It's a common conversation, when planning a family ski trip: how to ski at a great resort yet keep travel costs within the budget.
One option might be to find cheap flights to a major airport, like Denver, and rent a car or catch a shuttle to the ski resort. Or to compare different destinations, and make a decision based on airfares. During the discussion, you may quickly rule out resorts like Aspen, Big Sky, or Jackson that require you to fly in to a smaller airport that may cost more.
The focus on airfare price leaves out one major factor: Airport-to-slope time.
How Much Is Your Time Worth?
For many families, there's often an overlooked factor when choosing a ski resort - how much is your time worth? The kids are probably out of school for a limited time. The breadwinner(s) likely have limited vacation days. Nobody likes to spend the better part of their vacation just trying to get to the destination.
There can be huge variances in the time you spend getting to the ski resort, once you've landed in mountain country. Most ski resorts in Colorado, for example, are at least two to three hours of driving from Denver International Airport, and that assumes no traffic (a major factor on weekends). If you rent a car, add in another 30-60 minutes to get your vehicle.
Flying directly into more remote Hayden, however, will get to you Steamboat Springs in around an hour. You've just earned yourself a combined four or more hours that can be spent skiing or enjoying the resort. That could equate to sneaking in an extra half day on the slopes before you have to go home.
Also: one hidden benefit of choosing more remote resorts is that you'll find much less ski traffic on the slopes.
Keep in mind that the example above assumes you can fly to the smaller airport directly, which should be do-able from cities such as Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and other cities with seasonal service to remote ski destinations.
There are a few gems in ski country that put you within minutes of the slopes when arriving via airlines.
- Aspen - Snowmass is a great ski destination that's just minutes from the local airport. Within a 20 minute shuttle ride, you can go from the airport to the ski village. If you're efficient you could actually be skiing within an hour of your plane's wheels touching down. Furthermore, Aspen's airport now has many direct flights. They can be pricey, however, so be sure you're booking well in advance or catching a sale.
- Salt Lake City is a major airport and a Delta hub that is just 45-60 minutes from no less than seven major ski resorts. Great family ski resorts like Solitude, The Canyons, Deer Valley, and Park City are just a short drive away. Not only does the area give you great snow, but this major airport has direct flights from virtually anywhere in the country.
- Further north in Wyoming and Montana, Jackson Hole and Big Sky are about an hour from small but well-serviced airports in Jackson and Bozeman, respectively. In Idaho, Sun Valley resort is serviced by the local airport just minutes away, and is serviced by considerable seasonal flight selections.
By reducing your airport-to-slopes time, you may find savings on family travel expenses, such as:
- Not having to rent a car, when a shorter commute to the slopes can be comfortably done in an airport shuttle or taxi
- Reducing a night of lodging because the logistics of getting back home are simpler and more direct
- Less chance of getting caught in a snowstorm or traffic jam trying to get to the slopes from the airport, reducing gas and incidental expenses
Paul Johnson is the editor of Family Ski Hub, a website devoted to helping skiing families plan and enjoy family ski vacations. The website is home to many family-oriented ski resort reviews, and to an annual list of "Best Family Ski Resorts".