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Flying with skis
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Updated 3 months ago
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3 months ago

Hello DCSki!

I’m headed out to Tahoe via Southwest Airlines over the holidays, and it’ll be my first time flying with skis. I’ll be using a Thule RoundTrip Ski Bag (https://www.thule.com/en-us/us/luggage/ski-boot-snowboard-bags/thule-roundtrip-ski-bag-192cm-_-225116). What precautions should I take to ensure that my skis arrive intact?

3 months ago

To keep your skis from scissoring and scratching bases secure your skis with ski straps/ties like these: 

https://express.google.com/u/0/product/1234783 6173994339260_11069058494953585029_1456933?utm_source=google_shopping&utm_medium=tu_cu&utm_content=eid-lsjeuxoeqt&gtim=CJXb347t_7Lb0gEQ5fez19C04O6HARjww_MBIgNVU0QooLX24AUwpfZY&utm_campaign=1456933&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIqd-M4fad3wIVBWSGCh2j7g1NEAQYASABEgIU9_D_BwE

If the bag doesn’t have padding around the bindings consider wrapping with some clean rags. This will more protect your bag from damage from the binding. Use the rags to dry your skis before you stow them at day’s end. Make sure your skis are secured tight in the bag, no movement. I’m not sure if any of these really help (except the straps) but they give me peace of mind.

Denis - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

Cloth straps with Velcro will still allow the skis to scissor with rough handling.  You need Voile straps.

JimK - DCSki Columnist
3 months ago

That bag should be fine just as it is.  I’ve successfully used much thinner.  Taking just one pair?  I would wrap them with a strap or rubber band so they don’t separate, same with poles.  Some people put a few of their clothing items (socks, t-shirts, etc.) in a bag like that for a little extra padding around the skis, but not mandatory.  Have fun.  Which ski resort?

3 months ago

I use bubble wraps +/- clothes or towels to wrap around the bindings.  

My friend once told me, if you are flying into destination resorts, usually those airports know how to handle your ski bags w/ care.  I travel w/ my own skis when I go out west, I haven’t had any issues.   

One caveat:  Depends on airport, your ski bag may come out a special conveyor belt because ski bags are long and they can cause damage to the regular conveyor belts.  When I arrive, I usually ask airport staff whether or not ski bag comes out a special conveyor belt.  Some airports have a sign.  

1st time I traveled with my skis, I did not know about this. I waited at a baggage claim for a long time, thought airline lost my bag. 

3 months ago

Thanks for the advice, everyone!

JimK wrote:

Which ski resort?

I’ve done Northstar for the past few years (with rentals), but I’m switching it up this year and heading to Mt. Rose.

3 months ago

I’ve flown with padded bags with wheels and unpadded bagswith just a shoulder strap.  For a single pair/everyone carried their own damn stuff, I prefer the small, light, shoulder-carry bag, which I sling across to stably carry it and boot backpack.  I wrap a beach towel around the skis and strap the tips together- like LHC said this protects the (thin) bag more than the skis and an extra towel is always handy, in general.  I might use the empty space as “flex” space for some clothes in case my other bag(s) get too full- but beware- the counter agents know the rules, and may selectively enforce them.  As in ”ski+boot bags=1 bag, 50lb max combined” is supposed to be ONLY skis, poles, and boots (maybe helmets/goggles too?).  NOT crammed full of other items.  Catch an agent on  bad day and they may make you repack on-the-spot.  Been there, done that. Also, some bags can be a little heavy- add in 2 pairs of skis & boots and the combo can approach the 50lb limit pretty easily.

3 months ago

OrangePeels, I agree with all the above. They are seasoned travelers. I was packing a few years ago for my 1st trip out west and was stewing over how to pad the edges of my skis. My wife who doesn’t ski came up with the idea of taking pool noodles, slicing them long wise and slipping them over the edges. Great way to give them extra padding while hardly adding any weight. Have fun!

