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.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
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
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).
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 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).
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 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).