It's here at last, this Winter of 2010-11. Resorts across North America are opening, one after the next, as snowguns cover trail after trail.

The process of getting open is always methodical and can be maddening.

Snowmaking requires cold weather and time. It takes so many hours to cover a trail to sufficient depth for skiing and riding. It takes cold temps to allow snowguns to convert water into the manmade snow  of early season. The math is relentless, no matter how antsy one may get as October becomes November, and November lumbers into December.

Nights grow cold as the season progresses, but days can become warm again, meaning cover laid down overnight can transform. Skiing and riding surfaces are thus variable, with hard patches where sun has melted frozen cover and shade has allowed it to refreeze. Ground is not yet frozen, as it will be later in the season, so melting can occur from below as well, meaning cover can be thin in spots.

Limited terrain also means everyone is on fewer trails, so cover gets hammered by numbers, and possibly skied off earlier.

Snowmakers cover trails, but often the woods between trails are without snow, meaning there's no chance of recovery for anyone skiing or riding off the edge of a trail.

All these things prompt this good advice for skiers and riders everywhere: Glide with care over terrain that may be covered thinly, with variable surfaces, with little or no cover in the woods.

The basic rule for early season: Slow down.

Beyond that always follow the Skier and Rider Responsibility Code designed to keep you and all others safe on the slopes. These rules are obvious, and include the basis always ski or ride in control; stop at the sides of trails, not the middle; always look uphill before taking off; and never ever hit anyone below you on the trail, since it's your responsibility to avoid them and not the other way ‘round.