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Prepping for your first family ski vacation is a challenge. When you’re over 50 and live in Texas, it’s an epic struggle. Here’s what you definitely will need when skiing for the first time, what you can leave behind and things that come in handy, from a newbie’s point of view.
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I live in San Antonio, which isn’t exactly known as the winter fun capital. Unless your idea of winter fun is wearing shorts and drinking a margarita on the patio. I might be exaggerating just a teeny bit but when I found out my youngest son and I were going to Keystone, Colorado, for a few days of pre-Christmas skiing, my thoughts quickly turned to what to bring. And I realized I had no clue how to pack for a ski trip.
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Read More: Ultimate Family Ski Trip Planning Guide
We don’t always enjoy balmy winter days where I live, but the idea of spending an entire day outside in 20-something degree weather (not to mention falling down in the snow – a lot) is pretty far outside the scope of normal for me. Overall, I think I did a pretty good job with packing and I’m excited to share my packing list and what I’ve learned about what to bring on a ski trip…and what not to bring.
First step? Phone a friend.
Since you’re reading this, you’re on the right path. If you’re new to skiing or cold weather (or both!), don’t have a “wing it” attitude. Ask someone who skies regularly or someone who lives in a cold climate. Or, do what I did and contact the ski resort. The folks at the Keystone Resort were happy to give me some pointers, which is how I found out about neck gaiters (see below).
Warm and Waterproof Ski Clothes
Jacket and ski pants/overalls
Do bring or make plans to rent ski clothes. You’ll need a waterproof ski jacket and waterproof ski pants or overalls. We rented ours through a company called Kit Lender, which delivers your gear to your resort. You box it up before you go home and send it all back.
The upside to using a ski rental company was that we didn’t have to purchase ski clothes or pack them in our suitcases. The big downside to this was that we had to find a FedEx location on our last day at the resort, which wasn’t super-convenient.
Also, make sure you’re really looking at those sizing charts on their website. If something doesn’t fit, you don’t have a ton of options.
I was told that ski clothes run small and to order a size up. That isn’t true for all brands across the board because I sized up and my pants were way too big. Had I been a little more diligent about looking at the sizing chart for the brand I ordered, I would have chosen a different size and not have been hitching up my britches all week.
Another option I strongly recommend is to check out thrift stores for ski clothes or borrowing from friends, especially for kids/first timers. You don’t know how often you’ll ski or if you’ll like it and kids have this funny habit of growing. And, in case you don’t already know, skiing is an expensive sport, so look for ways to save money where you can.
Long underwear – aka the base layer
I recommend two to three sets of long underwear for a week long trip. We stayed at Keystone for four days and we each had two sets – that was enough. We wore our long underwear over our regular underwear and switched them out every other day. They also doubled as pajamas.
In addition to your base layer, you’ll need an insulating layer. This can be a sweater, hoodie or fleece. I recommend taking two or three for a weeklong trip. We took half zip fleeces and those worked great. If you get too warm, you can unzip or remove.
Ski or Snowboard Equipment
Unless you’re serious about the sport, don’t pack it; rent it!
Unless you are 100 percent sure you’re going to love skiing or snowboarding and will be doing it regularly, rent your ski and snowboard gear. Keystone Resort provided us ski poles, helmets and boots with ski rental. Those things, paired with our warm clothes from Kit Lender were all we needed.
I’m honestly not sure how often we’ll ski. I definitely want more lessons and my son asks daily when we’re going again. Right now, buying ski boots and skis doesn’t make sense for us and since we’re likely going to fly to get to the slopes, getting equipment from point A to point B would be costly and cumbersome.
Essential Ski Accessories for Outdoors
When you’re making a list of what to bring on a ski trip, you’re probably going to add “scarf” to the list. Nope. Neck gaiters are where it’s at.
Invest in a neck gaiter and leave the scarves at home. A neck gaiter keeps your neck warm without the bulk of a scarf. Even if you tuck the ends of your scarf firmly inside your ski jacket, they’re likely to come loose when you’re flying down the mountain. A neck gaiter will keep you nice and toasty and require little adjustment.
Waterproof gloves or mittens
Make sure you get good gloves – the acrylic knit fashion gloves you put on when temps dip into the forties are not going to cut it for a day on the slopes. They’ll get wet and they won’t keep the wind and cold out.
Good quality gloves or mittens are worth spending the extra coin on. And, although I’m not really into packing extras, gloves and mittens are an exception because you’re likely to lose these. Ask me how I know.
Warm, close-fitting beanie style cap
You’ll want a warm hat that fits snugly to your head. You’ll want to keep your ears and your head warm, since you lose heat through your head. The cute, fuzzy hat with the pompom on top? Save those for off the slopes. Although they’ll keep your head warm, they won’t fit well under your helmet.
If you’ve got a cap with a pom pom on the top you just have to wear, save it for après–ski. Hats are another thing you might want to consider packing extra when you’re deciding what to bring on a ski trip. These are relatively inexpensive items that are lost easily – best to have a spare.
Repeat after me: wool socks
Do not pack cotton socks. You need long, wool socks designed for snow sports. They’ll keep your feet warm and dry and YES, they absolutely are worth the extra money.
It is difficult to find ski socks in San Antonio, outside of sports or specialty stores. We ended up buying ski socks at the place where we got our ski equipment rental at Keystone Resort. They didn’t offer a ton of shopping options but they had gloves, hats, socks and sunglasses.
