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So, you think Disney World is expensive? Try skiing with the entire family.
If you aren’t strategic, single-day ski lift tickets can cost as much as $209 per day — almost double that of Disney World tickets. On top of that, you need significantly more gear and clothing to ski than you do to hop on Space Mountain. And then, because the core of ski season is virtually all peak season due to the condensed nature of the sport’s timeline, it’s hard to snag any off-season lodging or activity discounts.
But there’s a reason people make the investment and put the effort into planning, as there’s nothing like carving from side to side down a mountain.
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Skiing is also a perfect multigenerational family vacation you can enjoy with your kids, cousins, parents and more. Before you get too amped up about the idea of Grandma and the little ones on skis though, remember these tips for a successful multigenerational ski trip.
Related: How to use points and miles for a ski trip
Prepare for sticker shock
Baby boomers may have started their love of skiing as young adults in the 1970s and 1980s, when lift tickets were much more affordable than they are today. There was even outrage when Aspen lift tickets jumped to $35 in 1987. Last season, a single-day Aspen lift ticket was more than $150, with Vail costing a jaw-dropping $209 total if you didn’t plan in advance.
Adjust for economics all you want, but lift ticket prices have far outpaced inflation. If the older generation in your group hasn’t seen what lift ticket prices have done in a few years, be ready to help them cope. Relatively affordable skiing has transitioned from the one-trip lift ticket to the multimountain season pass, which can sound like overkill for one trip but in the case of Epic Day Passes isn’t as exorbitant as you might think with prices starting at $112 for a single-day ticket.
But your best play for a multigeneration ski trip may be to target mountains that have both solid kids-ski-free programs and senior discounts.
Related: Best credit cards to use on ski trips
Look for child and senior discounts
Believe it or not, you can find discounts for the oldest and youngest travelers in your family at even the most famous mountains.
For example, Aspen Snowmass has historically allowed kids 6 and under to ski free (older than most mountains permit) and senior tickets (skiers 65 and older) are more affordable than those at many major mountains: around $106 on peak days and $258 if you wanted to ski three out of 10 days ($86 per day).
Depending on the age of the family members in your crew, you might be able to do even better. There are actually a number of resorts that offer free or reduced-cost skiing to seniors, as well as resorts that offer free skiing for kids.
For example, Loveland offers seniors who are 70 and older a season pass for just $99. At Angel Fire, both seniors who are 75 and older and kids who are 6 and younger can ski for free.
Have a super senior in your party? Telluride offers a free Palmyra Pass to skiers who are 80 years of age or older. Just eight more years, Grandpa Points! And typically, skiers who are 5 and under ski for just $25 all year at Telluride.
Consider smaller mountains
If senior and kid lift ticket discounts alone don’t bring the major mountain resorts into your price range, choosing to visit a smaller mountain may make your multigenerational ski vacation more affordable. Not only will you find less expensive lift tickets at smaller mountains, but everything from parking to lunch and your equipment rentals will typically be more affordable.
We took a multi-family ski trip to a smaller resort in Maryland last year and had a low-key, low-stress blast. And my senior skiing parents also swear by Brian Head in Utah. There, children and seniors can ski for around $30 on weekdays — and half-days are just $25 (weekends and holidays cost just a little bit more). Kids 10 and under can even get free season passes at Brian Head.
And this is by no means a tiny mountain, with eight lifts and 71 runs. But it isn’t nearly as massive as other, more famous ski mountains either. You’ll also find a half-day ski school at Brian Head and similar-size mountains, which often doesn’t exist at big resorts.
Tubing at some big resorts in Colorado is an absolute blast, but it can cost $39 for one person for one hour, and you have to book well in advance for peak dates. At smaller mountains, it can cost just $20 to tube for as long as you want. In other words, smaller mountains may be both easier to afford and manage for a multigenerational ski trip.
Related: What to expect this ski season from Vail
Take a day off
In college, my friends and I would drive all night from Texas to Colorado or New Mexico and board all day, every day that we were there. Being crazy 20-somethings, we could do that, stay up late and do it all again the next day.
But, on a multigenerational ski trip with littles, grandparents and tired parents, don’t expect everyone to hit the slopes from sun up to sun down. Instead, take advantage of other near-mountain activities such as sledding, tubing, ice skating, sleigh ride dinners — maybe just hang out together at the lodge one day. After a couple of days on the mountain, everyone will probably be ready for a little rest.
Related: Things to do at a ski resort for non-skiers
Get your skis delivered
OK, this isn’t exactly a budget-friendly tip, but it’s still a useful one, especially in a socially distanced world. Take advantage of the convenience — and avoid crowded rental lines — of a ski equipment delivery.
