Powdery snow. Blue skies. The feel of the wind on your face. That one kid who is infinitely better than you despite being born years after you learned how to ski. Ahhh, ski vacations: there’s a reason an entire genre of bad 80’s movies were born from this one activity. I mean, I couldn’t tell you what the reason was, but I’m sure there is one. Something has to justify the existence of this god-awful movie, right??
These days, skiing and snowboarding are a luxury we don’t get to enjoy more than once or so a year, but living in the Bay Area meant taking regular trips to Lake Tahoe to split a cabin with friends for the weekend. We even figured out how to do it relatively affordably (here’s how) and picked up lots of tips along the way.
Although only one of us actually gets out on the mountain during our ski vacations (that would be Jeremy), it’s also critically important to pack the right clothing for lazing around in a cozy cabin and relaxing in the hot tub. Well, maybe not critically important, but you know.
From the ski vacation essentials that find their way into our suitcases year after year to the things you’ll never find us packing (like … an actual snowboard. Rentals exist for a reason!), here’s all the tips you need to pack for your next ski vacation, whether it’s your first or you’re a ski bunny regular!
Psst: Looking for inspiration for your next ski vacation? …. here are a few of our favorite ski destinations. You can also find all of our snow sports posts here!
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Ski Trip Packing List: Winter Sports Gear
The real star of a ski vacation is the
cabin hot tub snowy landscapes skiing and snowboarding. (Jeremy and I clearly have a difference of opinion here, but then again, he’s the sporty one, not me!)
After taking trips to play on mountains in multiple continents, Jeremy’s perfected his balance of few easy-to-pack winter sports essentials paired with renting the big, clunky gear that’s not worth lugging around with you (or paying baggage fees for). A few essentials in your luggage will save you money on rentals and make your day on the mountain a lot more comfortable and fun!
Here’s the ski and snowboarding (and snow-shoeing!) gear to pack for your trip:
- Winter Sports Gear: Bringing a few things that can easily be packed in your suitcase will save you cash on rentals! Jeremy recommends these goggles and these gloves for snowboarding. Jeremy also packs a helmet, but it does take up a lot of suitcase space and can be easily rented.
- Buff: Buffs are kind of like tiny, stretchy infinity scarves for outdoor activity. They’re stretchy loops of fabric that keep your neck warm and can be pulled up over your mouth, ears, and nose when the wind is bitingly cold! We both wear merino wool buffs.
- Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks – they won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out in the snow! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these. I recommend 2 layers of socks – any more and you’ll be doing more harm than good, any less and you’ll risk chilly feet. On very wet days when snow is melting into icy, miserable slush, we bring along a pair of waterproof socks just in case.
- Water-Resistant Pants: Depending on your level of snow experience, you may or may not already own a pair of heavy-duty lined snow pants. If you do, you can skip this section! If not, read on. Lia has yet to find a pair of snow pants that actually fit her hips and allows her to walk like a normal human being, so her workaround is layering a pair of her water-resistant hiking pants over her base layer or a pair of lined leggings. Jeremy also snowboards in his base layer leggings plus his hiking pants! It’s so nice to stay dry and not have to schlep around in heavy pants.
- Sweatband Headphones: These amazing bluetooth headphones are sewn into a sweatband and lie totally flat, so you can listen to music without uncomfortably squishing earbuds into your ears or letting cold air into your helmet (just don’t turn your music up too loud – for safety, you need to be able to hear the people around you). The fabric is soft and warm, so your ears will stay toasty even when you take your helmet off! You can pick up a pair on the SleepPhones website – use code PW10 for $10 off your first purchase – or from Amazon.
- Portable Charger: Keeping your phone charged is as much a safety issues as it is a social one. You don’t want to risk being lost in the mountain with a dead phone, so pack a portable charger to keep it juiced up.
- Lock for locker: You won’t want to drag all your belongings from your accommodation to the slopes but it is helpful to have them close to hand. Most slopes have lockers you can use so pack a lock to keep your items close when you hit the slopes.
- Hand Warmers: There is nothing worse than cold hands that you can’t warm up so pack hand warmers to defrost those fingers. These hand warmer packs can be put inside your gloves and stay warm for up to 18 hours avoiding hands getting cold in the first place. Or pack these rechargeable ones for a quick thaw.
- Travel Insurance: At this point in our lives, we never travel anywhere without travel insurance. We’re way too accident-prone to risk it! We’ve filed several claims with World Nomads, so at this point, our insurance policies have all paid for themselves. Not sure if that’s like, a good thing, or just a sign that we should probably lock ourselves indoors and barricade the room with pillows…
- Epic Ski Pass: Planning to visit a few ski resorts this year? Check out the Epic Ski Pass, which includes unlimited access to this resort & a ton of others all over the world!
