Five Steps to Picking a Ski Hill

1.  Get Picky about Elevation

I won’t ski in Colorado.  I live in Texas, but Colorado is out for me.  It’s not the marijuana, it’s the elevation.

For me and my husband, Brad, elevation means altitude sickness.   What is altitude sickness?


Altitude sickness is like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.

– Me

To stay well, we sleep no higher than 6400 feet.    That means:

  • West of The Rockies (e.g., Jackson Hole, 6311 ft; Squaw Valley, 6200 ft; Deer Valley, 6500 feet but not at Stein Eriksen Lodge, 8000 ft.)
  • Canada (Whistler/Blackcomb, 2,251 ft!;  Lake Louise, 5,400 ft.)

The East Coast also has really low base elevations (e.g. Stowe, 2,035 ft, Killington, 1,1135 ft.) but it doesn’t fit our No Long Drives criteria (see below).  To check on ski mountain base elevations, click here.

2.  How to Choose a Ski Hill That Fits You

choicesSkiers are all different.  Some like to ski where only a helicoptor can take them.  Some are willing to cook in a condo. Some shut down with the hill at 4pm, but others stay for apres ski festivities.  Know what you want.  We like large resorts where my husband Brad can send the kids out to read menus.  (He truly believes this is as interesting as their video games.)  The boys require hot wings.  All the men in my family crave the novelty of runs they didn’t ski the day before.  And, honestly, skiing isn’t really my thing.  I’m there for a massage.  And a bookstore.

Say hello, large, commercial ski hill.  You have something for each one of us.

Run Mix

Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico made my sister, Pamm, cry, and she’s a confident skier.  Taos is 51% black (expert) runs.  We find green (beginner) runs as dangerous as blacks.  Green runs swarm with skiers who are incapable-of-control, the very worst variety of out-of-control.  We look for 45-55% blue (intermediate runs).  To check run mix click here.

3.  Minimize Travel Time

Fly Direct

If we’re skiing, it’s winter, and flights are always delayed from somewhere in the US (ahem, Chicago!).  Saying no to connecting flights halves our chances of becoming airport hostages.

Admit that Long Drives are a False Economy

Forget connections in winter!
Forget connections in winter!

To get to Whistler, you might consider flying to Seattle (4 hours away) rather than Vancouver (2 hours away), right?  After all, a four-hour drive into a winter wonderland is lovely on the way to Whistler.  True.  But the winter wonderland is old news and a pain-in-the-neck when trying to catch a flight home.  Who wants to get up at 3:30am?!

I make it a goal to get to the most convenient airport at the same price as the one 4 hours away. This means planning ahead.  I set a price alert on Skyscanner at least eight months in advance and grab seats when the price is right.

Set a price alert in Skyscanner 6-8 months in advance

4.  Top Consideration for Choosing Accommodations at a Ski Resort

The top consideration on a ski trip is always SPACE.

Get a condo. For us, staying in a hotel room with our coats, thermal tights, gloves, goggles, boots, base layers, mid layers, etc., is like vacationing in a laundry basket.

When the boys were young and might need to quit early to play Legos, we stayed right on the hill.  Expensive, but if someone needed a nap or had to go number two, it wasn’t a crisis.

We haven’t stayed off the mountain much because ski shuttles stink!  They are always busy when you need them. Lucky for us, I’ve torn up a knee during out last two ski trips.  So I’ll be a non-skier.  (My knee is okay, but I just don’t have time for any more physical therapy.)  This means I can drive the personal shuttle.  SO, we can stay off the mountain and save some dough!


We love a resort with lots of menus to read, runs to explore, and massages at low altitude.  So far, my favorite ski hill has been Jackson Hole in Wyoming.  Jackson is relaxed but has grown-ups as well as ski bums, and a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge is a fascinating break in a week of skiing.  The Diehl Gallery has art we wish we could afford.  This year, however, we’re going to try Lake Louise in Canada and see how that is.  Will let you know!

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