While there are several companies offering similar services, I’ve personally used Ski Butlers for five years and have nothing but good things to say. On multigeneration ski trips to Breckenridge and Mammoth, we’ve had ski delivery services go right to our home rental in Breckenridge, Colorado and a hotel in Mammoth, California. That way, we could be there to greet our friends and family members as they arrived, and we didn’t have to run around town collecting gear with travel-weary preschoolers.
If you do rent from Ski Butlers, sleuth around online for discount codes: Some years, I’ve found 20% discount codes if I look hard enough. That helps knock the price down at least a little bit.
But whether you use Ski Butlers or reserve gear at a rental shop, the real goal on an extended family ski trip is to streamline the logistics.
While you need to plan ahead even for a solo ski trip during a pandemic, a big family adventure will require you to do pretty much everything in advance. Get your lift tickets online ahead of time, reserve your on-mountain dates if needed, reserve ski school lessons, make dinner reservations and book your non-ski activities with time to spare.
If you have multiple generations involved, you can’t just wing a ski trip even in a normal year. And it becomes even trickier if you’re traveling during peak season when things around the mountain can and do sell out — to say nothing of a mutigenerational ski trip on peak dates during a global heatlh crisis.
Related: Mistakes to avoid when planning a ski trip
Book private family ski lessons
If it’s been a minute since folks in your group strapped on skis or boards, consider kicking off your big family ski trip with a private family lesson. This is always a good idea, but has even more obvious advantages during a pandemic. A private lesson is an investment, but it might not be as expensive as you think if multiple people would sign up for a lesson anyway.
At Breckenridge, for example, ski school for children can often cost between $235 and $259 per child, per day during peak holiday dates. Sending three little cousins to a half-day private lesson cost about the same as sending them all for a full-day group lesson, which was really more time than they could manage at that age anyway.
Related: The right age for a child to start ski school
This works for more than just kids, too. At many mountains, you can book a private lesson for a group of adults or a mix of adults and kids. At Mammoth, we booked a full-day family private lesson and used the first half of the day for the little ones, and the second half of the day for the older cousins and adults.
Naturally, the lesson will work best if most of the skiers and riders are at roughly the same ability level. But either way, you won’t have to worry about dropping kids off (and picking them up later) for group ski school classes. And, during a private lesson, you’re also more likely to skip the lift lines, which can be almost worth it by itself at busy mountains during the holidays.
Related: Best Colorado ski towns to visit
And note that this year, the youngest skiers may only be able to do short private lessons or half-day group lessons as indoor-heavy programs for toddlers and preschoolers aren’t happening at many mountains.
Pick a mountain meeting point and time
When skiing with a big group at a major mountain, someone is probably going to get separated from the herd.
Phones don’t always work on the mountain, and even if they do, batteries can die quickly in the cold. If the goal is to ski together, I highly recommend talking through where you are heading on the runs (instead of just playing follow the leader) and have some meeting spots outlined, even if that meeting spot doesn’t come until lunch.
Saying, “Let’s all meet up at 11 a.m. at Blue Moose Pizza at Lionshead at Vail for the $5 lunch special,” is a much better plan than no plan at all. And yes, we’ve “lost” adults on our family ski trips for hours at a time.
Rent a big house
When it comes to lodging, renting a large ski home is often the best route for multigenerational ski trips. Once two or three families are involved, the per-person cost of staying in a fully-equipped rental home instead of booking multiple hotel rooms often becomes reasonable.
In addition to the savings, you’ll also have a legitimate kitchen and a gathering place for everyone in the evenings. If skiing is the highlight of a ski trip, then après-ski activities with your crew at the end of a long day on the mountain is a very close second.
Plus, there are clear advantages to booking a vacation rental during a pandemic, which may be a priority for families who want to prioritize safety and peace of mind during a ski trip this season. If you think you’ll go this route, consider using points to rent a vacation rental home, and read about all the other ways renting a large moutain home can save you money during your trip.
Related: Best Colorado Airbnb home rentals
Sure, a family beach trip might be cheaper and easier than a multigenerational ski trip, but there’s something truly special about experiencing the mountain as a family — and then all crawling, weary-limbed, to the après-ski hot tub in the evening to rehash the day’s fun.
And there’s no better way to pass down the love of fresh powder, alpine views or the way the snow sounds as you criss-cross the mountain, than to gather your entire family to experience these moments together.
A big family ski trip that includes everyone from preschoolers to grandparents takes strategy and planning, but the reward is well worth the effort — and we’ll be here to help you plan every minute of your multigenerational ski vacation.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.