Top 10 Things to Consider When Planning a Colorado Ski Trip

Having grown up in Summit County, Colorado, I am most familiar with the ski resorts in and around Summit County, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, Ski Cooper, and Vail. However, these tips should be helpful in planning any ski trip.

#1 Lodging

Lodging is your staging area before you head out to the slopes, and it is where you relax after a hard day of play. Your choice of lodging will have a large impact on your ski trip.

One option is a hotel. Some are close to the lifts and amenities, but those further away are less expensive. Most hotel rooms lack kitchens, or have only partials. You will likely be eating all of your meals out. A few will provide complimentary continental breakfast to get you going in the morning.

Bed and Breakfasts will offer a full breakfast and usually afternoon tea and snacks. Many are charmingly located in renovated historic buildings. B&Bs are a great choice if you want to meet other travelers. The owners of the B&B and your fellow travelers can offer suggestions on where to go for your evening meals.

Condos and town homes include full kitchens, so you can save money, and inconvenience, by eating meals at the rental. For large groups, a private home or lodge can be found to accommodate reasonably sized groups. These will have private bedrooms as well as shared living spaces where the group can gather.

A ski-in ski-out rental provides the convenience of being directly on a ski slope. You can stop back at the rental for lunch or to add or subtract layers throughout the day as conditions change. Ski-in ski-out lodging can be found in condos, hotels, town homes, private homes, and lodges.

There is no formal definition of “ski-in ski-out,” each property management company has its own method of applying this term to their properties. When booking ski-in ski-out rentals, be sure to ask the right questions so that you are not disappointed when you arrive. Some ski-in ski-out rentals might be right on a ski slope, but they might be some distance from restaurants and other amenities. In this case you are trading easy access to dining and entertainment for easy access to the ski slopes. Good alternatives will be a short walk to the slopes via a path or a pedestrian walkway, but will still be very convenient to shopping, dining, and other activities.

#2 Ski and Snowboard Equipment Rentals

When traveling with your own equipment, you do not have to deal with renting equipment, but you are faced with some challenges that will be addressed in #7 Luggage.

For those who do not own equipment, don’t worry. You can rent gear for the length of your stay. It pays to plan ahead when renting equipment. Nobody wants to wait in a long line just to find out that there are no more boots available in their size. Avoid this stress by reserving equipment online prior to your arrival. This will ensure that the equipment is available, it will likely save you some money, and it can accelerate the rental process.

Another option for rental equipment is to have it delivered to your rental. Then, instead of standing in line, you can be relaxing in front of the fireplace as the rental equipment comes to you. The rental technician will arrive with a variety of equipment to ensure that you get the right size. Your equipment will be adjusted for your ability level. Then, at the end of the trip, they come back to pick it up. This saves you another trip to the ski rental shop. The rates for rental equipment delivery is very competitive to what you would pay after walking into a ski rental shop and standing in line.

#3 Lift Tickets

If you plan to ski or snowboard, you are going to need lift tickets. Instead of showing up at the resort and going into sticker shock at the prices posted over the ticket window, plan ahead. Tickets can be ordered online in advance at a discounted price. The multi-day tickets are the best bet. Check with your property management company and see if they have discount lift tickets. Sometimes they will throw in a free day of skiing with lodging.

Once you arrive, you can typically find some discount tickets, but you will have to look around and go out of your way to pick them up. The supermarkets usually have tickets available at a small discount at the customer service county.

If you are coming for an extended stay, you might consider picking up a season pass. These are always available in the early season, but sometimes they sell out later in the season. Season passes will often pay for themselves after only a few days of skiing.

#4 Lessons

A ski or snowboard lesson at the beginning of your trip can reduce the frustration of getting out on the slopes for the first time or after a long absence. Each ski resort has its own policies regarding lessons. With some lessons, a lift ticket is included at a reduced price. Sometimes these have restrictions, like the ticket is only valid when accompanied by an instructor. This means that if you leave the class or if you want to go night skiing after the class, your ticket might not work. Ask about any restrictions on tickets included with the lessons.

Do your homework on lessons before you arrive by researching at the ski school website and even calling one of their experts to answer questions not answered on the website. You don’t want to be trying to sort through all of the options of private, group, adult, child, full day, half day, or multiple day, the night before you plan to take a lesson. You might find that lessons offered at one resort are a better match for your needs and budget. This might affect your choice of where to stay.

#5 Transportation

A rental car provides you with some freedom to explore and to get a real feel for the area. However, there are some things to consider before renting a car.

If you are staying at a resort, like Breckenridge, you probably won’t need a rental car. You might find that it is more of a hassle trying to park than it is to walk or catch a local shuttle. Most resorts charge to park at the most convenient parking lots. With a rental car, you also have to consider your ability to drive in unpredictable winter weather conditions.

There are several options available in airport transportation. For one or two people, the least expensive option would be a shared van. For groups of three or more, you begin to see group discounts and more options become affordable. There are private luxury SUVs that can carry five people plus ski gear. Larger groups can charter a van or a shuttle bus. If you really want to start a memorable vacation in luxurious fashion, stretch limos and stretch Hummers are also available.