3 months ago

As stated above, fully use the ski bag + boot bag = 1 if it works for you. Half the time I’d just as rather carry on my boots, but sometimes I need that baggage space. Having made a trip already this season, I re-checked the United guidelines and it seemed they just stated the 50 lb max between both. Saw no language, as before, about ‘nothing else but skis and boots’. So perhaps some are easing up? I’ve seen where a scrambled re-packaging at the counter (not me) does nothing but tie up that station for several minutes. So perhaps if just to avoid that scene and bottleneck.

Still, if ever I feel I’m pushing it - perhaps more weight wise -> go to a Sky Cap. They don’t seem to ever weigh. Works every time and further worth the tip. ..and at least at Dulles in recent years, now able to process the boot + ski bag. Was a time it seemed at our local airports (as opposed to ski destinations), they couldn’t process that setup and you had to go to the counter. Safe travels.

3 months ago

I’ve flown with everything from a cheap bag from Walmart to a Ski Tube, all without issues.

With a thin bag I’d echo what everyone else said, pack some clothes around the skis to protect them.  If you’re on the left side of the plane (from the front looking back) you can see them load the skis into the cargo area.  They just toss them on top of the other bags.  I’ve never seen any crazy handling, but they also don’t treat them like they’re crystal sculptures either.

On the way home I stick dirty clothes in with the skis.

You didn’t mention this, but carry on your boots. I’ve never lost my skis, but if they were lost I’d still have my boots.  It’s easier to demo nice skis and still have a fun week vs renting boots too. 

I have a boot backpack that I use.  It’s my only pack. It has an area for clothes on top of the boots, so I have a single bag in the storage area.

I’ve also flown with a carry-on and carried on my boots as my under the chair item.  I just stuffed the boots under the seat in front of me.

I’ve heard stories of people being denied the extra carry-on so they toss on their boots and board the plane in ski boots as their shoes. It works.

3 months ago

The carry-on thing gets a little tricky on small planes to some of the destinations- Bozeman, Telluride, etc.  The 2nd carry-on may be denied to physically bring on because of bin sizes but then they are supposed to do a gatecheck that does not count against the baggage limit.

Re: United- Unfortunately the verbiage is still  there- they can charge you if there’s other than “appropriate ski equipment” in there.  That’s vague; you would likely be to able to argue jackets, skipants, helmets, avy gear,… but not so much toiletries & street clothes? Even if the combined weight is <50lb they can charge you the overweight penalty if they catch it.  Key word being if.

https://www.united.com/web/en-us/content/travel/baggage/sports.aspx?POS=US

United accepts one item of ski or snowboard equipment per customer as checked baggage. Equipment must be securely encased in a suitable container. An item of ski equipment consists of:

  • Water skis
  • Up to two snowboards in one bag and one snow boot bag
  • Up to two pairs of snow skis and associated equipment in one bag and one ski boot bag
    • If the combined weight of the ski bag and boot bag is over 50 pounds (23 kg), applicable overweight charges apply.
    • A boot bag without an accompanied ski bag is considered one bag and normal baggage fees apply.

First or second checked bag service charges may apply.

Ski equipment in addition to the baggage allowance will be assessed at the current excess baggage charge for a single piece, whether or not it is presented as a single piece.

Ski and boot bags weighing more than 50 pounds (23 kg) or that contain other items in addition to appropriate ski equipment will be subject to the applicable overweight checked baggage service charge. Ski and boot bags that do not contain ski-related items will be subject to any applicable oversize and overweight checked baggage service charges.

3 months ago

For everyone suggesting that I pad with clothing, etc: Southwest’s guidelines are:

Snow ski equipment, including skis or snowboards, ski boots, and ski poles: including one pair of skis or one snowboard, one set of poles, and one pair of ski/snowboard boots encased in a container(s) acceptable to Carrier. When substituting ski equipment for a free bag, Southwest Airlines allows up to two bags (containing one set of snow skis, ski poles, and ski boots) to count as one item, even if they are packed and tagged separately.

