How to Plan a Fantastic Ski VacationI'm a ski and snowboard writer, so I take a lot of ski trips. I’ve learned firsthand that planning a good ski vacation is a complex task. There's no foolproof method for planning a perfect ski vacation to a friendly resort smothered in fresh snow, but, if you take a bit of time to consider weather patterns, the time of year you're traveling, the atmosphere and location of the area you're visiting, and can make it work within your budget, then there's a pretty good chance that you're going to have a great trip! Below are some factors to keep in mind when planning your next ski trip. 1. The WeatherIt's impossible to know how the weather will be months in advance, but the Farmer's Almanac does a good job of predicting large-scale weather cycles. Check the winter forecast and look for areas with above average precipitation and average or milder-than-normal temperatures. 2. The Time of YearThe best ski conditions in different geographical regions vary throughout the winter. Wyoming, Washington, and British Columbia tend to have reliable early season snowfall, Utah and Colorado tend to be at their best mid-winter, and California hills are known for their great corn snow (snow that has melted and re-frozen, resulting in a coarse surface) and sunshine in the spring. Snow conditions aren't everything, but they are important. Make sure that your ski experience will be helped, rather than hindered, by them. 3. The AtmosphereThe atmosphere of the resort or mountain can be the single most important factor dictating your trip, so be sure to understand what type of experience you want to have before you book. Generally speaking, the character of a ski area is often reflective of the area where it is located. Ski resorts in British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have a small town feel. California resorts reflect the state's ethnic diversity and Hollywood-esque personality. Utah resorts are laid back, while Colorado resorts are often frequented by hardcore outdoor enthusiasts. Choose a location where you think that chatting with strangers on the chair will be as much fun as cruising down the mountain. 4. Your BudgetIf you’re on a tight budget, there are several tactics you can use to make sure you get the most for your money. Costs can add up quickly, especially if you plan to ski with your family. Visiting a smaller ski resort where lift passes are likely to cost significantly less, reserving your rental equipment online in advance and booking multi-day lift tickets are all strategies to save. If the kids are coming along, call the resorts you are considering and ask if they have any programs where kids ski free or at a discounted rate. 5. ConvenienceThe travel time to your destination will set the tone for the rest of your vacation, so it's important to make sure that it's as hassle-free as possible. Be sure to consider the distance between the ski resort and the airport into which you’ll be flying to decide whether you should reserve a rental car, use a shuttle service or if you can take a taxi. Many ski resorts are walkable or have public transportation options for guests, so unless you are flying into an airport that is a considerable distance away, a rental car may not be a necessity.6. Ski SchoolThere is one inescapable truth about skiing and snowboarding: the better you are, the more fun you will have. The average skier in the United States skis about 10 days per year. Most of those days take place on vacation. When you get back on your skis or board for the first time each year, you're bound to be a bit rusty. Taking a lesson on the first or second day of your trip will help you to get back in the swing of things -- and even to improve a little bit -- so that you can make the most of your time on the slopes. Remember, even the pros have trainers that are constantly helping them to improve. Nobody is so good that they won't benefit from a lesson. No amount of planning can ensure a fantastic ski vacation, as too many variables are beyond your control. However, if you take the time to strike a balance between these considerations, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you've done everything in your power to ensure that everyone has a fantastic time. For ski and snowboarding travel advice visit Matt's website (http://www.matt-gibson.org) or his Snowboarding Guide on About.com (http://snowboarding.about.com/).