Image: Bretton Woods Ski Area
Jim Cole  /  AP
Snow guns pump out man-made snow at Bretton Woods Ski area in Bretton Woods, N.H., on Monday. Temperatures in New England have finally dipped below freezing as ski areas make snow in hopes of opening Thanksgiving weekend.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/28/2006 11:06:47 AM ET 2006-12-28T16:06:47

Where’s a woolly bear caterpillar when you need one?

According to the folks at the Farmers’ Almanac, we’re about to head into an extremely cold and snowy winter. Not so, say the data crunchers at the National Weather Service, who are predicting the coming months will be warmer and drier than usual.

Alas, with no consensus forthcoming — and no caterpillars to be found — I figure there’s only one thing to do when you don’t know what the winter holds in store.

Go skiing.

The good news is that several resorts are already open for skiing and snowboarding, and several more are set to fire up the lifts any day now. The bad news? Terrain is limited, conditions can be marginal, and one little warm spell or rainstorm can turn this month’s snowpack into next summer’s water supply.

I don’t care. Personally, I’ll take a day of scratchy turns on the beginner hill over another day of yard work any time. And with most areas offering early-season discounts, there are good deals to be had on everything from lift tickets to lodging.

Colorado
Thanks to good October snowfall and major snowmaking efforts, Arapahoe Basin kicked off the new season on October 13 when it opened one chair, one run, and a terrain park. Loveland Ski Area followed the next day with one lift and three runs, with both areas opening more terrain since.

Meanwhile, Keystone and Copper Mountain, both of which opened November 3, are offering riding on more than a dozen runs, plus discounted lift tickets and good deals on lodging. At Copper, adult tickets are $51 through November 22 and then $59 until December 22. Keystone also opened at $51, but expects to raise prices as more terrain opens.

Stay longer and the deals get even better. At Copper, guests who buy three nights lodging and three days of lift tickets receive a fourth night and fourth lift ticket free starting at $79 per person per day (through November 22) and $84 per person per day (November 23–December 16). At Keystone, full-meal deals — lift ticket, rental gear, group lesson, and lodging — start at $170 per person per night through December 15.

As for Colorado’s other major  resorts, a sampling of opening schedules looks like this: Breckenridge (November 10), Winter Park (November 15), Vail (November 17), Aspen and Crested Butte (November 18). Most will offer discounts based on the number of open lifts and trails.

California
The snowmaking machines have also been working overtime at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which cranked up two lower-mountain lifts on November 9. Having since opened another chair and the Panorama Gondola (mid-station only), the resort is charging $63 per day through November 22 and then $73 through December 22.

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The resort is also offering an early-season lift and lodging package called First Tracks. Book two or more nights at $99 per person per night, and they’ll throw in a lift ticket for each person for each night stayed. The package is available November 26 to December 14.

Alas, mid-November rains have hampered most of the resorts around Lake Tahoe, although several, including Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar-at-Tahoe, hope to get things rolling any day now. In the meantime, those in need of an immediate fix can head to Boreal at Donner Summit, where $22 a day buys access to one lift, one run, and the region’s only open terrain park.

Utah
In the Wasatch, a mid-November storm delivered just enough fluff for Brighton to claim first-day bragging rights on November 15. Several resorts have opened since, including Solitude and Park City (November 17), and Alta, Snowbird, and The Canyons (November 18). Needless to say, all will offer limited operations until the snow gods (or the snowmaking guns) deliver the goods.

In the meantime, look for deals on lift tickets and lodging packages. Early-season lift tickets are $44 at The Canyons and $45 at Park City, although they’re expected to rise as more terrain opens. Lift and lodging packages start at $88.50 per night at the Canyons and $99 per night at Park City, subject to availability.

Better yet, visitors who fly into Salt Lake International Airport can exchange their boarding pass for a free, day-of-arrival lift ticket at either resort (and Deer Valley when it opens in early December), courtesy of the Park City Chamber of Commerce’s Quickstart program. A voucher and advance registration are required and can be accessed at http://www.parkcityinfo.com/.

New England
As I write this, resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire are running their snowmaking guns full blast in the hopes of opening on (or just before) Thanksgiving. There are no guarantees, of course, but look for Stowe, Stratton, Killington, and Waterville Valley to lead the pack. Get your gear together now, and you’ll be that much more ready when they do.

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