Winter doesn't officially start until Dec. 21, but resorts around the West are starting to open, and skiers are getting ready for their favorite time of year. Here are some of the new features for the upcoming season around the West, along with contact information and ideas to help you plan a trip.
CALIFORNIA: Alpine Meadows has added a high-speed quad lift in its Sherwood Bowl area. Kirkwood has added a high-speed quad, the TC Express, that will serve a beginner area and provide a quick return route from the popular advanced terrain of the Palisades.
The state's 34 downhill and cross-country ski resorts include Heavenly, Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley, Sierra, Mount Rose, Kirkwood, Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. Information at http://www.visitcaliforniasnow.com/ includes interactive maps showing resort locations, or call (800) 862-2543.
COLORADO: Snowmass has replaced the Fanny Hill lift with a six-passenger high-speed lift that will deposit skiers at Sam's Knob, eliminating one lift ride. Aspen Highlands' new Deep Temerity lift will offer access to some of the steepest terrain in the state. At Breckenridge, a new high-speed quad lift will reach the top of Peak 8, at 12,840 feet the highest lift-served terrain in North America. Mary Jane (Winter Park) is replacing the four-seat Summit Express with a six-seater.
Colorado has 24 ski resorts, but winter destinations and pursuits also include including ski biking at Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort; Vail's Colorado Ski Museum; ice-climbing at the Ouray Ice Park, opening mid-December, and natural hot springs where you can warm up after an afternoon of snow sports. Call (800) 265-6723 or visit http://www.coloradoski.com/ for details.
IDAHO: Tamarack, in its second year of operation, is adding a third high-speed quad, 10 new alpine trails and 1,700 additional vertical feet. Sun Valley has replaced its grooming fleet with 10 new machines, while Northern Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain is opening 400 new acres of terrain including five new runs for advanced, intermediate and expert skiers and riders. Schweitzer Mountain has also been chosen to host the World Cup Telemark Finals March 10-12, the first World Cup Telemark event to be held in the United States in three years.
Other winter destinations include Smoky Mountain Lodge, which claims to be the only fly-in heli-ski lodge in the lower 48; Boise's Bogus Basin Mountain Resort, offering lighted night skiing on a Nordic trail this year; and Silver Mountain Resort, which has an expanded terrain park and two new runs. For more information on skiing in Idaho, go to http://www.idahowinter.org/ or call (800) 847-4843.
MONTANA: Big Sky and its two-year-old neighbor, Moonlight Basin, will offer a joint pass and lift ticket. Combined, the two trail networks cover 5,300 acres served by 23 lifts and a vertical drop of 4,350 feet.
Montana has a total of 16 downhill ski resorts, and nine national forest areas have cross-country ski trails; details at http://wintermt.com/, where you can order a free winter vacation planner for the state, or call (800) 847-4868.
NEW MEXICO: A new triple chair at Ski Santa Fe will take snowriders to the top of Deception Peak, 12,075 feet, and will serve six new trails.
At http://www.skinewmexico.com/ or (505) 982-5300, you'll find information on ski packages at destinations that include Sipapu, Red River, Pajarito Mountain and other places.
UTAH: Deer Valley's Sultan chairlift has been replaced with a high-speed detachable quad that adds 1,000 feet of vertical.
There are also new lodges at Alta, Snowbird and Solitude, along with grooming machines at other Utah resorts and improved terrain parks for snowboarders. For the 2006-07 season, Snowbird is building a 595-foot, European-style tunnel high on its mountain to move skiers along a conveyor belt to the resort's back side at Mineral Basin, avoiding steeper slopes.
As for this season, if you can't get out there before February, don't worry. Snowbird was open until July 4 this year, its longest-ever season with 53 feet of snow. Details at http://www.skiutah.com/ or (800) 754-8824.
WYOMING: At Jackson Hole, a new lift, the Sweetwater, will take skiers from beginner slopes to intermediate runs for those who like groomed terrain. The resort will also close its 39-year-old aerial tram after this season, which means a new tram or chairlifts will have to be used to get to some of Jackson's most storied expert terrain.
Jackson Hole is also offering a new "Wild West Woods" theme for children on some of its beginner ski slopes, with teepees, bridges, life-size animal figures and a warming hut that looks like an old-style settler's tent. The trails also offer educational and environmental features, such as tree identification and displays on the science of snows.
Jackson Hole and two other major resorts nearby, Grand Targhee and Snow King, are among a dozen ski resorts in the state. For details, go to http://www.wyomingmade.com/ski.htm or call (800) 225-5996.
DEALS: If you plan to ski regularly in one state, consider getting a pass like those available in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico that let you sample most or all resorts statewide.
Also, ask individual resorts about package deals on airfare, lodging and lift tickets. Jackson Hole has a deal in which kids fly free, stay free and ski free with a fare-paying adult on certain flights; details at (888) 838-6606 or click on "Specials and packages" at http://www.jacksonholewy.com/. A similar offer exists for skiing in Crested Butte, Colo., in conjunction with American Airlines' "Kids Fly Free!" program, Jan. 2-Feb. 16; details at (800) 814-8893 or http://www.gunnisoncrestedbutte.com/.