17 Hacks For Surviving Your First Snow Trip With Kids
Of all the travel experiences that changed the most dramatically once we had children, going to the snow would rate as the biggest –probably in no small part due to the fact we live in the Tropics. For us, just getting to somewhere it snows is an undertaking. The volume of cold-climate gear required for just one child takes up a suitcase that could fit an entire family’s summer vacation wardrobe. And don’t get me started on the cost of lift tickets for a family.
So even though I LOVE the snow, it took me many years until I attempted to take my two boys. I hadn’t planned to abstain – the difficulty/expense factor got the better of me. It’s funny; a dear friend I’d met when I was a whippersnapper snowboarding in Canada crocheted a little snow beanie when my eldest was born, certain that I’d be introducing him to the slopes before he was out of nappies. The beanie she so lovingly crocheted just sat on his dresser year after year, a reminder of the snow trips we should have been taking together.
Once we finally got around to hitting the slopes however, then things, erm, snowballed. The boys loved it, and nothing can beat the stoke of seeing them take to the hills like ducks to water. They now pester us to go whenever we can get the chance.
We did not one but two massive family snow trips last year – one in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern – and despite the vast geographical differences there’s certain things that hold true no matter where in the world you hit the slopes. So here’s a few tips garnered from decades of snow tripping – now thankfully enhanced by having little nomads in tow.
• Plan Everything (Or Plan Nothing)
If you’re planning your snow holiday well in advance, look for early bird specials and bundles that package things like your accommodation, lift tickets, ski school and hire. It’ll save you time tracking each item down separately, and the financial savings can be considerable – especially if there’s lots of people in your group. If you’re flexible with dates, type in ‘Kids Ski Free’ along with the name of the resort you’re intending to visit into Google, and see what you get; it’ll often return great value family packages available for shoulder season/off season. But with any package you’re considering be sure to do the math – there’s no point saving on items you wouldn’t have normally have purchased anyways.
However if you’ve decided to hit the snow last minute or weren’t able to find a suitable package, it’s OK to wing it a little – especially if you’re not going peak weekends or school holidays. Shop around online to get a good accommodation deal locked in first, then just buy lift passes and rent equipment closer to your holiday as needed.
Each resort’s website often has lift ticket deals that are cheaper than their ticket office prices if you buy online up to a week ahead. Some regions even have third party websites where you can buy last minute (or advance tickets) online at good savings too, eg: http://www.liftopia.com or http://www.getskitickets.com
Internationally there’s a few multi-mountain passes that are also amazing value if you’re considering touring/moving around between resorts (Santa, if you’re reading this, I’ve been a good girl and I’d like a Mountain Collective pass http://mountaincollective.com).
• Down Time
Given the cost of a ski holiday, it’s tempting to try fit in as much skiing as you can each and every day. But be aware bad weather, injuries or achy muscles, or tired/sick kids might necessitate having a couple of down days while you’re there – a waste of lift tickets if they’ve been pre-purchased (although sometimes you can grab refunds, it’s not always the case depending on the resort). If you’re there for a week or more and you haven’t skied for a while, consider penciling a down day in – ie if you’re there for eight days, grab a seven day pass that’s flexible in how you use it. That way you’ve got a down day up your sleeve if and when you need it – plus if you’re out of ski-shape you’d be surprised at how much your body will appreciate having at least one morning to just sleep in and take it easy. Besides, kids often love taking a day’s break from skiing to do free/low cost activities like tobogganing or making snow men too.
• Never Underestimate Sock Power
I always thought ‘snow socks’ were a marketing ploy to gouge more money out of people who could afford a snow holiday, and so made do with layering two pairs of regular sports socks for years. Seriously, fork out the extra moula to get everyone in your family a couple of pairs of good snow socks already. Then you’ll never know what it feels like to have toes numb from cold, to spend every minute of lunch break removing and re-tying your boots in a vain attempt to stop your double layer of socks from bunching up, or have every inch of your accomm draped with cotton sports socks in various stages of dryness. Snow socks flex, they insulate, and they wick away moisture – they’re like magic snow buddies for your feet. Also to clarify, I’m definitely talking about wearable snow socks – although I’ve heard snow socks for cars (like a textile snow chain alternative for your car’s tires) are pretty awesome too.
