Helpful Family Skiing Tips
By Robert Martin
Navigating one of Maine’s ski resorts for the first time can be a daunting task. Add in a spouse and a few children and one can easily be overwhelmed. Just getting your family’s equipment to the lodge can be a nightmare if you are not unfamiliar with these behemoths. Then there is a question of what to bring along when visiting a mountain as a family. Whether it is a big ski resort like Sugarloaf with 154 trails or a family mountain like Black Mountain with just 15 trails, know before you go.
My wife and I found many unknowns and challenges a few years ago as we were beginning to ski Maine as a family of 5. Our first trips were very disorganized and stressful. Whether it was trying to feed the whole family, figuring out where to park, or trying to keep track of everyone’s equipment – it all seemed to conspire to rob us of valuable slope time. Eventually we learned from our mistakes and figured out just what to bring and how to plan for our ski trip.
First of all was the way that we prepared for our ski trips. Waking the kids, searching for their equipment, trying to get them dressed warmly, making a decent breakfast , then get the car loaded wasn’t working at all. We always seemed to leave something behind, whether it was ski boots for this one or gloves for that one. Getting to the mountain without items such as ski boots or gloves was costly. Our remedy was to purchase everyone their own ski boot bag. For instance, our boot bags are made by High Sierra and Swix. This allowed us to keep similar sized items separate and accounted for. Our very first task starts the night before a trip to the slopes. We pack our bags with dry ski boots, gloves, goggles, helmet, face mask, heating pouches, and warm extra clothing for layering.
With our boots and bags checked and packed, we try to decide on snacks and easy to stow foods for lunch. For storing drinks and snacks we use a smaller portable cooler on wheels for easy transport to the lodge. These simple items like a soda can cost $4.00 at the resort. This can add up quick when buying for the whole family. We try to compromise and let the kids purchase something warm from the cafeteria in addition to the drinks and snacks we have brought along with us.
If time allows, we like to prepare breakfast the night before to afford us some extra time in the morning to pack up the car (or the truck if it is snowing). We bought a cargo carrier to house our gear and to keep the road salts off our skis and poles. The cargo box allowed us to open up enough space to keep our boots in the cab of the vehicle where they stay warm on bitter cold mornings. We try to feed the family a breakfast that will sustain them until noon which gives us maximum slope time. Getting the kids in and out of the lodge during the day and back up on to the mountain can chew up a hefty chunk of slope time. We found that during the long ride to a mountain like Saddleback if we try to snack as a supplement to breakfast that we wouldn’t need to return to the lodge in the first half of the day.
As a rule, the bigger the resort, the earlier we arrive. If lifts at Sunday River open at 8:00 AM, we are there by 7:00 AM at the latest. “Early arrival times allows us easy parking and time in the lodge to dress the kids in their equipment and use the restrooms. The sacrifice is well worth being able to ski the freshly groomed slopes before they get bumped up.” Another reason to arrive early is to ensure that we find cubby space to store our unused items for the day all in one area. Sometimes personal space is at a premium in ski lodges. Finding a space where the whole family can gather and suit up can be impossible if it’s a busy day.
Choosing which mountain to ski on a particular day can also be a challenge. Conditions and crowds dictate our choice. In general, as unpopular with the resort ownership it may be, we avoid the big mountains on peak attendance days such as holidays and weekends. Trying to watch out for the kids where trails merge on days when there are 8,500 other skiers on the slopes can be terrifying. We try to minimize the risks of skiing heavily crowded trails by choosing smaller resorts like, Mount Abram or Black Mountain during peak attendance days. If we must ski the big resorts on a busy day we focus on trails serviced by high speed lifts to give us maximum slope time. We try to balance our day out by making a few quick runs followed by a longer run on a family cruiser. Allow the kids to help select trails to keep their interest. Don’t be afraid to ask ski patrollers about trail conditions, they will be more than happy make recommendations for your family.