As a guide I travel internationally with ski gear multiple times a year to places like Japan, Russia, Chile and Antarctica with my company Pacific Alpine Guides. Traveling with skis is not something you need to overthink, but here are a few pointers to increase your chances of success.
1. Minimize connections.
Ski bags get “lost” more often than regular bags, quite often just meaning they’re delayed. The fewer connections you have in your flight itinerary, the better the chances of your gear making it on time. Quite often a more efficient itinerary (fewer stops) might cost an extra couple hundred dollars, but in my mind it’s well worth it on an international mission. Your bags have an increased chance of making it, and so do you.
2. Buy trip insurance.
Look for a policy that covers the type of skiing you're doing (backcountry, ski mountaineering, inbounds, etc). I think of it as a small tax on the price of going somewhere cool. This can cover things like lost bags, getting injured before or during the trip, or worst comes to worst, needing an expensive rescue in a foreign land.
3. Buy a cheap luggage scale.
Respect that 50 lb (23 kg) weight limit and pack accordingly... some high volume ski bags seem great because you can fit so much in them, but if you fill them all the way you end up with an 80 lb ski bag. I prefer a medium sized roller bag that’s light and durable like the Dakine Fall Line Double. My typical program as a guide on most big ski trips involves enough gear that I’ll also check a duffel that I pack with heavier items like ropes and other gear, as well as softer clothing items.
4. Pack your ski bag with intention.
I like to strap my skis and poles tightly together and wrap my skins around my bindings for extra protection. I also like to wrap jackets and pants (durable fabric) around the tips and tails which has the effect of suspending the skis in the bag. Luggage locks (TSA-approved) are great for security but I mostly use them to keep the zippers closed. Also don’t forget tip protectors on sharp things like ice axes and whippets.
5. Carry on your boots on the way there.
If your ski bag doesn’t make it, you’ll have a much easier time finding some temporary skis than you will boots in your exact size. Some sort of discrete boot bag can be nice and will attract fewer questions from onlookers (or if you like being the center of attention, carry those boots out in the open and maybe wear an orange climbing harness while you’re at it).
6. Once you’ve checked in, take a photo of those little bag tags with your phone. This will be real handy if you end up needing to track them down.
7. If you’re traveling with an airbag backpack that uses a canister, consult the manufacturer for their travel recommendations. These rules are ever changing and are different for travel between countries outside of North America.
8. Bring a carry on inside a carry on.
I usually have a backpack with my laptop and camera gear that I’ll put in the overhead bin, but first I’ll pull out a smaller collapsible tote bag for the things I want at my feet.
Whatever you can do to make a long flight into a somewhat chill experience will pay dividends at your destination. A few pro tricks: a Buff to cover your eyes, an inflatable neck pillow, noise cancelling headphones if you can afford them, a usb battery stick to keep your phone charged, a glass of wine, a mild sleep aid (mix those last two things at your own risk!)... these little things go a long way.
10. Your bags will probably make it; most the time they do. But be prepared to not panic if they're not on the carousel. You're well rested and you've got your bag tag photos to take to the airline desk. And your boots if you need to find some temporary rentals. And with that trip insurance plan you purchased, worst case scenario you're getting some new skis!
Now enjoy the shred.
--Tyler Reid, Pacific Alpine Guides
*Here's one of Tyler's guided ski clients reaping the rewards of some recent international travel to Japan. We can't really see if his boots and skis made it, but looks like things are working out just fine...
PHOTO BY TYLER REID