The Best Early Season North American Ski Resorts

If you haven’t heard Mammoth Mountain just received their first snowfall and they are predicting over 8 inches of snow for the Northern Rockies this week. Everyone who is a skier and snowboarder is chomping at the bit for the snow to fall and get out there and ride. Is it worth hopping a plane to ride only a couple of runs in the early season? Typically, no…. 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 just can’t wait or have some extra flyer miles, here a few things to take into account as well as best early season North American Ski Resorts.

Best Early Season North American Ski Resorts

Mt Baker Ski Area - Image Taken by Iwona Kellie

Mt Baker Ski Area – Image Taken by Iwona Kellie

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?

Wolf Creek

Image taken by Sarah Moore

Image taken by Sarah Moore

Consistently one of the earliest mountains to open, Wolf Creek is a perfect option for any powder hound. In some years Wolf Creek can be open by Halloween with nearly all their terrain accessible. 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 Pagosa hot springs, which overlook the San Juan River. Not a bad way to end an amazing trip.

Pros:

  • Receives the most snow in Colorado
  • 100% open.
  • Hit the hot springs après
  • Uncrowded

Cons:

  • Difficult to get to
  • No lodging on the hill

Mount Baker

Image taken by Iwona Kellie

Image taken by Iwona Kellie

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. Once they get the mandatory 36 inch base Mt. Baker can typically open almost all their terrain by opening day. For more info about Mt Baker check out our in depth articles found here and here.

Pros:

  • Set the world record for snowfall.
  • Steep terrain is available opening day.
  • Over 20 inches more snow in the forecast

Cons:

  • Weather can sometimes be fickle
  • Resort can sometimes be crowded

 

Whistler

Image taken by Ryan Davison Crisp

Image taken by RD Crisp Photography

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 options 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.

Pros:

  • It’s Whistler!
  • Above tree line skiing.
  • One of the best car-free villages in North America

Cons:

  • Expensive compared to the rest of the mountains on the list
  • Until they are 100% open there will be crowds

Mammoth Mountain

Fresh Snowfall over Mammoth Mountain on October 31st 2016 – Image Courtesy Mammoth Mountain

South of the ski and snowboard mecca of Lake Tahoe, lies Mammoth Mountain. Last season which just finished only a month ago will go down in the record books as the second longest ever for Mammoth. Since this is a maritime snowpack, the mountain is a great early season destination. In past seasons they’ve run five chairlifts allowing access to over 50+ trails by Thanksgiving. 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 region around Mammoth boasts three amazing breweries: Mammoth Brewing, Black Doubt Brewing, and June Lake Brewing.

Pros:

  • Fantastic above tree-line terrain
  • 3 amazing breweries located in area
  • Low likelihood of rain

Cons:

  • Can be crowded on weekends due to being the closest major resort to LA

Honorable Mentions:

Grand Targhee

GrandTarghee1It 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

Revelstoke_2015

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. In past winters they easily receive over a 100 inches by mid-November so 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.

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