Tips On Getting Your Family Out On The Snow

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I’m a ski instructor and every week I see families come and enjoy snow sports. It’s great. When I teach beginner lessons, I first congratulate people on getting out on the snow – especially if it’s a family. I say that doing that is half the battle… getting everyone with their gear and clothes and lift tickets and everything can be a LOT of work.

Here are some tips that will help you plan your ski trip with your family. I’ve even included a few tricks to save some money.

Family Ski Trip Tips

Plan the Trip

First, figure out where you’re going and where you’re staying. This all starts with checking the website of the ski hill/mountain. Find out if they’re open and then what times the lifts run. Check lift ticket prices and look for any specials that they might be running. Often, you can find good deals online because there’s less labor involved if the website does the job of selling the ticket.

Next, download a trail map or map of the resort. Find out where to park and where rentals and the dining hall are.

ski-trip1To save money, you can bring food. You won’t be able to eat it in a restaurant but there will be a main cafeteria where you’re allowed to eat it.

Plan to get there as early as you can. That way, you can kind of stake out a place for your family to congregate. Most places won’t allow you to truly camp out in that one spot and have it reserved for you but you can try. It’s just easier to get settled when you have a place to get ready versus trying to squeeze into a crowded room and try to do it then. If you have someone in your group like grandma or grandpa that won’t be out on the snow, then they can stay where you have your stuff and since they’re staying there, that’ll reserve your spot.

What to Wear

Wear layers! Get a good baselayer that is not cotton. I really like the Columbia Omni-heat stuff. It’s thin and keeps you very warm. It’s not cheap but it’s so worth it. Get the leggings and the top. You’ll put this on first. It’s ok to wear underwear underneath your base layer but some people don’t since the base layer acts like underwear. It’s up to you.

I like ski socks that are a little thicker. They give me a little more padding in my boot. I’d rather do this than throw in an extra pad in my boot because I already have custom foot beds. They shouldn’t be too thick, though. Don’t go overboard.

Socks should be pulled tight over your baselayer. You don’t want any bunching up of your socks or thermals where your boots are going to go. That’ll hurt like heck later… believe me.

Next, go with a mid layer. This can be cotton if you want. It’ll help insulate you. I usually put on a long sleeve t-shirt or thermal shirt. For the bottom part, I usually skip a mid layer – so I do not wear jeans under my ski pants (no way). I think they’re too restricting and they don’t help a whole lot.

For the top, I usually put on a mid layer jacket under my ski jacket. It really depends on the temperature. If it’s above 30 degrees, then definitely skip this step. A sweatshirt works, too.

Lastly, you want a ski jacket and snow pants that are waterproof. The material should repel water. This is why wearing jeans as an outer layer is just the wrong thing to do. They’ll get snow on them, the snow will melt and then soak in. Then, you’re wet and that sucks.

Here’s a checklist of clothing that you might need:

  • Base layers – top and bottom along with underwear
  • Socks – wool socks, merino wool (and extra socks is a good idea)
  • Shirt and mid-layer jacket
  • Jeans to change into later if you want
  • Ski / snowboard jacket
  • Ski / snowboard pants
  • Gloves or mittens (also bring along an extra pair)
  • Hat or helmet (helmets are highly suggested)
  • Goggles
  • Scarf, mask or gator

The Night Before / Days Before

Get all your equipment and clothes and everything ready the night before (at least by then). This will help you tons. Getting everyone together and set to go is stressful enough without having to go and find ski poles that are missing or finding out that hats or pants don’t fit any more. You might even want to have everyone try on their clothes a few days before so that you can make sure it all fits.

Pack up the car with your ski and snowboard equipment if you can. Secure the skis to the roof rack or get them settled in the car so that you can see how it’s all going to fit.

If you have your own equipment, then check a few days in advance if it’s ready for the snow. Get waxing and tuning done a few days in advance.

Pack some bottled water in your car… you’re going to need it.

Arriving at the Ski Hill/Mountain

Be smart and drive to the front and then drop off your equipment and people. One person can then go and park the car. This has several benefits. First, you don’t have to carry everything. Second, you can get the jump in line and get your lift tickets and rentals (and lessons!) if you need to.

See if there is cell phone service. There usually is. If not, I see some families bring walkie talkies, which seem to work well as long as you buy the good ones. Ski areas can be quite large, so having a way to communicate is vital.

When you park, don’t take up too much room. It’s just courteous. The more cars can fit in the parking lot, the less distance people have to walk with their equipment and heavy clothes. At larger areas, there will be parking attendants directing you where to park. Listen to them and obey what they’re telling you. It’s just better for everyone.

Pay for Lift Tickets and Rentals

If you haven’t got your own equipment or if you need a lift ticket, then you first want to get this done. If you plan on taking a ski or snowboard lesson, then head over to the snow sports school. You should be able to pay for your lessons, lift tickets and rentals there and the line may be shorter. You may also get a good deal and save some money by purchasing them all together.

