How to do a ski trip right: Go on the best ski vacation of your life this winter

Comments by Damian Quigley/

As we breathe in the cool, crisp air of fall, we dream of what the winter holds in store for us. We look forward to bombing around our home mountain, but we all have an inherent longing to explore someplace new. Whether it’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit or an ever-growing list in need of some check marks, this is the year to make it happen.

Once you’ve chosen your destination, you’ll need to figure out how to get there and what hot tub you’ll be spending your après hours lounging in. With a little planning—thanks in no small part to this definitive guide—you’ll be talking about this trip for years to come.

Call up your crew and put them on notice: This season you’re hitting the road.

TRAVEL

If you’re going somewhere within a few hundred miles of home, a road trip is an obvious choice. What could be better than five friends crammed into a car, eating Slim Jims and taquitos for hours on end? Nothing. And just think, you’ll get to do it all over again on the way home.

Alright, it might not be the most luxurious way to go, but four or five people in a car means less gas money out of your pocket, and hopefully 7-Eleven has some sort of two-for-one special on dried up hot dogs. This leaves more cash for important things like après nachos and margaritas at the Foggy Goggle. (Inevitably, there’ll be one wherever you go.)

If you’ve got a little more cash to spend at the gas pump, getting your hands on an RV is an even better option. They’re perfect if you plan to hit up multiple locations in one trip or cruise the great highways of Alaska. Showers make great ski lockers, plus you’ll have plenty of legroom and no worries about trying to find a hotel that would eat the entire contents of your bank account. An RV won’t come with maid service though, which will ultimately result in a smell that resembles a family of dead raccoons covered in rancid meat. There’s no getting around it, but you can pretend Febreze will cover that up.

If you’re going international or just clear across the country, you might want to opt for transportation with wings. Assuming you don’t have a rich friend to fly your ass first class, you’ll need to start saving for this trip ahead of time. We don’t like planning this much either, but sometimes it’s necessary, so ramp up your schedule at the local taco joint and start stockpiling some cash. Scour the Internet for airfare deals, and be flexible with your dates. You have the week between Christmas and New Year’s off? Awesome, so does everybody else. Think about times when other people aren’t traveling, like the week after New Year’s. Not only are flights cheaper, hotel rates drop and lift lines are all but gone, leaving you to roam the mountain without the rest of mankind getting in your way.

Photo by Nate Abbott

One of the most powerful airfare search sites is google.com/flights. Search for specific dates or use the lowest fare chart to save some coin if your schedule is flexible. All the while helping Google in their never-ending quest to take over the world.

Keep in mind how accessible your final destination is to the nearest airport. While a ticket to one airport may be less than another, getting from the airport to the mountains could end up being an expensive hassle. Be comprehensive in your analysis of travel time and costs to figure out where the best deal really is.

Lastly, never, ever check your boots. You can always rent a pair of skis and borrow a jacket, but if you show up for a week in Alaska without your own ski boots, good luck.

ACCOMMODATIONS

If you didn’t score an RV, finding somewhere to sleep (pass out) after a long day of skiing (partying) is the next hurdle. Naturally, you’ll want to make an attempt at finding a free place to crash, via friends, before you start doling out your hard-earned taco tips. If you don’t have friends to stay with, a) you need to make more friends, and b) you need to get to work finding a discount ski-and-stay package. Resorts will often use these in an attempt to boost bookings during off-peak travel dates. Be sure to do research on sites like ski.com and a resort’s partner booking websites. Along with saving a few bucks, the deals can be a good indicator that the resort won’t be overly crowded on certain dates.

If you want to book a hotel straight up, travel sites will usually yield lower rates than calling a hotel directly, but it never hurts to try both. See if they offer a no cancellation option that can save you a couple bucks, and make sure to pay attention to online customer reviews so you don’t end up wearing rubber gloves and washing your own sheets.

Those of you with lighter wallets will appreciate that most ski towns have a hostel. It can be a roll of the dice, but some hostels are actually pretty nice. So save some money and turn down your own sheets. Or just pass out on top and save everybody the trouble. It’s up to you.

ON THE HILL

Our beloved sport is a lot of things, but cheap is not one of them. As lift ticket prices continue their slow and steady climb, we continually look for ways to get ourselves on the hill at a reasonable cost. In the old days, hooking up the liftie with a sixer of tall boys would do the trick, but in an age of scanners and RFIDs, this option is essentially impossible to pull off, not to mention illegal in all 50 states.

