While most western resorts don’t rely on snowmaking the way ski area operators do in The East, certain ski resorts have higher elevation and a bigger commitment to opening early with natural snow and a little help from snowmaking. Here are some sure bets for an early season ski trip out west.
Arapahoe Basin in Colorado is high elevation, 12,472′, close to Loveland, and they race to drop ropes and start skiing every season. A Basin wins by opening first for skiing – Oct 21, 2016, also opening mid October in 2014 and 2013. A Basin also goes late in the spring too, parking lot beach parties and big bumps on Palavacini are highlights into May. Worth noting that Arapahoe Basin is part of the Vail Resort Epic Pass so you can ski here and 11 other ski resorts in Colorado, California and Utah.
Loveland in Colorado is also serious about being the first ski resort to open in the country, typically in October. There may still be grass at the 10,600’ base but snow hits the 13,010’ summit, the lifts cranks up and crazy skiers come out in comical costumes. Loveland boasts one of the longest ski seasons in Colorado, rivaling nearby Arapahoe Basin.
Solitude in Utah actually guarantees early season snow and is often the first resort in Utah to open in lean natural snow years – typically well ahead of Park City and Deer Valley. Brighton is in Big Cottonwood Canyon just beyond Solitude, with similar elevation to Alta and Snowbird.
Breckenridge is Colorado’s early season secret. Breck’s snowmaking and high elevation mountain make for a good early season trip, often opening as early as the first week in November with terrain parks already sculpted. Breckenridge has the highest chair, The Imperial Express, in Colorado, reaching 12,840’.
Near Breck, Keystone in Summit County typically opens first weekend in November, thanks to the most extensive snowmaking systems in Colorado. With downloading available (if necessary) from mid-mountain on the River Run Gondolas, Keystone is ideal for early season ski and stay package.
Wolf Creek Ski Resort in Southwest Colorado trademarked “The Most Snow In Colorado” Alta Snowbirdreceiving upwards of 470′ of snow. Wolf Creek opens in October most seasons, hosting the US Ski Team for early season training.
Snowbird offers high elevation even though Alta is not so big on snowmaking since these Little Cottonwood Canyon ski areas are blessed with frequent natural snow. Alta typically opens mid-November with Snowbird not far behind. We have skied the entire two ski mountains one Thanksgiving week – much to be thankful for at Alta and Snowbird.
Sun Valley Idaho has likely the most sophisticated snow making system in the world. While Sun Valley doesn’t open super early, they do coat their key slopes with great snow throughout most of the Mammoth early season skiing. Their snowmaking is completely computerized and allows the Idaho ski resort to automatically resurface signature trails every night with a dusting of fresh talcum powder snow.
In California, Heavenly, Squaw and Mammoth all like to open in the fall – with natural snow and a boost from manmade snowmaking power around their base areas. For long ski seasons, Mammoth and Squaw take the prize since they keep lifts spinning into May or even June in a good snow year.