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Vacation rentals popular for family ski trips, but choose wisely


Rental homes are great options for families who take ski vacations -- as long as you know exactly what you're signing up for. Pictured: Rental property in Big Sky, Mont.

Ski season is here and many families are beginning to hit the slopes. Where to stay is always a big question and vacation rentals have become a popular option. Unfortunately, it can be too easy to pick the wrong one, making for a miserable ski trip.

"The most important factors in finding a ski rental are location and kitchens. Having a rental with close proximity to the ski area or easy transportation is critical,” says Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway. “Kitchens are important because when you ski all day, you get hungry. If you're the type of family that wants to be the first up the lift, you won't have time for a sit-down breakfast in a restaurant."

“I’m a fan of staying in a condo or house when my family takes a ski vacation. Since skiing requires a lot of gear, a standard hotel room may feel like even more of a squeeze than usual,” says Mara Gorman, editor of The Mother of All Trips, a family travel blog. “And there’s something really nice about hanging out in your long underwear after a long day spent wearing all those layers.”

If you’re gearing up for a slope-side getaway, here are some tips to help you choose the right rental:

Location, location, location
Everyone says they want ski-in/ski-out, but many resorts offer free shuttle buses that pick up right outside rental properties and drop off at the base area, making ski-in/ski-out less of a gating factor. Consider what you’ll be doing off the slopes too, like ice skating or enjoying the spa, before you commit to a rental.

Consider configuration
Beyond the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, look at how the rental is laid out. How many televisions are there and in which rooms? Is there enough space for the kids to spread out and play after a day of skiing? Where are the bedrooms in relation to each other? Bed configuration is important too. Bunk beds are great for kids, especially when vacationing with multiple families.

Decide on amenities
Think about amenities that are most desirable to you and your family. A washer and dryer is a good idea even if you’re only staying a couple of days. “Nothing is worse first thing in the morning than discovering that the inside of your ski mittens are wet,” said Gorman. If you want to cook meals, make sure the kitchen has appliances beyond a microwave and a refrigerator. Many vacation rentals also offer secure storage areas outside the rental unit for heavy, wet gear.

“If you choose a rental because of an amenity, make absolutely certain with the owner that the amenity functions properly. Get it in writing and don't be afraid to let them know that aspect is what made you choose them and you are counting on it working,” said Ben Nettleton, an avid skier who’s taken ski vacations to Lake Tahoe the last few years. “If they can’t guarantee, keep looking.”

Think about a full-service management company
If you want someone on the ground that can offer more than a door key, consider a property management company. They can often provide items in the rental that you aren’t able to bring, like strollers, bikes, children’s books and toys. Even better, many also provide free shuttle service, rental car discounts and alternative activities for bad weather days.

Connect with the concierge
If you choose a resort with a hotel that also rents condos or homes, ask about free concierge services. Contact the concierge before you arrive to get a lay of the land and help plan out your vacation. The concierge can map out your days, suggest the best spots for après-ski or massages and make dinner reservations.

Pay attention to testimonials
It’s nice to see only positive guest reviews, but be wary of potential scams. Connect with the owner or property manager to discuss the rental. If you discover problems that did not show up in the reviews, find out what was done to resolve the issues. It’s also wise to look for third-party endorsements, like membership in industry associations.

Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If I have problems or concerns during my stay, who can I call for assistance? Is there a separate line to call day or night for property-related emergencies? Is there a rental agreement? If there is, review the terms and conditions carefully.

Be alert to phishing scams
Get on the phone with the owner or property manager before you pay to confirm details of your payment and reservation. That ensures that you’ve been communicating with the right person and that their email has not been hijacked. Pay with a credit card or PayPal, both of which are traceable ways to protect yourself and your money. 

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