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The Seven Secrets of Flying to the Mountains

Clen5 Getting to the mountains by air is usually the toughest part of any ski trip. A 10 minute lift line? A half-mile of double black diamond moguls? No sweat, compared to a snowstorm at LaGuardia, a missed connection in Minneapolis or a mechanical delay in Houston. But the good news is that armed with a little knowledge and some planning, you can avoid many of the most common problems that air travel poses. Here are seven ways to improve your next flight to the mountains this winter. (Photo credit John Clendenin)

1. TAKE THE FIRST FLIGHT OF THE DAY

One of the last truisms left about the airlines is that the first flight of the day is the one least likely to be delayed. And you want to be on it. That's no doubt why early morning favorites like the 6:45 am Delta flight from JFK to Salt Lake City seem to be perpetually full. And if there are weather-related delays? Well, you've still got an entire day ahead of you to sort out the flying options. And the other benefit to being on the first flight of the day and getting up before the crack of dawn? The fact that it permits you to gate to the slopes earlier. That Delta flight gets in at 10:21, so grabbing you bags and a rental car and driving 45 minutes to click into your bindings at Alta by noon is a breeze.

Fsjackson3 2. MAKE IT A NON-STOP — OR AVOID O'HARE

Take one flight if possible. A single flight will minimize delays and eliminate the possibility of missed connections. But if you must make a connection, try and avoid connecting in airports where serious winter storm delays are not uncommon. O'Hare would be at the top of that list, and Minneapolis would rank just below it. Dallas, Houston and Salt Lake City are all better bets.

(Photo credit: Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole)

3. DON'T TAKE THE AIRLINE'S WORD ON CONNECTIONS

If you're purchasing a ticket with a connection, look closely at the connection time. Online travel agencies like Expedia and airline websites are programmed to sell you tickets with connecting times of as little as 30 minutes. But just because the computer thinks this is possible in theory doesn't mean that it's actually possible, given mechanical issues, weather delays and air traffic problems that are apparently not factored into the equation. Even if your first flight arrives on time, you'll have to sprint to make a gate change at vast airports such as Denver International or O'Hare. So do yourself a favor. Plan on an hour, or even 90 minutes for a connection. Better to cool your heels in an airport than scramble to get on a later flight with everyone else who missed theirs.

Villars2 4. FLY INTO THE CLOSEST AIRPORT

If you plan to ski Beaver Creek or Vail and it's more expensive to fly into Eagle-Vail than Denver, it still pays to crunch the numbers to see where the best value lies. Factor in the extra three hours or so of travel time by car, the cost of a longer shuttle ride, or the extra tanks of gas. Not to mention driving I-70 in winter, a sport that's not for the faint of heart.

5. … OR FLY TO A DISTANT AIRPORT

Sometimes it can be cheaper to fly to an alternative airport and drive. Skiers from Los Angeles often bag the pricey flight into Jackson Hole, which can also have serious weather issues, and choose Idaho Falls instead. Sure, it's 90 miles from Jackson, clear on the other side of the Tetons. But the cost can be a lot less, the weather a lot better.

6. CARRY ON ESSENTIAL SKI CLOTHES

Always carry your boots on board and then stuff your bag with essentials like underwear, ski pants, fleece, socks, and goggles. And wear your ski jacket. If the airline loses your checked luggage, you can still ski, borrowing or buying anything else you might need. While it can take days for a misplaced bag to reach you, airlines such as American, United and Delta will cover the cost of rental skis until your boards arrive.

7. SHIP YOUR SKIS

Ship your skis and boots using FedEx Ground or UPS Ground. Both take about four days to get a bag to your destination. And they’ll be awaiting you when you arrive.

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