• Double Check Insurance
Take a good look at your travel insurance policy before you buy and make sure it covers snow sports – unfortunately some don’t, or only include it at extra cost. It’d be terrible to find out you’re not covered after you’ve been helicoptered off the mountain with a broken collarbone.
• Mittens x 2
Somewhere in the cosmos there’s a place where all the lost snow mittens hang out with odd socks, scissors, safety pins and hair ties. I’m not sure why, but statistically if you go to the snow armed with only one pair or gloves or mittens then you’re 1200% more likely to loose them. Taking a spare pair reduces this stat, and also gives you a backup pair to use if your gloves don’t dry out overnight. As for the mitten vs glove debate, mittens are easier for younger kids to get on than gloves, but make it harder for them to use their hands (meaning they’re more likely to take them off, which makes them more likely to get lost). Either way, look into buying mitten/glove savers, little clips or ties that can attach their gloves to clothing.
• Skill Up
You don’t need to wait until you get to the snow to start getting your head around learning how to ski or snowboard. There’s a million great tutorials on Youtube and elsewhere online that will get your child (or yourself) familiar with basic concepts through to more advanced tricks all for free.
It’s a great motivator – here’s one of the channels my boys like watching in the lead up to our first trip (and there’s literally hundreds more out there if you do a quick search on Youtube):
• Borrow, Rent Or Buy?
If you’re only going for a few days per season, buying kids new equipment that will be rapidly outgrown doesn’t stack up. Luckily you’d be surprised at how announcing you’re going to the snow often brings snow gear out of the woodwork – for our last six week venture to the USA we easily kitted out my husband and our two boys in a mix of hand-me-downs, loans from friends and second hand buys, saving a small fortune in purchase or hire fees.
So what should you do if you don’t have a ski package that includes hire? For short trips, borrowing or renting gear is best. For longer or more frequent trips, purchasing new or second hand gear becomes more feasible.
If you rent, see if you can pick up equipment in advance – fitting kids for gear and filling out all the paperwork can take hours out of your day, especially if the rental store is busy.
• Location Scout Online
From deciding which resort to visit through to booking accommodation, Google should be your BFF. Look for resorts that offer a great learn to ski/snowboard area – you’d be surprised at how greatly beginner area facilities can vary from mountain to mountain. As for accommodation, it’s more expensive but there’s a lot to be said for staying in the resort village or ski in/ski out – instead of commuting you’ll gain extra hours in your day, and you can return home to rest/eat/nap whenever you like (a big plus, especially with younger kids). If you go this route, just be sure you scout online to ensure your accomm is accessible from beginner runs – not a double black diamond or a run at the base of the mountain that only opens a handful of times per year. We’ve had friends pay a small fortune for a luxury ski-in condo only to find out the run that accessed it rarely opened – meaning they had to catch a super slow shuttle bus each time they wanted to get to and from home.
• Book Lessons
No matter how good you are at skiing/snowboarding and how easy you think teaching your kids would be, it’s always worth considering putting the kids into ski school for a lesson or two at least. Not only can you duck away and get a few good runs in while Junior is getting shown the ropes, but most kids seem to listen better and try harder for teachers over their parents – I know our kids do. If you’re planning on holidaying during a busy period however, just be sure to book in advance – ski schools tend to book out during school holidays and public holiday weekends.
• Scan The Weather
Always check conditions and forecasts regularly leading up to and during your trip. Weather moves fast in mountain regions, and forecasts can change overnight – there’s nothing less fun than getting stuck in a blizzard/white out, or trying to drive in ultra hazardous conditions. Resort websites or weather channels will have updates, or take a look at MountainWatch to see if your chosen resort features.