Since it’s pretty specific with what’s allowed, I’m a little leery about adding more things in. Anyone have any experience with packing a few extras with your equipment while flying Southwest specifically?

3 months ago

Back in the day, I used a Ski Tote to keep them together and put them in a cloth bag.  That worked well … until the airline ran over them with a luggage train and broke them.  Just in case you the worst happens, I’d have a receipt accessible to show what they cost.  The airline tried to screw me and give me depreciated value based on what they thought they were worth, which of course, was a fraction of what they were worth.  If you have top end stuff, you may want to check on insurance.

I’d be less concerned about the baggage handlers at the airport near the resort and more concerned with the ones at your origin.

JimK - DCSki Columnist
3 months ago

I doubt they will hassle you about a little padding/clothing in the bag with your skis.  In recent years I’ve taken two pair of skis in one bag, or one pair skis and one pair snowshoes in one bag.  Just have to keep under total weight allowance (50lbs?).  Since you’re new at this don’t stretch the envelope, err… ski bag, too much, but you should be fine with light padding.

3 months ago

OrangePeels wrote:

Since it’s pretty specific with what’s allowed, I’m a little leery about adding more things in. Anyone have any experience with packing a few extras with your equipment while flying Southwest specifically?

Last year I flew IAD -> DEN on Southwest with my soft sided ski bag. Inside I had one pair of 188cm skis, ski boots, helmet, two pair gloves, base-layers, fleece mid-layers, ski pants, ski jacket, ski socks, and a down parka. Oh, and some clothing from the wife. Total weight was 51lb and the guy said “a little over-weight but don’t worry about it.”

3 months ago

My family of 4 flew Southwest out of Pittsburgh to Salt Lake last year and I put 4 pairs of skis into 2 double ski bags and had no issues. I’ve also traveled with family members packing skis in their own single ski bags and I took 2 pair in a double bag for me and had no issues. The problem with packing extra clothing in your ski bag is the possibility your edges or bindings damage your clothes. I did that once and found small holes in my clothes from binding parts poking through due to tight packing in the cargo hold of the plane. Ground crews are not gentle with ski equipment and cargo bays are packed to capacity. 

3 months ago

Use heavy rubber bands, or something similar, to hold brakes up.  Wrap full length of each ski in a thin blanket.  Strap skis together. I liked to wrap an extra layer (hand-towel) around the bindings.

3 months ago

I’ve packed all sorts of crazy stuff with skis: backpacks, clothes, toiletries, booze, food, towels, base layers, jeans, souvenirs (beer glasses etc).  Mostly on Southwest, but also on American, JetBlue. I’ve never had an issue.

In Pittsburgh and SLC the process that I’ve experienced is this:

1) You check in at the airline. They don’t open it, just weigh it.

2) You take the skis to some TSA bulk item area. The agent unzips the bag, or opens the ski tube and swabs it for a bomb.

The TSA agents are usually swamped with a pile of skis and guns. I don’t think they know or care what airline it is or what the bag guidelines are.

My ski tube has a little bag for stuffing additional items in the tube.  The advice on watching edges is key, I’ve had issues in the past. I put items to accompany skis in a bag, or a fabric grocery bag to contain them.

I wouldn’t overthink things. Note if you use a tube you get full insurance from the airline for damage, soft sided you’re on your own. I haven’t had issues with either, but the tube is nice with the wheels for long walks to the rental car or through the airport.

3 months ago

One item not mentioned here at all….

If you go straight from the slopes to the airport your skis will be wet and covered with snow.  When you get home you need to take them out ASAP otherwise you can get rust on the edges.

It isn’t a big deal while in the air because your skis are going to be -40 degrees in the hold, but during the transit to and from and to home they’ll warm up.  I’ve had this happen in the past.

I try to wipe things down as well as possible before I load them in.

3 months ago

As a “seasoned” Euro-Skier…I quit going. Morzine, Kitzbul, Cortina, Tois Vallee, Corcheval, (ignor sp)  etc. etc. I gave up! I used to pack the pants, clothes, etc in the double-ski bag with the skis. Now they forbid anything butt the skis! I just won’t deal with flying any more!

