Plotting Paradise: The Ultimate Attack Plan for the Perfect Ski Vacation

STORY: S-Media

BY: Steven Threndyle ILLUSTRATIONS: Max Dalton

Whether you’re looking for fine dining or fine eye-candy, champagne powder or the best champagne cocktail, the biggest drops or avoiding flops, corduroy groomers or your future groom, we have the goods on how to plan the perfect ski trip.

When it comes to planning winter vacations, we live in a strange and complicated world. We’re constantly inundated with information — from snow reports sent to our iPhones, too good-to-be-true deals in our e-mail inbox and cryptic text messages from friends “calling for 15-20 tonight, u good for blowing off work tmrw?”

We have all the planning tools at our hands to ensure the perfect ski vacation, but we still agonize before clicking on the ‘confirm payment’ button. (“Will there be an even better deal next week?” “What if this storm system doesn’t materialize?”)

Planning a ski trip isn’t as much about immaculately groomed runs, high altitude sunshine, or hot tubs on the deck as much as it is about managing expectations. Not just your own, but those of friends and family members who might not see the mountains through the same rose-coloured goggles that you do. Minimizing rude surprises (“what do you mean, our kids are too young for daycare?”) and not blowing your budget (“what is this 15 percent tax that was added to our hotel bill all about?”) are two examples that can make or break a trip. In short, successful ski vacations are lessons in project management. While Trip Advisor has become the go-to website for lodging reviews, ski travel sites like onthesnow.com have useful reader-sourced opinions. The more complex your plans are, the better off you are in utilizing the services of a ski travel professional.

Profile: Resorts where you can “pop the question”

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The first major test of the ‘compatibility’ of a relationship — a romantic getaway into the mountains. However, a poorly organized ski trip can make or break a budding relationship, causing romantic emotions to melt like snow during a mid January thaw.

Pre-trip planning: We’re going to assume something, here — that it’s “the guy” who is asking the girl to get away for the weekend, or longer, to pop the question. Guys: be smart about this one, lightly suggest, don’t ‘inform’ your date that you’d like to go on a ski holiday (if they don’t ski, you might try the softer term “winter vacation” instead).

Dream destinations: Banff-Lake Louise, Mont Ste Anne (stay in Quebec City, but avoid “Carnaval”), Taos.

What Makes It

  • Soaker tubs, chilled champagne, and puffy, matching terry cloth robes in the bedroom closet.
  • Stunning scenery that will take your mind off the perhaps less-than-ideal snow conditions.
  • Room service, complete with croissants, coffee, and Eggs Benedict.

What Breaks It

  • Skimping on lessons by teaching your significant other how to ski
  • Lousy communication (“I’ve been waiting at the sign board here for 20 minutes and I am %# freezing!!”)
  • You want a spa treatment (that’s what a ‘man’icure is, right?) and she wants to hit the First Tracks breakfast. Go for it. You don’t have to spend every waking hour with each other.

Guys: be smart about this one, lightly suggest, don’t ‘inform’ your date that you’d like to go on a ski holiday (if they don’t ski, you might try the softer term “winter vacation” instead)

 

Profile: The family that skis together

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A wise grandfather once told his expectant son and daughter in law, “Don’t ever confuse skiing with children with how you approach skiing now.” And it’s true — of all the types of ski vacations out there, the family ski trip has the greatest potential for disaster. Epic planning months in advance is of extreme importance. Ski resorts know that parents’ wallets of are particularly vulnerable on vacation (“Oh, Dad, look, they’ve got mini snowmobiles here! I want to go on, can I, can I, can I??).

Pre-trip planning: The man of the house might have done most of the ski trip planning in those forgotten years BK (before kids), but it’s mom who is far more in tune with the little things that can blow up and make a trip an all-out disaster. Therefore, trip planning has to be a collaborative effort in which the needs of the tiniest become the most important. And remember, vacations are not a great place for punishing cranky, unruly behavior. Pay a bit more at the front end (for ski boots that fit, a condo that’s walking distance from the lifts, and all day lessons for the kids) and you will not regret it. A successful family vacation is a hassle free vacation. Let the resort worker bees in daycare and kids’ camp work their magic.

