18 Lessons Learned from our First Family Ski Trip (know before you go)

We’re a family that typically chases the sun. Any kind of adventure in warm humid weather brings a sense of living a good life.

Which is why it’s taken me 45 years to embrace something new: skiing in freezing cold temperatures on our first family ski trip, to Idaho!

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Idaho
Creating memories on our first family ski trip!

We totally regret leaving it off our family vacation list for all those years.

Skiing is a fun family adventure that helps you break from the norm to experience a few thrills, learn something new (especially about yourself and each other), explore a new destination in a unique way, and create many happy and funny memories.

It’s probably been the best adventure we’ve had yet as a family. So if you’re considering skiing for the first time, here are some things you want to know before your first family ski vacation.

We’re happy to share the lessons we learned from our ski trip that helped us have an amazing time.

Get There a Day Earlier

If time and budget allow, arrive a day earlier before your skiing begins. Even if it means you stay in the town outside of the ski resort village.

It was a 12-hour travel day for us to get from Raleigh, North Carolina to Spokane, Washington. We decided to arrive a day earlier, rather than arrive at 5pm the night before our ski lessons started in North Idaho as we knew we’d be exhausted.

So, we stayed the night in Sandpoint, Idaho and had a relaxing evening and morning there before driving up to the mountain. That gave us the afternoon to explore Schweitzer Mountain Resort and get our bearings, sort out our ski rentals, take photos and videos.

This will also give you a day’s buffer in case of any flight delays due to winter storms. Our flight was cancelled on the way home and we were delayed one whole day!

It made me realize having that extra day before you start skiing will give you space in case that does happen, so it doesn’t impact your ski days.

Leave a Day Later

We enjoyed having a day of doing nothing after five days of skiing. We could sleep in and move slowly through the day to give our body time to recover.

It also gave us time to stop in at Coeur d’Alene, one of our favorite Idaho towns for a GOOD coffee and lunch at Crafted and a glass (well maybe 3) of my favorite cider ever – Lemon Basil from One Tree.

Get the Right Snow Gear!

lookout pass idaho

Having the right clothes to keep you warm and dry while you are out on the slopes will help to define a “best family ski trip ever” experience.

Feeling cold to me is as painful as the ancient water drip torture method. Our biggest priority on this ski trip was to ensure we had the right ski apparel.

That meant thermal gear, layers, and waterproof outer wear. We found the BEST gear at a reasonable price. We only purchased one of each, with the intention to make it last for years.

We have a full post coming soon outlining all the best ski gear we got. We felt warm and more than adequately prepared. We were even stripping off layers as we skied.

Consider Visiting at the Beginning of Spring

Beautiful weather and scenery at Lookout Pass
Beautiful weather and scenery at Lookout Pass

Skiing at the start of Spring in Idaho was our family’s ideal experience.

It was outside of peak time, so less crowded, there was still plenty of snow around (to be honest, as newbies we don’t really know the difference between the powders and how much of it), and the weather was much warmer!

On our last couple of days, we were skiing in the 50s. We were totally blissed out.

Ski Rental and Dressing Takes Time

The most annoying thing about skiing was the preparation in getting ready for the day. It takes a fair amount of time to get your ski rental to begin with the sizing and adjusting.

Organize your ski rentals the night before if you can, so you can pick it straight up the next morning.

With ski clothes, boots, and helmets, dressing also takes a lot of time, especially when you have kids to help dress as well.

You will be so grateful to take it all off at the end of the day though.

Ski Boots are Awkward to Walk in (but are an amazing design)

Skiing Lookout Pass in Idaho

Make sure you do all the non-skiing checklist items before you put your ski boots on. They are so awkward to walk in.

Don’t try to run in them. I did to quickly run back to my bag. I stopped that after one stride.

The good thing is they are so sturdy, and I’m sure saved me from twisting my ankle many times. You will soon get used to the ski boot gait.

And a note on skis and ski boots.

If you’re a first time skier, you’ll soon learn what an amazing design skis and ski boots are.

I don’t know how many times I ploughed into a tree, or fell over, and in that moment, thinking, I am about to break something for sure, when the ski expertly snapped off my boot and my ski boot kept my ankle sturdy and straight.

I may have ended up with a ton of bruises, but those brilliantly engineered skis and boots saved many a snapped lower limbs.

Ski Lessons Are a Must

Ski lessons with Tom at Lookout Pass
Ski lessons with Tom at Lookout Pass

I couldn’t imagine even attempting skiing without professional ski lessons. And I don’t think a one hour lesson is enough for newbies. We had four days of lessons – each from 1.5 hours to 3 hours.

They were hugely helpful for confidence building and perfecting our skills (especially turns) before going on more challenging runs.

