How To Choose Ski Resorts

With all the places to ski out there-from the Colorado Rockies and New Hampshire's White Mountains, to the Swiss Alps and the Chilean Andes-you've got plenty of options for your slopeside winter vacation. Here's how to narrow down your choices and find the ski resort that's just right for you.

  1. Figure out your vacation's focus. There are resorts that are ideal for families and others in mountain towns that are known for their lively nightlife, slopes with plenty of extreme terrain and bunny hills perfect for beginners. Do you want to drive to a resort for a weekend or fly to a foreign country for a week-long trip? Is this a girls' getaway or a vacation with your folks?

Once you determine what the main goals are for your vacation-whether it's learning to ski, exploring the backcountry, or combining skiing with other off-mountain activities or sightseeing-you can then narrow down your search according to what's most important to you. In fact, you might actually take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and make a list of the specific features you want in a resort.

For example, if I'm taking a ski trip with my family, I want to find a mountain that has a good reputation for kids' lessons, babysitting in the evenings so I can enjoy a night out with my husband, fabulous restaurants in the area (for that aforementioned, kid-free date), and a hotel or condo with an indoor swimming pool-key for helping to keep my young children entertained.

  • Look at your budget. If cost is a consideration, you'll naturally consider a ski mountain close to home so you can drive to it. That will eliminate a lot of resorts halfway across the country-or the world. But if you've got money to spend on a longer vacation, the world is your oyster because there are so many fine resorts in the U.S., Canada and Europe (and in Australia, New Zealand and South America if you want to ski when it's summer in the Northern Hemisphere).
  • Start your research online. Every mountain has its own website, so if you have some idea of where you want to go, enter its name in your favorite search engine, and voila. If you need to start from scratch, visit Ski Guide, which lets you search, plan and book ski vacations in North America. Iglu Ski and If You Ski give you options in Europe, as well as North America. Check out Snoventures.com for details on skiing in Chile and Argentina. Australia's Ski.com.au has first-person reviews of that continent's resorts. If it's New Zealand you want to visit, log on to Snow.co.nz.
  • Get personal recommendations. Even if you're staying close to home, ski vacations can cost a lot of money, with lift tickets, accommodations, dining and perhaps equipment rental and lessons. To keep from spending a lot of money on a resort that's just so-so, get resort recommendations from friends and acquaintances who have actually stayed and skied at the mountain you're considering. That firsthand information from people you trust can help you avoid disappointment.
  • Check out various accommodation options. Accommodations at ski resorts include five-star mega-hotels, slopeside condominiums, timeshare rentals, quaint bed and breakfasts, historic lodges, private homes, budget motels and dorm-like hostels. Truly, there's a place to stay in a ski-mountain town no matter what your budget. Check out different options at ResortQuest.com (luxury home and vacation rentals), ResortsandLodges.com (resorts and lodges) and BnBfinder.com (bed and breakfasts).
  • Consider activities outside of skiing. Even the most passionate of skiers and snowboarders won't spend all their time on the slopes, so be sure to research what else goes on in the ski resort's town once the lifts close. Dining options, nightlife, cultural sites and other outdoor sports like ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing and sleigh rides can help round out a wonderful winter trip. Consult with the mountain town's chamber of commerce to get the scoop on attractions for visitors.
  • Visit TripAdvisor.com. I always frequent Trip Advisor for "real people" reviews whenever I book a trip. Remember to take strangers' opinions with a grain of salt, and use them to complement your own careful research to help you make a final decision on your ideal ski vacation. Happy travels!
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