This year we decided to try something new for our family spring break. Instead of flying south to the sun, sand and beach that most Minnesotans crave by this time of year, we opted to head west for our first family ski trip to Colorado.
Growing up in Minnesota, Colorado has always been a popular place for spring break given its proximity, variety of terrain, cheap flight options and the ability to even gut it out and do the drive (you can make it in around 15-16 hours). As an avid skier, I made the drive to Colorado at least a half a dozen times over the years and most recently have enjoyed the short two hour non-stop flights from Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport (MSP) to Denver. The launch of more no-frills airlines into MSP such as Sun Country, Frontier, and no-frills Spirit Airlines have put pressure on hub-based Delta to keep prices down. All that means Colorado is very accessible yet a family ski vacation is not cheap. Adding on car rental, lift tickets, lodging, food, gear (if you have to rent it) and ski lessons (if necessary) can make a family ski trip to Colorado a very expensive one.
I confess to being a bit reluctant about the notion of skiing in April given our notoriously long, cold winter in Minnesota. However spring skiing in Colorado proved to be an extremely fun, memorable family vacation and although we weren’t wearing our swim suits on the beach the weather in Colorado was equally delightful with baby blue skies, bright, warm sun and fresh mountain air kissing our face. In fact, we had so much fun that we agreed to do it all again next year.
So how did we ensure that our first big ski trip to Colorado would be a success? With careful planning, research and a bit of luck.
Here are my top 6 tips on how to have a fabulous, memorable family ski trip without busting the bank.
Tip 1: Purchase an EPIC Pass
The EPIC pass is by far the most affordable way to go and thankfully there are many different options to meet your needs. The full blown Epic Pass covers 64 resorts around the world, unlimited and unrestricted skiing or riding for a year. This is for those serious skiers and riders who either live near the mountain or plan to go a handful of times. With a price tag of $899 for Adults/$469 for Kids, if you are going to be skiing or riding more than 8 times in a season it will pay for itself. (Child is ages 5-12, Adult is ages 13+, Seniors 65+ get a special discounted pass). For instance, if you purchase a day lift ticket at Vail at the window, you are looking at spending almost $200 for just one day of skiing/riding.
If you are planning on skiing/riding more than a week or skiing/riding multiple times, there is the Epic Local Pass which includes 26 resorts with limited restrictions. The price is $669 adults, $359 child (ages 5-12) and $549 for teens (ages 13-18). We purchased this pass at the end of our stay because we plan to go skiing out west on two separate occasions.
For a week-long ski trip, you can either purchase the Epic 7 Day (includes 7 unrestricted days, 24 resorts. Adults $669, Child $359) or Epic 4 Day Pass (4 unrestricted days, 24 resorts. Adults $439, Child $239).
Finally, for those active or retired members of the military and their dependents, there is an incredible deal going on right now. $99 per person for unlimited, no restriction skiing in 14 resorts. My sister and her family already purchased the Epic Military Pass for next year for their entire family. An amazing bargain!
To get full details on each pass above as well as the resorts included, visit www.epicpass.com. Note: These are the 2018/2019 winter season pass rates. The Colorado resorts included in the EPIC pass are: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. Crested Butte and Telluride joined the EPIC pass for the upcoming 2018-2019 winter season).
Tip 2: Location, Location
I cannot stress the importance of doing a little bit of research and selecting the right mountain resort that meets everyone’s needs. We chose Vail, by far one of the most prestigious mountain resorts in Colorado, for its enormous variety and scope of terrain. Vail is the largest ski area in Colorado with over 5,200 acres of developed ski and snowboard terrain including seven legendary Back Bowls. Over half of the terrain is classified as Expert/Advanced, 29% Intermediate and 18% beginner. Its jaw-dropping location nestled around the Gore and Sawatch Mountain Ranges and its beautiful, European-inspired Vail village and Lionshead at the base of the mountain make it a perfect destination year-round.
For my family, we all are experienced skiers and my son is a snowboarder. My daughter and husband prefer the blue intermediate level cruisers while I love the steep gnarly blacks and the wide open bowls. Vail has it all and best of all, there is no way to get bored with so many different runs and areas to ski and ride in. For families of young children or beginner level skiers/riders, there are plenty of beginner and intermediate level runs. For tweens and teens, there are fantastic terrain parks and kid adventure zones. The terrain is endless and has a little bit of something for everyone. My favorite place to ski at Vail was in the amazing back bowls and I loved Vail’s longest run Riva Ridge, a thigh-burning 4 mile blue and black run. As a family we loved Blue Sky Basin and all the fun blues bringing us down to Mid-Vail.
Thanks to our Epic pass, we also were able to visit another resort for a day. Over the years, I have skied all of the area’s resorts such as Breckenridge, Keystone, A-Basin, and Beaver Creek as well as others not included in the Epic Pass such as Winter Park, Copper and Loveland. We chose Breckenridge for our family and all of us fell in love with it. The dramatic beauty, the incredible mountain views, the down-to-earth feel and the sensational terrain were hard to beat. With a summit elevation at 12,998 feet compared to 11,570 feet at Vail, the extra elevation provided better snow and even more incredible views of the rugged snow-capped peaks. Although the total skiable acreage is much smaller than Vail (Breckenridge has 2,908 acres while Vail has 5,200 acres), there is a nice split of runs for all levels with a terrain of 34% double black expert runs, 24% advanced, 31% intermediate and 11% beginner). My favorite place to ski was by far Peak 6 however as a family we enjoyed the blue cruisers on Peak 7.
