Planning a vacation can be as simple or as difficult as a traveler wants to make it.
Unless it’s a ski vacation. No matter how you slice it, a ski trip means a little more organizing and schlepping than something like a quick trip to the lake.
But in this age of mobile and digital freedom, there’s an app for that — and by “that” we mean you can use your smartphone or tablet to plan or even book nearly everything you need for a ski trip.
Want to find out how much lift tickets will set you back? Download Liftopia. Want to track how many lifts you rode or just how many vertical feet you racked up? There’s SnoCru and EpicMix out there in the app store.
Hoping to pick up a few quick pointers on how, exactly, to best turn on skis or a snowboard? Skitips is one app that offers not just pointers but videos that demonstrate exactly the point being made about how to turn, or how to stop on skis.
The first level of Skitips is free — more advanced apps in the series carry a modest price tag. But even the free one includes the videos. The experts shown in the videos tell people they could even use them to learn how to ski, although not everyone would agree that’s the best way to do it.
Dan Sherman, marketing director at Ski.com and a veteran skier, said no matter how good an app may be, he would recommend that novice skiers turn to a professional for a lesson.
“If you learn the right way from the start, that’s the way to make sure you enjoy it in the future,” Sherman said.
Resort shopping via a phone
Plenty of people decide on a ski trip with a mountain already in mind — maybe friends recommended it, or an uncle owns a condo, or it’s a long-planned getaway with someone who knows about skiing making the plans.
But one of the most comprehensive resources for figuring out what resort is best for you doesn’t have — or need — an app. Because ski.com works on any device, all the time.
The company redesigned its entire site in September so it automatically resizes to keep all of its depth (and see for yourself, this is a very deep site) and fit itself to your laptop, iPad, iPhone or Android.
From anywhere on it, you are one click away from being able to talk to one of its 65 vacation specialists via a chat or call button after you’ve delved into what the nightlife is like in Park City, or the best places to eat at Keystone, or what non-skiing activities are available at more than 100 resorts.
“If they want to go through and book everything on the site, they can,” Sherman said, adding that most of the reservations still are made over the phone. The people who work at ski.com, he said, average about 15 years at ski.com and have spent 25 years working in the ski industry. “They can tell you down to the details like which condo has a better fireplace at this resort or that one. They have been there.”
(For what it’s worth: I tested the chat button on a Sunday afternoon from my iPhone 5. It worked like a charm. Same for the call button.)
But ski trips require more than just a resort — and your smartphone can also be a tool for figuring out where to break for lunch, how to get from one lift to another and more.
For example, Copper Mountain Resort in Summit County, Colo., is unveiling its new app for this ski season. Called Sherpa, it will tell skiers and riders which trails are groomed, where different trail intersections will lead — and it can even call ski patrol with one touch.
Or there are apps for entire states, like Ski Utah — also free. It will give updated snow reports, let you know road conditions and give you webcam view from the 14 resorts in the group.
And there’s the one I am most familiar with — EpicMix.
It’s a creation of Vail Resorts, which includes Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Vail in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in California; the Canyons in Utah; Mount Brighton in Michigan and Afton Alps in Minnesota.
My season ski pass is through Vail Resorts, and I downloaded the free EpicMix app three seasons ago.
What’s so great about it? It will tell you which lifts you rode, and how many times. It measures your vertical feet, provides you with trail maps, lets you race against other skiers, compare your stats to family and friends, and offers one-stop shopping for your on-mountain photos.
Not that long ago, if you wanted a photograph of your group on the mountain — and it’s hard to beat that scenery — it meant posing for a photo, getting a little slip of paper with a code or number and trudging into the village to look at computer images of your proofs.
With apps like EpicMix, you can see all your photos on your smartphone or iPad and decide whether you want to shell out to pay for them and get your own prints.
And trying to keep track of the trails you skied or rode? Not even 10 years ago, that meant studying a trail map at day’s end and trying to remember whether you skied all the blues on this mountain, or the greens on that one.
Many of the resort apps also award digital pins, or badges, for achieving different things. Ride the same lift five times in a row? You get Deja Vu. Get in a few runs on Christmas day? Hello, Snow Elf. And I skied on Groundhog Day — earning myself the Punxsutawney pin.
There are dozens and dozens available, too, including pins for racking up 50 ski days in a season, or surpassing a million vertical feet. (Um, doubtful in my immediate future.)
No app for that, yet
Unfortunately, one of the drags of a ski trip for the skier or rider who rents his or her gear, instead of owning, is doing the paperwork at the rental place, then getting fitted for the gear you need.
When our kids were young, this was often a trip to the rental shop at the end of a long day in the car, when everyone was tired, hungry and trying to adjust from the flatlands to the thinner air of the mountains.
Wouldn’t it be great to do all that on your phone ahead of time, and walk right into the shop with all your stuff ready? Sure it would — but so far, there doesn’t seem to be an app for that. (Although you can do it online at a few places.)
Just give it time, though. I’m sure it’s coming.
Ski apps available for iPhones and Androids:
Ski Utah: free
SkiTips: free to $4.99
iPhone Gear Guide: free
Ski Tracks GPS tracking: 99 cents
Ski and Snow Report: free
Distributed by MCT Information Services