Seattle's Child

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ski bus

Putting your kids on the Seattle ski bus? Here’s what to know

This is a great tradition, but you need to go in prepared.

Seattle ski bus, 2022: Every winter, busloads of kids in the Seattle area participate in ski bus, a local Friday night tradition that lets middle school and high school kids downhill ski — a lot.

Ski bus dates for 2022 are: Jan. 28, Feb. 4, 11 and 25, March 4 and 11.  Arrangements can be made through local organizations listed on the Ski Mohan website.

But it’s expensive, and, if hyper and occasionally impulsive middle-school kids don’t know (or listen) to the rules, it can be downright dangerous. They are, after all, ascending up into the mountains at night.

Here’s a primer on how they can stay warm and happy and have a great experience — without too much parental worrying back home.

Ski bus: what to take

  • Make sure your kid has a fully charged phone with them. (It’s a good idea when skiing or snowboarding during the day too.)
  • Make sure he or she has a ski buddy, preferably one who also has a fully charged phone. No teen or tween should ski alone, especially at night.
  • Make sure he or she brings water. (My son made the mistake of not bringing any water or a fully charged phone on his first trip, and we got 10 p.m. texts from his ski buddy begging that we bring some cold water for our parched child.)
  • Keep the cell number and email address of the group coordinator handy. You’re going to want it, especially in bad weather here. It’s usually going to be much worse in the mountain passes.
  • Double-check that everyone in charge (the coordinator and the ski bus sponsor) has reliable cell numbers in their files so they can reach you (and other family members or friends of the family) as needed.
  • If your kid is a beginner, or even less than an expert skier or snowboarder, strongly consider buying a lesson package when you sign up. If your kid has never skied before at all, it’s really not optional. Beginners need a lesson to function on the slopes safely.
  • Label every last thing, even the poles and skis and helmet. You might want to consider labeling your kid. (I’m joking, but each ski trip is a jumble of equipment, and a jaw-dropping number of items are easily lost, what with the amount of equipment and the gaggle of occasionally absent-minded middle-schoolers. And this ski stuff ain’t cheap. You’ll want it back. (I recommend using blank printer labels, or plain old masking tape, and a black Sharpie.)

Ski Mohan, the primary ski bus vendor for Seattle public schools’ parent-organized ski bus programs, offers a scholarship fund, the Maria Jose Scholarship, to help with the exorbitant costs of skiing for kids who are interested in skiing but can’t afford the full price of the ski bus, lesson, lift and equipment costs.

Ski bus: gear and preparation

  • Whenever you can, borrow stuff from friends, or create a common pool of ski gloves, jackets, goggles, ski pants, ski socks, thermals, helmets and other layers. (Yes, this is a complicated undertaking, and there is a lot of gear needed.)
  • How to get skis or a snowboard: You can rent for a season at the mountain, REI or a neighborhood ski shop, or shop around to see if you can find some good used gear or equipment. CraigsList, Goodwill stores and your local Buy Nothing Project group can be good resources for used equipment or rentals, as can Wonderland Gear Exchange in Ballard, Seattle Ski and Snowboard in Shoreline, Alpine Hut in Interbay and Play It Again Sports in Lynnwood, Renton, Seattle and Woodinville. Remember: Get help. Kids’ boots are tricky to fit correctly, especially if you’re a novice yourself.
  • This is what your kid needs: Skis, poles and ski boots (or a snowboard and boots); a helmet and goggles; ski gloves; ski jacket; ski pants; a thermal shirt and T-shirt; thin athletic pants or thermal pants; ski socks; a hoodie or other warm layer; a bottle of water; a charged-up phone (if applicable); and snacks and a packed dinner — or money to purchase those. (Ski lodge food can be pretty expensive. Think umpteen-dollar cheeseburgers.) Note: Kids who get cold easily may need more layers than listed above.
  • Establish a system for making sure nothing is forgotten when your kid packs for the bus. I have learned that if I do not use a checklist as we pack, I go insane. Some free apps that will let you build a phone checklist are Evernote and Google Keep. (Pen and paper also work just fine. Old school!)
  • Skiers with glasses will want to wear contact lenses or find goggles designed for use with glasses, usually known as OTG (over-the-glasses). Light-colored lenses are recommended for everyone, particularly for nighttime skiing.
  • Don’t send your kid with a scarf, which becomes a safety hazard skiing. A neck warmer, which closely circles the neck, or gaiter will keep the neck warm — and won’t get your child stuck on a lift or elsewhere.
  • Bundle them up, but make sure the kid wears layers. It’s unlikely he or she will get too hot during night skiing, but if he or she does, you don’t want an overly sweaty kid turning to a frozen, chilly kid, either.


Ski bus (and skiing): the rules

  • Make sure your tween or teen understands not to ski close to trees. First, there’s the obvious reason that they might, say, slam into a tree. But then there’s the somewhat lesser-known risk that they will find themselves stuck in a tree well, which is a void covered in snow immediately around a tree. It appears to be solid ground, but it isn’t. Think fast-acting quicksand, but with snow. And, yes, people have fallen in and perished. Everyone needs to stay on the main trail.
  • Helmets must be on at all times on the slopes to help prevent or mitigate possible concussion and head and neck injuries.
  • Make sure your kid knows (and agrees) to only go on the trails that are open at night.
  • Make sure your kid knows to only bring things that would be allowed at school. No one needs random high jinks on the bus involving lighters or other contraband.
  • Make sure your kid understands that driving through the mountains is rough on a bus driver, and they need to be respectful and reasonable, not loud and disruptive.
  • Read together through the agreements that kids have to sign off on to have the privilege of riding the ski bus.

Ski bus: practical concerns

  • The ski buses return late. Make sure your kid is enough of a night owl to be bright and alert until 11 or 11:30 p.m.
  • Make plans to carpool with another ski bus family, and that you each have a car that can fit both ski equipment and the desired number of kids. (For instance, our car can only fit three kids with ski equipment, and that’s only if one is tall enough and old enough to legally sit in the front seat.)
  • How to dress your kid for school on ski days: It’s a good idea for kids to dress in a thermal, a T-shirt and a hoodie for school, along with athletic pants that will easily fit under ski pants and their ski socks. There won’t be much time to change.

Ski bus alternatives

Missed the ski bus? Got littler kids? Here are a few somewhat cheaper programs near Seattle that could help get you and your kids out in the snow:

The Summit at Snoqualmie offers new skiers age 13 and up a lesson package including instruction, equipment rental and a lift ticket.

At Stevens Pass, children under 7 get free lift tickets.


More outdoor fun in Seattle’s Child:

Best ski areas you can drive to from Seattle

Everything you need to know about sledding at Hyak Sno-Park



About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is managing editor of the Seattle's Child print magazine. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.