My Top Five Tips for Taking a Ski Road Trip with Baby on Board
Deciding to have a family feels a lot like making a choice between freedom and stability, giving up spontaneity and “settling down.” But bringing a tiny human into your life doesn’t necessarily mean that the days of hopping in the car to chase a storm are over—far from it. After a winter spent covering the entire western North America, traveling to 23 ski areas over 45 days on three separate road trips with an 8-10 month old, I can definitively say that it can be done, and can in fact be some of the best ski road trips you’ll ever take. Here are a few guidelines that we learned along the way, through much trial and error, that helped make our trip.
1. Call the whole village. They say that it takes a village, and this is the time to use that village—either bring the village with you or travel to there. My parents came along for most of the trip with us, but there are many different ways to make it happen. This can mean asking family (parents, siblings or in-laws, or perhaps your 18 year old second cousin) if they want to take a ski road trip and watch your kids part time in exchange for free half-day tickets and places to stay. Or maybe some friends who also have kids want to caravan with you and trade off kid/lodge time. The other option is to choose a destination where you have some friends or family. You don’t even have to ask them to watch the kids—instead maybe they can recommend a good babysitter to hang in the lodge for you, or at the very least you will each have someone to ski with when swapping lodge-duty. It makes all the difference—and they may even offer up a free place to stay.
The other route would be to plan a trip around the childcare available. Certain places have fairly affordable daycare (Fernie, BC, and Mission Ridge, WA, are a few that come to mind), which would be another really awesome option (be sure to check first about age requirements and such).
2. Adjust expectations. This applies to everything: how many miles you can cover in a day’s drive, how many stops you will make on any drive (the baby pooped again? Where is it all coming from?!), how much sleep you will get, how many hours of skiing you’ll get. That way, if you figure that the driving will take three times as long, the sleep will be half as much and the skiing will be half as much, then you can feel victorious if you even come even close to those amounts. Do, however, expect your morning coffees and your apres-ski beers to taste twice as good, so there’s that.
3. Bring all the gear. I am not talking about ski gear—adults will each get one pair of skis and one pair of long underwear and they will like it (there won’t be time to change clothes anyways so there’s no need to bring any). I’m talking about gear for the baby, to generally keep them warm and sleeping and entertained and transported. You’ll need books, toys, animals, snacks, utensils, and sippy cups. You’ll want some sort of portable crib or pack’n’play—once this becomes a familiar sleeping space, you are well on your way to happy travels. We found it helped to bring blankets or stuffed animals to help any place smell and feel like home (if they are old enough to sleep with these things)—even putting your worn shirt in there can help. Since you only brought that one it will smell extra strongly of you, and maybe also a little like a goat pen, but babies are usually polite about that sort of thing.
And for the next (borderline psycho) level of baby-sleeping preparedness: some people travel with black plastic garbage bags and tape to darken any room. I’ve been known to rearrange furniture and drape blankets over inadequate curtains to help darken the space, and I use towels or blankets or clothing to cover any lights from electronics as well. Yes, my husband thinks I’m crazy, and yes, he could sleep through a herd of stampeding buffalo in broad daylight. I, on the other hand, will do most anything to try to get the baby and myself a few extra Z’s.
Other necessary items we used included a plastic sled ($20 from a gas station, indispensable for dragging the kid and the gear), a kid backpack ($5 at a garage sale, perfect for walking or snowshoeing or perhaps an uphill resort tour), and a frontpack if your baby and you are into that sort of thing. A stroller would have been great at times, too, but then we would have needed to rent a uhaul.
Depending on your baby’s feeding needs, you may need the milk pump (the $20 Medela hand pump works great in the car, in the trees, or possibly on the lift, let me know if you pull that off) and you’ll want a cooler for everyone’s food and milk.
Maybe just go ahead and rent the uhaul.
4. Use timing to your advantage, and be flexible. Have a super early riser? That’s perfect for getting moving early and getting first tracks. Then you can take turns napping and driving when the baby has their afternoon nap. Make sure to get gas and food before hitting the road before the baby falls asleep, because nothing ruins a nap faster than an engine-off stop. You’re probably going to want to roll any stop signs, too, to keep them asleep.
I stressed so much at first about not being on our regular nap/sleep “schedule,” but once I relaxed a little about it, I was better at paying attention to the baby and figuring out ways to adapt, and I discovered that she was quite adaptable too if I gave her the chance.
If you have the energy for it, put that kid in pajamas and a fresh diaper after dinner, and you can cover a lot of miles while they are sleeping. Our first kid never transferred well (she would always wake up when removing her from the car seat) but the extra driving miles were always worth the second bedtime.
5. Ease in, and don’t give up. For your first destination, it’s not necessary to do the entire Powder Highway (more power to you if you do!). Just choose a place a few hours away, set aside two nights, and make it happen. The more you practice, the better you will hone your skills, and before you know it you’ll have quit your jobs and become permanent van lifers.
And if you figure out a trick for keeping a small child sleeping in their car seat when the car stops at a light or in traffic, please do let me know. I’ll watch your kids in the lodge for a few hours on a powder day.