It seems like mid-November might be the perfect time to talk about skiing. If you are a long-time, hockey-stop, swish-down-the-mountain skiier, then this post might not be for you. This post is for us warm-weather, newbie skiiers (or you cold weather folks who haven't yet braved the slopes).
As our kids got older, Sterling and I found it increasingly difficult to plan family vacations that addressed everyone's interests. When we were at The American Girl Store, Parker was in physical pain. When we were looking at WW II exhibits, the girls were bored and anxious. Plus, there are age differences. And personality differences. Sure, food brought us together, but you can only eat for so many hours a day, and then you just have to MOVE ON..
Skiing has been, in fact, something that all of our kids really enjoy. Plus, there's the story-telling AFTER skiing, wherein we detail our greatest wipe-outs and predicaments . . . and everyone loves that part too. And riding the lifts? Forget about it. There is nothing like gliding through snowy, mountain beauty while chatting with your kids. It's the best, Jerry. The best.
Starting the sport is admittedly daunting -- there's lots of gear to buy and arrangements to make. For our first ski trip, three years ago, I scoured the Internet looking for advice, and didn't find what I was really looking for (but I did get lots of good advice from my SIL, Debbie). Here, I've compiled my tried-and-true list of recommendations for those just starting out.
Gear: This is a lot of stuff if you are starting from scratch. Craigslist, garage sales, and community Yahoo groups are great ways to find gently used ski clothes -- particularly for kids who may outgrow an entire set in just one season. Also, once we were in Utah, a quick stop by Walmart, revealed a whole world of low-priced snow pants, kids snowsuits, gloves, and even parkas. So, there are options in just about every price range. You do have to be determined. And fearless. And being BFFs with the Internet doesn't hurt.
But I digress. The first year, since the ski trip was essentially the kids' Christmas gift, I spent HOURS online trying to figure out how to clothe my crew. I ended up getting almost everything from Lands' End (who is NOT paying me to say this). I started putting everything I thought I would need into my cart, and then good old Lands' End responded by e-mailing me deals: I think I finally bought when everything was 30% off and free shipping. Because I'm not Midas, I only bought one complete set per person. So, yes, there was washing. Here's what we got:
1. Thermals. These are an essential first layer. We bought the thermaskins (crew top and pants) from Lands' End. I ended up getting off-white for the girls and black for the boys. Don't ask me why. These have held up famously, and we are all still wearing the original pair. Bonus: wear them under jeans to a cold football game!
2. Fleece half zip. I also got these from Lands' End because the price (minus 30% was pretty darn good). This is your second layer up top.
3. Ski pants. The first year I bought six pairs of ski pants from Lands' End (these are currently listed at $89, but I think they were more like $59 when I bought them). They worked great, but, honestly, they are pretty puffy. The second year I bought a slimmer fitting pair for myself that I like much better. Becca's asking for these pants for Christmas. Bonus: The kids' snow pants have an extended length you can access by ripping out some inside stitching, so Parker wore his for two years!
4. Ski parka. I only bought Parker's coat through Lands' End. Sterling and I used hand-me-downs from my brother and SIL, and I scoured the Internet for more stylish options for the girls. Madison and Becca opted for snowboarding shells and Jordan bought a more traditional fitted ski jacket. I paid under $100 for each.
5. Sock liners. These aren't "essential," but I love them! Wear them under your ski socks for extra warmth. They wick the sweat away from your feet! And yes, you will be sweating.
6. Ski socks. Go for one pair of real ski socks. These have padding in just the right places and are the appropriate thickness for ski boots.
7. Snow boots. These are totally optional. You don't really NEED snow boots to walk from your car to the ski lodge. We did use them when we went tubing one night. Also, they might make you feel more legit -- if you are into that sort of thing. But otherwise, you can skip the boots.
8. Gloves. I ordered six pairs of squall gloves from Lands' End. Moderate price. Worked great.
9. Ski helmet. Okay, here's the deal on helmets. The first year we rented. The bummer is that a helmet is about $8.00/day, which is just about half of what you pay for skis, boots, and poles combined. When Sterling and I went up later in the season we actually bought helmets. We found some on sale for about $60, so we made up our purchase in about 8 days of rentals. Of course, they DO take up a bunch of luggage space!
10. Goggles. I was so on the fence about goggles. Goggles can run into the hundreds of dollars, which I was not willing to spend when we were just "trying out" the sport. I found some goggles in the $40 range (on sale) at a ski shop near my home at the last minute. They have been fine. Not great. But serviceable. When I'm really swishing down the slopes, THEN I'll upgrade.
Equipment Rentals: I know this is getting long, so I'll try to hurry this along. The first year, we rented our equipment from the resort. The shop was crowded, and we really did not get adequate help with fitting -- which meant REALLY uncomfortable ski boots. The next year we followed my brother to a smaller shop close by the resort. They were much more invested in the fitting, and the price was good. If you reserve online, you can get 20% off the entire rental. Beginner skis, boots, and poles run $22/day ($17.60 with discount), and the helmet is $8.00/day ($6.40 with the discount).
Lift Tickets: Each year we've bought discount tickets from our equipment rental place. Often Costco has great deals on packs of tickets. If you really look around (from the comfort of your computer) there is generally a discount to be found. The depth of the discount depends on the resort you choose. If I had it to do over again, I might have started at a smaller resort where lift tickets and ski instructors are less expensive. So far we've skied at Park City and Deer Valley.
Instruction: The instruction portion of the trip, for beginners, is super important. It literally can be the difference between success and failure. For kids, ski school is a great option -- the lift ticket (and lunch) are included, and they get great (and safe) instruction from about 9 - 3. Most ski schools place the kids into groups by ability, about 5-6 kids per instructor. For our teenagers (and ourselves), the first year we tried out a Never Ever class, which, as you might guess, is designed for people who have never, ever, ever strapped on a pair of skis. This class was a bit of a wash. It was slow moving, and we probably went down the bunny slope ONE TIME all morning, which was boring for the kids. After the Never Ever, we engaged a private instructor. The private instructor is pricey, there is no doubt, but a couple of sessions can really get you on your way -- I can't recommend private instruction enough.
Housing: While staying close to the resort is incredible, we opt to stay about 20 minutes away where prices are more reasonable. Try VRBO -- it gives you a little room to spread out!
Guys! If you are even a tiny bit inclined -- try skiing. There are really no special skills involved. And soaring down the mountain is like flying . . . creeping down is pretty darn fun too.