I couldn’t resist catching this video of my son on a fresh set of power….look at how stunning it is! Epic!
Tip 3: Find the right place to stay for your family’s needs
Thankfully there are many different accommodation options ranging from renting a house or condo, to staying at a hotel or going high-end luxury. You can either stay in town, in a neighboring town or at the base of the mountain. It requires research especially if you are looking for a deal. Vail is not known as the cheapest place to stay however through some searching around we were able to find a two-bedroom “ski in, ski out” condo at the Antlers at Vail with a full kitchen, heated outdoor pool and hot-tub, and ski valet service, right at the base of the mountain for a very reasonable price.
For our family, it was absolutely perfect. Every morning our skis were brought over to the gondola and we simply had to put on our gear and walk the short five minutes to the gondola. Best of all, if our kids were tired before us, they could take the gondola down and go back to the condo themselves. After skiing, we left our skis at the base of the gondola where they were picked up and returned safely to the hotel. There is even a locker area with dryers to ensure your boots will be ready to go the next morning.
Having access to a heated pool and hot tub after spending a day on the mountain goes without saying, and the Antlers at Vail had the perfect soaking spot with a beautiful view of the mountain. We were walking distance to all the shops and restaurants in Vail and Lionshead which was nice to not have to move our giant SUV we rented. With a full kitchen, we were able to save a lot of money eating most of our meals at the condo and could also prepare sandwiches to bring with us for the day saving us hundreds of dollars in food. There are lockers available at some of the chalets however it is best to wear a backpack. We didn’t have one so could only bring enough food and snacks to fit inside our ski coat pockets. My son, however, was thrilled to eat his first Epic burger with its magic sauce. Despite a hefty price tag of almost $20, he said it was the best burger he has ever had. Thankfully I had a ham and cheese sandwich in my pocket so at least he got to splurge.
Tip 4: Enjoy some of the free activities and carefully chose those you pay for
Most resorts offer a complimentary guided mountain tour daily which is a great way to get a feel for the area and learn about where you want to spend your time. It is fun for the entire family and it is best to do it on the first day you arrive.
All resorts offer ski and snowboard lessons however the cost can be quite steep. For example, a private adult full day ski lesson at Vail costs almost $1,000. However, if you are willing to take a group lesson than you will save quite a bit of money and also it helps to purchase the lesson online as it is cheaper than at the ticket window. We are fortunate to be able to ski and board in Minnesota where the cost of lessons is quite a bit cheaper but of course it is not anything like learning on the “big” mountains of Colorado. If you really want to splurge, you can take a family private lesson which I’m sure would be amazing albeit very expensive.
Other free options include checking out some of the area’s local festivals and events such as Breckenridge’s Ullr Fest and Parade (early January) or their Snow Sculpture Festival (late January), live music during the Breck Pride or Spring Fever events. At Vail, there are tons of free live concerts, as well as world-class athletic competitions, premier festivals and more. Starting in December is Vail’s premier kick-off event, Vail Snow Days, followed by Vail Holidays, the Skadi Vail Women’s Ski and Snowboard Fest, and more. There is also an ice-skating rink in town for more family fun however it helps to have your own skates!
We enjoyed walking around and exploring the ski villages and simply spending time together as a family back at our condo. On our day off, we took a drive down to Denver to visit my brother however if you take a day off in the middle of winter there is tons of other activities to do such as go snowshoeing, take a snowmobile tour or visit one of the area’s hot springs.
Tip 5: Make it memorable and record it with a GoPro
A family ski trip is always filled with fun and adventure and there is no better way to capture it than with a GoPro. My son already owns one and wore it attached to his helmet each day. He simply turned it on to video or the camera mode and recorded our entire trip on the top of his head. Our condo also provided GoPros to use at no charge so my daughter was also thrilled to participate in making our family memories. She wore the GoPro on a chest harness which in my opinion is much safer. Every season, many GoPros fall off the helmet mount and are lost in the snow. Wearing the GoPro across the chest is also easier for controlling the settings (switching it on/off, turning it from camera to video, etc).
I also took a few family snapshots and video with my iPhone however the GoPro proved to be much more fun. What do you do with all the footage? Upload the content to iMovie or some other platform and create a family ski trip video! I assigned this task to my 13-year-old son so we will see how long it takes him to create one.
Tip 6: Save money by booking in advance for next year
The ski trip I wasn’t excited to go on during spring break ended up being one of the best trips we’ve taken as a family (a strong second to Costa Rica). I had thought going somewhere with even more snow than Minnesota after a long, grueling winter would make me grumpy. Yet the magic and beauty of the mountains, the adrenaline and fun of skiing, and the incredible family memories made it a fantastic trip. So fantastic that we bought our 2018-2019 Epic Passes for the upcoming 2018/2019 season after completing our last run. The passes for the upcoming season are now on sale through the end of November. We made the mistake of waiting too long and had only purchased my son’s Epic pass for this recent trip (we wanted to purchase his pass before he turned 13 and would need the more expensive adult pass). When we went to book a couple months before our trip, it was too late to purchase an Epic pass. Lesson learned!
If you go
Here are links to some helpful resources to plan your trip.