Snowboarding for the car-free family

Warning: contains cars. Also, no bike riding…but lots of snowboard riding.


I love living in Seattle and the many varied activities available to us right here in the city, but it’s fun to get away every once in a while, ya know? We commonly do so in the form of summertime bike camping. Apparently we’re not the only ones who like to skip town, per the Seattle Weekly’s article “Do Urbanists Have a Wilderness Problem?” Stoked to share the 10th paragraph down with my friend Tom:

“…Seattle Bike Blog creator and anti-car urbanist Tom Fucoloro or family bike expert Madi Carlson, both Seattle residents who frequently journey to the forested outlands by bike alone (and in Carlson’s case, with two kids in tow).”

We expanded our repertoire last January when I signed up for Zipcar car sharing. This is incredibly silly, but I immediately felt more legitimately car free. Now when people get that horrified look on their faces and ask, “But Madi, what will you do if you ever need a car?” I no longer have to fight the urge to ask back “What the f–k would I need a car for?” Now I can easily say “Oh, I have Zipcar!” and I don’t even have to admit that I’ve only used it once.

Zipcar is often at bike events with various discounts (and free sunglasses), but I signed up online because I can be impulsive and decided late on a Wednesday night that we should go snowboarding the coming weekend. The threatened 1-3 business days to approve my application only took a few hours (thank goodness!) and I opted to bike downtown and pick up my Zipcard in person rather than wait the 3-7 business days for it to arrive in the mail. We ended up not going snowboarding that weekend so the rushing around was for naught, but I tend to opt to pick things up rather than have them driven over to me.


We eventually used Zipcar for the first time a couple months later for day trip to the closest ski area, The Summit at Snoqualmie, where I’ve brought the kids snowboarding a bunch of times back when I was a car owner.

The snowboarding was awesome! My ability of following the Zipcar rules: not so much. Totally my fault. It’s all right there online. Plus I received an email with subject line “Your first Ziptrip – the one you always remember” that would have been very helpful had I read it carefully.

So let’s talk about the snowboarding part first. Summit is an hour’s drive from home–just how I like my snow. There are four little resorts: Alpental, Summit West, Summit Central, and Summit East. We’ve tried three of the four in the past and Summit Central works best for us. The kids use the magic carpet (the conveyor belt lift thingy) which is great for me because I don’t need to shell out for my own lift ticket–I can easily walk up the bunny slope after jogging down alongside them. This also means I don’t get to do snowboarding myself, but that’ll change as they get bigger. I’m not a very good snowboarder and the one time I helped my older kid up the lift and down a run in North Vancouver was really hard. I don’t think I could manage two kids. But back to Washington: the bunny slope at Alpental is a little too steep and long so I can’t keep up as I jog after the kids hollering at them to sit down before they careen into each other, the bunny slope at Summit West isn’t steep enough and I have to give them pushes every few feet to keep them moving, Summit East doesn’t have a magic carpet, but Summit Central is just right!


New this year: they carry stuff! From wearing the baby on my back and carrying one kid’s gear, to wearing a toddler on my back and carrying two kids’ gear, to this!

Carrying their boards

Here’s what the magic carpet looks like. Our regular lift operator back in the frequent weekday visit days used to let me stand on it to ride back up, but it’s easy enough to trudge on either non-moving side.

Magic carpet

Now to admit my many Zipcar oopsies:

Zipcar oopsie one: I forgot there’s a gas card! I used my credit card to fill the tank (had I asked for a receipt, I could have been reimbursed). Doh. Regular rental cars come with full tanks, but Zipcars don’t. This might be enough to dissuade some renters.

Zipcar oopsie two: I LEFT THE ZIPCARD AT HOME AND LOCKED US OUT OF THE CAR IN THE SNOW AN HOUR FROM HOME! Thank goodness for modern technology–they unlocked it remotely over the phone. One checked out a Zipcar by holding the Zipcard near a sensor to unlock the door; the key is very conveniently zip tied to dangle near the ignition. So the key stays in the car and the card [ideally] stays in one’s wallet.