3 months ago

I’ve got a thick padded ski bag, I use two sets of straps on the skis to keep them securely together to prevent scissoring. It also keeps the edges together so they don’t rub on anything or get nicked. Always dry the skis as best you can, otherwise the edges will rust as stated. Rust happens quicker than you think. The ski bag is a double, only has skis, poles and a towel in it. It has straps to tie the skis to the bag and I put another strap around both sets to keep them from damaging themselves. I’ve never had damaged skis but have fought the rust. In my experiences the rust is a bigger problem than mishandling. My boot bags are the old style that are not in the shape of a boot. They carry boots, bib, couple pairs of gloves, couple pairs of goggles, stuff to keep my head warm, neck wraps, balaclavas, powder straps, ava gear, couple pairs of ski socks, and a few other things but all ski related. Never had a problem and it frees up space in my regular luggage. Airports that are big ski destinations do have a separate carousel for the ski bags. I’ve only used American and United when skiing, nothing special about them just seems to be the best prices for the time of year and destination, but as I understand it all airlines do the same thing, a ski bag and a boot bag count as one. 

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

OrangePeels wrote:

For everyone suggesting that I pad with clothing, etc: Southwest’s guidelines are:

Snow ski equipment, including skis or snowboards, ski boots, and ski poles: including one pair of skis or one snowboard, one set of poles, and one pair of ski/snowboard boots encased in a container(s) acceptable to Carrier. When substituting ski equipment for a free bag, Southwest Airlines allows up to two bags (containing one set of snow skis, ski poles, and ski boots) to count as one item, even if they are packed and tagged separately.

Since it’s pretty specific with what’s allowed, I’m a little leery about adding more things in. Anyone have any experience with packing a few extras with your equipment while flying Southwest specifically?

I’ve been flying Southwest for ski trips since 2008, lately more than once per season.  Have a hard case but have also flown with a soft ski bag.  I don’t add too much but always have a few things in with the skis and poles.  With the hard case, usually put my snow boots, extra gloves (in a bag), small backpack … bulky things that aren’t that heavy.  Since TSA almost always opens the hard case, I try to keep it simple to avoid losing something that might fall out.

Have wrapped bindings in a soft ski bag in an old towel (tied with string sometimes).

Keeping the weight below 50 lbs is the important thing.

I carry my boots on board.  Have a rolling suitcase-style boot bag.  Also have enough ski wear to get by if my checked luggage is delayed.

3 months ago

BE AWARE: One thing to watch for when using a locked plastic Ski Tube:  Not only do I lock my ski tube, but I also tie a short piece of small diameter rope through the locking holes/slide on the ski tube.  A couple of times I have had TSA unlock my ski tube and when relocking they do not put the lock through both the male/female locking slides, in effect leaving the tube unlocked and vulnerable to a contents dump.  I tie the rope through the lock holes in both the male/female locking area.  The TSA usually takes more time feeding the back -up rope through correctly, thus assuring the two locking halves of the ski tube will not come apart, possible spilling the contents.  The TSA inspectors can put the lock through the hole in the female part of the tube locking slots, but not putting the lock through the corresponding hole in the male locking slide…the tube will appear locked, but it is not locked and the two pieces can easily unlock from each other!

3 months ago

BE AWARE: One thing to watch for when using a locked plastic Ski Tube:  Not only do I lock my ski tube, but I also tie a short piece of small diameter rope through the locking holes/slide on the ski tube.  A couple of times I have had TSA unlock my ski tube and when relocking they do not put the lock through both the male/female locking slides, in effect leaving the tube unlocked and vulnerable to a contents dump.  I tie the rope through the lock holes in both the male/female locking area.  The TSA usually takes more time feeding the back -up rope through correctly, thus assuring the two locking halves of the ski tube will not come apart, possible spilling the contents.  The TSA inspectors can put the lock through the hole in the female part of the tube locking slots, but not putting the lock through the corresponding hole in the male locking slide…the tube will appear locked, but it is not locked and the two pieces can easily unlock from each other!

