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Find America's best spring snow in Utah, Reno

Image: Squaw Valley
Skiers relax at the Squaw valley USA resort in Olympic Valley, Calif.Nathan Kendall / AP file
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Skiers and snowboarders in the U.S. are enjoying an epic year of snow. Right now, the U.S. has the best skiing and riding conditions in the world. Better yet, most of the resorts with the longest seasons in North America are within only an hour of two great spring skiing airports—Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada.

Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada, are two of America’s easiest airports to reach. Within an hour’s springtime drive from these cities there are 18 wonderful resorts with some of the longest ski and snowboarding seasons on the continent. Both Salt Lake City and Reno have nearby golf courses that allow visitors to ski in the morning and then golf in the afternoon when the snow begins to get mushy. It’s a combination that’s hard to beat.

Spring is the best time to glide down snowy mountain trails and carve monster GS turns. Daytime temperatures rise comfortably above freezing. The sun seems warmer and brighter. Apres-ski definitely heats up in the afternoon warmth. Jackets come off. Sunscreen goes on. Then throw in the discounted pricing most resorts offer during the spring like cheap midweek rooms and 2 for 1 ticket deals, and a skiing or riding vacation makes all the sense in the world.

Salt Lake City is so committed to skiing and snowboarding that the city runs regular buses from downtown right to the lifts of Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird. Plus, visitors can purchase a single lift ticket that allows skiing at all of these resorts.

Tucked into the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, these resorts are blessed with copious amounts of snow. After getting pounded all winter long with their signature powder, April in these canyons normally sees more than five feet of new snow. Believe it or not, the snow comes down fluffy and dry even in the spring.

Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon is the Utah champion when it comes to the longest ski season. It has kept its lifts running into May ever since it opened in the 70s. Some years, it stays open until the 4th of July. If you are planning to ski later in the season, speak with the locals to learn how the sun moves across the resort. Skiers and riders who plan correctly will be rewarded with some excellent corn snow. It’s an art.

The same weather patterns that bless Snowbird with exceptional spring snow also dump snow on Alta further up the Little Cottonwood Canyon and on Solitude Ski Resort and Brighton Ski Resort in the adjoining Big Cottonwood Canyon.

These four resorts are an easy 45-minute to hour-long drive from the Salt Lake City airport. In fact folk flying in from the East Coast can catch an early morning flight and make tracks in the afternoon.

Nearby Park City, only about an hour from downtown Salt Lake City, has three more world class resorts — Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons and Deer Valley — surrounding a quaint old mining town. Park City Mountain Resort trails drop right into the town (however, in the spring skiers may be limited to skiing to the base area). Deer Valley, known for perfect grooming, has spectacular brass and glass cafeterias and hundreds of beach chairs set up to let skiers and snowboarders catch rays and watch the other skiers.

Forty-five minutes north of Salt Lake City, Snowbasin trails curl down Olympic slopes and lead to some of the most beautiful lodges and mountain restaurants on any mountain in North America that beckon for long lazy lunches. Only a few minutes further across the Upper Ogden Valley, Powder Mountain’s trails spread out over the largest in-bounds terrain in Utah. The snow quality normally remains excellent in the trees down “The Backside” and the bus ride back to the base area is a gas.

Stay downtown in Salt Lake City to save a bundle on accommodation and have access to the nightlife and culture of the Utah capital city. Or, head into the mountains and stay on the slopes so that you don’t miss any turns and can catch the early morning snow.

Reno, Nevada, is the gateway to the Lake Tahoe Region. This airport serves seven resorts surrounding the legendary blue mountain lake. Three of these resorts have already announced closing dates well into May, and if history is an indicator, at least two resorts will have skiing and snowboarding until the end of June and maybe into July.

The drive from Reno airport is less than an hour to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sugarbowl, Diamond Peak, Mount Rose and Heavenly. Skiers and snowboarders carve turns at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows regularly until June and often into July. Heavenly, on the south shore of Lake Tahoe already announced that they will remain open until May 4th. This year’s snowpack seems to indicate a long season for spring 2008 in the entire Tahoe region. Until mid-April virtually all of the Tahoe resorts will remain open for sunny and warm skiing and riding.

Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, is one of the spring skiing champions of the world. It always seems to have one of the longest seasons. Alpine Meadows shares the same snowpack and is normally opened just about as long as Squaw Valley. Both mountains have excellent early day skiing followed by nice corn snow and them are faced with slushier conditions as the afternoon wears on. Skiing or snowboarding at Heavenly is enhanced by the wonderful views of Lake Tahoe, especially from the gondola that rises from South Lake Tahoe.

Part of the magic of skiing and snowboarding in the rugged peaks that surround deep blue Lake Tahoe is the nearby opportunities to golf only about 30-45 minutes away from the mountain trails. In April and May the golf courses are opening, and for those who decide to head to the slopes in June or early July, the golf courses are absolutely lush.

Reno also provides wonderful nightlife with gaming, national headliner shows, Broadway productions, glittering discos and more gourmet restaurants than anyone can try in week. Festivals like the Whitewater Festival with kayak races in their unique whitewater park built in the Truckee River that runs through town add a touch of adventure to the long-established casinos and the newly emerging café and arts community. And the town hosts a series of surprising museums from the National Automobile Museum with more than 220 cars on display to the Nevada Museum of Art that peaks into Nevada’s mining and Western soul.

Skiers or snowboarders considering a late season trip to the slopes should look into flying to either Salt Lake City or to Reno. Flights are easy to find and then some of America’s best spring snow can be found within an hour of both cities.