Zipcar oopsie three: I didn’t realize I had to tap my Zipcard on the sensor upon returning the car. This is mentioned on the website and in the helpful-if-read email, of course. Fortunately, I went online to see if I could let Zipcar know I’d returned the car two hours early in case someone else wanted it, so I read about tapping out before it was too late.

Despite all the problems of my own making, it was a great experience and we’d do it again. I don’t want to tempt fate and say I’ll never make a Zipcar mistake again, but there’s a pretty good chance I won’t repeat these specific mistakes.


Zipcar isn’t the cheapest way to get a car for the day–it’s really best for an hour or a few hours–but it’s definitely the most convenient for us. There are a couple Zipcar spots a couple blocks from our house, and another set 10 blocks away. Two traditional car rental places (Enterprise and Budget) are an additional 10 blocks farther. Convenience is key when you’re traveling with kids. I figured as long as Zipcar was cheaper than three $40 ski shuttle tickets, it was an acceptable price. The daily rate for the car we rented was $73 (total with tax was $85). That price includes 180 miles and we went 115 miles.

Note: It looks like the Zipcar spots closest to our house aren’t there anymore (per the website, I’ll have to bike by to look for sure) so there’s a good chance I won’t renew my membership. Bummer.

Car seats: RideSafer Travel Vests

Lugging regular car seats around is a pain. That’s why I got RideSafer Travel Vests when I went car-free, following in the footsteps of Dorie from Hum of the City and Elle of Tiny Helmets Big Bikes. They are as safe as traditional car seats (with a price tag to prove it), but back when I got them, they were for use in taxis, rental cars, and car share, but not in one’s personal vehicle. However, I don’t see that mentioned in the RideSafer FAQ so I think they’re approved for us all the time now. They’re lower than car seats so the kids don’t have as good a view and I’ve heard that they’re uncomfortable for very long trips.

RideSafer Travel Vests

Other options:

Traditional rental car
If frugality was more important to me than convenience for this once-a-year trip, I’d use one of the car rental places 1.5 miles from our house. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d easily manage that on a weekend. For a weekday one-day rental I’d grab and return the car while the kids were at school, but I’m not sure how I’d get us all there (or especially how I’d get us all back after a long day of snowboarding). Peeking at pricing, SUVs (which is what we used from Zipcar) are more expensive at both car rental places, but smaller cars are a lot cheaper. An economy car would work fine for the two kid snowboards. Dealing with office hours would be less convenient, though, and probably mean we’d keep the car overnight the day before or after hitting the mountains.

Ski shuttle
I mentioned the $40 round-trip shuttle bus, Seattle Ski Shuttle, above. Last year they departed from REI if I remember correctly, but now they leave from a hotel. I had planned to try it out myself first before subjecting the kids to a super-early wakeup. The bus leaves at 6:30am and it takes at least half an hour to bike there with a snowboard on the Big Dummy, and longer if I’m also carrying kids. I think I might still try this on my own this winter because Zipcarring alone doesn’t seem worth it. I really doubt I’d do it with the kids. They wake up too early for my taste many days, but to be ready to leave the house with snowboarding gear before 6am is a whole different realm.

Other rides
The Summit has some great resources listed on their Carpools and Shuttle Services webpage.

More? If you know of other ways to get to the mountains, I’d love to hear them!


4 thoughts on “Snowboarding for the car-free family

  1. They closed our closest zipcar station too! We would get ours at the gas station by the Safeway but now the closest is the small lot across from the UW medical offices on Roosevelt. I’ve seen a lot of Reach Now cars around although I think they’re more expensive? They’re luxury cars similar to zipcar but parked more like car2go on the street.

    • Hmmmmm! Car2Go with more than two seats! I didn’t consider ReachNow. I’ve seen them downtown, but never noticed one in my neighborhood. However, I just downloaded the app out of curiosity and they’re everywhere! And unless I read the website wrong, about the same price as all-day Zipcar. Thanks for the idea! The app is really useful, too, I see how much gas is in the tank and can’t lock myself out!

  2. I think the Reach Now are more like Car2Go than Zip Car. The pricing is similar and they also have to be returned within a designated area of the city, rather than to a dedicated parking space. Zip Car is starting to have some of those as well, although I haven’t spent the time to figure out the rules for that.

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