Where to go now

The Go List

Wolf Creek Is Open First This Ski Season. Who’s Next?

Thanks to massive powder conditions, Wolf Creek will be the first ski area to open this season. Here's what you need to know, plus the resorts we think could be turning chairlifts next.

Southwestern Colorado’s Wolf Creek will open this Saturday, October 13—a full 20 days before their previous projection. (Wes Bagwell)
ski

Thanks to massive powder conditions, Wolf Creek will be the first ski area to open this season. Here's what you need to know, plus the resorts we think could be turning chairlifts next.

With a reported 20 inches of powder over the past week, a midway base of 14 inches, and a bit more snow on the way, southwestern Colorado’s Wolf Creek will open this Saturday, October 13—a full 20 days before the resort’s previous projection. That’s good enough to win the race for earliest opening day and beats other perennial first-chair favorites like Arapahoe Basin. The best part? It’s almost entirely natural snow, says Davey Pitcher, CEO and president of Wolf Creek. “There is quite a bit water in the snow, too, so it’s quite supportive even off-piste if people want to go exploring,” he says. “We’ll have a variety pack of good terrain open—some expert terrain, a lot of intermediate terrain, and some beginner terrain.” Lifts include Treasure Stoke, Bonanza, and Nova, but they'll only be running on weekends for another few weeks. Still, it's a big change from the previous two seasons, when the resort struggled to open in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. But it really shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. This remote, family-owned ski area has a reputation for getting nailed with early season snow, but those storms usually come in November, not mid-October.

If you can’t make it for opening day, there are plenty of other reasons to visit later in the season. Wolf Creek sees a whopping average annual snowfall of 430 inches, the most in Colorado. Plus, this winter, a new high-speed quad will make access to the 900-acre Alberta area even easier and will open up plenty of new sidecountry runs like the north-facing Lake Chutes. Motel SOCO, 25 miles away in Pagosa Springs, was recently renovated and the bar serves local craft beers on tap and house cocktails (rooms from $94).

If Wolf Creek is a bit too remote, these five resorts may be your best bet for an early season chair.

Loveland and Arapahoe Basin

ski
(Courtesy Arapahoe Basin Ski Area)

Colorado

Arapahoe Basin and Loveland have a friendly competition to see which resort can crank the lifts earlier (see #racetoopen). A-Basin snagged the win last year, opening on October 13. This year, thanks to cold temperatures, it started snowmaking on September 21, the earliest snowmaking date in the past decade. New this winter, A-Basin will open a lift into the Beavers and Steep Gullies, a 468-acre expansion into coveted steep terrain. There’s no lodging at the base of either ski resort, but the Hotel Chateau Chamonix in nearby Georgetown has in-room espresso machines and homemade croissants delivered to your door each morning (from $164).

Mount Rose

ski
(Courtesy Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe)

Nevada

With a base elevation of 8,260 feet, Mount Rose towers over the casinos of Reno and is one of the highest ski resorts in the Tahoe area, meaning it tends to open among the earliest. The ski area is in the midst of investing $2 million in improvement projects, including an updated snowmaking system with 17 new snowmaking towers and upgrades to the main lodge. The resort is scheduled to begin winter operations on October 26. Stay in downtown Reno—the Whitney Peak Hotel has a 164-foot outdoor climbing wall on one side of the building (from $350).

Killington

ski
(Chandler Burgess)

Vermont

Killington tends to be one of the earliest ski resorts to open in the Northeast; this year it hopes to open before November, pending conditions. Ahead of this winter, Killington announced $25 million in mountain upgrades, including a new six-person chair on Snowdon Mountain, a relocated and updated Snowdon Quad in the South Ridge area, and $1 million in snowmaking improvements. The Killington Grand Resort Hotel has ski-in/ski-out access, ski lockers, and a heated outdoor pool (from $175).

Lookout Pass

ski
(Courtesy Lookout Pass)

Idaho

Unlike many larger ski resorts on this list, Lookout Pass doesn’t have a robust snowmaking system—it just gets graced with snow early in the season. Last year, the ski area opened on November 4, making it the earliest to open in the Northwest. You’ll come for the 400 inches of average snowfall per season and the low-key, family-friendly vibe. There are only 540 acres and four lifts, but the ski area is in the process of expanding lift service to Eagle Peak, which will increase vertical to 1,650 feet and skiable acres to 1,023. The retro Stardust Motel has clean, basic rooms steps from downtown Wallace (from $110).

Mammoth Mountain

ski
(Courtesy Mammoth Mountain)

California

Mammoth Mountain has already announced its opening date: November 8. With a base elevation of nearly 8,000 feet, this eastern Sierra Nevada resort has reliably good early season conditions. Opening-day festivities include free coffee and hot chocolate at 7 a.m., a lively countdown to first chair, and a beer toast and live music on the deck at 11 a.m. The High Sierra Hotel, a Best Western located downtown, recently underwent a $1.2 million renovation with a refurbished café and lobby (from $167).

Filed To: Travel / Colorado / Idaho / California / Vermont / skiing / Nevada / Snow Sports
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

the-ring-race.jpg
(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

plaza-to-peak_h.jpg
(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.