Ski Packing List: Clothing Essentials
Ever heard that saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing?” In addition to keeping you warm as you explore, weatherproof clothing is especially important to include on your ski trip packing list!
The beauty of winter travel is that 99% of the time, all anyone is going to see is the very outer layer of your clothing. So as long as you’ve got clothes that can withstand being worn over and over again, you really don’t actually need to bring very many items.
- Packable Down Jacket: Your jacket is one of the most important things you’ll wear while snowboarding or skiing. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you shred the gnar for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Some folks purchase special jackets just for skiing, but we’re too stingy for that, so instead, we use a combination of jackets we can wear year-round. We recommend wearing a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket for warmth – I have this down jacket and Jeremy has this down jacket – and then cover our down jackets with a lightweight rain jacket (his & hers).
- Merino Wool Base Layer Shirt: We wear a merino wool base layer underneath our clothing on very cold trips – it stays warm when wet, it naturally regulates both heat and moisture, and it doesn’t get smelly even after a long day on the slopes. If it’s somewhere that doesn’t get super cold, we can usually get away with just wearing our base layer with a jacket over it. This is mine and this is Jeremy’s.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: these comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. Jeremy has this pair.
- Warm Winter Boots: We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are weatherproof and waterproof, and are comfortable enough to go snow-shoeing in. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them. They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather and insulated to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Oh, and they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around in the cold completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. We can’t recommend these boots enough, and they’re the only shoes we brought to Canada. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Gloves: Don’t play in the snow without gloves on! Jeremy and I both have these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves. Over those gloves we layer on a thicker pair that allows us to do things like throw snowballs at each other.
- Warm Flannel Shirt: Something about mountains just makes me want to wear flannel, and I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-downs from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF and super breathable. It’s also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me that annoying button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- 1-2 T-Shirts. These get layered underneath our other clothing as needed and worn to bed. My favorite t-shirts to wear in cold weather are either merino wool or made of hemp, both of which are naturally insulating and anti-bacterial.
- Lined Leggings: These are the perfect thing to wear for comfort and warmth! They’re also great for layering under water-resistant pants. I have two pairs of warm lined winter leggings, one lined with merino wool and one lined with fleece.
- Merino Wool Undies: You gotta keep those buns warm! I wear these undies (psst: buy a size up) and this travel-friendly bra, and Jeremy wears these.
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! Did I just rhyme? You want a hat that will stay on your head when it’s windy wind and keep your ears nice and warm – bonus points if it’s lined. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon.
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Ski Vacation Toiletry Essentials
Packing for a ski trip is like, 1% looking cute and 99% trying to prevent all of your skin from drying up and leaving your body. There’s a good chance your entire face will be covered up all weekend and your hair will be smushed into a helmet, so we try to keep this bit as lightweight as possible.
But there are a few worthy items that we bring – I’ve mastered the art of packing travel makeup and a few curly hair supplies that don’t take up much room! Here are the absolute essentials you’ll need to bring:
- Sunscreen: Sun glare is real! Don’t risk having white goggle marks and a sunburned face. Pack sunscreen and apply before heading out into the snow. We like this one for the face and for any exposed body parts use this.
- Chapstick: The air in winter is dry as a bone. You’d think like, snow might help, but no. Spend a few days adventuring in the winter and you’re gonna end up with chapped lips and thirsty, parched skin! I highly recommend carrying some good quality chapstick with you during your trip – and make sure it has SPF if you’ll be outside all day long!
- Moisturizer: I recommend using a heavy moisturizer on your face every night, plus something you can use for chapped skin elsewhere, like your elbows, feet, and hands. I’m obsessed with this Burt’s Bees salve; Jeremy and I slather it on ourselves religiously during the winter.
- Deep Conditioner: to help restore your poor helmet-smushed, dry AF, hot-tub chlorinated hair back to its usual self.
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Packing for the Snow: Snow Fun Essentials
Ski vacations aren’t all about skiing. There’s also cabin-ing, apres-ski (we’ve got a whole section on that coming up) and snowy fun that doesn’t require athleticism. I mean, you won’t necessarily want to hit the slopes every day of your trip – and you might have some travel companions who don’t want to hit the slopes at all!
Here are our favorite essentials to pack for the snow:
- Adorable Snow Tube: Listen, there is nothing funner (YES I SAID FUNNER) than careening down a snowy hill on a fire-breathing dragon or a rainbow unicorn. These inflatable snow tubes don’t take up much space, and are SO much fun!
- Games: There’s something about being a cabin that makes you want to play a board game instead of watch a movie – or is that just us?? Lots of games are suitcase friendly. Card game classics like Uno are always a hit, or we love Chrononauts which is like a time travel/Carmen Sandiego sort of card game. For something more involved which also references one of our favorite winter disaster stories, we highly recommend Donner Dinner Party. Especially if you happen to be in Lake Tahoe!