Dream trip destinations: Big White, Copper Mountain, Gray Rocks/Mont Tremblant

What Makes It

  • Hearing your young Jack or Jill exclaim, “Daddy, skiing is so FUN!!”
  • Hearing your young Jack or Jill say, “Daddy, can we come here again, next year?”
  • Of course, you can always put the kids in lessons and sneak back to the room at lunch hour (hey, it’s your vacation, too).

What Breaks It

  • Long flights, shuttle rides long travel with young toddlers.
  • Poor medical/emergency facilities nearby (“damn, we forgot Jill’s inhaler!”).
  • Stuffing too many people into, say, a tiny one bedroom (forget the granite counter tops, a spare bedroom will make all the difference in keeping family sanity).

 

Profile: when money is no object

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American author F. Scott Fitzgerald did not ski, but he wrote a famous line: “Let me tell you about the very rich, they are different from you and me.” Except, of course, at ski resorts, which actually have a pretty high percentage of affluent people because, well, skiing isn’t a cheap sport. However, plotting aspects like personal security detail (if you’re a politician or movie star) or choosing a resort that can accommodate a time-share executive jet does add a layer of complexity to vacation planning.

Pre-trip planning: Best handled by a personal assistant, who can negotiate things like bodyguards to ski incognito with the kids so that they’re not kidnapped.

Dream destinations: Deer Valley, Yellowstone Club, Aspen

What Makes It

  • A luxury hotel with a top notch spa service and on-premises dining room.
  • If you’re travelling as one or two families, a large vacation home with a strong wi-fi connection can be a saviour.
  • A chance meeting with that investment banker your firm has been trying for months to get a meeting with (“Call me when you get back to the city!”).

What Breaks It

  • Getting the distinct feeling that you’re being ripped off (yes, even wealthy folks know when they’re being taken advantage of).
  • Finding that your bedroom window opens up next to the hottest nightclub in town, which empties at 3:00 am.
  • Waiting in line. Nothing that a private group lesson with a top notch instructor can’t cure. (tip well!).

Profile: “I’ve got $500 and a tank of gas”

Sometimes, the very best trips are entirely left up to chance. A buddy calls with a seat open on a cat ski trip for half of what the other guy paid. A storm front is brewing and you’re owed four vacation days which must be taken before the fiscal year ends on March 31.

Pre-trip planning: Planning? We don’t need no stinkin’ plans — that’s the whole idea! However, don’t forget to tell your boss and co-workers that you might be out of the office for the next 72 hours. Trust me, this approach does NOT work in a union job where you have to book your holidays well in advance.

Dream Destinations: Revelstoke, Jay Peak, Whistler-Blackcomb (pre Christmas).

What Makes It

  • Call in all of your ‘local favours’ — not for places to crash (though that’s usually OK, people who live full time at resorts are used to lots of friends dropping in) — but to get the beta on the where and when of the next storm.
  • Having a trusted travel companion who can talk for hours to keep you awake through the ‘dozy spots.’
  • Knowing that you have gambled on good conditions … and won.

What Breaks It

  • Getting fired from your job because you confused ‘powder fever’ with ‘chucking a sickie’ as the Australians say.
  • Getting busted by the RCMP at a road side tire check because you skimped on buying snow tires, again.
  • A zillion locals with the same idea … and know their way around better than you.

 

Profile: swm skier seeks swf skier

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Ah, ski resorts! Is it like the song: “Looking for love in all the wrong places?” Mainly, it depends on where you go. Hooking up – if that’s what you want to call it – is far more difficult for men than it is for women, who will always have plenty of athletic guys to choose from in Jackson Hole or Chamonix. Be forewarned, ladies, that “the odds are good but the goods are odd.” More urbanized areas (Whistler, Vail, Park City, Aspen) offer outstanding skiing and good opportunities for whatever turns your crank.

