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Get an early jump on ski season

It's beginning to look a lot like ski season. Thanks to a handful of early storms and legions of snowmaking guns, the ski scene is already picking up around the nation.
Image:A skier at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado
A skier at Colorado's Arapahoe Basin catches some air on a downhill run on Monday. The resort opened up a handful of runs on October 15. Adult lift tickets are $49 at A-basin through December 12.Casey Day

Wondering about winter weather and the prognosis for the slopes?

You could consult the Farmers’ Almanac, which is predicting colder-than-average temperatures over much of the country, or the folks at the National Weather Service, who are calling for just the opposite. You could even confer with the nearest woolly bear caterpillar, but apparently they’re not talking.

Me? I’m going with the huckleberries growing around Whitewater Winter Resort, near Nelson, B.C., earlier this fall. “They were hanging thick and heavy,” says Marketing Manager Anne Pigeon, “and that means it’s going to be a good snow year.”

In fact, it’s already looking that way at several ski resorts courtesy of a handful of early storms and legions of snowmaking guns. Sure, the terrain may be limited and the conditions can be sketchy, but it still beats working, right? And despite the obvious mixed blessing, the staggering economy has resort owners nervous and offering great early-season deals.

The following resorts are currently open for business and hungry for company. Just remember to confirm conditions before you go as terrain, prices and operating status are all subject to change.

Most years, local favorites Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area duke it out for first-in-the-nation honors. This year, they settled on a sort of downhill détente, opening up a handful of runs simultaneously on October 15. Adult lift tickets are $44 at Loveland and $49 at A-basin through December 12.

The early-season deals continue at Breckenridge, Keystone and Copper Mountain, all of which opened on November 7. At Copper, $59 gets you access to four lifts and six runs; at Breckenridge and Keystone, $65 buys you top-to-bottom turns on 80 and 107 acres, respectively.

Stay the night (or nights) and the deals get even better. At Copper, lift-and-lodging packages start at $114 per person per night (four-night minimum, book by November 23); at Breckenridge, guests who buy a three-night lift-and-lodging package ($289 and up, valid until December 20) can get a fourth night and day of skiing for $1 more.

After getting hit with three feet of snow in early November, Snowbird notched the second-earliest opening in its history, firing up the tram and two chairs on November 7. With approximately a dozen runs now open, daily tickets are $62. Early Bird packages, including lift ticket, lodging in the Cliff Lodge and free skiing for kids 12 and younger, start at $119 per person per night (three-night minimum, valid through December 23).

Elsewhere in the Wasatch, Brighton and Solitude kicked things off last week, Alta opened for a sneak peek over the weekend (and should reopen November 21), and Park City and Powder Mountain are shooting for November 22.

With five lifts running and approximately one-third of the mountain accessible, Mammoth Mountain is laying claim to the most rideable terrain in the country. Adult lift tickets are $69; lift and lodging packages at the Mammoth Mountain Inn start at $99 per person per night (two-night minimum, valid through December 17).

Alas, Tahoe skiers will have to wait a bit longer (although a lucky few got to ski Mt. Rose last weekend). Heavenly is hoping to open November 21; Squaw, Northstar and Kirkwood, the next day.

New England
Although a handful of resorts managed to eke out a few days earlier this fall, rising temperatures and recent rains put a mid-month damper on any ongoing operations. However, with temperatures dropping again, resort owners have fired up the snowmaking guns in hopes of reopening over the next few days.

In fact, Killington bumped up its proposed November 20 opening by a day and is now offering skiing and snowboarding on 10 runs off the K-1 Gondola and North Ridge chair ($65). At press time, Sunday River was expecting to open on November 20 with two lifts and up to nine runs ($45). Other good bets for early-season turns include Mt. Snow and Okemo in Vermont and Bretton Woods and Waterville Valley in New Hampshire.

With up to a foot of new snow falling last week, the ski areas around Banff are well-positioned for what the locals call “American Thanksgiving.” Lake Louise and Norquay both opened on November 8. The former is open daily with $38 lift tickets and access to the Glacier Express quad and one run; the latter is running the Cascade Chair on weekends for $20 a day.

Sunshine Village joined the club late last week, with three chairs, $56 lift tickets and the only on-mountain lodging in the region. Guests who book a two-night stay at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge will receive a third night free (available Thursday–Sunday, through December 19).

Elsewhere in Canada, Mt. Tremblant and Whistler/Blackcomb are hoping to open November 21 and November 27, respectively. At Whitewater, where the huckleberry bushes are getting buried under a growing blanket of snow, it’s looking like December 6.