While most western resorts don’t rely on snowmaking the way Eastern ski resorts do, certain ski resorts have higher elevation and a bigger commitment to opening early with natural snow and a little help from snowmaking.
Arapahoe Basin traditionally opens first in Colorado, and the U.S., with Loveland and then Keystone the following, often skiing well before Halloween! 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 opens for skiing as early as mid-October when cold Colorado weather permits. A Basin also goes late in the spring too, parking lot beach parties and big bumps on Pallavacini are highlights into May.
Loveland in Colorado is also serious about being the first ski resort to open in the country, typically in late October. There may still be grass at the 10,600’ base but once snow hits the 13,010’ summit, the lifts crank 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 – typically 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 now guns for October or the 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 is trademarked “The Most Snow in Colorado” and opens first in the US many seasons. Wolf Creek receives upwards of 470′ of snow, and hosts the US Ski Team for early season training.
Snowbird offers high elevation in Little Cottonwood Canyon, and opens in November typically. Neighboring Alta is not so big on snowmaking – its more retro but also blessed with frequent natural snow, so Alta opens early with Mother Nature’s help. We have skied the entire two ski mountains Thanksgiving week – much to be thankful for at Alta and Snowbird.
Sun Valley Idaho has one of 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 for reliable conditions as soon as possible. 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, Palisade Tahoe 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 Palisades Tahoe- formerly Squaw take the prize since they keep lifts spinning into May or even June in a good snow year.