I loved how they took us out on Green runs for specific instructions to navigate various terrain. It’s a worthy investment. Use your first family ski vacation as the opportunity to learn to ski properly.

Skiing with Tom at Lookout Pass
Skiing with Tom at Lookout Pass

Our instructors were wonderful. Attentive, supportive, specific and experts. All had 50+ years’ experience in skiing – not just skiing for fun, but for professions like ski rescue and land patrol.

They impressed me with their skills, confidence, and vibrant health. There’s something to be said for skiing keeping you fit, young and healthy.

We experienced both a private family ski lesson and a private lesson separate from the kids. Both were equally wonderful for different reasons.

Private Family Ski Lesson

Instructor Mary Jo taking me down the slopes at Schweitzer
Instructor Mary Jo taking me down the slopes at Schweitzer

Our first few ski lessons were private family ones for all four of us.

We loved learning with our kids and watching how quickly they picked it up and improved. It was also great for them to see how we also skied. It’s a wonderful opportunity for families to support and encourage each other and is great for family bonding.

Especially during these challenging COVID times, it’s good to keep in your isolated bubble.

If you are all getting ski lessons anyway, a private family ski lesson will probably be the more cost effective then separate group lessons with other people.

Parents Separate Lessons to Kids

Kalyra learning to ski at Schweitzer
Kalyra learning to ski at Schweitzer

However, at the end of our ski trip we also did a private lesson separate to the kids. We all really enjoyed this experience as well.

We felt like we could concentrate better on our technique and practice of it without getting distracted worrying what the kids were doing.

Savannah and Kalyra enjoyed the time out and the chance to be independent without us. Savannah also told me she enjoyed skiing without worry about me. I did crash into the forest a few times.

Getting off a Chair Lift is the Most Difficult Part

Getting off chair lift at Silver Mountain
Nailed it, finally!

Don’t just take it from novice me.

Every person we spoke to, including our instructors with decades of experience, said the same thing, “everyone crashes and burns on the ski lift. It’s the most frightening thing, but you’ll get used to it.”

We fell down enough times for the muscle memory to learn a lot. By the end of our five days skiing, we could all get off the one chair lift at the same time for the camera without any spills!!!

Riding the chairlifts was fun and easy!
Riding the chairlifts was fun and easy!

Ask your instructor to ride with you on the chair and teach you how to get off. It was valuable, especially for Savannah who was a little short for some of them and had to kind of leap off the seat.

On her first attempt at Lookout Pass, she realized she was too short and stayed on, continuing to go back around with one butt cheek on the seat.  Thankfully, the guard was watching and halted the lift!

Don’t Give Up.

Learning to ski at Schweitzer
Learning to ski at Schweitzer

On our second day, the others decided to try the steeper Enchanted Forest green run at Schweitzer Mountain. The name was not enough to entice me and my skill level down it, but I took a depth breath and followed.

I was overwhelmed with fear and frustration of not making the turns work. I couldn’t handle anymore of that feeling of failure AND being so out of control on a steep slide down.

Tears pricked my eyes and I almost threw down the poles with a “That’s it I’m done. I’m just going to watch you all for the rest of the week.”

Kinda like what I do with a golf club.

Except I realized I couldn’t just walk away. The only way out was to ski down that steep run I was standing in the forest whimpering over.

Time for the pep talk and just do it.

Learning to ski at Schweitzer
Carving up the slopes at Schweitzer

Something in my body changed and I could make the turns, albeit rusty. The last 50 yards I flew smoothly down feeling in control and exhilarated.

The next run was better.

The breakdown moment is usually the place before the better change comes. So, don’t give up.

Take a break if you need to. Book another lesson. Go back to the bunny runs to practice, you’ll get there. The body will soon figure it out.

You may not get to pro level, but you can get to JOY level. And that is enough.

Don’t Push It

Savannah picking up speed at Schweitzer
Savannah picking up speed at Schweitzer

It’s enticing to want to jump straight to the blue runs. Through this enthusiasm you overestimate your skill level and just what a big difference it is between a green and a blue.

Be happy with the green runs (beginner runs). Enjoy how it feels to ski freely and in the zone at a level you can manage. I’d be happy to be a green run skier forever.

I loved feeling in control and gliding along. Why did I need to push it to a greater thrill level on the blue?

On our last day, our instructor, full of confidence in how quickly we were progressing with our turns took us down a “harder” green section. It was SOOO much steeper than what we had done on the other previous runs.

Skiing at Silver Mountain
Skiing at Silver Mountain

In fact, the experienced camera crew skiers with us, said there was no way that was a green run and felt it was very intense for us. One of them got off his skis and walked down – although not as confident as the skiers carrying the heavy camera gear.

