Since I am positioning this blog to be an information and photo resource for all things about skiing and travelling, this post would be dedicated to talk about the logistics of planning for a ski trip. It is probably safe to say that most skiers take a couple of trips a year if they could and for many first timers there might be a lot of questions regarding what to bring, how much to budget and how to plan for lodging and transport. As such, this post would be like an answer to the FAQs of what my friends sometimes ask me about skiing/snowboarding trips in general.
Personally, I find one of the most common things people ask me is which ski resorts are better or worth visiting, since I have been to more ski resorts than most of my friends, I am in a better position to reply to this question. I will be upfront and say that nearly all the ski areas I have been to are all amazing places and worth a visit, and as an avid skier, any place that receives fresh snow is always a great place to ski!
SKI TOWNS & CITIES
I know many people associate with ski trips as going to a ski resort and staying one week over there. However I digress a bit by saying there is another kind of ski trip that is as enjoyable. This is by visiting a city close to several ski areas and skiing in a different destinations every day. Some of the destinations that allows you to this includes:
Innsbruck in Austria is one of the most famous skier’s town. Aside from being the capital of Tyrol region, the town is surrounded by the snow-capped Alps and there is a funicular and gondola from the town to the top of Nordkette. Otherwise both Kühtai and Stubai Glacier ski area are within an hour’s drive from the city centre. The latter even has summer skiing on the glacier. Regular trains from Innsbruck to the St. Anton am Arlberg also makes Innsbruck an essential gateway to the Tyrolean Alps.
Lucerne is one of the most popular cities to visit in Switzerland. It is also within one to two hours by punctual trains to ski resorts like Engelberg/Titlis and Hasliberg. In the downtime, visitors can enjoy the sights of this beautiful city or take hikes in the surrounding mountains.
Sion and Visp in the canton of Valais are 2 more towns in Switzerland that is convenient for skiers as a base in the valley. From Sion, the ski resort of Crans-Montana and Anzere are easily accessed by public buses. From Visp, the ski resorts of Saas-Fee and Zermatt can be reached in an hour or so by public transport. Since both Saas-Fee and Zermatt are car-free zones, it is feasible for skiers who drive to base themselves in Visp.
Chur in the eastern part of Switzerland is another relatively large town in Switzerland that has all the making of an alpine city. From the town centre, there is a cable car leading to Brambrüesch where skiers can ski at. The town can also be a base when skiers want to visit Arosa-Lenzerheide and Laax-Flins. Lenzerheide is about 35 minutes away by bus and the ski area of Arosa and Lenzerheide are linked by cable cars, creating one of the largest linked ski areas in Switzerland. Laax-Flims is about 45 minutes away and is highly regarded for its terrain park and thus a favourite for snowboarders.
Salt Lake City, Utah hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002 and about half an hour drive from the downtown, skiers can head to Alta and Snowbird in the Little Cottonwood Valley. Otherwise the larger ski resorts of Park City and Deer Valley is also within an hour’s drive from the city.
Santiago, Chile is close to some of the largest resorts like Valle Nevado, La Parva. Even Portillo can be done as a day trip from Santiago. In the downtime when you do not ski, there are plenty to do in the city or one can explore the vineyards around Santiago.
Queenstown in New Zealand is another of those winter destination that will attract skiers. Aside from having plenty of hotels and lodging options, the town located by the lake is picturesque while ski resorts like Coronet Peak and The Remarkables are half an hour away from the town, while Cardrona is about an hour away by car or regular bus services during the ski season.
WHICH SKI AREA TO VISIT
As my past guides to the ski areas in North America and Europe mentions, I think some of the nicest ski areas in the world lies in North America and Europe. This is especially so for beginners and first timers since there are better infrastructure for skiers and snowboarders with access to nicer rental equipments and gear. All these combines to create a fantastic experience for those new to the sport or casual skiers who just want to get the alpine lifestyle.
To be more specific, I am partial to skiing in Switzerland when in Europe as their ski resorts are some of the easiest to get to via public transport (read: trains). Thus if you like to explore smaller ski resorts and are not planning to drive, there are numerous ski resorts like Engelberg-Titlis, Hasliberg-Meiringen and Leysin that are easily accessible from larger cities like Lucerne and Montreux. This is definitely ideal for travellers who wants to ski in the day and return to the city for nightlife.
