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10 Fundamentals When Packing for a Fun Family Ski Trip

by David Page Oct 12, 2009
Stack the odds in favor of a good time in the snow—for you and the kids. Start with the right gear.

[Editor’s Note: This post was sponsored by REI. At Matador we seek sponsorship only with companies we believe in 100%, and REI is a perfect example. Please click here to see some of our other sponsors and partners.]

Packing for a family ski and snowboard vacation can make the logistics behind Scott’s expedition to the South Pole seem like an easy (and cheap) midsummer outing to the county fair. One ill-equipped team member—one small dose of cold and wet—and the whole journey can end up derailed. But with the right investment in proper outfitting, kids and adults alike can get out and focus on the deep thrills to be had in the wide world of ice crystals and gravity.

1. Proper Long Underwear and Ski Socks

The base layer will make or break the whole adventure. Don’t cut corners and think you’ll get away with those old school waffled-cotton long johns from the big box store. Or last night’s pj’s. Kids warm up fast doing what they do outdoors, especially in the snow. Then they sweat. And when cotton gets wet, the next step is cold. Then it’s game over.

Take advantage of the latest advancements in high-tech underclothing with a light- to mid-weight Capilene 3 ensemble from Patagonia. Expedition-weight is good for lounging around in a snow cave, but where any amount of movement is involved, lighter is better.

For the sake of pit-stop efficiency, opt for two pieces (separate tops and bottoms) over the one piece union-suit style. Crew neck or Zip-T is a matter of preference. I like the Zip-T. On really cold days add a Turtle Fur neck gaiter for extra roast.

For reduced stink factor and a more organic feel, spend the extra bills on SmartWool’s ultra-cozy (and durable) merino long johns.

SmartWool also makes some of the best and best-looking socks on the market, socks that wick moisture away from feet and actually keep from slumping and lumping in boots. Again, go light- to mid-weight (a bit of air around the toes is a good insulator). And don’t buy into any old-wives’ hype about two pairs of socks being warmer—it ain’t so.

Extra tip: To avoid uncomfortable shin bruises (that can take all season to heal), don’t stuff long underwear bottoms down into boots. Instead, roll the cuffs up to above the top of the ski boot, but still long enough for sock tops to overlap—or just grab a pair of scissors and cut the cuffs off entirely.

2. Two-piece Outerwear—waterproof and breathable

One-piece snow suits may be required costume for backcountry snowmobiling and ice fishing. But you wouldn’t be caught dead in one anywhere near a lift line, right? So why put your kids in one? Plus, anyone who’s ever gone three rounds with a toddler on the wet floor of a ski-lodge bathroom knows that one-piece suits aren’t meant for access to the interior.

Bibs are pretty much flawless for staying on, for keeping deep snow out, and are also generally more breathable than a one-piece. But still, the jacket has to come off before the pants go down.

Best bet is a good jacket-and-pants combo of high-quality coated nylon (waterproof and breathable). Jacket should hang well below the hips, without a cuff at the waist. And with a real hood. Like this or this or this.

The best pants—like these (insulated for super cold days) or these (not insulated and thus better for high-energy activity)—have sewn-in elastic gaiters to keep snow out of boots, and reinforced cuffs.

3. Snowboots

Forget fur. Forget suede. Forget laces. Go with something seriously waterproof, something you can pull on and off easily, with a Velcro strap for cinching it to the ankle and a drawstring over the calf. And good treads. And liners you can pull out and leave by the fire to dry.

A basic pair of Sorels and you’re good to go for sledding, building snow shelters, digging out the family wagon, or walking to town.

4. Hat

The best way to convince kids to wear hats is to give them a good selection and have them pick out their own.

5. Waterproof Mittens

Gloves are impossible to put on. Plus they aren’t as warm. Most kids under 12 don’t ski with poles these days, so they don’t need the dexterity.

The vertical rip-and-stick closure option is a good one for the smallest hands. For bigger kids, given the high (and ongoing) loss potential, you’re probably fine with these over these (at more than twice the price).

Hand warmers? Other than the not-so-green disposable aspect… why not! Always good to have a secret weapon when the wind starts gusting.

6. Helmet & Goggles

A must. With matching (or contrasting) goggles in pink or black. For the sunniest of spring days, when the snow corns up and the eaves start dripping, hook em up with a stylish pair of Julbos.

7. Skis, Boots, Bindings, etc.

You’ll have to do the complex math to see if it’s worth investing the $300+ it’ll cost to purchase a full kid’s ski or snowboard package to haul around with you (and then store in the garage, only to eventually sell it on eBay for 10 cents on the dollar), versus $20/day on the hill for rental gear. Variables: expected number of ski days, child’s growth rate, potential hand-me-down value for younger siblings.

Advantages to renting: don’t sweat the growth spurts, the long haul to the car, equipment malfunctions, or rocks. Advantages to buying: skip the lines and hassle at the rental shop, don’t sweat short days, enjoy the street cred.

Before you decide, be sure to check out REI’s very cool Kids’/Junior Snowsports Equipment Trade-In program. You bring your gently-used kids’ or junior ski or snowboard gear to an REI store and trade it in for 20% off the purchase of new kids’ or junior snowsports gear. Not bad, eh? Only available in store, and only for members (and hey, it’s only $20 to join).

8. Ski Trainer Harness

For most kids the only real hard part is stopping. Which is where you come in. This will help you steer your little daredevil down the slopes safely, away from trees and other skiers, and help them stop short of the parking lot.

Add an edgy-wedgy to your arsenal to force the snowplow and keep tips from crossing.

9. Ski Hydration Pack

Keep the crew well-hydrated at altitude with a CamelBak Hydration Ski Pack. The insulated drinking system keeps the plumbing from freezing on those good, cold powder days. And there’s plenty of extra space for snacks and sunscreen and loose gear. Also available in mommy style.

10. Car Roof Rack

A lockable Thule Roof Box makes it easy to load, unload and store a whole mess of gear, plus skis and poles too.

Extra: Entertainment for the Road

On the drive up, get the little ones in the mood with a timeless classic: Curious George in the Snow. Then ramp it up for all ages with the collector’s edition DVD of Warren Miller’s Children of Winter. Ready, set, have a blast!

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