• Pack Reserves For Drive
If you’re not staying in the resort village and are driving up to the mountain each day, have a backpack stashed in your car with water, snacks and a full change of warm clothes (including socks and beanies) for each person. It’s like hitting the jackpot if you find yourself leaving the mountain at dusk freezing cold, thirsty, hungry and wet.
• Pack Snacks
Ski resorts aren’t known for their cheap, good quality food. Pack snacks and your wallet and intestines will thank you later. Light, high energy nutritious snacks like muesli (granola) bars, dried fruit, sandwiches and the like will carry the family through much of the day better than $15 hot dogs. To give kids a treat and let their little legs have an occasional rest, we try to time any café breaks before or after the busy lunch rush is done – affordable, warming fare like hot chocolates or a bowl of fries are the kid’s faves. Word of warning – if you’re packing snacks in your pockets, just envision how both the snack and yourself would appear if you happened to land on it at high speed. Learning to ski/snowboard is basically an expensive way to spend the day falling over repeatedly. You can guarantee a thermos and tin of tuna would make some pretty spectacular bruises, so pack wisely.
If you’re not staying on the mountain or don’t have a car parked nearby, there’s often lockers for hire at the resorts – it’s worth the small fee to ditch your backpack and any supplies not suitable for carting around all day (thermoses and tins of tuna most especially).
• Toilet Runs
This is going to sound obvious, but get the kids to go to the loo before you layer twenty layers of impenetrable winter clothing on them each morning. Likewise, every break your should offer them an opportunity to go to the loo before you head back up the mountain – there’s nothing worse than getting halfway down a run and Junior needs to pee.
• Hold The Phone
If you’re planning on using your phone to take lots of photos, it could be worth looking into a waterproof case – you wouldn’t be the first person to kill your phone by dropping in into wet snow. If you’ve got a safe zip up pocket inside your jacket, keep it there – it’s a bit harder to get out, but compared to pant pockets you’re less likely to land on it/get snow in it/ have it fall out accidently. Keeping it inside your jacket also keeps it warmer – phones can freeze up temporarily if temperatures dip too low.
• Photographic Memory
And lastly if you decide to hire, really, really take a good look at your equipment and any markings that could identify it – better still, take a photo on your phone so you’ve got it there for reference if you can. Rental places often have fleets of identical boards/skis, making it really insanely easy to get them mixed up in the ski racks outside facilities. I’ve had my board picked up by accident, leaving me running around stressed out for a couple of hours trying to locate it. I’ve also been the one doing the mixer-upping – I walked out of a bathroom on top of the mountain, picked up what I though was my board out of the board rack, and snowboarded away leaving its owner stranded up the piste (And yes, he was very, very piste off by the time I worked out my error and returned it).
• Lip balm
• Topical pain relief cream for sore muscles (Tiger Balm etc)
• Neck warmers/ scarves
• Snow socks x 2-3
• Waterproof boots with good grip
• Gloves/mittens x 2
• Thermal underwear x 2
• Waterproof outerwear – jacket with hood, pants
• Mid layer shirts or fleeces
• Beanie/ ski mask
• Ski or snowboard equipment inc helmets for kids
• Swimwear (it’ll make hot tubs and saunas way less awkward)
• Apre ski clothing – underwear, casual clothes, PJ’s and the like
• If driving anything but a 4×4, you may need snow chains
• If you’re not staying ski-in, things for daytripping ie backbacks, water bottles, Tupperware.
• All your regular travel essentials like tickets, wallet, booking details, phone charger etc
So there you have it. Hope you have a amazing time enjoying the first of many awesome snow trips with your little ones.
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Happy Place Hunter's resident Editor In Chief, Caz Emge, has written for publications around the globe for two decades. An avid outdoor buff, in her (limited) spare time she and her videographer husband and two sons gather insights for this site – sharing happy places as they find them Click to read full bio