Better Ski Vacations Made Easy, Especially For Families
To check or not to check? Whether or not to bring ski and snowboard equipment is one of the most frequently asked questions I get about ski vacations. The short answer for most travelers is to leave your skis at home. The long answer for many, especially families, is to use a rental delivery service like Ski Butlers. I ski a lot, I have skis I really like, and I have never taken them on a trip by plane. There are several very good reasons not to bring your own hardware.
First, traveling with bulky sports gear is a hassle from beginning to end. It makes it harder to get in cabs, harder to use public transportation, harder to get through the airport, and often requires you to rent a larger vehicle for considerably more money or pay extra for ski racks. You need to have special luggage for skis or snowboards, and if you are going to bother, you need to invest in good protective luggage, not cheap unlined ski bags. Then you can add on the exorbitant checked baggage fees all the major airlines now charge: since skis or a board will likely be your second piece, that’s $70 roundtrip. Secondly, based on weather and where you are going, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to bring gear at all, even if it was free. Despite the explosion of “all mountain” skis, there still is no one ski that’s best for all conditions, for hard pack, groomers or a powder day. That’s why folks who live in mountain towns usually own a “quiver” of options. But you are probably not going to bring a quiver. My own skis are optimum for the hard to icy slopes of Vermont where I live, but last week when I was in Jackson Hole and it snowed three feet in three days, I wanted something much wider underfoot, like the Rossignol Soul 7, so I called Ski Butlers and had them come and swap the all mountain ski I was on day one (Experience 88) for the Soul 7s. Being able to change gear daily based on conditions at no extra charge is a worthwhile luxury that makes the trip better. Also, skis improve every season, so why drag your 4‑year old version when you can benefit from up to date technology? Even for many avid skiers, the gear you rent is better than the gear you own.
But for many vacation travelers, especially those with kids, the convenience of a ski delivery service versus traditional rentals is the biggest selling point. I have a friend who takes his family out West every year and always uses delivery, and he also used Ski Butlers on our Jackson trip. “I could fly all day, land, get to the hotel and then take the kids out to a crowded rental shop where I stand on line and fill out forms and wait for a staffer to become available while trying to corral my bored kids, or I could sit on the couch in my living room and drink a glass of wine while someone comes and fits their boots. I’m always going with option two.”
I used Ski Butlers twice this season, once in Park City, UT, and once in Jackson, and had great experiences both times. They gave me an hour long window – of my choosing – to show up at my hotel, but in both cases they were there in the first five minutes. I didn’t have to be around for the scheduled return pick-ups at all. In both cases I swapped skis during my trip due to changing conditions simply by calling mid-day and having them come to my hotel that evening. You can even switch form ski to snowboard gear – and back – at no extra cost. They have several levels of ski and snowboard packages with various styles (carving, all mountain, freeride) for all abilities, and even rent helmets, though I always bring my own boots, which are more important than skis, and suggest doing the same. But if you do decide to rent boots, as a matter of policy they bring multiple sizes for the initial fitting to make sure it works. There is typically a small premium for the convenience, but not always – I just priced out rentals of the top tier package at Deer Valley online and it was about $10 a day less to have Ski Butlers deliver and pick up than to go in person to the resort’s rental shop for the same Rossignol gear.
The company uses exclusively Rossignol equipment so that they can be consistent among their many locations, which can be a double edged sword. Rossignol is great stuff, a perennial industry leader, and this allows you to get the same thing you liked last time at the next resort you visit, but if you prefer another brand you are out of luck. Ski Butlers has locations at Aspen, Snowmass, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, Telluride, and Steamboat in Colorado: Jackson, WY; Whistler/Blackcomb, BC; North and South Lake Tahoe, CA/NV; and Park City, Deer Valley and Salt Lake City, UT. The company has been at it for a dozen years and has won numerous awards, mainly local customer service honors in the resorts they serve. There are also a few competing delivery services offering similar programs, some of which serve additional resorts, such as Black Tie Ski rentals, Skis on the Run, and at Vail Resorts’ mountains, Rentskis.com Gold. Even though I have not had to use it yet, one thing I especially like about Ski Butlers is that in every location they serve they have partnered with a company that can rent a full line of ski clothing, and deliver it at the same time. This is handy for someone jamming in a day or two of skiing during a conference or work trip, or when the airline sends your luggage on an unplanned Hawaiian vacation.