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Dealing with Peak Skiing Crowds
For what time during the winter should we plan our ski trip?

Some families have no choice – planning around school, activities, and work means that your choices are limited. Spring break, the holiday season, and a couple 3-day weekends become the most logical times to go. For others, the flexibility is greater. Maybe you have more vacation, flexible schedules, or are fine with pulling the kids out of school for a few days in order to take a family ski trip.

David Roth of Copper Mountain says that peak times at ski resorts generally follow children’s schedules. “When families with children are in school (not on break) are typically slower times of the year at ski resorts.” This means times like early December, January and early February can be golden opportunities to have the slopes all to yourself.

Still, if going on a ski trip during a peak time – the Christmas Holiday and New Years period, the extended MLK and President’s Day weekends, or Spring Break season – suits your family best, embrace it. Many ski resorts cater to the crowds during those times of year with special festivals and events which wouldn’t normally be available. Holiday celebrations, special entertainment venues, and other attractions may be offered during peak times in order to provide for more entertainment options.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid the crowds at popular resorts:

Be aware of peak times. Those listed above – holidays and spring breaks, can often create heavy crowds. While not all bad, it can definitely cause longer lift lines, more chewed-up terrain, and potentially higher prices.

Weekends near major cities can be high-demand times. Being within an hour or two of places like Salt Lake City, Denver, or Boston on a beautiful Saturday morning may bring out the day-trippers.

Don’t forget about “alternate” resorts on flip-sides of the mountains. For every crowded Vail Resort, there is a quieter Loveland Ski Area not far away. For Big Sky, a great alternative is Bridger Bowl, on the other side of Bozeman. If Jackson Hole is too crazy, drive around to the other side of the range, and enjoy quieter Grand Targhee.

If you choose to go to a popular ski area during peak season, here are some suggestions for not letting crowds get the best of you:

Consider premium lift passes. Some resorts, such as Copper Mountain, offer optional lift passes which would allow you additional mountain access. Roth describes Copper’s Beeline Advantage Program, which allows skiers begin their day 15 minutes earlier than other skiers. Skiers with this upgraded pass can also reduce lift line wait times “by going directly to dedicated lanes, throughout the day at many of Copper's major lifts.”

Find a network of remote runs. Discovering a back bowl or quiet lift which provides short lines and better powder can be rewarding. If you are at a resort long enough, you may enough notice fluctuations in the traffic on your favorite runs throughout the day.

Splurge on lodging. Nothing is worse than sharing your condo wall with college spring-breakers who are cramming 12 people into the place next to you. While not a guarantee, going for a higher-end lodging option can often assure a quieter stay.

Reserve stuff. Reserve your flights early, reserve restaurant spots, reserve ski school slots. When traveling during peak time, it is important to plan and reserve so you aren’t the odd man out.