Let's get this season started! 10 top slopes for early skiing (and how to fly there for less)

Tracy Stewart, November 10, 2011
Fares from Washington DC:

    By GEORGE HOBICAWHO'S ready to ski? Pretty much everyone ought to be, because another year of La Niña in the forecast means another very snowy winter. Maybe even more than last year's often record-breaking hammering, which provided for some amazing downhill action, everywhere from the Catskills to the Pacific Northwest. Don't stress out, just embrace it – grab a pair of skis and remind yourself what all that snow can be good for. No need to wait for the official start of winter, either – here are ten resorts that are either up and running, or close to it.

    By GEORGE HOBICA

    WHO'S ready to ski? Pretty much everyone ought to be, because another year of La Niña in the forecast means another very snowy winter. Maybe even more than last year's often record-breaking hammering, which provided for some amazing downhill action, everywhere from the Catskills to the Pacific Northwest. Don't stress out, just embrace it – grab a pair of skis and remind yourself what all that snow can be good for. No need to wait for the official start of winter, either – here are ten resorts that are either up and running, or close to it.


    #1. KEYSTONE Colorado

    One of the most accessible big resorts in the Centennial State is also one of the first of the majors to turn on the lifts each year. Even as we speak, they're skiing up there – sure, on just a fraction of Keystone's 3,148-acre skiable spread, but expect more to come online real soon.

    Good deal Beginning Nov. 23, slopes stay open until 8:30 p.m., for one of the longest ski days you'll find in the state.  

    Info keystoneresort.com

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Denver (DEN).


    #2. MAMMOTH California

    Sitting just behind Yosemite, this evolving resort serving the Cali crowd made headlines last year after receiving a whopping 661 inches of white stuff, nearly double the average of 354. Expect similar excitement on all 3,100 vertical feet of the mountain this year.

    Good deal Early season daily flights from Los Angeles (LAX) start as low as $69 each way, eliminating the need for a lengthy trek by car.

    Info at mammothmountain.com
    Click here to see the lowest fares to Mammoth Lakes (MMH).


    #3. SOLITUDE Salt Lake City

    By western standards, it's kind of diminutive – 1,200 skiable acres, 65 trails – but this is one of powder-rich Utah's most likeable resorts, aptly named (it's very quiet here) but easily accessible – it sits near the end of a city bus line (Utah Transit Authority's 960 or 962, just so you know). Solitude doesn't pay much attention to weather patterns, because no matter what, they always get dumped on – think 500+ inches of annual snowfall. And yes, they're open now.

    Good deal Through Dec. 23, use code LLES and get a room at the ski in/out Inn at Solitude for $118 per person (based on double), including lift ticket and an upgrade to slope view room. Blackout dates apply, two-night minimum.

    Info at skisolitude.com
    Click here to see the lowest fares to Salt Lake City (SLC).


    #4. LAKE LOUISE Alberta

    Don't know where you've been, but this seriously beautiful resort inside Canada's epically awesome Banff National Park has been at it since November 5, to the delight of skiers for whom winter can't come fast enough. Hardcore types love the simplicity of the place – just a straightforward (but ample) base lodge setup, little more. (The actual ski village is a short, free, shuttle bus ride away.)

    Good deal Early birds may not get to try their hand at all 4,200 skiable acres of terrain, but they do get to ski for less – day passes are going for just under CAN $40 right now.

    Info at skilouise.com

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Calgary (YYC).


    #5. SUNDAY RIVER Maine

    Early season action isn't just for the Rockies or the West Coast. A few scenic hours from Boston by car (shorter from Portland) and you're at this hardcore, middle-of-nowhere resort that's already up and running for the season, thanks largely to one of the most aggressive snowmaking programs around.

    Good deal Save up to $100 on your stay – anytime during the upcoming season – if you book by Dec. 1.

    Info at sundayriver.com

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Portland, ME (PWM)
    .


    #6. TIMBERLINE Oregon

    While you were laying out on the beach this summer, die hard fans were buckling up their ski boots and hitting the trails at this year-round resort atop the iconic (and volcanic) Mount Hood, which boasts nearly 4,000 vertical feet of terrain on a mountain that's 11,245 feet high. Right in the middle of it all, you'll find the historic Timberline Lodge, which you may remember from such films as "The Shining."

    Good deal Grab a group and book Oregon's loftiest hotel accommodations: the rustic but super-cool Silcox Hut, perched up at 7,000 feet. Rates were recently as low as $118 per person, per night and included breakfast and transportation from the lodge.

    Info at timberlinelodge.com

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Portland, OR (PDX)
    .


    #7. TAOS SKI VALLEY Taos

    Averaging almost as much sunshine (300 days) as snowfall (305 inches) each year, this old-school and family-friendly resort is a sure thing for those who like their ski days with a side of blue skies. It's also the kind of place that keeps everyone happy – the famously unique town of Taos and nearby city of Santa Fe are, of course, destinations unto themselves.

    Good deal Ski through Dec. 16 for $50, compared to the normal lift ticket price of $75.

    Info at skitaos.org

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Albuquerque (ABQ)
    .


    #8. SNOWBASIN Ogden, UT

    Leave the likes of Park City to those who enjoy overpaying for a hotel room and get up to this secret-ish resort north of Salt Lake that gained some notoriety during the 2002 Winter Olympics, but still remains a fairly low-key affair, with no hotels or condos onsite – just 3,000 skiable acres and vertical feet, plus 400 inches of that famous Utah powder (on average) per year. They'll be up and running for the Thanksgiving weekend.

    Good deal Many visitors choose to stay in the nearby city of Ogden, which offers plenty of affordable lodging and dining – more than you'd find near many other ski resorts.

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Salt Lake City (SLC)
    .


    #9. ARAPAHOE BASIN Colorado

    Just up the road from Keystone – see #1 on our list – A-Basin is more local's hill than world-class resort, and Colorado residents (and those who wish they were) wouldn't have it any other way. A-Basin dukes it out with nearby (and way old school) Loveland to open up first each year; it's usually neck and neck though. All moot now, of course – they're both well into the season already.

    Good deal Through Dec. 5, purchase the Legend's 4 Pass for $148 – it's good for four days of skiing or riding all season long.

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Denver (DEN)
    .


    #10. JACKSON HOLE Wyoming

    So you have to wait until after Thanksgiving (Nov. 26, to be exact) but boy, is this one ski hill that's worth holding out for. Buried way up in the Tetons, Jackson is one of the world's most challenging (but fun) ski resorts, with one of North America's best base villages, a compact, walkable and democratic affair that welcomes all-comers, whether they're staying in a suite at the Four Seasons Resort or a $28 bunk at The Hostel.

    Good deal Did we mention the $28 bunk beds?

    Info at jacksonhole.com

    Click here to see the lowest fares to Jackson Hole (JAC
    ).

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