Best Bets for Early-Season Skiing

Newsroom Best Of Topics Best Bets for Early-Season Skiing

Ski season is coming. Skis and boards already tuned? Have you been stomping around the house in your ski boots? Well, the wait for the traditional Thanksgiving start of ski season can seem interminable. However, the odds are fairly good that a number of ski resorts will be cranking up their lifts early, allowing you to scratch that winter itch even before late November, though Thanksgiving remains the “unofficial” start to the new ski season.

It has been a warm, dry fall in the West, so some of the resorts that have been open by now in the past (think Loveland and Arapahoe Basin) are hoping for some cool weather to let them kick in.

Here’s the situation in mid-October according to’s Chief Meteorologist Chris Tomer: “The current ridge of high-pressure in the West breaks down and gets dislodged starting about Oct. 22. The mountains of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, the Pacific Northwest and Banff all get a blast of cold and snow from Oct. 22-28 and then it settles down.

“The doors swing wide open again late November and for most of December.  Christmas skiing should be good across Colorado, Utah Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Pacific Northwest and in Banff, Alberta.”

Tomer said the East should stay fairly dry until mid-November, “but then things start to pick up mid-to-late November and it should be a good December.”

Here are some options for early-season skiing and riding.

Best Bets For Early-Season Skiing

Sunday River, Maine

With one of the most extensive snowmaking systems in the East, Sunday River affords skiers and riders the chance to slide on snow surrounded by Maine’s beautiful fall foliage. The only ingredient needed now is cold weather creeping in.

Look for Sunday River to open by their projected date of Nov. 18 if normal patterns hold. But be sure to bring your appetite to the Thanksgiving Dinner Buffet at the Grand Summit Hotel. Other Thanksgiving weekend activities are scheduled and a visit over the holidays is a tradition for many families.

Grand Targhee, Wyoming

Grand Targhee has been known to open early when conditions permit (with an annual average snowfall of 500 inches, conditions permit about 25 percent of the time). That, of course, depends on early snowfall. And unlike many other resorts, early-season skiing at Targhee—starting on the Shoshone lift and spreading out from there—is almost exclusively on natural snow. Tomer suggests Wyoming is a good choice for early-season and Thanksgiving skiing. Holiday events include a traditional price fixe Thanksgiving Dinner at the resort’s Branding Iron Grill.

Lake Louise, Alberta

One of the largest resorts in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise is always one of Canada’s first resorts to open for skiing each winter, and while it’s beautiful fall weather dots the slopes in mid-October, the ski area is hopeful for a relatively early opening in November. But, whether they make the Nov. 2 projection is something to watch. Thanksgiving will be a no-brainer.

Early-season skiing on the Glacier Express lift is typically a mix of man-made and natural snow, and the temperatures in November are usually milder than they are later in the winter. Lake Louise will host the Men’s Alpine Ski World Cup Nov. 22-28, 2022 with downhills and super G events. The best women skiers in the world arrive in Lake Louise for more downhill and super-G action Nov. 29-Dec. 4.

Lake Louise, Alberta
Lake Louise is a good choice for early skiing @Shutterstock

Mammoth Mountain, California

Mammoth continues to hold on to its Nov. 11 Opening Day projection. Those cold nights are beginning to cooperate. One year, the mountain opened on the preposterously early date of October 5. Skiing on a mix of man-made and natural snow starts on the Broadway Express chair and the area around Main Lodge. But, that’s history.

Mammoth strives to have skiing (on natural snow) at its other base areas before Thanksgiving. Holiday events are led by Wooly the Mammoth for the kids and traditional Thanksgiving dinners can be found at lots of local restaurants.

Timberline, Oregon

Located on Oregon’s glacier-capped Mount Hood, Timberline Lodge has the longest ski season in North America and the highest base elevation in the Pacific Northwest, virtually guaranteeing good snow.

Though it closes for renovations and ski team training in the fall, Timberline plans to re-open to the public by Nov. 20. And when other Northwestern ski areas are hamstrung by droughts, Timberline can offer skiing on the glaciers of the upper mountain.

Get reservations, but Thanksgiving Dinner in the Lodge’s Cascade Room is a treat. The Pacific Northwest is a good bet for Thanksgiving, according to Tomer.

Loveland Ski Area, Colorado

Loveland Ski Area and Halloween have become synonymous over the years and you can bet Loveland will make every effort to be open as October turns to November. Still, even if there are weather tricks, the treats won’t be far behind. The resort fired up its shotguns this year October 8. The weather in mid-October is decidedly cool with mid-day reading in the low 40s and will creep down in the weeks ahead.

Loveland Ski Area is located close to Denver along I-70, and is prone to early-season storms thanks to its high elevation. Skiers and riders have access to 2 separate base areas and 9 lifts serving 1,800 acres of varied terrain. A different twist on Thanksgiving dinner Italian-style can be enjoyed at nearby Georgetown’s Cafe Milano in the form of turkey roulade. Colorado may be a bit slower on the uptake, but watch for a really good December and Christmas.

Where to ski in November, Loveland, CO.
Opening day at Loveland, CO ©Casey Day

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado

Arapahoe Basin and Loveland usually battle it out for first to open bragging rights. The ski area’s close proximity to Denver and its high elevation make it a popular early-season destination among Colorado skiers and riders. A-Basin, as it’s affectionately known, offers some seriously steep terrain as the snowpack deepens with its 2,270 feet of vertical drop.

Best bets for early season skiing, Keystone, CO.
The scenic gondola ride at Keystone Resort, Colorado. @Shutterstock

Keystone, Colorado

Keystone often begins making snow as early in October as possible, which usually pays off with an opening around Halloween or just beyond. Although the early-season skiing is mostly on machine-made snow, the resort’s high elevation makes it susceptible to early-season storms. Keystone has lots of options for Thanksgiving dinner, but a couple of traditional favorites are the two-gondola ride mountain top Alpenglow Stube or the Ski Tip Ranch.

Wolf Creek, Colorado

Wolf Creek in Pagosa Springs, Colo. beat the pack by opening Oct. 16 for the 2021 season following a 14-inch snow dump. The resort bills itself as “having the most snow in Colorado” and there’s little to argue about in the claim. They haven’t offered up an opening day, but it won’t be long into late October or November.

Visit Thanksgiving weekend and you may find the deepest snowpack in the country. Consider the Springs Resort and Spa on the San Juan River so you can soak those weary-ski bones in 1 of 24 therapeutic pools.

Photo Header Credit: Breckenridge Ski Area/Vail Resorts

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