Twin Falls, Idaho, holds a variety of surprises. Most famous for its towering bridge over the Snake River, a hotspot for bungee jumping and base jumping, and the thundering Shoshone Falls, the largest cascades west of the Mississippi. Nestled in the midst of farmland in the enchanting ‘Magic Valley,’ skiing is the last thing that comes to mind. With only an average of 18 inches of snow annually and a landscape as flat as Nebraska, it’s unexpected. However, there’s a hidden gem for skiers and snowboarders – Magic Mountain Ski Area and the backcountry skiing around it.
Here’s Our Personal Experience Of Backcountry Skiing Around Magic Mountain
Our Trip Lured Us Back To Explore The Backcountry
On our trip to Sun Valley a few years ago we found that southern Idaho had some Mom & Pops that provide Twin Falls skiing. One of those is Magic Mountain Ski Area. Though not vast, this ski area was a delightful surprise and provided our powder fix for the trip even though it hadn’t snowed in over a month. You can read about our experience in our article – Abracadabra Powder Skiing At Magic Mountain Idaho. What it also did was open our eyes to the backcountry skiing opportunities surrounding it. The decision was made to come back with our backcountry gear and see what the mountains had in store for us.
No Info But A Local With The 4-1-1
As we returned home, I dedicated the summer to uncovering information about backcountry skiing in the area, but the southern Idaho mountains seemed shrouded in mystery. Oddly enough, this only fueled our determination to explore them further. During our last trip, we connected with Terry, a passionate local ski patroller and a backcountry ski junkie. Terry generously offered to join us and provide local knowledge on the area. Drawing on the trip-planning expertise passed down by our mentor, Avalanche Educator Richard Bothwell, we etched out a plan.
A Bonanza Of Powder
On our first day, we set out to explore and dip our toes in the backcountry that could be accessed from the ski area. Calling it ‘low hanging fruit’ barely captures how easy it is to access for those willing to put in a tiny bit of effort. Thanks to the lift, which conveniently places you along the ridgeline, our route was straightforward – tracing the resort’s Spell trail until it gradually descended. At that point, we threw on our skins and began a brief ascent towards a prominent spot marked by an abandoned poma tower.
Adapt To Your Mountains
From the open knoll, we gained a bird’s-eye view of our goal for tomorrow – Pike Mountain. As we soaked in the sun and scenery, we met a couple of locals sporting an intriguing pair of skis I hadn’t seen before. On the bottom of the skis, they were equipped with scales akin to cross-country skis which allowed them to ascend gentle slopes. However, they were as wide as downhill models. This unique setup allowed them to bypass transitions and access the same terrain we were skiing at a fraction of the time.
After bidding adieu, we ventured a bit further to choose our own path. Swiftly transitioning, we descended. The open slope gradually increased in pitch allowing us to make a few bouncy turns. Reaching the base, we delved into a dense cluster of pine trees. Maneuvering through them, our crew shot out of them and onto a gentle slope dotted with Aspen trees. The route continued to present occasional tight spots interspersed with more open areas. We finally exit onto a snow-covered road. And even with a splitboard, the road has enough pitch to allow us to effortlessly glide back to the ski area.
Using the lift, it’s possible to rack up half a dozen or more laps without breaking a sweat, especially with quick transitions. After a few more runs of gobbling up some powder, we exchanged farewells, planning to meet up the next morning.
A Legit Ski Tour – Pike Mountain
The following day, we crossed the road and made our way to Pike Mountain. While most first-timers hit up the western aspects of Pike Mountain, the snow can be iffy. Instead, our local expert arranged to meet at the Wahlstorm trailhead. Our objective? Ski the north-facing slopes on the opposite side of the mountain. Despite it being a Saturday around ten in the morning, we found ourselves alone. After a brief beacon check, we smoothly set off into uncharted terrain.
Where Do Those Skis Go? They Go Up Ray!
At the outset of our tour, we traced a creek bed and followed a XC trail that gradually ascended. The only sound is the crunching of snow, while towering pines surrounded us in serene silence. As our climb picked up pace, we maneuvered through a series of switchbacks on a slope filled with Aspen trees. Breaking free from the gully, we’re greeted by a breathtaking view of the distant valley and prominent mountains in between the cluster of white-barked trees.
Ahoy! Thar Be Wind!
Our group ascends towards the saddle nestled between Pike Mountain and a smaller northern hill. The wind gradually gains intensity with each step upwards. Nearing the north face of Pike Mountain, the gusts intensify, hitting us head-on. Instead of pushing for the summit, collectively we opt to climb only until we reach the point where the trees thin out.
Just Us In This Untouched Paradise
Battered by the fierce wind, we seek refuge behind a towering spruce. From here we swiftly transitioning to our next objective. Gliding over to our destination, I’m awestruck. This side of Pike Mountain unfolds into a vast playground. There are chutes, perfectly spaced glades, and a diverse range of slopes to ski all day long. And remarkably? There isn’t a trace of any prior tracks – just us in this untouched paradise.
