How can one go off for a weekend of skiing or snowboarding and not have the best time?

It seems the very nature of the activity would result in a happy outcome.

Apparently that's not always the case.

A recent visit to [R304R, Okemo Mountain Resort] in Ludlow, Vt., for some early season skiing was great, but on the way out of the hotel on Sunday there seemed to be an awful lot of grumpy faces.

Mine, by the way, was not among them. I wore a smile from the moment I hit the road Friday all the way home on Sunday, and every day since then when memories surfaced of skiing, eating, and friends.

That experience was not shared by all, even though Okemo offered some of the best early season conditions in memory. More than half the resort's trails were open edge-to-edge on a thick carpet of manmade snow.

Time to go home on Sunday: At one car, mom and the kids were standing in sullen silence; one skier was packing a car alone, with no trace of smile; another couple waited for the elevator, each person wrapped in a cone of prickly silence.

How can an outing that must have seemed like a great idea at inception, and still fun - we imagine - as trip time approached, have turned so sour?

I asked one friend who travels often with kids how to go about making sure a trip begins and ends well, and is fun throughout.

"Good luck," she said.

Just kidding.

What she really said was:

"Make sure you bring everything you need. Make a checklist: skis, snowboards, boots, poles, gloves, goggles, helmets, hats, ski socks, ski panrts, parkas, long johns, just everything you know you need on the slopes.

"Then pack up snacks for the ride up. Hungry kids are no fun at all, for anyone around them. I'm not all that nice myself when I'm hungry. Make sure the kids have something to do on the ride. DVD player? Music? Books? Games? Bring lots of things to keep them occupied. Fidgety kids aren't any fun, either.

"Do the kids have friends who might want to come? They generally behave better when they have friends.

"Is there going to be something for everyone to do? Are you going to a private home? That's probably going to offer après ski stuff for everyone. If not, there are restaurants, arcades, movies in most towns near resorts. Resorts have those things too, and lots of other apres ski activities: sleigh rides, dog sled rides, games rooms, pools, saunas, hot tubs, music, pizza parlors, shops, and on and on.

"Talk with everyone as you are packing for the trip. Make sure everyone has a role, and knows what it is. When I travel, everyone helps. Make sure everyone helps pack the car, helps carry the bags in when you get there, and helps keep track of things at the resort.

"Get the lift tickets organized early. Help those who need it with boots and so on. If everyone is going off on their own, make sure they know when and where to meet up.

"You're the grownup - allegedly - so make sure each day starts with a good breakfast and, if it's cold, includes cocoa stops. Eat lunch. Make dinner a feast, and make sure the menu has things everyone likes.

"This isn't rocket science, but it does take thought and planning. These can be the best memories that a family shares, or they can be nightmares, and the difference really depends on you."

We have some other advice for you, put together in several OnTheSnow guides.

More information: Family Guide; Driving Guide; Vacation Planning Guide.