When the skiing sucks: what to do when your ski vacation is ‘ruined’ by weather

On a recent weekend, we decided to take an impromptu ski trip. We spent $135 on a hotel room in the resort area, $250 on one-day lift tickets for our family of five (a discounted rate due to being season ticket holders at a neighboring resort), and about $150 on food and gas. We drove three hours each way for our getaway.

When we arrived at Mt. Bachelor Ski Area (a resort we’re very fond of) at 8:30 am for our ski day, the wind was picking up, and snow was falling. By midday, the gusts made visibility nearly impossible and the snowfall had turned to icy sleet. By 2 pm, we were soaked through, one kid was in pain from a nasty fall, and morale was low. Instead of continuing through poor conditions, we called it a day.


We didn’t get the standard 9 am to 4 pm use out of our ski passes, and for the time we were on the mountain, we didn’t get that many laps in. We stopped three times for lodge warm-ups (whereas we usually stay out nearly all day without breaking). By the time we ‘gave up’ and headed to the car, we could have wrung our jackets out like towels. But guess what: we still had a great time. And we don’t consider our $535 a waste of money. But it’s taken us years of skiing to see it this way.

A ski trip is a vacation with a lot of variables, many of which are out of our control. It’s painful to lay down hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands, and have conditions not meet expectations. Maybe your kids are miserable on the snow, or maybe you get rained out or a blizzard hits, making leisurely family turns impossible. Hearing, ‘I hate this’, seeing kids cry because they’re cold, or looking out the lodge window to see a white-out after purchasing 3-day tickets is a very real stress of a ski vacation. And it’s a total downer.


Sometimes I forget this, despite being there many times during the 30+ years I’ve taken ski vacations as a kid and as a parent. In full disclosure, my family and I are usually hosted by ski resorts, thanks to my job. In other words, we rarely shell out cash to ski. It’s easy to have a good time when skiing is part of your job, instead of an expense. But we’ve been on the other side. Certainly, our recent weekend trip could have been a real bummer. Instead, we were still smiling as we piled wet ski clothes into the car and headed home. Why? We kept the following things in mind:

1. Not all ski days can be bluebird days.

We can only appreciate those crystal clear, blue sky days when we’ve shivered through some wet, snowy ones, right? We try to look at the long-term picture when we ski: hey, this day may have been miserable, but remember last month, when we got sunburned? Or let’s look forward to spring break, when we’ll likely BBQ on the lodge deck in shirtsleeves. Consider each day’s investment as part of a season-long investment. It will be the overall experience that will stick with kids (hey, skiing is fun!), punctuated, of course, by battle tales of days gone array, which are somehow wonderfully fun to tell later.

2. Season passes are great investments.

If you truly want to leave the mountain at mid-day without regrets, invest in season passes to your closest resort. I realize this may not be possible for families living a plane ride from any ski resorts, but for those with resorts in a 2-3 hour radius, consider investing. The pressure is off single day experiences when you know you’ll be back multiple times. Look for season pass sales in October, and you may be surprised to find how affordable most passes can be.

getoutfitted ski gear

Skiing is only one part of the ski vacation experience:

Embrace the entire ski vacation ambiance, which includes hot cocoa by a fire, cozying up for a condo movie night, hot tubbing, and yummy ski village meals. If your vacation is for 3-4 days, look for flexible tickets (such as ski 2 out of 3 days) so you can decide to forego the slopes after waking up one morning. If you’re just on a single day trip, as we were, look for a pizza joint or brew pub after ending your day early.

Decide you’re paying for exclusive time with your family, not for certain number of runs per day.

Stop counting laps! No one wants to keep skiing after lunch? Swallow the pain of that lift ticket expense, and get out a deck of cards. Buy everyone a hot drink (what does it matter now?) and deal…literally and figuratively. Have a fun afternoon in the lodge, saying ‘yes’ to what the kids want and need instead of no. If everyone is smiling and having fun together, didn’t you still accomplish your goals for a family vacation day?

What to bring on any ski day in case of bad weather:

Yes, I believe in all the advice above, but there are a few things you can always have with you that will help kids weather nearly any ski weather…at least for a while. I always carry a small ski backpack so I have these items at the ready. Sometimes, I make everyone carry their own stuff, however.

  • extra pair of gloves for everyone (cheap is fine)
  • face mask for everyone
  • snack for everyone (Clif bars or HoneyStingers work well)
  • hand warmers for everyone (just stick them in pockets)

Of course, you also want to make sure everyone’s outerwear is waterproofed (we use NikWax) and that everyone has warm, quality base layers, either synthetic or Merino wool. Keep in mind however, that no matter what you spend on gear, there will be days when Mother Nature wins.

Have you had a terrible, no good, very bad ski day? Do tell!

Photo courtesy Flickr.