Did you hear the one about the diabetic skier? The airline told him he had too much carry-on luggage, so he kept his boots and checked his insulin. Ba-da-boom.
Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but smart skiers know that packing right can make the difference between a great vacation and a week where you wish you were at work-well, almost. Here are some of the ways you can make sure that your most important stuff gets there when you do.
Don't Check It: If you gotta have it, then don't let it out of your sight. Why? Here's a true-life tragedy: A couple of years ago, I was at an extreme camp. One of my fellow campers had flown from New York to Crested Butte. The only problem was that her bags flew to Jackson Hole. It took the airline about 48 hours to locate and reroute her bags. She therefore had to ski the North Face in a) rental boots, b) demo skis, c) borrowed clothes, and d) without her contact lenses. Does that suck? You bet. And it was an expensive mistake, too, considering that she compromised, if not ruined, about 40 percent of a vacation that set her back more than a couple grand.
If you're heading to ski country, you can run into another luggage-related problem. The commuter planes that fly into many ski towns are subject to weight restrictions that jumbo jets don't encounter. That means that sometimes they'll keep your checked bags behind and send them on a later flight just so they can get a couple of fat people on the flight. No, it's not fair, but it's policy. Convinced that you ought to schlepp your essentials on board personally? Good.
Bring the right bag: The first key to commercial-airline peace of mind is having the right receptacle. Your first priority is to find a boot bag that fits-in stewardess speak-securely under the seat in front of you, so that you can use it as your one allotted carry-on bag. While exact dimensions vary from airline to airline, United's policy is that the combined length, width, and depth of each bag can't exceed 45 inches. Back in the day, you could fudge that by stashing a slightly oversized bag in the overhead bin or smiling at the flight attendant and getting her to squeeze it into the bottom of the coat closet. (I've literally seen a passenger get away with carrying on a microwave oven.) No more. As fares get lower, flights get more crowded, and airlines are far less inclined to cut you slack. On some airlines, the lowest economy fares have additional restrictions on the amount of luggage you're entitled to. So call your air carrier of choice to get its latest carry-on regulations before you shell out for a boot bag.
Pack It Properly: The problem with a regulation bag, of course, is that it's not very big. And once you put in a pair of boots, it's got less extra space than a Manhattan studio apartment. So when deciding what gets the courier treatment, you've got to do like Noah Wyle when there's a power failure in the ER: triage.
I assign each item an HQ (Hassle Quotient): How much of a pain will it be to replace it? For most of us, our boots are more essential than our left arms. What's next? Your knee brace? Your contact lenses? Your prescription anti-inflammatories? Your freeze-dried piranha necklace? Remember: If it can't be bought in the base lodge of your friendly neighborhood ski resort and your luggage takes the Grand Tour, you're SOL.
If you've still got a couple of seats in the lifeboat after you've packed your irreplaceables, shift your attention to the big-ticket items. You could buy a new pair of ski pants to use while the airline locates your bags, but it'd put an unfortunate dent in your American Express bill.
Check The Rest: What about the rest? If you wear your jacket and a fleece on board, tuck a hat and gloves in your pocket, you're pretty much set for a day or two of luggage-free skiing. Incidentals like long underwear, turtlenecks, and t-shirts can be picked up quickly and cheaply at the resort ski sshop.
What to do with the rest of it? If you're ruthless in your packing-the chinchilla stays home, Ivana-you might try this packing strategy: Even if you only carry one set of boards, buy a double ski bag, anyway. Stuff your expendables-turtlenecks, sweatpants, underwear, whatever-around your boards. It'll help cushion your skis, minimize your beast-of-burden factor in the airport, and since skis are among the first pieces out of the cargo hold, help you get a head start to the rent-a-car counter.
So, you didn't follow our advice. The airline lost your luggage, and all you've got is a deck of cards and a Gameboy to get you through your ski trip. Here are a few options:
Most airlines offer an automatic per-fare coverage of $1,250 for lost luggage, which includes reimbursement for anything you purchase to get you through the next few days (keep your receipts). That hardly covers your new X-Screams. Next time, look into buying extra insurance through the airline, in advance.
Also, consider charging your ticket: Most credit card companies offer some travel services to help with lost bags.-Shawn Magee