I have to admit opening weekend at Northstar Ski Resort was epic. The crowds were few, the snow was plenty, and the fun was at an all-time high. But, is it worth hopping a plane to ride only a couple of runs? Typically, no…that is unless you’re Richie Rich. Normally, it’s a good idea to save your money and wait a little until there’s a decent amount of terrain open. If you can’t wait to get the season started no matter what, here are some factors to take into account as well as some early season options.
What to look for when selecting an early season destination
- Dense snow – This is one of the few times of year that “Cascade Concrete” or “Sierra Cement” is superior. The Heavy maritime snow may not be “blower,” but it sticks to everything! This leads to a better chance for coverage which will allow terrain to open more quickly.
- Low Angle – We all love steeps, but it takes a lot of snow to open that kind of terrain. In early season a ski resort with less steep terrain will be a better option.
What resorts fit the mold?
Consistently one of the earliest mountains to open, Wolf Creek is a perfect option for any powder hound. This year the resort started the season hot and heavy! Wolf Creek is already 100% open. The ski area is off the beaten path and doesn’t have lodging so take that into account. They do have over 1,600 acres and tons of powder days. Also, after a long day of blower pow you can hit the world famous hot springs, which overlook the San Juan River. Not a bad way to end an amazing trip.
- Receives the most snow in Colorado.
- 100% open.
- Hit the hot springs après.
- Difficult to get to
- No lodging on the hill
After reading our in-depth post of Mt. Baker, you know this is the mecca for snowboarders. From the open backcountry policy to the famous Mt. Baker banked slalom this place oozes history. With the mandatory 36 inch base Mt. Baker will be able to open almost all their terrain this week. With the “Monster El Nino” coming in and the bulls eye lined up right over Mt. Baker, opening weekend is going to be crazy! For more info about Mt Baker check out our in depth articles found here and here.
- Set the world record for snowfall.
- Steep terrain is available opening day.
- Over 20 inches more snow in the forecast
- Weather can sometimes be fickle
- Resort can sometimes be crowded
Whistler…need I say more? Voted #1 almost every year, over 8,000 acres, insane terrain and a unique walking only village Whistler is one of a kind. Other resorts try to imitate, but have been unable to duplicate. Favorable early season storm tracks mean Whistler will be opening early with 5 lifts running:
- Whistler Village Gondola
- The Creekside Gondola
- Emerald Express
- Big Red Express
- Franz’s Chair
Even with a small amount of terrain open they will have more option than most mountains in North America. Plus the village has great dining and entertainment. This is not only great early season, but any season! If you do end up in Whistler be sure to check out Moguls Coffee and tell them we said hello. For more info go here.
- It’s Whistler!
- Above tree line skiing.
- One of the best car-free villages in North America
- Expensive compared to the rest of the mountains on the list
- Until they are 100% open there will be crowds
With 4 bad seasons a California resort might not come to mind as an early season spot. This is true, well at least it has been true recently…not this year though. South of the ski and snowboard mecca of Lake Tahoe, lies Mammoth Mountain. This year they have been pummeled with snow! Since this is a maritime snowpack, the mountain will be a great early season destination. Five chairlifts are running allowing access to over 55 trails and two Unbound Terrain parks filled with 16 jibs and 5 jumps. It’s going off! Mammoth is a large hulking mountain with huge open trails, curves and rollers. Even early season, there is still a lot to explore and enjoy. On top of it, the town of Mammoth boasts the award winning Mammoth Mountain Brewing.
- Fantastic above tree-line terrain
- An award winning brewery is located in town
- Low likelihood of rain
- Can be crowded on weekends due to being the closest major resort to LA
It may not be open yet, but due to it’s lower angle terrain when compared to it’s brother Jackson Hole and being located west of the divide, Grand Targhee is one of the most consistent resorts for snowfall in the country. A good option for early season skiing.
Revelstoke is a mountain like no other. Located on the infamous Powder Highway this resort has over 5,620 vertical feet of steep terrain that will keep you on your toes. Already receiving over a 100 inches this season and it’s only mid-November there is a good chance that once the lifts start running it will be game on in Revelstoke.
When picking your early season destination it’s all about watching the storm track and if possible wait to the last moment to make the decision to access the best snow. In the end, all these resorts are great options for getting your legs warmed up as well as a little bit of adventure.