Technology has been partly in our favor here though. Our good friend the Internet helps out with websites offering deals on advance lift ticket purchases. Liftopia.com is one good resource for cheap, date-specific lift tickets, so be sure to do pre-trip research to get the best deal possible.

Photo by Nate Abbott

Locals can sometimes get their hands on ticket vouchers. It never hurts to ask around, and it’s good practice to help them stay hydrated.

Once you get on the hill, you’ll need to figure out where to go. If you just got in the night before, you probably haven’t had much time to chat up the resident die-hards for any tips, so the first day is good for exploring the mountain to see what you can find. You can usually find mountain hosts stationed at the top of the lifts to give you some general direction, but you’ll be getting the same spiel as everybody else, so don’t expect any epic stashes.

On any given powder day, elated locals can be found laughing and chatting back and forth with friends in the lift line. If you start hearing names of places that don’t show up on the trail map, you’ve just found the people you need to talk to. And the best place to talk to them is in the bar, after a hard day of shredding.

APRèS

Coined by the French, perfected by the Austrians and loved by skiers worldwide, nothing caps off a great day of skiing like a solid après session. Whether it’s on a sunny deck or at a hole-in-the-wall basement bar, this is a great time to make some new friends.

If you’re looking for friends who can give you insight on where to ski tomorrow, keep an eye out for dangling season passes or better yet, a season pass with an employee designation of some sort. These are the people who know the resort like the back of their beer can. Remember that to most of the locals, you’re just a tourist who will come through their town to eat, drink, ski the same runs as all the other tourists and leave with a lot less money in your pocket, so you’ll need to convince them otherwise.

Buying a pitcher or two will certainly help lube the conversation, but don’t get carried away because once they smell blood, you’re toast. With any luck, this process should yield a few tips on where to ski. Remember their names and faces and hope they remember yours; it’ll be much less creepy when you stalk them all over the mountain the next day.

About four spicy margs, six pitchers and way too many nachos later, it’s time to hit the hot tub. At this point, you’ll need to either bring the party back to yours or find a party at somebody else’s because you were too poor to get a hotel with plumbing. Make sure your party includes at least a few members of the opposite sex because nobody likes a dude stew—unless that’s your thing, in which case, get your dude stew on.

Most hotel hot tubs are relatively easy to poach. Number one rule: walk in like you own the joint. Hotel employees will only question you if you question yourself. While you’re at it, charge some drinks to room 310*. Of course, you’ll want to make sure there are at least three floors in the hotel and give the bartender a big tip when you sign the check to the room.

*Freeskier in no way endorses or encourages actually doing this.

After thoroughly dehydrating yourself via cocktails and tub lounging, it’s time to shower up and maybe throw in a quick nap. From here, the night is your oyster, but it should probably end in a raging hotel party. Hopefully it’s not your room getting trashed and hit with a plethora of noise complaints. If it is, call down to the front desk in the morning and tell them you want to cancel all the complaints, as they were simply a miscommunication between you and your temporary neighbors. Misunderstandings happen all the time, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

DOWN DAYS

If you’re lucky enough to get away on a trip for more than a few days, it’s sometimes necessary to take some time off from skiing in the middle of the week. This will give you the opportunity to catch up on the sleep you’ve been missing from catching first chair and last call every day.

Sport hunting is a great activity for down days with December to mid-April being open season on cougars. It might even be longer as their high concentration in ski-town environments has led the Department of Fish and Game to continually extend the season. They usually roam in small packs, and if you’re lucky enough to catch one, it will almost certainly lead to an upgrade in accommodations. Enlist hunting partners for safety and watch for alpha males in the nearby fields. Night hunts are also great if you don’t have time to take a day off from skiing. Cougars usually like to stay hydrated at night, so you’ll want to start at the local watering holes.

If you prefer to spend your days outside, renting snowmobiles is a great option. You’ll inevitably break something on the sled along the way, so be sure to get the extra insurance and laugh about it instead of crying yourself to sleep. Maybe even strap the skis down for a backcountry booter sesh while you’re out there. It’ll make a solid addition to your midseason edit.

FINAL THOUGHTS

There’ll be a few details you’ll need to figure out along the way, but these guidelines should set you up for absolute success. Slipping out of the cougar den unnoticed or convincing the bartender that you really thought you were in room 310 can be sticky situations, but will result in thoroughly entertaining stories. Stories that will keep you laughing all the way to your second annual ski trip. Bon Voyage.

*This article originally appeared in the 2013 FREESKIER Resort Guide. Subscribe to the magazine, or get it on the iTunes Newsstand.