- Travel Snowshoes: If your non-skiing/snowboarding travel companions want to try a little hiking or snowshoeing, we like these travel-friendly crampons.
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The fun of a ski vacation isn’t just the time you spend on the slopes, there is also the cozy evenings in your cabin, spent by the fire draped in comfortable wooly clothing and snacking on delicious treats.
- Warm Lounge Pants: Our need for cozy, warm comfort in the cold extends to relaxing in a hotel lounge and even sleeping. So we each bring a cozy pair of warm sweatpants made from – you guessed it – merino wool!
- Cozy Slippers: After a day on the slopes with your feet in ski boots there is no better feeling than a soft cozy pair of slippers to slip your tired, cold toes into. These are soft and foldable for easy packing.
- Blanket Scarf: A versatile item to pack is an oversized blanket scarf, you can wear it while out in the snow and use it as a cozy blanket to snuggle up under at the end of the day!
- Swimsuit: Most ski resorts – and any cabin worth the price – will have a hot tub to soak in, so don’t forget to pack your swimsuit. I’ve got a guide to my favorite swimsuits for curvy girls to help you find a cute one. Pair it with a warm winter hat for maximum snowy cuteness!
- Travel Bathrobe: Removing your bulky outdoor clothing and draping yourself in something warm and cozy is a joy you can only truly experience in winter, so do it right and pack a soft, lighteright bathrobe. No, seriously – you will desperately want a bathrobe to make it from the hot tub back to your room.
- Soul warming snacks: Nothing says snowy day more than hot chocolate and marshmallows. These chocolate sticks can be stirred into hot milk for a delicious hot chocolate to drink cozied up in your cabin, or try these dark chocolate and peppermint stirrers. For something a little more decadent pack these chocolate bombs which melt away into your drink with tiny marshmallows inside. You also can’t forget the s’mores! This pack has everything you need for the perfect fireside dessert.
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How to Plan an Amazing Lake Tahoe Winter Trip (on a Budget)
Have you booked your next ski trip already? Let us know where you are going!
Psst: Looking for more winter travel inspiration? Winter is our favorite season!
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Our Top Travel Tips & Resources
- Booking Flights: To score flight deals, search on Google Flights or Kayak. Money-saving tips: fly mid-week or on the weekend; fly carry-on only on a budget airline; and take red-eyes or early morning flights.
- Accommodations: We usually stay in budget-friendly vacation rentals, boutique hotels or private rooms in hostels. We use Booking.com to book hotels (we love their flexible cancellation policy) and Hostelworld to book hostels (low deposit, easy change/cancellation, and excellent reviews). For vacation rentals, we prefer to book using VRBO because they’ve got lower fees and better support than Airbnb, and we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record. You can also book vacation rentals on Expedia and Hotels.com. We also use TrustedHousesitters as both hosts (for our home and our fur-child) and travelers!
- Travel Insurance: We always, always, ALWAYS buy travel insurance for international trips, and we STRONGLY suggest it – visit our Travel Insurance Guide to find out why. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing for international travel insurance. SafetyWing is one of the few policies that covers Covid-19, and they have excellent monthly policies that are perfect for Digital Nomads and long term travelers!
- Travel Credit Card: We book all of our trips on our favorite travel credit card. Not only do we earn cash back that we can spend on more travel, but the card offers fantastic travel perks like travel insurance, trip delay and cancellation coverage, lost baggage reimbursement, and rental car coverage, which helps protect us on our travels. Learn more here.
- Vaccines & Meds: We use the travel guides on the CDC website to research recommended medications and vaccines for international trips. We always recommend getting every vaccine recommended by the CDC! You can get them at your primary care doctor’s office or a walk-in pharmacy.
- Tours: We love booking guided tours, especially food tours and walking tours, to get a local’s perspective and a history lesson while sight-seeing! We book our tours using Viator and GetYourGuide.
- Transportation: We use Rome2Rio to figure out how to get from place to place, and book local transportation online using Bookaway wherever we can. When we book a rental car, we use Kayak to compare rental companies and find the best deal.
- Luggage Storage: Whenever we’re checking out early or taking advantage of a long layover, we use LuggageHero to safely store our luggage while we’re running around. Use the code PRACTICALW for 2 hours of free luggage storage on us.
- VPN Service: A VPN keeps your digital information (like website login details, bank info, etc) safe, even when you’re connected to an unsecured network while traveling. Plus, it lets you use Netflix & other streaming sites abroad! We use NordVPN. Use the code WANDERLUSTPROMO when you sign up!
- What to Pack: Here are the travel essentials that we bring on every trip. We also have packing lists for hot weather, cold weather, and many more. Take a look at all of our packing guides!