This winter, thousands of Alabamians will head to Colorado and other Western states to hit the slopes. Even if you’ve already booked your flights, accommodations and lift tickets, you can still do a few things to make your vacation more fun and relaxing, and less stressful. Sure, you can’t control Mother Nature and guarantee great powder. But, if you take advantage of a few helpful services, build a smart itinerary, and protect yourself from the elements, you’ll make the most of your trip.
As you’re prepping for your next ski trip, consider the following tips offered by ski resort employees and veteran travelers.
Skip the Car Rental & Hire a Ride
If you’re headed to a ski area out West, you probably don’t need to rent a car, unless your destination is especially small and remote, or you just want the freedom to drive around and explore.
From the airport, you can reach most ski villages and towns via shuttles offered by hotels, ski resorts, private limo services, or even outfits like Uber. Once you arrive in town, you can explore the ski village and local area by using local shuttles and buses, which are often free or cheap. Also, you can use Lyft and Uber in many ski towns, including Aspen, Vail, Telluride, Steamboat Springs and Winter Park.
If you’re still thinking about renting a car, keep in mind that it can be a major expense. For example, if you plan to fly into Denver, it’s one of the most expensive car-rental markets in the world.
Also, as a resident of Alabama, there’s a good chance you’re not used to driving on snow and ice in the mountains. If you rent a car, you might add a source of stress to what should be a relaxing getaway.
Schedule a Day off the Slopes
Your everyday routine probably doesn’t mimic the physical challenge of skiing or snowboarding for long periods at high altitude. So, you might be pretty worked after a couple of days on the mountain. It’s wise to schedule a day to relax or play away from the slopes. In ski towns you’ll find a growing variety of off-mountain amenities, like spas, yoga studios and meditation centers. In some towns you can participate in creative workshops, visit art galleries or sample whiskey at distilleries. If you do something that requires tickets, reservations or advance notice, be sure to book it weeks in advance. Many people have the mentality that they’ll arrange something when they arrive, and they find that things are no longer available.
Take Advantage of Helpful Services.
In recent years, new services have popped up in mountain towns to make life easier for visitors. For example, if you’re renting a condo in Breckenridge, you can order groceries prior to your arrival, and a grocery concierge service will deliver the goods to your accommodations when you arrive. By ordering your groceries, you relax at the end of a long travel day, rather than worrying about hustling into town to shop.
In the last few years, ski and snowboard shops have also added new services to make life easier for vacationers. For example, more retailers are offering a broader range of clothes for rent. If you live in the Southeast and don’t ski or snowboard regularly, you might not own a good pair of insulated pants. By renting this type of technical, high-end item, you can reduce the overall cost of your trip. Just be sure to reserve clothing a week or more in advance of your arrival.
Rely on the Pros for Lessons
Just because you’ve been skiing or boarding for years and you can tackle any terrain, it doesn’t mean that you’re a good instructor. If you try to teach your significant other to ski or snowboard, there’s a good chance it will result in frustration, tension and arguments. So leave the lessons to professional ski instructors, who know the teaching techniques that are truly effective and can provide objective, expert advice and observations.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
If you’ve grown up vacationing at Gulf Shores, you probably know how sunburn can wreck a vacation. When you’re skiing or snowboarding, sun exposure is just as big an issue. At high elevations, ultraviolet rays are more intense—even on a cloudy day—so you should apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen 30 minutes *before *hitting the slopes. And reapply it every two hours while outside.
Avoid Altitude Sickness
If you live at a low elevation, there’s a chance your visit to the Western mountains could become one big headache—literally—due to altitude sickness.
Typically, altitude sickness occurs when people move quickly from low altitudes to high altitudes where there is less oxygen in the air. A bad headache and a general feeling of malaise are the primary symptoms of altitude illness, which tends to occur when people are above 8,000 feet of elevation.
Skiers and snowboarders who live at low altitude are especially susceptible, because they arrive at the ski area and quickly ascend to high elevations without allowing time to acclimate.
To avoid altitude illness, you should stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Keep in mind that at high altitude your body needs more fluids than it does closer to sea level, so drink more water than usual before and during your trip. Also, fatigue can make you more vulnerable to getting sick at high altitude, so it’s not wise to stay up all night packing before you fly and then immediately hit the slopes when you get to the ski area.
To prevent altitude illness you can also take medicines, such as acetazolamide (Diamox is a common brand), which stimulates your nighttime respiration so you get loaded up with oxygen at night. Typically, you take it two days before your vacation, and then one day after you’ve reached your altitude. Also, ibuprofen can be effective in preventing altitude illness.
If possible, sleep at a moderately high altitude before you ski. If you sleep at an altitude between 5,000 feet and 7,000 feet before you climb higher you’ll give your body time to acclimate.
If you do get altitude illness while on the mountain, you need to move to a lower elevation, so head to the lodge and drink some water and take ibuprofen. Fortunately, altitude illness won’t likely ruin your whole trip, as most people have it the first day, and then it doesn’t bother them.
Originally written for BCBS of AL.