Several resorts, such as those in Summit County and Vail, have free shuttles within the resort, and Summit County has free bus service throughout the county. If you are staying at a resort, you will often find that there are plenty of dining, shopping, and nightlife alternatives within easy walking distance from your lodging.

#6 Food

Ski resorts are noted for their selection of fine dining establishments. What vacation would be complete without a night out at a fine restaurant? However, if you are staying for several nights, how often do you want to coordinate getting your group ready, getting them to the restaurant, and keeping them patient while waiting for a table? If you have a kitchen at your rental, it makes sense to plan to prepare some of your meals there. This especially makes sense for breakfast. With a fun-filled day ahead, it would be nice to avoid squeezing a trip for breakfast into your busy schedule.

An option is to use a grocery delivery service. Groceries can be delivered prior to your arrival, or while you are out skiing. You can use the time that is saved to enjoy your vacation. Prepared meals can also be delivered. You can even arrange to have a meal catered.

#7 Luggage

When traveling with ski equipment, you might incur excess baggage and oversize baggage fees. In addition to the fees, it is a daunting task to haul this through the airport and onto and off of shuttles. You may have to rent a larger vehicle just to accommodate the extra luggage.

Luggage shipping services can pick up your luggage, ship it to their warehouse at your vacation location, and deliver it to your rental on your date of arrival. They will also reverse the process to get your luggage back home. The cost of these services is often on par with the fees you would pay to the airlines for excess and oversize luggage. Traveling with only a carryon will streamline your experience at the airports.

#8 Activities

Skiing is a strenuous activity. If you are coming from a low elevation, you do not want to over exert yourself. Even if you are in excellent shape, skiing will use different muscle groups than what you are used to. You may want to schedule a day off from skiing. There are several other activities that you might want to consider on your day off, such as ice skating, tubing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, or taking a scenic snowcat tour.

In Summit County, there is tubing at Copper Mountain, Keystone, and Frisco. Keystone has “disco tubing” at night with disco lights. Of course, you can always pick up an inexpensive sled at a local store and find a suitable hill.

Snowmobiling is a great way to get out into the splendor of the Colorado Rockies and soak in the 360-degree views from high above the Continental Divide. A guide will take you miles into the backcountry on groomed trails, single-track trails, and through powder-filled meadows. Different tours are designed for families, performance riding, and even extreme thrill-seekers.

Dog sled tours allow you to learn about the sport of dog sledding in a hands-on, education-rich environment. Guests will first meet the dogs before they take the reigns and become mushers, driving the team. One and two hour dog sledding tours are available with an experienced guide who takes you into one of the most beautiful backdrops in the Rocky Mountains.

Snowcat tours range from scenic tours for non-skiers, to trips into back bowl in order to ski down. There is even a scenic tour that offers adventurous guests the option to ride a snow bike down gentle slopes in the deep snow high atop the mountain.

Other physical activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice-skating. If you do not have your own equipment, it can be rented. If you have your own equipment, there are several trails and areas where you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, and ice skate for free.

#9 Events

Winter events abound at the ski areas from the Winter X-Games to the Dew Tour to World Cup events and a myriad of other competitions and events. If you are coming to see one of these, be sure to book far in advance. If you are not coming to see one of these, check to see what is going on at the resort during your planned trip. For major events, lodging books up and there are crowds on the slopes and at the towns and restaurants.

Small events are fun to attend. Ullrfest is a Breckenridge celebration of the Nordic god of snow. Breckenridge has an annual snow sculpture competition that attracts teams from around the world. There are Christmas celebrations, New Year’s celebrations, Mardi Gras celebrations, and other events at all of the towns and resorts throughout the winter. It’s good to know what is going on while you are in town. Check with the local chamber of commerce or with the resorts for their calendars of events.

#10 Where To Go

Each resort has its own character. Some are bustling with activity and nightlife, such as Breckenridge and Vail. Some cater to the rich and famous with upscale shopping, such as Aspen. Some are fairly remote and self-contained, such as Steamboat and Telluride.

Frisco is a nice mountain town away from the hustle and bustle of the resorts. It has a nice “real town” character. It is less touristy than the resorts and offers a variety of fine restaurants and shopping. Yet, it is close enough to the resorts to make it a nice option for lodging. A bonus is that you can get more for your money choosing lodging away from the resorts. The free countywide bus service, the Summit Stage, provides easy transportation to the resorts and to the other towns within the county.

Make sure that your destination matches your traveling group. Special considerations would be for groups containing children and teenagers, groups consisting of all young adults, groups containing some non-skiers, make sure there are plenty of activities for everyone.

#11 When To Go (Bonus Topic!)

Early season lasts from the opening day for the resorts up until around the Christmas holidays. During this time, the snow is just beginning to accumulate. All of the runs will not be open and all of the activities will not be running. Lodging and lift tickets will be less expensive during this time.

Everyone tries to have things running by Christmas. Depending on the amount of snow, some activities may not be running yet.

Prices will go up for Christmas and New Years. Then they typically drop off until the middle of February.

President’s Day weekend typically denotes the beginning of “Prime Ski Season” and a spike in prices. The higher prices are due to the best snow conditions and to the fact that many people plan vacations for Spring Break.

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