Despite today’s windy weather, I glance up at the peak. On a calmer day, we could effortlessly enjoy over 1,000 vertical feet of incredible skiing. However, today, we had to settle for a quick 600-foot descent. As we drop in, the snow is a mix of chalky goodness feel that improves with every turn. Gradually, it transforms into knee-deep powder, swirling around us like a wintry blanket.
Reaching Terry I can’t help but grin widely and exclaim, “Now THAT was awesome!”
If you’re keen on exploring this tour and other adventures in the southern Idaho mountains, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide available on Visit Southern Idaho’s website: You can find it here.
It’s Not Over Yet!
This is but the first leg of our backcountry ski tour. Stay tuned as we explore the backcountry options surrounding both Pomerelle Mountain and Soldier Mountain.
With ski areas starting to open all across North America, early season is upon us. We all hope as skiers and snowboarders that cold storms hit our home resort but that’s more the exception than the norm. If you have the cash, a trip to one of the resorts we talked about in our best bets for Thanksgiving skiing is a great option. For many of us though, that isn’t possible… so what should you do? Instead of staying home twiddling your thumbs and missing out on all the snowy fun, head to a resort that is endowed in the snowmaking variety. Ever wonder how the largest snowmaking systems in North America compare?
The Basics Of Snowmaking
Before we go through the list of the biggest and baddest snowmaking systems, let’s give the basics of how snowmakers create this magic stuff. The key factors on when a ski area can make snow is based on temperature, humidity, and altitude. These are combined into a single factor known in the science world as the “Wet Bulb Temperature.”
What Is Wet Bulb Temperature
In the simplest terms, “wet bulb” tells you how easy it is for water to evaporate. It takes into account the humidity AND the air temperature in one reading letting you know if the water being shot out of the snow guns can freeze before touching the ground. And the magic number needed for snowmaking is 27.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that you can technically start shooting snow at 40 degrees if the humidity and altitude are low enough. Negatively, it could also be below freezing and yet they can’t make snow because the humidity is too high. This also affects the quality of the snow being made too. The next important thing is the guns themselves, which fall into two basic categories: air/water and airless.
This type is where compressed air and water come in via two different hoses into the gun itself. The stream of water is internally interrupted by compressed air creating fine droplets. These droplets are then launched high enough to allow for the droplets to freeze. In the mid 1970’s when manufacturing snow became more prevalent, this was the gun style used. At that time, these variations were built from stock plumbing fixtures. This type of gun is still used by large scale manufacturers, and they continue to improve exponentially. For example, even today’s guns perform and produce higher quality product than those ten years older.
Resembling a giant oil drum as their name dictates, they don’t need compressed air shot into them. Instead, they spray water out of very small nozzles similar to those you use on garden hoses. These nozzles line a large powered fan that disrupts the jets of water into small droplets and propels them into the air. Compared to the air/water guns where they can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500 a pop, these bad boys can run you almost $10K, and they’re difficult to move.
Early Season Snowmaking
Just like a chef, no matter how good the ingredients, you still need to have a practiced hand. In addition, depending on the time of year you visit, the type of snow they’re going to make is going to be different. Think of it like a layered cake. The first layer near the ground will typically be dense i.e. wetter snow. From a skiing perspective, it’ll be icy and firm. This is when snowmakers produce snow that has a higher volume of water content. The advantage is that it is durable against ski traffic AND trails can be covered more quickly.
If you’ve ever heard someone say “oh, it’s crappy because it’s man made” that’s not necessarily true. What we’ve personally witnessed is that’s due to a ski area only making snow once or twice a season and then letting Mother Nature and snowcats do the rest. Although grooming can create a soft layer, typically this gets scraped off VERY fast. If a ski area continues to make snow throughout the season though, the conditions are WAY better. Unfortunately, 90% of resorts don’t invest in a high quality product.
Largest Snowmaking Systems In North America
Now that you have the basic understanding of how it’s made, let’s delve into the ski resorts with the biggest systems on the continent.
In addition to an enormous arsenal at the ready, they’re blessed to be located near the bottom of a huge watershed with nearly 43 square miles of drainage. This gives them access to a water source that naturally gets replenished: The Sunday River. And Sunday River isn’t resting on their laurels either. They continue to invest in their snowmaking abilities and taken the first steps toward doubling their snowmaking capacity. In 2020, they replaced two miles of pipe from their water source to the mountain and installed a new 600 horsepower pump, which has increased the capacity for making snow by 15%. And in 2021, they planned on 4 new 500 horsepower pumps to get yet another 10% increase in water capacity. With these investments, their system can now pump 10,000 gallons per minute directly from the river to their snow guns at the resort.
