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Travel Guide: How to Make the First Family Ski Trip to Colorado a Success

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. 

All smiles for a family shot at Mid Vail

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You can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance

A Weekend Skiing the Arizona Snowbowl

“You can ski in Arizona?” asked a friend confused. “How on earth can you ski in a desert”?

Until a few years ago, I would have also been equally in disbelief that it is actually possible to not only ski but ski real mountains in the state of Arizona. Little did I know, the college town of Flagstaff, Arizona, located about two and a half hours north of Phoenix, is home to the Arizona Snowbowl, Arizona’s best skiing.

As an avid skier, I confess to believing that there was no way that the Arizona Snowbowl could possibly compare to the skiing in Colorado, New Mexico, Montana or Utah, all places I’ve skied over the years. Yet after a long weekend skiing the Arizona Snowbowl with my father and two children, I realized that the skiing is actually pretty darn good and worth the trip. If you live in Phoenix and want a taste of the snow and mountains, then even better!

Flagstaff, Arizona

The Arizona Snowbowl is located in Flagstaff, Arizona about 2 1/2 hours north of Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

With an average of over 240 inches of annual snowfall and normally beautiful sunny blue skies, the Arizona Snowbowl has the longest ski season in Arizona as well as the largest beginner terrain in the Southwest. It is a great place to go with kids as there are plenty of nice long cruiser runs, a good ski school and it is very family-friendly. For those who want more challenge, you can take the Agassiz lift up to the top at 11,500 feet and climb up to the Upper Bowl where there are plenty of double black diamonds to take your breathe away. For moderate skiers, there are some nice blues and blacks where you can fly down at breakneck speed and feel the thrill of spring skiing in February. Best of all, are the incredible views on top where you can see the Grand Canyon off in the distance.

Flagstaff, Arizona

View of the sunrise over the mountains from our hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona

So why on earth did we travel from Minneapolis to Phoenix to ski in Flagstaff, Arizona over President’s Day Weekend? Simple. My parents live in Tucson and Flagstaff offered the perfect meeting place for us to do a three-generational ski weekend. We had tried Utah, New Mexico and Colorado before so we decided why not try something entirely new. Plus it is free to ski for those over 70 so my dad was pleased to ski for free.

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Snowbird Ski Resort Utah

For the best snow on earth, ski Utah!

“For a wonderful time, ski Utah”!

Every winter I try to make a trip out west to the big mountains and my favorite place to go is to Utah. Utah is known as having the greatest snow on earth, and after skiing many times in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Montana I would agree. Traditionally the snow in Utah is light, fluffy and dry with tons of powder. Unfortunately the last few years have not been as good of snow as usual but this winter has seen some of the best Utah powder in years. And skiers near and far were ready.

We woke up Friday morning to a fresh 13-inch coat of snow in the mountains and could not have been luckier. The skies had cleared and were a brilliant blue. The sun was beaming down and it felt like everyone in Salt Lake City was headed to the mountains. I could tell that we were in for the time of our life!

Snowbird Ski Resort Utah

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Snowbird Ski Resort Utah

Snowbird Bliss

Its been 16 years since I’ve been skiing in Utah and after two days of hard skiing I realize what a mistake it has been not coming again sooner.  I love skiing out West and I especially love Snowbird. The fluffy white powder (averages 500 inches per season) and serendipitous deep blue sky is enough to make anyone love winter. In my opinion, Snowbird is one of the best ski areas out West.

Located in the heart of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Little Cottonwood Canyon only a mile down canyon from the Alta ski resort, Snowbird is a picturesque place with little development. The ski area is 2,500 acres with 168 runs and a terrain ranging from 27 percent beginner, 38 percent intermediate and 35 percent advanced/expert. The top elevation of the resort is at 11,000-foot Hidden Peak in which you can ride up in a large 125-person Tram in seven minutes flat. The views of the snow-capped peaks in all directions are breathtaking.

Landing on a cloudy date over the Great Salt Lake is amazing.

