Organizing a family ski trip can be as exhausting as herding cats. There's so much equipment to round up, logistics to work out, and kids to keep focused, mom and dad might wish they'd just stayed home with a week's worth of ski movie rentals -- it's less exciting, but far less work!
From a family of veteran ski vacationers, here are a few tips to make it easy.
First, whatever your ski destination -- B.C., Alberta, Colorado, Europe -- book a direct flight. And I mean direct -- straight into the ski area. No skier, no matter how dedicated, wants slog through an airport with the clock ticking to make a connection with six tons of ski and snowboard equipment in tow, three whiny kids and one grumpy spouse.
Choose a destination with a major airport nearby. Whistler's proximity to Vancouver is good; direct flights to Kelowna for access to Okanagan resorts is better. Some U.S. airlines fly direct into Steamboat, Vail and Aspen.
If you must connect in hot spots like Chicago, Calgary or Munich, carry necessities onboard, including your ski suits and ski and snowboard boots if possible. Airlines may promise your baggage and equipment will make that impossible connection on its own, but trust me, it usually won't. Your family ends up at that remote ski area for at least one, likely two, full days minus snowboards and skivvies. A smartly packed carry-on means your kids will have the essentials: Jackets, fresh undies and boots that fit well.
Third, consider renting skis and boards instead of hauling your own. Yes, it's an extra expense, but my family considers the cost worth it. Rent from the ski shop closest to the lift -- they'll store your equipment at the end of each day so you don't have to lug it back to the hotel. This is especially important if your lodgings aren't ski-in/ski-out.
And pick a rental shop that offers free nightly tunes and hassle-free substitutions. If powder up to your woo-hoo falls on the third day you'll want to trade in those race boards for something with less edge and more float.
This next one is important: Rent a condo not a hotel room. Condos have kitchens, which means parents save big, BIG bucks on meals. Many condos have more than one room so kids and parents get some privacy, varying bedtimes can be accommodated, and little Timmy's decaying ski socks can be put to dry far enough away that they don't stink out the family.
Take along a portable boot/mitt dryer. These nifty gadgets, available at most ski shops, pack up small and light. They include multiple snake-like attachments that blow air into your family's boots, gloves -- even little Timmy's ski socks -- to dry them in no time. Dry (and therefore warm) hands and feet can make a ski vacation.
If your destination is drivable, invest in a cargo box that sits on top of your vehicle to keep wet, dirty skis and boards out of the car.
Research your resort's best family restaurants, then call a week ahead for a reservation. No kidding. Especially at hot ski spots like Tremblant on March Break, there are agonizingly long lineups for tables -- especially for groups.
And finally remember this cardinal rule: Less is more at a ski area. Whistler, Aspen, Vail, St. Anton, St. Moritz... they're awesome ski resorts to be sure, but the sheer size of these mountains can be intimidating, especially for a ski family new to ski travel, or with a range of experience. There are many mid-size resorts -- Quebec's Mont Sutton, BC's Silver Star and Sun Peaks, Alberta's Marmot Basin -- that don't overwhelm novice skiers, challenge experts, and make finding your family members for lunch or a family run possible.
Family ski vacations aren't as hassle-free as checking into a sunny, all-inclusive Club Med. But they're just as fun and they'll last in your kids' memories forever.