From perfect, tree-lined pistes to incredible powder and lively après-ski, the USA and Canada have huge appeal for those who love to ski or snowboard. With ‘legendary’ resorts such as Jackson Hole and Whistler sitting alongside fantastic lesser known local ski areas, in the US, you are sure to find something for skiers of all ages, abilities and preferences.
From Aspen to Steamboat Springs, Colorado is a perfect destination for beginners, with beautiful wide open pistes, gentle terrain and fantastic ski schools. Meanwhile, for powder hounds, the vast expanse of terrain on offer across British Columbia’s “Powder Highway” is definitely not to be missed. Visit Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and you’ll soon find the true meaning of off-piste!
Skiing here may be worlds away from the fondue and gluwhein of the Alps, but it is no less enjoyable, with the added bonus that slopes are generally less crowded in the US than in Europe, and drag lifts are practically unheard of.
Finally, let’s not forget the stunning landscapes that the USA has to offer. Lake Louise, Lake Tahoe and Big Sky, Montana, to name but a few, offer up picture-perfect scenery to easily rival the likes of Austria and Switzerland.
The US system of tipping can, on first glance, be quite daunting for travellers heading across the pond. The key questions are of who to tip and how much? You don't want to offend by not realising that you're actually expected to tip in certain scenarios.
First off, while tipping is always voluntary, it is also often expected. As much as you may feel that you have have have to tip, it’s not a legal requirement, so if you really want to, you can refuse. However, this may not go down too well as while it's a voluntary act, it's pretty much expected in certain scenarios.
A general rule of thumb across most of the US is that you tip service staff such as waitresses and bartenders. Why? Because in industries where tipping is the norm, employers are actually allowed to pay their workers significantly less on the basis that their income will be supplemented by tips.
At a restaurant, the usual tipping amount is between 15 and 25% depending on how you enjoyed your meal. Loved it? Leave more. Distinctly average food/service? Leave less, or if you really hated it, refuse completely! In bars, generally around a dollar per drink is good tipping etiquette. Taxis, porters, hotel assistants, wouldn't say no to a couple of dollars.
Many people like to convert their travel spending funds into US dollars before heading off to the slopes. While cash is very handy to have, the risk is of it being stolen, so make sure your insurance policies would cover in case of theft. Many people prefer to use cards as they are more secure. If you are relying on your card though, make sure you are aware of the restrictions on your debit/credit card. Often, banks will charge significant transaction fees for using cards abroad, as well as for cash withdrawal. Furthermore, it's a good idea to bring more than one card, or some cash in addition, in case of theft. Prepaid currency cards are also a good option here. Just make sure you keep an eye on the exchange rates so you aren't hit with any unpleasant and unexpected surprises.
VISA / ESTA
The US has some pretty intense border control, so it is essential to make sure you are fully prepared and have all the relevant paperwork before leaving the UK. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has massively simplified travel to the US for most UK citizens, allowing you to enter the country for up to 90 days, so long as you have an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation).
Costing just $14, you can apply for an ESTA in minutes online. The ESTA is valid for two years from the approval date and you can apply up to 72 hours before you are due to travel. It's worth noting that Canada also offers a similar system called the eTA, so if you are heading to Canada rather than the US, you'll need to apply for one of these, which again takes only minutes.
However, if you are travelling to the USA on a non-electronic passport, you have a criminal record, are seeking work in the USA or have previously been denied entry into the USA, you will need a visa. Information on visas can be found at: https://uk.usembassy.gov/visas/tourism-visitor/overview/
With all the confusion around visas and ESTAs, other considerations can get left by the wayside, but it's important to remember that you need an e-passport in order to gain an ESTA, and you also need to ensure your passport is valid for 6 months after your return date, in order to enter the US. Otherwise all those ESTA applications will have been for nothing!
Travel within USA
So, now you've conquered the paperwork and made it out of the airport without a hitch. But how do you get to your preferred ski resort? The option most people take is to hire a car as this is one of the simplest and easiest ways to reach the ski resorts. Unlike many European resorts, most US ski resorts are easy to reach via main roads, so you don't have to worry about driving up those windy, snowy mountain passes!
While hire car companies in the US are happy to accept UK driving licenses, be aware that most companies do require the driver to be over 25 in order to rent a car, so it's important to check the terms and conditions before you book. Furthermore, each person driving is required to have a valid driving license and be registered with the hire company.
Hiring a car can also be fairly expensive, so if you're trying to ski stateside on a budget, it's definitely worth looking into shuttle or train services. If you are set on driving, make sure you are well versed on your existing insurance policies to make sure you are not convinced to purchase pricey, unnecessary insurance. Furthermore, sites such as kayak.com allow you to compare car hire rates in advance in order to find the best deal.
If you really want to save money, you can plan to get the train. Denver International Airport is within distance of many ski resorts, and the Amtrak Winter Park Express allows you to travel 2 hours by train from Denver Union Station directly to Winter Park resort. The Metro North Ski Train allows you to connect from New York City to Thunder Ridge (why not get a taste of the big apple before heading off to the slopes?!) while Amtrak's California Zephyr connects Sacramento to Truckee Station, where a free shuttle takes you on to Squaw Valley resort.
It is also possible to take internal flights to get you closer to your destination by air, though this may set you back a little. Resorts such as Jackson Hole, Aspen, Park City and Vail, to name but a few, have airports nearby offering connecting flights from larger international airports.
Don't be alarmed, but ski passes (or lift tickets as they are often referred to) are significantly more expensive in the USA than in Europe. The larger, more popular resorts will often charge around $7-800 for an adult 6-day pass, with the price in Vail topping $1000.
However, to enable you to get the most bang for your buck, resorts will often club together to offer discounted multi-resort ski passes. This is perfect for people who want a more lengthy ski trip and to experience more than one resort without feeling totally out of pocket. For example, Vail Resorts' Epic Pass enables you access to Beaver Creek, Vail, Breckenridge, Heavenly, Northstar and the awesome Park City, to name a few. Just be sure to do your research prior to travelling to make sure you are getting the best deal as many of these collective passes are intended for people spending more than just a week on the slopes.