When Delta recently announced that it was considering eliminating the free checked bag on flights to Europe for some economy passengers, a longstanding tradition of the major carriers, it was just the latest salvo in the anti-traveler baggage policies airlines have been foisting on their customers for the past several years.
But when it comes to ski and snowboard vacations, the high-cost of checked luggage, especially domestically, is not the only issue with bringing your own equipment.
There is no such thing as “traveling light” on a winter sports vacation, and at the very least you are already going to be packing a lot of clothes, for on and off the slopes. On top of that, all but the least serious skiers should be bringing their own boots, which are much more important hardware than skis for both comfort and performance. Every skier and snowboarder should be wearing a helmet, and while you can rent them, to me there is something a little gross about that - I’ll wear my own, thank you very much. All that means a big checked bag and big carry on, or maybe two checked bags, before you even get to the skis or board.
For most airlines, your second checked bag domestically (or Canada) will cost $70 roundtrip. That’s not a lot, but it goes way up for a third bag or if you are flying to Europe, the next biggest winter vacation destination. I took a quick look at the website of the largest carrier, American, which is representative of the industry, and the third bag at home will add $300 round trip, while the second bag to Europe adds $200 and a third a whopping $400.
On top of those exorbitant fees, skis and boards are the biggest, bulkiest things to move around, especially if you are traveling with your family and have several, and they are a pain to drag through airports, hard to fit in your car, harder to fit in taxis to the airport or rentals or when you arrive. You need specialized luggage just for these items, and unless you have brand new skis, your hardware is likely to be inferior to what you can rent, especially today when most destinations have a wide assortment of the latest and greatest top models from companies. Finally, your skis might not suit your destination, especially if you are going from east coast “packed powder,” often a euphemism for hard frozen granular, to dry Utah, Colorado or Wyoming powder, or soft corduroy groomers.
Even if you pony up the cash, there’s no guarantee your luggage will actually get there with you, as oversized items are often last off the plane, worrisome with tight connections. That’s why for totally hassle-free, stress-free ski vacations, especially with kids, the ultimate strategy is to carry on your all-important boots so they can’t get misplaced, leave the skis at home, and call a specialized delivery firm like Ski Butlers, the biggest. I’ve personally used Ski Butlers a few times and have always seen delighted, and the company serves just about every top North American resort in the west and has recently started expanding worldwide.
When you rent from Ski Butlers you can get state-of-the-art, well maintained skis for a wide variety of snow conditions and terrain preferences, for men, women and children of every ability. But what this delivery service adds is total convenience and flexibility: I’ve seen families straight off a long flight head down to the rental shop with tired grumpy kids and stand in long lines to fill out forms, all growing increasingly restless and irritated. Then, as often happens, you finally get to the front of the line to find they are out of the ski or size you wanted. I’d much rather fill out the details at home online, reserve a ski and know they will have it, and then sip a glass of wine in my condo or hotel room while a staffer brings everything in and fits me and everyone in my party. No leaving, no lines, no hassle. That’s why they call it a ski “vacation.”
I last used Ski Butlers in Jackson, booking online in advance and agreeing on an hour-long window at my hotel. On the back end, you don’t have to be there at all, you can leave the skis with the front desk. If you don’t like the gear or the weather changes during your trip, like a big powder dump, you call and they come back and swap out your skis for different models - at no cost. I usually just do skis and poles, but they will bring you boots (multiple pairs for the best fit), helmets, and even ski clothing if desired (or if your luggage goes astray).
Nothing in life is free, but surprisingly, Ski Butlers and similar services typically price out at about the same (sometimes less!) as slopeside rental shops at the top resorts, which are, admittedly, expensive to begin with.
For this winter, Ski Butlers just expanded into the Alps, at several top destinations including Val d'Isère, Tignes and La Plagne, bringing the total number of resorts they serve worldwide to 44, including all the biggies here in the states: Vail, Beaver Creek, Telluride, Aspen, Breckenridge, Keystone, Jackson, Whistler/Blackcomb, Park City, Deer Valley, Big Sky, Sun Valley, resorts around Lake Tahoe and more.
Ski Butlers has the most locations, but it is not the only such service, and there are two other major ski rental delivery companies, both of which I have used and been very happy with. Black Tie Ski Rentals serves 39 North American resorts, including Canada’s Banff, where it is especially useful as the resort infrastructure there is quite spread out, unlike the typical model where you can simply walk from your hotel to a ski shop. Vail Resorts, which owns the most popular resorts in the U.S. (Vail and Breckenridge), the largest and most popular resort in North America (Whistler/Blackcomb), my personal favorite, Beaver Creek, and several more, has its own ski rental service, Rentskis.com, which offers in-resort delivery to select resorts in Colorado, California and Park City, Utah.
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