We put our socks near the fireplace every night to dry out. They probably didn’t smell great by the end of our trip, but so what? Our feet were warm the entire time.
Don’t forget to pack ski goggles or good sunglasses. I prefer goggles, especially for kids. They can easily slide on to the ski helmet when you don’t need to wear them, making them easier to keep track of.
Snow boots – and no, I don’t mean your cute Uggs
You’ll need a really good pair of boots especially if you’re snowboarding. If you’re skiing, you’ll be wearing your ski boots a lot of the time but if you’re snowboarding, you’ll need to supply your own boots.
This is something I didn’t really understand. I didn’t know there was such a thing as ski boots – I thought your regular boots somehow fit on to your skis. I’d never actually seen skis in person, so I really didn’t get that ski boots are a separate part of your ski equipment.
Your cute Uggs are probably okay for après–ski but if you’re going to be standing or walking in the snow, you’ll want something warmer and completely waterproof.
Read More: Where Kids Ski Free: A State by State Guide
What to Pack for Apres-Ski
Clothes to wear off the slopes – keep your packing to a minimum
If I could have a do-over on my “what to bring on a ski trip” adventure, it would have been to pack less non-ski clothes. Even though you’re not going to be skiing 24/7 and you need a few pieces of non-ski clothing, you don’t really need a ton and you definitely don’t need as much as you think you do. I wore a pair of jeans on the trip and packed a spare pair. I also packed a different sweater and turtleneck for every day of our visit. This is way too much stuff. I wore about half of what I packed.
You’ll be wearing your ski clothes way more than you think. They’re incredibly warm and even when you’re not skiing, you’ll probably be spending a fair amount of time outdoors. Keystone Resort in Colorado is very spread out – it seems more like a small town than a resort. We were outdoors a lot waiting for shuttles or exploring the shopping and dining at River Run Village, the resort’s base area. There’s a lot to do on the mountain besides skiing and it usually made the most sense to stay in our ski clothes.
I could have gotten by with one pair of jeans and a couple of sweaters. If you’re staying in a condo, you’ll likely have access to a washer and dryer. And there are so many souvenir shirts/hoodies to buy, that you really do not need to pack a lot of stuff.
Besides, kids cannot resist jumping into the snow wherever they happen to see it, especially Texas kids. My son wore his ski pants every single day of our visit to Keystone Resort. He’d have been soaked to the skin if he’d have been in jeans.
I forgot to get one of those Instagram-worthy bikini in the snow shots. Kidding. No one wants to see that. But, your ski resort will likely have some type of indoor pool facilities and your kids will likely be chomping at the bit to check it out. Also, two words that your sore muscles want to hear: hot tub.
This is one thing you might not readily think of when packing for a cold weather trip but make sure you don’t forget it. Bathing suits don’t take up much room in your bags.
What to Pack in Your Daybag
This is something I would not have thought to bring but I saw lots of skiers carrying small backpacks. Your backpack can hold camera equipment, your water bottle, snacks or lunch. Just make sure your backpack isn’t overly bulky or have loose straps that would get caught on trees or the gondolas.
You can also rent a locker in most ski resorts. Keystone Resort had locker rentals available in the Mountain House Day Lodge. If you want to bring your lunch or other items from your condo to the slopes but don’t want to ski with those items on your back, you probably have some options.
You’ll need to tuck a lip balm inside your backpack or ski jacket. It’s worth buying a multipack to make sure you’ve always got one in your pocket. The cold mountain air will give you a case of chapped lips FAST. Nobody likes that.
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t get a serious sunburn on the slopes. Sunscreen isn’t just for the beach. Since your face is the primary area you’ll need to shield from the winter sun, a moisturizer or makeup with SPF will also work.
Chemical hand warmers
I had no idea what these things were but people who are used to cold weather or hit the slopes regularly swear by them. Chemical hand warmers come in a light, easy to transport packet a little larger than a tea bag. I recommend two packets per day, per skier.
If you go from a warm climate to a cold climate, your need to hydrate your body might not be at the top of your list of what to bring on a ski trip. But, your body still needs that water.
Make sure you don’t leave your condo without a full bottle of water. Refill it whenever you get the chance and make sure you DRINK. Your body may react to being at a higher altitude than you’re used to. Keeping your body hydrated will help.
Something to do off the slopes – but don’t go crazy
When you’re thinking of what to bring on a ski trip, you will need something to keep you busy off the slopes. You’ll have downtime but don’t bring a bunch of games and toys. I recommend one form of electronic entertainment, such as an iPad or Kindle (and don’t forget those headphones and your charger!) and one form of non-electronic entertainment, such as Mad Libs or a card game.
There’s a lot to do off the slopes at most ski resorts. We could have kept ourselves entertained for a week at Keystone Resort with all of the non-ski activities. Don’t pack a ton of toys and games because your kids will have so many other options for things to do and they won’t get used. Our condo at Keystone Resort had a couple of games inside and there were also board games in the Adventure Center.
Less is More
A good list of what to bring on a ski trip is actually pretty minimal. Your outer layers and boots are going to be bulky and take up room in your suitcases but aside from that (and equipment if you choose to take it) you won’t need to bring a ton of stuff. I’m glad I did my homework and asked around before I packed…my biggest do-over would be to pack less non-ski clothes.