Travel plans for skiing destinations
By JOHN NAYE
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
November 18, 2008 · Updated 3:42 PM
As the holiday season approaches, many of us snowsport aficionados will be making travel plans to mountain resorts near and far. There was a time, not so long ago, when travel by air with skis and snowboards was fairly easy. Then came the aftermath of 9/11 when things got more complicated. Because of the extensive and often silly security checks, travelers were encouraged to check their luggage as much as possible, and to carry on very little.
Is that true today? Not so much. Within the last year, the situation has changed again — somewhat dramatically, in my opinion. The troubled airlines have been looking for ways to increase revenues, leading them to start charging for every service they can think of: meals, snacks, curbside check-in, etc. You name it, you pay for it. Most airlines are charging an extra fee just to check your baggage, now encouraging you to carry on as much as possible. Since I have not yet found an airline that will allow a pair of skis or a snowboard to be carried into the cabin, taking a ski trip has become much more problematic ... and expensive. If you can’t fit your ski boots in your suitcase with your ski and street apparel, you will end up with at least three bags; one for clothes, another for skis/snowboard, and a third for ski boots.
According to a quick survey of the major U.S. airlines, the first bag will cost between $15 and $25 each way, the second bag will cost between $25 and $50, and the third bag will cost between $100 and $125. This covers American, Delta (now merged with Northwest), United, and U.S. Air. These fees are one-way, so it will be double that if you plan to return ... and most of us do, even if reluctantly when leaving untouched powder stashes behind.
So what to do? Here are some options to consider.
1. The first option is obviously not to fly. Book a vacation where you can drive. Whistler, Mt. Bachelor, Sun Peaks, all Washington ski resorts, Schweitzer, Silver Mountain, Big White, Apex, Silver Star and even Sun Valley can be reached in a day under normal driving conditions. Gas prices have retreated significantly since the summer, and for Canadian destinations, even the exchange rate has worked in our favor, making things about 20 percent cheaper.
2. If you are going to fly, use Southwest Airlines or Alaska. Southwest still allows two checked bags for free, and Alaska allows one. From Seattle, these two air carriers serve Salt Lake City, Denver, Boise, Reno and Montana gateways, which just about covers the major mountain resorts you would consider. By the way, Alaska Air now uses Terminal A in Denver, which means that you can avoid the quagmire security area in the main terminal by just walking to Terminal A, which has its own security checkpoint. This may not seem like a big deal, but it saved me lots of time on my last departure out of Denver.
3. Ship your equipment separately in advance. Although a fairly expensive option, carriers like Fed Ex or UPS will ship your gear to a resort in advance of your arrival. This way, you know exactly what equipment you will be using, but don’t have to deal with transporting it on the same day that you are traveling. This makes running through airports much easier.
4. Use the rental shop at the mountain. Several destination resorts have beefed up their inventory of rental and demo gear, knowing that many travelers will now arrive without it. For travelers who only ride the white wave once or twice a season, this idea may actually be a better economic decision than buying their own gear. Of course, you have to consider how often you will ski locally when making this decision. Many local ski shops, such as Sturtevant’s Ski Mart in Bellevue, have gear that you can rent by the day, weekend or even for the season.
Utilize an in-room fitting service. Instead of wasting time standing in line, companies such as industry-leading Ski Butlers (877-754-7754, www.skibutlers.com) will provide your accommodations. While in the comfort of your lodging, Ski Butlers will fit you for all of your equipment needs. With extended hours of operation, you can be fitted at your convenience from early morning to as late as 9 p.m., seven days a week. The goal is to take the stress out of renting skis and boards in addition to all of the hassles associated with going to a rental shop, standing in line, and lugging all of the equipment back to your lodging, especially if you have kids.
Ski Butlers ski and snowboard rental prices: High Performance Plus Package, $47-$59; High Performance Package, $39-$49; Sport, Junior and Junior Performance Packages, $25-$43.
Ski Butlers serves over 25 resorts in Colorado, California, Utah, Wyoming and British Columbia. Currently, Ski Butlers operates at the following locations: Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra in California; Aspen, Snowmass, Highlands, Buttermilk, Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper, A-Basin, Telluride, Vail, Beaver Creek and Arrowhead in Colorado; Park City, Deer Valley, The Canyons and Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts in Utah; Jackson Hole in Wyoming; and Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia.
5. Take advantage of the soft real estate market and purchase a place at your favorite destination. Stash your gear there for the winter, and you should be good to go. If this option seems too expensive or radical, then just make friends with someone who already owns there.
Ski you around this season, and don’t look for me at baggage claim.
John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and the current president of the western region of the North American Snowsports Journalist’s Association. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist John Naye at email@example.com.