Otherwise, if in Europe, I highly recommend St. Anton and Lech in the Arlberg region in Austria or Val Thorens in France for intermediate skiers because the sheer size of these ski areas alone makes it one of the prime places to ski anywhere in the world. Not only that, their high elevation and location deeper in the valley means they would have good snow conditions even during the Christmas week.
In North America, the travel destinations worth making a trip for includes Whistler Blackcomb near Vancouver, Park City and Deer Valley near Salt Lake City, Aspen and Snowmass along with Vail and Beaver Creek have small regional airports in Aspen and Eagle County making all of these places easy to reach on airplanes. These ski resorts have their own community and towns that provides plenty of dining options and other entertainment for non-skiers so it would not be boring to spend a week in the ski resort.
In Asia, I doubt anyone would dispute that ski resorts around Hokkaido is the best for skiing. The Grand Hirafu area in Niseko is perhaps one of the most well developed in terms of facilities and lodging/dining options. Other than that Kiroro and Rusutsu both have large western style hotel chains that would appeal to international visitors.
All of the ski areas listed above are great options whether you are going to ski alone or with families and friends. But more importantly, the places I listed have plenty of attractions other than skiing that would make them great vacation spots. It also ensures you would not get bored spending even a week in these places.
WHEN TO GO
While Christmas and New Year are one of the most popular time to go skiing, one should also consider that most hotels gets booked up easily during this time. Peak season rates also applies so it is common to see room rates going for twice or even triple the usual rates. With the crowds, that also means longer queues for the chairlifts. Furthermore, in recent years the snowfall might prove to be inadequate at some ski areas even during Christmas time, so the conditions might not be prime and some lifts would not be open.
In my experience, the best time for a week-long ski trip is somewhere in the 2nd and 3rd week of January when the snow conditions would be sufficient for the whole area to be open. Starting from the second week of February, staggered school holidays in Europe means family-oriented resorts would get full quite fast and the crowds fill up the ski lifts, though this is mainly restricted to the easier runs. Thus January and February are the best months to go if you want to ski in deeper snow.
By March, most ski areas would have more sunnier days and late March will see a rise in temperatures that heralds spring time skiing. Spring skiing appeals to more casual skiers and beginners since the warmer weather and brighter skies makes it more comfortable to learn or cruise on the slopes. Longer daylight means some resorts might extend the lift operating hours and it is possible to enjoy lunch on the patio at the mountain peak. These experiences are just unsurpassed and what makes skiing great, so for those who have yet to experience spring skiing, I recommend a ski trip in late March to early April. Many of the top ski resorts would still be open in the first week of April, and with cheaper lodging and lift tickets, it would also be great for first timers.
When it is time for most of the northern hemisphere to be in summer time, the snow starts to arrive in places like Chile, Argentina, southeastern Australia and New Zealand. Thus the months of July and August are probably the best time if you want to experience skiing in the southern hemisphere. What better way would there be to cool off a hot summer holiday by spending it in the south amidst snow-capped sceneries?
HOW MANY DAYS FOR A SKI TRIP
For beginners to skiing and snowboarding, I really recommend a minimum of 3 full days to learn, and beginners definitely should get proper instruction from the ski school. Once you have a strong foundation, that would allow you to enjoy the mountains faster and better. As a frequent skier, I find the optimal time to spend in a ski area is around a week, and that is probably why in Europe, many ski accommodations go by the week. Normally spending a week in a ski resort will allow one to experience at least a sunny day and a snow day, so there will be chances to get some nice photos and to enjoy a powder day.
Even for skiers who are intermediates, it is better to spend half a day to a day for warming up on the first day of the winter season. This will allow you to get used to the feeling again after a few months of ‘not skiing’. In addition, when visiting new ski areas, the warm up laps will help to familiarize yourself with the snow conditions. Snowfall and accumulation can vary from places and depending on climate (wet or dry) and altitude, the feeling of the snow can be different. Thus it is important to try as much as possible up to a week for a proper ski trip, because if you go in the middle of winter (January or February), there is also the off-chance that a blizzard might cause one or two lost days of skiing.
In the end whichever ski area you choose to visit, and whether you go in the middle of winter or during spring break, and even if you just manage a few days of skiing in your trip, do take the time to enjoy the fresh mountain air, and admire the alpine scenery. Because a wonderful ski trip to me is not just about the skiing, but being able to take a break with nature while enjoying a bit of peace and quiet time for yourself.