Landing on a cloudy day over the Great Salt Lake is amazing.

It has been a short, three-generational trip with my daughter Sophia and father. The conditions have been amazing with the most snow in the country and unseasonably warm weather. It has been a fantastic break from winter back in Minnesota. There is nothing better than being in the mountains whether it be walking, hiking, skiing or even just having a picnic. Here are a few shots from the trip.

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Finding liberation at Liberty Bowl

“We have always been dreamers in Montana”. – Brian Schweitzer

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Big Sky trail map. Photo credit: bigskyresort.com

Day three skiing at Big Sky meant it was time to pick it up a notch and hit the bowls. There is nothing more liberating and invigorating than physically challenging your body. It was time to hit the blacks.

We traveled with another family to Montana and my friend and I rode the gondola up to the top to hit the back bowls. It was another sensational, postcard perfect day. I felt more alive than I had in months.

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Big Sky Bliss

“I’m in love with Montana. For other States I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it”. – John Steinbeck

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I have always loved mountains for as long as I can remember. Starting at the mere age of three, I begin skiing with my parents which over the years blossomed into a life long love of  downhill skiing. Today, decades later I’m in my parents boots and am skiing with my own children. It is quite a joy to see them go down the hill and develop the same love of the mountains and great outdoors as I have.

This week we are in Big Sky, Montana for our first-ever family ski trip. We’re here for an entire week of Spring skiing and you couldn’t ask for better weather. It has been absolutely brilliant. Bursting mountain blue sky, bright, joyous sunlight and deliciously soft, silky snow. What more could you ask for than a stint enjoying Big Sky’s bliss? Not much in my opinion.

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Unforgettable day

Today was an unforgettable day on the slopes. The sky was a brilliant knock-out blue and the sun was beaming down with joy. We rose feeling a little stiffer after a hard day of skiing but excited for the anticipated adrenaline rush that was before us. In my opinion, there is nothing better than flying down the mountain at lightening speed with the wind whipping in your face. It is the closest I feel to being 20 again.

Here are some of my favorite shots of an unforgettable day.

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Ok…this isn’t exactly true but I saw it in the bar last night and thought it was hilarious.

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Morning on the slopes.

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Heading up on lift 9 to the top. Look at the wind blow off the crest of the Continental Divide. Wow!

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It was absolutely freezing on top but the 360 view of the Colorado Rockies took my breathe away.

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In the mountains

This weekend I just so happen to be among one of my favorite things: Mountains. I love to see them, climb them and ski them racing like wildfire down the terrain. There is something so magical about mountains. I will always find them mesmerizing.

Here are some photos from my first day skiing at Copper Mountain in Colorado. You will see that it was a magnificent day with brilliant sun and perfect powdery snow. I embraced every minute of it and let the exhilaration saturate my soul.

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This post was written in response to Where’s my Backpack’s travel theme: Mountains. To. See more posts click here.

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A three generational ski trip

As you have probably gathered from my last few posts, I did something very special over the last few days.  Me, my father and my five-year-old daughter Sophia took a three-generational ski trip to Taos, New Mexico.  It was the first time (except when Sophia was a meager four-months old) that I had ever truly traveled alone with my daughter and it also was the first time the three generations got together for a weekend away.  My son and husband were off on their own adventure thus it was just me and Sophia this time.

We picked Taos for many reasons.  First, it is relatively easy for us to access.  It is a non-stop flight from Tucson where my father lives as well as from Minneapolis (where I live).  Second, it is really a cool little trendy ski town.  Nothing at all like the big ski resorts in Colorado or even Utah.  Taos is tiny, tough and has a unique southwestern style and flair that quite honestly can’t compare.  Finally, for some reason New Mexico is the only place in the country this winter that actually has good snow.  Colorado, Utah and Northern California are struggling with terrible snow.  Meanwhile relatively untouristy, trendy Taos has plenty of snow.  That fluffy, powdery, heavenly snow that skiers dream and drool about having.

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