Pre-trip planning: If you really want to meet someone, consider joining a ski club with a social element to it (most major cities have ‘em) which run regular trips to both weekend destinations and even overseas trips.

Dream Destinations: Whistler, Aspen, Ischgl (brush up on your German).

What Makes It

  • The partner of your dreams might be out there waiting for you!
  • Meeting interesting new people in an environment that’s safer than on-line dating and way more fun than hot yoga.
  • If you take a group trip, you’ve likely saved yourself a whack of money, even if you’ve alienated everyone in the club.

What Breaks It

  • Tacky one-night stands where “there are no friends on powder days.”
  • Spending five days on your own without working up the nerve to talk to anybody if you’re riding a lift, you’d be surprised at where, ‘hey, I’ve never skied here before, could we maybe do a run or two together?’ might lead.
  • Misunderstandings over “what happens in Whistler, stays in Whistler…”

 

Profile: skiers on the edge (or wanting to)

While most skiers and snowboarders view a winter getaway as some kind of journey into the unexpected, there’s a certain kind of skier who actively courts the steep and deep. Similar to the hard cores (see left), these skiers left conventional resorts a long time ago for cat, heli, or pure backcountry wilderness skiing.

Pre-trip planning: Word of mouth is by far your best bet, here — if this is your first adventure trip, canvass your friends as to where they’ve been. Be honest in explaining what you like, and don’t like (or want to do). For online research, troll deep into the chat room at Teton Gravity Research (or start your own thread with a specific question that will not have you looking like a jong). Note that many helicopter skiing companies are used to accommodating intermediate level skiers.

Dream Destinations: Too many to mention. However, Bella Coola Heli Sports is the one truly ultimate destination that promises steep terrain and copious snowfall in a huge mountain environment. If skiing in the backcountry intimidates, you can go with a resort-based, all inclusive operator like Extremely Canadian (Niseko! Yesss!).

What Makes It

  • The deepest powder or the silkiest spring corn you’ve probably ever skied.
  • Stable avalanche conditions and knowledgeable guides (if conditions are sketchy, they can ensure you find good, safe slopes).
  • A great group of people of compatible abilities and interests who you’ll want to ski with again and again.

What Breaks It

  • Roommates who snore too loudly (inquire about sleeping arrangements beforehand!)
  • Leaving the logistics of getting to the lodge to the last minute (roads can get blocked, and storms slow traffic) — many of these places are located in the middle of nowhere.
  • Those who are obsessed about ‘racking up vertical’ or ‘bagging peaks’ every day.

 

Profile: road trippin’ hard cores

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All S-Mag readers were hard core at one time or another. Whether it was getting up early to bash gates, carve immaculate corduroy, or score first tracks, we have all lived and breathed skiing in every muscle fiber of our body. Of course, powder isn’t always guaranteed, so the ideal resort will offer plenty of steeps, moguls, glades, and chutes.

Pre-trip planning: Pre-trip planning: The skiing — obviously. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate (fresh powder), there should be steeps and terrain options for your adrenaline fix. Nothing wrong with ripping big turns on chalky snow.

Dream Destinations: You know the places: there’s the A-List: Alta, Jackson, Squaw, Whistler, Verbier, Chamonix, La Grave. But there’s a strong case to be made for Revy, Red, Whitewater, Kicking Horse, and Fernie.

What Makes It

  • The skiing — obviously. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate in terms of fresh powder, there should be steeps and slackcountry options for getting your adrenaline fix. Nothing wrong with ripping big turns on chalky snow.
  • Meeting fine locals and sampling the local micros (note: pick up the first round)
  • Looking at real estate and wondering: “Damn, I could telecommute from here!’

What Breaks It

  • Going out too fast on the first day and knotting your muscles into tiny balls of fire.
  • Pace yourself! Getting lost in the trees (hopefully, there’s cell service and you’re not injured).

 

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