A few months ago I wrote an article for The Expedition about how our family might approach skiing this winter. We have vulnerable people in our household, including my over-75 mom, so we’re trying to minimize our Covid risk. But we have also been feeling cooped up, and our children, ages 8 and 6, love skiing.
We recently spent a week skiing in Northern California—Lake Tahoe, to be specific. Overall, it felt like a very safe experience. But there are some things I wish I’d known before we traveled. Here’s how we tackled the trip, and what we learned.
Make it a road trip
It’s an 8- to 10-hour drive from where we live (San Diego) to Tahoe. We considered breaking it up by stopping for a night along the way, but it seemed like we’d have to detour at least a couple of hours to stay in an interesting/fun enough cabin or vacation rental.
So instead we downloaded some audiobooks and did the drive in one day. We brought water bottles and a cooler of food so we wouldn’t have to stop for nourishment. For bathroom breaks—well, we paused in a couple of remote areas and experienced nature at its best. Needless to say, we also made sure the kids went to the bathroom before we left the house.
Stay in a house
Opting for a house instead of a hotel or condo meant we didn’t have to pass through a lobby, stop at a check-in desk, or keep our distance from other guests. With a full kitchen, we were able to cook every meal instead of visiting restaurants, even for takeout.
One downside: no cleaning service. Also, cooking all week meant…well, cooking all week.
Get rentals delivered
Because our kids grow so fast and we ski so infrequently, we rent our skis, boots and poles. Fortunately, over the past several years, a number of ski rental shops and services have begun delivering to homes and hotels. They may be more expensive than regular rental shops, but you save a heap of time, and don’t have to worry about being indoors or waiting in line.
Ski during the week
Weekday skiing was part of our plan—but we didn’t realize how smart it was until we arrived on the mountain. It was extremely quiet, so lift lines were short or even non-existent. We had more skiing time and less waiting time, but more importantly, less stress around keeping our distance from other skiers.
Weekday skiing also allowed us to go with the flow. Many ski resorts in the U.S. require you to buy lift tickets online in advance. You can get same-day ski-tickets, but only if the resort hasn’t reached its (Covid-reduced) capacity for that day. One day we felt like skiing, the next day we didn’t—until about midday. During the week, we had no problem getting those last-minute lift tickets. But weekends were a different story.
I kept my eye on Saturday availability throughout the week. Lift tickets were available until Thursday, when they completely sold out. We weren’t brokenhearted about that, because the crowds got thicker on Friday—and we had the feeling that they would be worse the following day.
Facilities are limited—and sometimes stressful
We weren’t planning to use lockers, dressing rooms, or other amenities. Which is good, because they were all closed. Skiers driving to the resort either had to unload at the curb and have one person drive to a lot, or park in a lot and walk to the lifts all kitted out. That worked out on slow days, but on busy ones it might mean a long walk from a distant lot, waiting for a spot to open up, or having to get on a shuttle.
At the resort we visited, Northstar, indoor dining was closed. You could—in fact, had to—go inside a lodge if you wanted to buy food, but everything had to be eaten outside. Some days, we simply waited and had a very late lunch at home.
Bathrooms were, of course, open. For me they were the biggest source of stress on the mountain. Sometimes they would be crowded; occasionally another skier would be maskless. It’s another excellent reason to ski on quiet days, to avoid the lunchtime rush, and to make sure the kids use the bathroom at home.
Ski school may not be an option
When we go on ski trips, we usually like to put our kids in ski school for a day or two. But at the mountain where we skied, group lessons were only available for kids 8 and up. There was nothing for the under-8 set, which includes our daughter.
The only option for her was a private lesson, at a cost of—ha!—almost $1,000 a day. No ski school for us this year.
Masks are even more of a pain
In the U.S., every ski resort I’ve looked into requires skiers to wear masks indoors and on on lift lines at very least. It’s a sensible precaution, but not a fun one.
One of my kids drops and loses everything. The other is super-sensitive to uncomfortable clothing. Dealing with masks on top of—I mean, underneath—helmets, goggles, hats and all our other gear was a pain. We found that it was easier to simply wear them all the time, and they do help keep your face warm. But they can also increase fogging in your goggles, and by the end of each day I was sore around the backs of my ears.
Despite the changes, hassles, and long drive, we had a great time on our ski trip. Our kids were thrilled to get some time in the snow, and we adults enjoyed having a change of scenery. We’re hoping things will be back to normal by next winter, and maybe we’ll be able to ski twice.