Ever been to a really crowded ski resort? If so, you’ve likely been that angst-ridden skier or snowboarder at the back of a slow-moving lift line wondering if this is really worth it. We feel you. Resorts can get crazy, with crammed parking lots, long lift lines, and a mountain so crowded you can hardly get in a turn. But don’t despair. We’ve got a few hacks up our sleeves to help you navigate the ski resort and make sure you get the most out of your lift ticket.
1. Get there early and park in the back.
The best way to get fresh tracks and beat the crowds is to show up early. You can save even more time by hacking the parking lot. Though human instinct is to find a spot closest to the entrance, do yourself a favor and stop circling. Parking in the way back means the shuttle will come scoop you up, and you’ll be delivered to the ticket booth faster than the folks who snagged a closer spot and have to walk. You’ll feel wily as a fox when you beat them to the hill.
2. Bring a snow shovel.
If you arrive late, you might find parking options quite slim. Look for places where the snowplow has pushed some snow up where you could have otherwise parked. Then get to work with your shovel to create enough space to slide in your rig. The gang will be so impressed.
3. Choose a small resort.
Sure, you could go to the trendy resort with the gondola and three gourmet restaurants just like everyone else. But thinking outside the box can yield better snow and a more easygoing atmosphere. Look for smaller resorts, and you’ll find fewer people and shorter lines. Though the runs may be shorter and less challenging, the tradeoff is often untouched powder, and enough room to actually get in some turns.
4. Make for the backcountry.
There’s some debate about the name for backcountry skiing just outside the resort boundary. Some call it sidecountry, because you can use the resort’s chairlifts, then exit through approved gates to access it. Others insist that once you exit the ski resort’s boundary, it’s all backcountry. The area is not controlled, and many resorts require backcountry skiers to carry avalanche gear with them. If you’re prepared and experienced, it’s a great way to avoid the masses.
Pro-tip: Most skiers who access the backcountry through the resort will try to get as far out as they can. If you do the opposite, and stay close to the boundary, you’ll find fresher snow and better turns there.
5. Look for beginner areas.
Start with a little surveillance. If you spot group lessons heading up on a particular chairlift, follow that lift. Though beginner slopes aren’t quite as steep, you’ll likely find fresh powder up there, because beginners will avoid it. Any training areas, like where they’re running gates, are also pretty good bets.
6. Ski at night.
Good news for night owls. After daytime skiing closes, the crowds head home or into the lodge for a hot toddy, which makes evening a great time to show up. Night skiing ticket prices are lower, the lines are shorter, and the snow is freshly groomed. Even better, if it’s snowing, you and your fellow night skiers will get a fresh batch of powder all to yourselves.
7. Ski at lunch.
Around noon, the crowd will funnel into the lodge to grab their $14 bowl of chili. This is your moment. With a sandwich in your pocket, you can eat on the lift, and then you’ll get all the turns you want while the others are struggling with ski boots and bathroom lines inside. It’s a great feeling to save the cash, too.
8. Head up on a holiday.
The best time to hit up a ski resort is during a big game or any holiday. While everyone else is inside whooping at the TV or taking an ill-advised second helping of mashed potatoes, you’ll have the place—and the powder—practically to yourself.
9. Stick to the lower chairs.
If you focus on the lower chairlifts that don’t go all the way up the mountain, you’re likely to encounter fewer crowds. Even though the run will be shorter, you can actually get more time on the hill that way, and less encumbered turns. Even better, if you choose chairs close to the rope lines at either end of the resort, the snow will be fresher because everyone else gravitates to the middle. The slope won’t be as steep, but it’s a great way to find some powder pockets.
10. Ride the singles line.
When you ride up to the end of a big, long line, yell out “Single!” to see if there are any other singles up ahead without a partner to ride up with. Even if you’re skiing with a crew, breaking up into singles will get you on the hill faster.
11. Choose your lift side carefully.
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the hill, push around that huge crowd lining up at the cat track and filter in from the opposite line. Since it’s farther away, fewer people use that side. You’ll have to work harder to get there, but you’ll get up the hill faster.
12. Yell “Free nachos in the lodge!” and watch the line disappear.
Just kidding. That’s not a nice thing to do. Remember, all those people in your way at the lift line are outdoor-lovers just like you, and it’s a better experience all around if everyone maintains their good humor. On crowded days, patience and kindness go a long way.