Skiing Vacations 101: How to Plan a Successful Trip

Learn the important aspects of preparing for your first ski vacation, from gear to lodging to trails.

U.S. News & World Report

Skiing Vacations 101: How to Plan a Successful Trip

Skier going down a slope
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(Getty Images)

Plan your first ski vacation with help from the experts.

If you're searching for a winter vacation that mixes memorable mountain vistas with physical activity, then an escape to a ski town or resort may be just what you need. But if it's your first time orchestrating a ski getaway, it can feel like a daunting experience. To help you dive into the various aspects of ski culture, from picking a location to choosing gear to learning slang, U.S. News tapped ski experts for their recommendations on how to pull off a stellar vacation on the slopes.
Skier hikes up to 'Experts Only' ski run
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(Getty Images)

Know your runs.

You'll be able to navigate the mountain with ease if you know your runs. Ski trails are separated into four categories based on difficulty, with a green circle denoting the easiest run and a double-black diamond signaling the hardest trail. The slope – or the steepness of a run – and grooming are the two aspects considered when rating trails. Ungroomed snow is harder to traverse and often has moguls, or small bumps. For more of a variety in terrain, look for an orange oval, which signifies a park that has added alterations for experienced skiers. Many mountains also offer a beginner area, with short, mild runs that are easier than green circles.
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Plan your first ski vacation with help from the experts.

If you're searching for a winter vacation that mixes memorable mountain vistas with physical activity, then an escape to a ski town or resort may be just what you need. But if it's your first time orchestrating a ski getaway, it can feel like a daunting experience. To help you dive into the various aspects of ski culture, from picking a location to choosing gear to learning slang, U.S. News tapped ski experts for their recommendations on how to pull off a stellar vacation on the slopes.

Know your runs.

You'll be able to navigate the mountain with ease if you know your runs. Ski trails are separated into four categories based on difficulty, with a green circle denoting the easiest run and a double-black diamond signaling the hardest trail. The slope – or the steepness of a run – and grooming are the two aspects considered when rating trails. Ungroomed snow is harder to traverse and often has moguls, or small bumps. For more of a variety in terrain, look for an orange oval, which signifies a park that has added alterations for experienced skiers. Many mountains also offer a beginner area, with short, mild runs that are easier than green circles.

Find the right resort or mountain.

Predicted snowfall is the primary factor in choosing a ski destination, because the amount of snowpack will impact travel time and open runs. The difficulty of each specific mountain should not be too much of a concern as long as the mountain is relatively large. "Regardless of what you're looking for from a ski experience standpoint, you’re going to be able to have some terrain that will suit you," explains Kevin Small, senior marketing manager at Whistler Blackcomb. If you're new to the slopes, look for mountains with an abundance of beginner runs, such as Beaver Creek in Vail, Colorado, or Whistler Blackcomb in Whistler, British Columbia. Optimize your downtime by booking excursions, such as trips to hot springs, snowshoeing hikes and sledding.

Research your lodging options.

Ski towns usually boast a variety of lodging options, from slopeside resorts to nearby vacation rentals. Though a stay at a ski resort can be expensive, the cost is usually worth the convenience for first-timers. The most common resort accommodation types are slopeside and ski-in, ski-out. The definitions of these categories vary, so be sure to clarify where you're staying before booking. All ski resort options place you near or on the mountain, which means you won't be stuck lugging heavy gear to and from the lifts. Also keep in mind that staying at a resort allows for professionally planned excursions to nearby attractions, along with a wealth of food options within walking distance.

Rent your equipment early.

To save money on equipment, Tucker Vest Burton, public relations manager at Aspen Skiing Company, suggests travelers rent rather than buy. Items such as helmets, poles, skis and boots can be rented for a fraction of the price of their sale value. Vest Burton also advises travelers rent equipment online in advance. Small echoes similar sentiments. "It's going to help for a smoother experience when you check in and pick up your rentals," he says. To ensure you're renting the appropriate gear, share your skill level with the resort representative; some skis and boots are better suited to beginners.

Dress for success.

Wearing the right clothes is as important as renting the appropriate gear. To maximize comfort, you'll want to dress in layers, Vest Burton says. Start with long underwear and thick ski socks, as well as wool or synthetic materials, such as a flannel or fleece for your upper body. Your outer layer should consist of water-resistant snow pants and a winter coat. A ski mask (or balaclava) and gloves or mittens are also crucial. Quality gear can be pricey, but buying from a local winter or outdoor store, instead of at the resort's shop, can help you save some cash. You'll also want to wear sunscreen on any exposed skin. The high altitude and ultraviolet rays reflected on the snow can leave you even more susceptible to sunburn.

Take advantage of on-site ski schools.

Your chosen resort will likely have an on-site ski school, and you should take advantage of their convenience and instruction if you're new to the slopes. Lessons can be expensive, but you can save money by reserving your spot as early as possible. Most resorts offer a variety of half- or full-day group or private lessons based on age or skill level. When booking your lesson, it's best to call rather than reserve online, according to Small. Over the phone, a resort representative can ask questions to understand exactly what best fits your needs from an experience and comfort standpoint, Small adds.
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Zach Watson, Editor

Zach Watson is an Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News, where he manages the Best Hotels ...  Read more

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