Listen: can you hear it? That soft, insidious whisper, coming from your garage?
It’s time…take me out. Dust me off; wax me up. It’s been too long…let’s go.
When your skis and snowboard start talking to you, it’s definitely time to hit the hill. But early season can be tricky. After all, no one but Mother Nature (and maybe Joel Gratz) knows where the snow is going to hit and navigating the white ribbon of death should be saved for the most extreme of circumstances.
However, there are options to slake your thirst for early season shredding. Here are the resorts that open before the week of Thanksgiving and can help you scratch that snow-loving itch.
Mid- November: Timberline Lodge/Mt Hood, Oregon
Timberline offers the longest ski season in North America because it never really closes. Situated on the glacier-topped Mt. Hood (with highest base elevation in the PNW), the resort offers almost year-round skiing, with the winter season starting up in mid-November. Often, the resort is open for fall skiing as well on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, snow permitting. So, if you’re really, really jonesing for some snow, Timberline is where you should go.
November 8: Mammoth Mountain Resort
Mammoth is another resort with a fairly high base elevation (7953’), which means that it’s a fairly safe bet for early season snow. Add to that its proximity to the Pacific you’ve got a good chance at a powder dump in the Sierras. Even if it’s not a dig-your-way-out kind of early season, the mixture of man-made and natural snow means that Mammoth’s opening party (there’s a beer toast!) will most likely be a good one.
November 16: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
If shredding near Lake Tahoe is more your jam, then Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows should be on your to-do list. Weather and conditions permitting, Squaw has one of the longest seasons in Tahoe: The 2017-2018 season saw 411 inches of snow and a Memorial Day closing day. With expanded snowmaking this year, the ops team at Squaw will put in the hard work to provide some well-groomed snow for those who can’t wait another day to ride.
October 26: Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
About an hour away from Squaw on the Nevada side of Tahoe (conveniently close to Reno), Mt. Rose is one of the locals’ favorite mountains year-round, but particularly for the early season. Mt. Rose has one of Tahoe’s highest base area elevations at 8,260’, which means the resort tends to get snow top-to-bottom even when other resorts are getting rain at lower elevations. To stack the deck, the resort has made considerable investments in snowmaking over the past several years, including the installation of 17 new snowmaking towers made more awesome by increased firepower via additional high capacity pumps; the resort is also adding to its snow grooming fleet.
November 16: Brian Head Resort
Most of the Utah resorts are planning on opening on Nov. 21 (the day before Thanksgiving), which isn’t terrible as far as early-season skiing is concerned. But if you’re itching to get on the slopes earlier, you need to head to Brian Head Resort. With the highest base elevation in Utah (9600’) and an extensive snowmaking system, Brian Head is usually the first to open in Utah. Bonus: when you’re done on the slopes, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are just a short drive away.
Mid to late October: The Battle Royale between Arapahoe Basin and Loveland
You can’t talk about early season openings without following the “who will be first?” drama between Arapahoe Basin and Loveland skis areas, both of which are situated at high elevations near the continental divide. Last year, ABasin opened on Oct. 13; Loveland opened a week later on Oct. 20. Both the elevation and the promise of early season snow contributes to these before-Halloween openings, but the date varies each year and is a moving target. Keep and eye out to see who will be crowned the first to open this year.
November 16: Copper Mountain Resort
Another high elevation resort (the base is situated at 9712’ feet above sea level) Copper is known for being one of the best ski resorts in Colorado for early season skiing and riding. But it’s not just the elevation: the resort’s north-facing aspect allows for better snowmaking conditions (i.e., colder temperatures), which often start in early October. The beneficiaries of that early snowmaking? The ski teams that train early season on the mountain. Head to Copper in early November and you’ll see the U.S. Ski Team’s downhillers training for World Cup competitions. This year, Copper plans to open with six lifts and one terrain park offering skiing and riding to the general public on a variety of easy, intermediate and advanced terrain.
November 16 Stowe Mountain Resort
Stowe is situated on Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak at 4395’. The highest skiable elevation is only 3625’, but that doesn’t stop early season skiers and riders from coming out to play. Stowe makes snow across approximately 90 percent of its terrain starting in October, so even though conditions might not be perfect, it’s solid choice for some pre-Thanksgiving turns.
TBD – Wildcat Mountain
Located in Pinkham Notch, NH, Wildcat Mountain consistently has the longest season in New Hampshire. As soon as temperatures and forecast allow, snowmakers get to work on two top-to-bottom runs serviced by the Wildcat Express, a high-speed summit lift. Last year the resort opened on Nov. 11, 2017 and locals are itching for another early season repeat.
November 7- Sunday River
Sunday River has one of the most extensive snowmaking operations in the east, allowing it to open earlier than other resort contenders and the good news is that it’s getting even better. This summer, the snowmaking system experienced some major renovations which will allow snowmakers to make snow more quickly and efficiently. Thus, skiers and snowboarders will be able to enjoy early season seshes at Sunday River even more, if that’s possible.
Know before you go:
- Prep your equipment: Those poor skis have been sitting in storage for months. A fresh coat (or four) of wax and some attention to your edges will help you have an enjoyable early season experience.
- Most of the resorts that open early depend on snowmaking. Unlike the icy apocalypse that ensued from snowmaking a few decades ago, today’s equipment and snowmakers are pros (seriously: you should hear snowmakers talk about temps, water molecules and other elements. It’s more detailed than getting into a discussion with a homebrewer). and the result is a you-can’t-believe-it-didn’t-fall-from-the-sky product.
- Have fun. Yes, it’s early season and everyone wants to start their “days on the hill” total as soon as possible. But remember to play nice and follow the rules of skiing, both posted and inherent. After all: We have a whole season ahead of us.