They did ask if we could go on a cruisier run next as they were struggling to get the footage while managing the steep slope.

I was frightened and so forgot everything I learned about skiing and ended up in the forest against a tree twice.

I think I may have handled it better if I wasn’t worried about the cameras filming us AND how the girls were doing (they did fine), but it was beyond my confidence level We moved back to the green and had a ball after that and caught amazing footage.

Incorporate Other Snow Activities

Tubing fun at Silver Mountain
Tubing fun at Silver Mountain

The snow offers so much more than just skiing. Of course, there is snowboarding. One look at those attempting to learn that let me know, “Not for me.”

We had a fantastic time snow tubing at Silver Mountain Resort in Idaho, one of the best family ski resorts. I loved how it was slightly thrilling, but without the skiing fear intensity. We could just kick back as a family and have fun racing each other.

You may also find activities like sledding, snowshoeing, or tobogganing.  

Don’t Spend All Day Skiing

Drink with a view at Schweitzer
Drink with a view at Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho

As our instructor, Mary Joe said, “Most people ski for an hour or two and then either head home or go drink their après.”

Skiing can be very intense, especially when you are first learning. The 2 – 3 hour lesson, plus an extra run or two was enough for me. I was exhausted after each one mentally, and my body a little sore.

There are lots of other things you can do after your skiing.

Yep. A drink at the bar with views is one of them, a long lingering lunch, browsing through the alpine stores – I love my Schweitzer top I bought, exploring the nearest small town or village, or soaking in a hot tub.

Don’t Drink Too Much

Enjoying a beer at Schweitzer

It’s tempting to enjoy your après after skiing. And I recommend you do; it is part of the experience. But don’t overdo it! (or, else leave it to your last day)!

You’re in high altitude and probably dehydrated. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll feel the effects of alcohol. You won’t feel in your best shape for your next day’s skiing, and I think skiing is one of those things you want to have a sharp mind and controlled body for.

Watch the Expert Skiers

Skiers about to take on a Black run at Schweitzer
Skiers about to take on a Black run at Schweitzer

It was in watching the expert skiers that I was able to get a better feel for how my legs and body should move into a relaxed skiing stance.

I was mesmerized by them flying down steep black runs and enjoyed it just as much as I did skiing myself.

Although, it’s much harder to do when you feel yourself careening down the mountain without any real faith or talent to stop yourself. Sometimes the only way out is to throw down and hope for the best.

That’s why we recommend pairing the watching of the expert skiers with a lesson.

Savor the Memories: good and bad

Skiing with kids
Skiing with our kids created priceless memories

As I mentioned in my post sharing our first family ski experience in North Idaho, the true beauty of life is found, not in its perfections but the up and down trajectory.

This was skiing. Moving from moments of terror and incompetence to complete bliss. That’s what made this experience so enriching and memorable.

It’s the experiences that push you through the fear and limitation range of “I don’t think I am capable”, into a new comfort zone that says, “hang on a minute, maybe I am.”

Skiing with Savannah at Schweitzer
Skiing with Savannah at Schweitzer

We never get to the next level of confidence and capability without the falling. In the failing we learn so much about ourselves. (and if you’re traveling with kids, you learn a lot about them too!)

So we have those memories of the elation felt when perfecting our turns and effortlessly gliding down the hill.

But we also have the stories of who we were in the moment of our failings like Craig practicing his turning and overshooting into the forest and hugging a tree (gently) and the rest of us nearly falling off our skis from laughter and me crashing in the soft powder at the edge of the forest and Tom skiing over to rescue me with Savannah right on his tail.

You gotta have a ski goal

Views from top of Schweitzer Ski Resort
Views over Lake Pend Oreille at Schweitzer

If you want to make skiing a regular part of your family travels, it’s great to have a goal.

One of mine would be going up to the top of Schweitzer Mountain, having lunch at the Sky House, enjoying a Duck Fart Coffee and a burger with exquisite views over Lake Pend Oreille and Sandpoint, and then taking one of the skis runs down.

They’re all blue and black up here and way beyond our comfort zone and skill on our first ski trip.

You’ve got to come back for something right?

Taking in the scenery at Schweitzer
Taking in the scenery at Schweitzer

But my number one ski goal is to use skiing now as an opportunity to embrace winter and explore destinations from this experience. We feel it opens a whole new world for our family, who is usually intent on chasing the sun.

Adventure comes with newness and our ski trip opened that door for us.

To be honest, I’d be happy traveling the world just skiing green runs. At that level, I feel in control and blissful.

I’m not sure I could have the skills or confidence to move beyond that and if I don’t, I’m okay with just the green runs and the wonderful experience beyond the skis that comes from a ski trip at a ski resort.

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