Where to Wear Your Lift Ticket

There’s a variety of kinds of lift tickets out there now. The modern kind of lift ticket is one that’s a card with RF ID in it (radio frequency ID). You can have it in your wallet or in a pocket or on a lanyard around your neck and scanners pick up if you have purchased a lift ticket for that day or if you are a season pass holder. These cards can also be used to give you statistics of your day like how much altitude you skied during that day by checking your statistics online. You can have this kind of lift ticket anywhere on you.

IMG_3058The more familiar kind of lift ticket is either the wicket and sticker kind or else the paper kind that you wear on your clothing. Where you place this lift ticket matters. It should be showing, of course. Most people wear it on a zipper on their coat or pants. Where  you do not want to wear such a lift ticket is on the main zipper on your ski coat. What happens is, you’ll pull the zipper all the way up and you’ll end up having the lift ticket flap around against your face as you go down a run. I see it all the time. Be smart and don’t wear the lift ticket there.

A tip I picked up on a year or so ago was using a carabiner for your lift ticket. What you do is attach the lift ticket to the carabiner and then attach the carabiner to where you want on your clothing. This helps a lot on days where it’s warm because you can change jackets and then remove the ticket from one jacket and put it on another one. I suppose if you wanted to share a lift ticket with someone, by using the carabiner, you could do that.

Get Your Rental Equipment

Next, fill out your rental form and get you rental equipment. Everyone that needs equipment will need to be present because they need to try on boots. You can’t just grab some boots for your children thinking that they will fit. It doesn’t work like that. Rental equipment is weird. It’s been used a lot and sizes probably don’t match what shoe sizes are. You may need to go one size up or down.

The technicians will then take a boot and fit it to the ski – so leave one boot off. They will fit it and then set the release on the binding. They set this so that if you happen to fall, your boot will pop out of the ski. This depends on your weight and your skiing ability.

ski-trip2Make sure your equipment works fine. Check out the boots, poles and skis or snowboard. Make sure the bindings work fine. Make sure the brakes come down on the skis. Move them up and down to check.

When putting on your boots, again… make sure your socks are pulled tight and nothing’s bunched up. I’ve written an entire article on how to put on ski boots which is worth reading.

Store Your Stuff and Get Out There!

Now that you have your equipment, lift tickets and hopefully everyone together, it’s about time to get out there and have some fun.

Choose a Meeting Location and Time

It’s good to choose a meeting location and time to meet if members of your group are going separate ways. It’s actually good to set this up anyway because it’s somewhat easy for people to get separated.

Secure your stuff in lockers. Many people will put their ski or snowboard boots and everything on out in the parking lot so that they don’t really bring anything in. This is the best way to go if you have your own gear. It’s just less to manage and worry about. Fellow snow sports enthusiasts are generally good about not touching anyone else’s stuff, so your stuff is pretty safe but you never know. I say lock everything up.

Bring Quarters / Change

Bring along some quarters so that you don’t have to stand in line trying to get change. Some places now have lockers that take credit cards but most don’t.

Go Explore

What I like to do in the morning, if I haven’t been to an area before, is go explore. Try a little of everything and see what the resort has to offer. Then, in the afternoon session, you can go back and revisit the runs you thought were the best.

Getting Lunch

If you can, try to plan a lunch time that’s not during peak lunch hours. Bring along snacks to munch on and then you can go in for a quick lunch after 1pm. You’ll save time and get in more time on the snow.

Watch the Weather / Take Breaks

As the day progresses, keep an eye on changing weather. The sun will start to go down and maybe the wind will pick up or it could start snowing (which would be awesome). Adjust your clothing as necessary. I like to have a mask (a gator) in my pocket because you never know when you might need it.

Take breaks during the day and make sure you hydrate. Stick to water – nothing else (not soda). Many people bring along a small water bottle or else wear a hydration pack on their back with a straw. You might not be sweating a lot because it’s cold out but your body is losing hydration if you realize it or not. Go in and grab some water every hour for sure. If you’re in higher elevations, you’ll need even more water.


“Après” means after. I think part of the fun of skiing or snowboarding is hanging out afterward. You can meet some really great people who you already have something in common with. Just being in that environment is fun, so plan to grab a bite at the ski area if you want to get the full experience.

Some Ski Day Don’ts

Here are some bonus tips and things to not do:

  • As mentioned, don’t lace your lift ticket to your jacket’s main zipper.
  • Don’t call ski poles “sticks.”
  • Don’t wear jeans as an outer layer – you’ll get all wet.
  • Don’t bomb the hill like a missile, out of control, putting everyone in danger.
  • Don’t forget to bring snacks.

Does anyone have any more ideas for tips or things not to do? Please leave them in the comments.


Failing to plan is a plan to fail, right? Towing a family around is work but if you plan your trip, some of that stress can be relieved. Also, if you plan too much, you’re taking the fun out of it. Be flexible. Conditions change – that’s part of the fun!

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