3 months ago

My personal opinion is that people tend to  overthink this kind of thing.  

Skis and quality bindings are extremely tough and durable.  They are also meant to be used, not displayed.  Even with just a lightweight bag over them, your skis will take no more abuse by baggage handlers than they will on the slopes, getting banged around loading into gondolas, tourist knocking them over while you’re eating lunch, etc.  

I’ve been skiing my whole life, and the only functional damage I’ve ever had to skis has happened as a result of using them (hitting rocks, breaking a ski by landing a jump wrong, etc).  Sure, traveling with them might have caused a small amount of cosmetic damage, but that’s minor.

I have both single and double ski boot bags, and generally throw in a few softgood items that aren’t expensive (ie. no shells, but stuff like fleeces or underlayers) both to pad the skis and open up room in my other bags.  I’ve never had a problem on any airline, including southwest numerous times.

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

Reisen wrote:

My personal opinion is that people tend to  overthink this kind of thing.  

Skis and quality bindings are extremely tough and durable.  They are also meant to be used, not displayed.  Even with just a lightweight bag over them, your skis will take no more abuse by baggage handlers than they will on the slopes, getting banged around loading into gondolas, tourist knocking them over while you’re eating lunch, etc.  

When I fly with a soft ski bag, I wrap the skis as much to protect the clothing I add to the bag as to protect the skis.

I don’t worry too much with flying with a soft bag, but I have read about skis being damaged beyond repair or having major cuts put into a bag when something probably ran over the skis lying on the tarmac.  Rare, but it does happen.  I prefer the hard case but it can take up too much space in a shared car at the other end of the flight.  A little easier to pack in some ways.

Denis - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

I live in a major city (SF) close to the airport.  When flying to ski I take Uber.  Cheaper and less hassle than a week of parking fees at an airport garage.  I have a nice padded soft ski bag with wheels.  It is typically too long to fit in an Uber, so I take the skis out, fold the bag , then the skis will fit.  

3 months ago

I’ve had an edge on my skis ripped out by airport baggage handling. They were in a soft bag. I don’t know if any of the tips here would have prevented that. I have no idea how it happen, no explanation by the airline. A hard case probably would have prevented that but then I wouldn’t have had to chance to demo a few skis on the airline’s dime. It happened only once and that was the only damage ever done by an airline.

An airline also lost my skis twice, once arriving at the resort, the other returning home. I always carry my boots on the plane and usually stow them under the seat in front of me if I can. This only works with a small boot bag and my size 10 boots. I also pack a pair of ski pants, long johns, socks, and a top. I wear my ski jacket onboard and stow that in the overhead bins. If the airline loses my skis I still have the most important ski equipment with me. As I said, I’ll always welcome the opportunity to try different skis. Just insist that the airline pay for decent rental skis, something comparable to what you own. I also carry basic tuning supplies in my boot bag, a file holder with adjustable angles that hold a small file segment or diamond stones ( I know, not the best for accuracy), wax, a cork for rubbing out the wax, and a nylon brush. Maybe a small iron in my checked bags and scrapper if I have an iron . I never had a problem with TSA with these carry on items in my boot bag.

3 months ago

Sort of on-topic but one my soft ski bag’s wheels were destroyed by an airline heading out West a few years ago.  The other wheel is still there.  Does anyone have any tips on how to salvage the ski bag with only one functioning wheel?  

Currently, I just carry it on one of my shoulders as if it were a large backpack with the two handle straps velcroed together.  If I have a long walk to the main concourse (i.e. Denver), the ski bag gets a little heavy and cuts into my shoulder.  Wearing it on both shoulders would force the handle straps to cut even more into the shoulder.  

I may just go buy another ski bag but wanted to check here first.  

