Skiing at Timberline
Skiing at Timberline

What resorts have the best early-season skiing?

Where are the best places in North America to make early tracks this fall?

Skiing at Timberline
Greg Melville

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Can’t wait until Thanksgiving to get on the trails? These resorts generally offer better conditions than others during the very early season. Of course, weather is a huge and unpredictable factor. And remember: no matter how much snow the ski resort claims is carpeting its trails, you’re best off using a friend’s skis until there’s enough of the white stuff to bury most of the rocks.

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado
Its 13,000-foot elevation assures that A-Basin gets snow and sub-freezing temperatures as early as anywhere in the country. It’s always one of the first ski areas to open in October. This year’s first measureable snowfall came in mid-September and left a couple inches of frosting above 10,000 feet.

Lake Louise, Canada
I’m no friend of the resource-draining practice of producing the white stuff, but for the sake of accuracy, I should note that Lake Louise produces enough of the white stuff to open quite early most years and still provide decent conditions. This year, the resort needs the slopes to be in good shape for the WinterStart World Cup downhill, which will be held in late November.
Killington, Vermont
Unless there’s a fluke early-season blizzard, skiing in the East before the second or third week in December usually isn’t worth the money you’d pay for the discounted lift ticket. But if you absolutely have to get onto the slopes, Stowe and Killington both work their snow guns hard to make moderately decent conditions on the main trails by Thanksgiving. Killington has a slight edge, and makes a point of cranking up its lifts before anyone else in the region. But given the relatively low elevation of resorts in Vermont (Killington’s summit is 4,200 feet), neither of them can even think of making snow until consistent cooler temperatures arrive.

Timberline Lodge Ski Area, Oregon
If you really want a sure thing, go to a mountain with nearly year-round skiing. Timberline, which reaches a top elevation of 8,500 feet on the south face of towering Mount Hood, offers summer skiing on the Palmer Snowfield, and the skiable terrain only grows in the fall. On average, the resort receives 45 feet of snow a year.

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