or mittens and glove liners
  • Face mask, balaclava, or neck warmer
  • Personal ID documents (business card, piece of paper with phone number, etc) to identify if lost
  • Other valuables or fragile items you don't feel comfortable checking in

Backpack

  • Season pass
  • Goggles and spare lenses
  • GoPro camera, chargers, and travel case
  • Helmet if it doesn't fit or if you don't want to put it in your boot bag

Reach out to an Expert

Photo by Alexander Ishchenko

Best of luck packing for your upcoming ski trip! If you have any questions on what's the best ski bag for you or just want to get geared up for the slopes, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated. Safe travels, and don't forget the luggage tag!

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