Whether you’re flying to Salt Lake City and Utah’s bounty of ski areas or hopping the train from Seattle to powder in Whitefish, Montana, it’s not just possible to take your snow gear with you when you travel — it’s so easy I sometimes wonder why more people don’t do it.
If you’re used to tossing your gear in the old cargo box on top of your Subaru, hitching your snowboard or skis to a plane or a bus might not seem like an obvious — or advisable — decision. But I promise the learning curve is easy. I know because I’ve taken my cross-country skis on almost every form of transportation but the ferry (so far).
Here’s how to get out of your car, into the snow and onto your skis or snowboard, with minimal hiccups along the way.
Invest in the right gear
Once upon a time, I flew from Seattle to Connecticut with my cross-country skis and poles in a standard-issue ski bag. Mysteriously, it didn’t have a handle, so I had to hold it in my crossed arms like an extremely tall and skinny baby as I navigated two airports with the rest of my luggage. Don’t be like me. A wheeled, appropriately handle-equipped ski bag is a wise investment if you’re going to be dragging your snow accouterments through an airport, train station or other busy public space. Your fellow travelers will also appreciate the decreased likelihood of being whacked on the head by an out-of-control ski bag. Godspeed.
Flying? Check airline policies ahead of time
Some airlines — including Alaska, Delta and Southwest — will let you check a snowboard or a pair of skis and a boot bag as one item, but be careful: If your boots or snow accessories are packed in a bag that contains other items (like your sweet, sweet après-ski snuggie), you might be required to pay a standard checked-luggage fee. Skis and boards must also be packed appropriately in hard- or soft-shell cases. To avoid added fees, it’s a good idea to check ahead with your airline for any wonky size or weight restrictions, then pack accordingly.
On the train, skis travel for free
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking the train to the slopes in Whitefish — something that can, amazingly, be accomplished car-free from Seattle — you’ll be pleased to know it’s even easier than dealing with the airlines. Amtrak’s luggage policy allows “snow skis, snowboards, poles, boots and even water skis in the warmer months” on their trains, as long as the equipment adheres to luggage size and weight restrictions.
Your bags can’t weigh more than 50 pounds or exceed height limits (72 inches for carry-ons, 75 for checked luggage), and you can bring up to two carry-ons and two checked bags for free. For an additional fee, you can check even more bags if you need to — up to four. Skis and snowboards need to be enclosed in protective cases, and ski bags for use while in transport are available at most Amtrak locations that have on-site staff.
Don’t forget the bus
You might not think of taking your skis on a bus, but you can ride one all the way to Leavenworth from Seattle’s King Street Station, and I’ve even heard of some intrepid skiers taking nothing but mass transit from Seattle to the Methow Valley.
If you take BoltBus, you can bring two small carry-on items with you, plus one piece of baggage stowed under the coach. (If you’ve ever peeked into the undercarriage of a bicycle-crammed BoltBus from Portland to Seattle, it should come as no surprise that oversized items are permitted “as long as space is available in the baggage bin.”)
For a fee, Greyhound allows ski equipment to ride with oversized checked luggage, but bags’ total outer dimensions may not exceed 62 inches, and ski gear must be “packed in wood, canvas or other substantial container, and securely fastened.” Northwest Trailways, which operates Amtrak thruway buses throughout Washington, has similar size and weight restrictions.
Bus luggage compartments can be crowded, so it’s a good idea to use an extra-sturdy case and load your gear with care. If you’re prone to forgetting things, it’s also a good idea to include a luggage tag clearly marked with your name and contact information — Bolt returns left-behind items for free, as long as they’re labeled, and it’s not a bad idea on the other bus lines, either.