Tailgate in style and comfort this ski season. Illustration by Jameson Simpson.

WITH RESORTS CUTTING BACK ON INDOOR OCCUPANCY this season, tucking into the lodge to warm up with a hot chocolate and slip off the ski boots for a few minutes may not be an option. Using your car instead takes some advance planning, but it can make for a cozy winter tailgating adventure.  

Be prepared.
Look for expanded drop-off zones at ski areas and arrive prepared for passengers to unload before the driver parks for the day. For crossing icy parking lots in ski boots, consider investing in boot sole protectors that add traction. Plus: Take advantage of other adjustments this year, like Taos Ski Valley’s no-contact guest storage baskets and outdoor benches alongside heaters that allow you to wear street shoes to the base lodge and switch out there. 

Pack a picnic. 
Ski area menus will boost grab-and-go options and outdoor seating, a familiar setup for skiers accustomed to spending sunny spring days lunching on the deck. But on cold, snowy days, or if a cafeteria just doesn’t fit in your covid comfort zone, consider packing a picnic for the car. Focus on food that won’t freeze, like trail mix over energy bars, or use a cooler and thermoses to keep soup, hot chocolate, and tea warm until lunchtime. “Anytime you’re putting cold food into your body, that’s going to cool you down,” says Todd Walton, executive director of Winter Wildlands Alliance. “That’s no good.”  

Consider packing a camp stove for reheating water or even making a hot meal, says Katie Oram, who leads winter expeditions for the National Outdoor Leadership School. Store water bottles where they won’t freeze, or even pack a thermos of hot water. 

Dress for success.
Big puffy coats and windproof layers should, at minimum, make it into the car in case the weather turns. A change of clothes for anything damp—socks, a helmet liner, even a base layer or midlayer—that might come off during a car-side lunch break doesn’t have to go back on wet and cold.  

Plan for the drive home, too: “At the end of any ski day, the first thing I do when I get back to my car is take off my boots and socks and then put on a pair of thick, warm socks and some boots that I can walk around in,” Walton says.

Take a seat.
A collapsible camp chair makes it easier to put on boots without sitting on inevitably muddy tailgates and trunks, says Adrienne Saia Isaac, who manages marketing  for the National Ski Areas Association. A blanket or sleeping bag can offer additional warmth while seated. Invest in hand and toe warmers this year. Warm, dry feet and fingers can prolong your day.  

“If your hands feel cold, try to be super proactive,” Oram advises. “Hands are pretty easy. The fastest way to warm them up is skin-to-skin contact, maybe on the back of your neck or your belly, then put them back in your gloves. Exercise helps a ton if my feet are cold—try to keep moving.”

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