3 months ago

Just curious - what about shipping your skis ahead of time? If you’re going to have to pay for it anyway in baggage fees (unless elite, flying in first, or on Southwest), the idea of having your skis waiting at your hotel is appealing - especially when you don’t have to deal with the hassle of moving your skis thru the airport.

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

superguy wrote:

Just curious - what about shipping your skis ahead of time? If you’re going to have to pay for it anyway in baggage fees (unless elite, flying in first, or on Southwest), the idea of having your skis waiting at your hotel is appealing - especially when you don’t have to deal with the hassle of moving your skis thru the airport.

I’ve looked at what it takes to ship skis.  One company added ski bags after starting out with golf bags.  Regardless of who does the shipping, still have to deal with the packing.  Might consider it in another 10 years (over 70 by then) but since Southwest works for where I want to ski out west, it’s not worth dealing with yet another company.  Cost is not that cheap either.

With a wheeled ski bag, hard or soft, dealing with skis in an airport is not that big a deal for a solo traveler.

3 months ago

Since we are traveling NON Southwest this year to Big Sky, we are weighing our options between

1 - Bringing - typical PITA lugging them around and have to pay to do it

2 - Shipping - Still seems like a PITA making arrangements and the cost as well

3 - Renting - I believe this is the route for this trip.  Either way we have to pay so removing the PITA factor sets it apart.

Personally, I hate lugging skis.  I have a hard case sport tube on wheels, one wheeled suitcase with a small pack connected to it and my boot bag that is a backpack.  I feel like I have shit hanging all over me.   

3 months ago

Shipping skis….

While waiting for a red eye out of SLC a few years ago I hit the bar near the airport to burn time.  Sat next a guy who started a luxury shipping company and was making mint.  They shipped luggage, golf bags, skis, literally anything to destinations to be waiting for patrons to arrive.

He said the way it worked was they’d buy bulk space on FedEx planes.  Because they were a guaranteed customer FedEx charged them something crazy like 30% of the going rate.  He said they more than doubled it to 80% of the going rate and people thought they were getting a steal.  He made the spread and they just needed to make sure goods were picked up, packed, and delivered on time.

He said the business was growing like crazy.  He was in town to talk to some ski logistics partner.

If you have high end items it could be worth using someone like that.  It will be a little less than FexEx-ing yourself, but you also have a company guaranteeing the items.

 

3 months ago

OrangePeels wrote:

Hello DCSki!

I’m headed out to Tahoe via Southwest Airlines over the holidays, and it’ll be my first time flying with skis. I’ll be using a Thule RoundTrip Ski Bag (https://www.thule.com/en-us/us/luggage/ski-boot-snowboard-bags/thule-roundtrip-ski-bag-192cm-_-225116). What precautions should I take to ensure that my skis arrive intact?

Umm wrap all your gear in your skiing stuff like long unders, tee-shirts  even jackets etc around binding etc oh and make sure yoiur binding are open and put them in your ski bag - works for me; hey let me know if you want to take a few turns I live in Incline Village

marzNC - DCSki Supporter
3 months ago

Blue Don 1982 wrote:

Since we are traveling NON Southwest this year to Big Sky, we are weighing our options between

1 - Bringing - typical PITA lugging them around and have to pay to do it

2 - Shipping - Still seems like a PITA making arrangements and the cost as well

3 - Renting - I believe this is the route for this trip.  Either way we have to pay so removing the PITA factor sets it apart.

Personally, I hate lugging skis.  I have a hard case sport tube on wheels, one wheeled suitcase with a small pack connected to it and my boot bag that is a backpack.  I feel like I have shit hanging all over me.   

For a destination resort like Big Sky, renting skis that match conditions can make sense over paying baggage fees.  At least for people who use skis of average length.  One reason I prefer to bring all-mountain skis that I own and like is that there have been times when finding demo sks short enough wasn’t that easy.

The Bozeman airport is small.  So dealing with baggage is not as big a deal as Denver, or even SLC.  Although it’s a long walk to the end of the terminal where the rental desk is located.  Nice part is that the cars are right out the door at the end of the terminal.

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