Many families love skiing but confess to feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought of having to wake up early on a Saturday morning to go skiing after working all week. They dread having to coax the kids out of bed (also tired from a full week of school) and fear the preparation required to get everyone on the ski hill for the day. Fortunately, there are ways to plan an awesome ski day that could even be considered ‘stress-free’ and fun!
1. Build routines that work for your family. A successful ski day starts the night before (maybe even a few days before, depending on how often you ski).
First, always pack and load the car the night before you go skiing. I’m also a fan of creating a ‘last-minute’ list for things I need to pack in the morning.
Many families also recommend preparing dinner the night before. Put dinner in the crock-pot, store in the fridge overnight, and turn it on in the morning; you’ll appreciate the hot meal waiting for you when you return from the hill.
Second, take care of rentals in the city so you’re ready to ski as soon as you reach the hill. (Many companies allow you to pick up your skis the night before at no extra charge.)
Third, my family always eats a quick breakfast at home before heading to Nakiska, but many families like to get on the road early (especially if you’re going as far as Lake Louise) and prefer to stop in Canmore for a fast breakfast on-the-go. Other families like to pack breakfast sandwiches to eat in the car on their way to the hill.
And lastly, develop a system for getting all of your gear from the car to the day lodge. My family likes to use the ski drop-off zone at Nakiska, but other families prefer to use a sled if there’s no convenient spot to pull in beside the lodge.
2. Create fun rituals your family will look forward to. Maybe it’s enjoying gourmet cupcakes at the end of the ski day, Halloween candy in jacket pockets for the chairlift rides, or other special treats that your family always eats in the gondola on your way up.
One of my friends swears by poutine at the end of the ski day, and another friend says their family looks forward to barbecuing hamburgers in the parking lot on a camp stove for lunch. Whatever you choose to do, make it fun so the kids always enjoy the day.
3. It takes a village, so bring the tribe. Maybe you bring the grandparents with you to help with childcare for younger kids who run out of steam after a few runs, maybe you gather a group of friends and head out together as a big gang (dividing into ability or age groups of kids), or maybe you just go out with another family, so you can take turns skiing with the kids (and heading out for some solo turns).
Parenting takes a village and it’s no different on a ski hill. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and recruit support to come with you for the ski day.
4. Warm kids are happy kids. A happy ski day starts with wearing warm clothing, quality ski wear, and polyester or wool base layers (never wear cotton).
Drive out in your base layers, adding outer layers in the parking lot or day lodge to avoid sweating (and becoming chilled). The same goes for ski socks. If you have to, drive out in slippers but put your ski socks and boots on at the same time.
The night before skiing, leave your boots in the house rather than packing them in a cold car. The day of, pack your ski boots in the car (not in the roof box or trunk), and then before you get to the hill, preheat your boots (microwave hot packs in your boots while driving out and stuff mittens in the top to keep the heat in).
5. Never let the crew go hungry - ever. Being ‘hangry’ is a real thing and it destroys your ski day very quickly (unless your kids recover faster than mine). To avoid reaching this stage of hunger, always have snacks available to eat in the day lodge or on the gondola/chairlift ride up before you start your ski day.
Stuff your pockets with granola bars, nuts, or other portable snacks, and make sure you end your day with food as well before driving home. (I also like to have snacks to eat handy in the car.)
6. Perfect your timing. A successful ski day requires knowing when to arrive, when to stop for lunch, and when to leave. My family likes to arrive by 8:30am so that we have time to get ready before the first lifts start. This way, we beat the crowds in the day lodge and we get the best snow. By noon, we’re often heading home after already skiing hard for three hours (an advantage to having seasons passes for a local hill).
If you’re planning on spending the full day at the hill, I recommend breaking for lunch around 11am (to beat the rush) and then leaving a half-hour before the hill closes to avoid chaos in the parking lots. Alternately, stay late after the hill closes for a half-hour or longer (great if you’re having snacks anyway) and you’ll enjoy a more relaxed end to your day.
You will also enjoy skiing mid-week when hills are blissfully empty (the kids will be just fine if they miss school for a day here or there) or skiing Friday afternoons if the kids get out of school early (this works great if you have passes for a hill close to home).
7. Invest in ski school. Invest in ski school at least a couple of times each season to up your kids’ games (as a bonus, you get a half-day in to ski solo, too). You will then enjoy better runs together as a family with increased confidence.
Ski school starts at home as well! Teaching the children to put on their own boots and carry their own skis is a priority for stress-free ski days.
8. Ski close and check those expectations. For my family, the priority is skiing close to home. Ski close and you’ll ski more this winter.
Along with skiing close by, I also suggest checking your expectations at the chairlift and having a backup plan in case skiing isn’t going well.
Plan B is super easy if you’re skiing at Nakiska thanks to the facilities at the Kananaskis Village. Pack your skates, winter boots and sleds, and you’ll be good for an entire day of winter fun, regardless of how skiing goes. Be sure to bring toys and books to the lodge for kids who might finish skiing early, take lots of breaks, and agree on the minimum number of runs you’ll do as a family. (Chances are the kids will do more once they get going.)
9. Don’t break the bank on food at the hill. Bring your own lunch and snacks to keep costs down. Bring thermoses along with packages of hot chocolate or apple cider, so you aren’t spending money on drinks all day.
Bring a hot lunch in a thermos (the only way my son will eat lunch at the ski hill) or bring anything you can add hot water to (ramen noodles, for example).
If your child is a sucker for the cupcakes and other treats at the ski hill, consider stopping in at your local grocery store the day before where you can buy the same items for a fraction of the cost.
10. It’s more than skiing turns - you also have to ‘take turns.’ Play games of follow the leader or have the kids take turns deciding which runs to take to get to the bottom of the hill. Don’t be afraid to divide and conquer if not every member of the family enjoys the same kind of terrain (or skis at the same level). Just make sure you take turns supervising younger kids on the bunny hill and that everybody gets a chance to ski their favorite runs.
You might also have to plan for an après-ski activity for the less enthusiastic skier in your family (go tubing, relax in the hot springs in Banff, enjoy ice skating…) or plan to mix it up so you spend the morning skiing and the afternoon doing something else your family enjoys doing in the area.
Enjoy your winter on the ski hill and remember, the more you do it, the easier it gets!
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
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