A list of the largest snowmaking systems wouldn’t be complete without the Beast of the East. When conditions are at their best, in ONLY an hours’ time, Killington can pump more than 720,000 gallons of water to 240 snow guns. This can cover 80 acres with 12 inches of fresh snow!
Another big player in the game is Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. The Catskill resort became the first ski area in the world to have 100 percent snowmaking coverage on its trails in 1980. They continue to invest not just in snow guns but their entire infrastructure. By replacing their original 60+ year old air compressor, they now have enough air and water available to run half of the snowmaking guns at once under marginal weather conditions. In fact, they can pump 43 gallons per minute per acre… that translates to covering 1 acre with 1 foot of snow per hour!
Blue Mountain Resort
Snow gun Arsenal: 1,382
Miles of Pipe: 40 miles
Source: Blue Mountain Resort
Another resort in PA that won’t let Ma’ Nature ruin the fun is Blue Mountain Resort. Located in the northern part of the Lehigh Valley, they boast the highest vertical in the state with a whopping 1,082′ vertical drop. To make sure all their terrain is open as quickly as possible, they have a big arsenal of snow guns. While 1,382+ guns might not seem like a lot, combine that with covering their 171 acres of terrain and that’s BIG! Their wintry weaponry consists of:
When it comes to the southeast, snowmaking is the backbone of EVERY major ski area south of the Mason Dixon line including Snowshoe. Home to the most snow (180 inches), largest vertical drop (1,500 feet), and most skiable terrain (265 acres) in the region, it also has a big snowmaking system to go with it. When conditions are right, Snowshoe can produce 2,500 TONS of snow per hour. If that wasn’t enough, in 2018 Snowshoe invested another $4 MILLION dollars into their snowmaking by installing automation hardware / software and picking up another 165 snow guns to their already hulking arsenal. This includes 90 low-energy “stick” guns and 75 fixed position, low-energy, high-production DemacLenko Titan 2.0 snow guns — the most powerful currently on the market.
Over several past seasons, Seven Springs has been very fortunate on the amount of real snow they received. In fact, the 2014-15 season was so good they actually were the FIRST ski resort in the East to host the Snowboarder’s Superpark. As most of us know in a normal winter, the East can have some “challenging” weather, and as such, you better have great snowmaking. Under ideal conditions, Seven Springs’ patented system can pump 30,120 gallons of water per minute through its 856 snow towers, and within five hours, cover 54 acres with one foot of snow. They don’t sit back on their snowmaking strengths either. For example, in 2010 they replaced the diesel compressors which used over 100,000 gallons of fuel with energy efficient electric compressors. Bottom line… if the the weather cooperates and the temps drop, they can open A LOT of their terrain quickly & efficiently.
America’s first ski resort has amazing terrain, but sometimes the snow just doesn’t want to fall. Being in the high desert and on the southern edge of Idaho’s mountainous interior, this makes them on average receive only 220 inches of the good stuff. That means you better be good at making it too, and Sun Valley is one of the best out there. It’s not just about the size of the arsenal though, but how new the equipment is. The older the snow gun, the smaller the snow crystal. It’s like the difference between a bucket of sand and a bucket of gravel. Translation: Newer guns equals better quality snow. And since 2014, Sun Valley replaced over 282 of their guns.
What this resort lacks in snowfall, it more than makes up with its massive snowmaking system. Just 90 minutes northwest of Toronto, Blue Mountain is Ontario’s largest mountain resort. Nestled on the shores of Georgian Bay, it has become THE four-season destination of the North, visited by more than 1.5 million guests a year. So, it makes sense that they’ve invested over $12 million in their snowmaking abilities since they started shooting snow in 1973. Even though their ski area has only 365 acres to cover, they’ve got some serious power behind it. In fact, they corner the market & can pull water directly from their reservoir via 14 pumps. It’s sent up the hill through the 53 kilometers of pipe at a maximum rate of 14,000 gallons per minute – enough to fill an average swimming pool in 2.5 minutes. The air sent to the guns is compressed by three-stage compressors, at a rate of 5,000 cubic feet per minute. Talk about some serious snow-power.
Of course, the East Coast is home to the largest snowmaking systems, but the ones out West are nothing to sneeze at. Snowbasin is a great example. With the Salt Lake City Olympics, they needed to ensure there was white stuff on the ground to ski on. So, they installed one of the largest networks west of the Mississippi AND made it 100% computer automated. This means they can take advantage of the weather at the push of a button.
Snow gun Arsenal: 380
Miles of Pipe: It’s a secret… but they can cover 540 acres of terrain
Ensuring that the quality of conditions is up to snuff at one of the busiest ski destinations in North America, the key is happy return customers. Vail Resorts continues to do this by investing in their system and installing over a mile of new pipe on Lost Horizon and Barton Breezeway trails on Peak 6. This is critical to get the popular area open in the early season regardless of natural snowfall.
Snow gun Arsenal: 280
Miles of Pipe: Who knows… but they can cover up to 900 acres
For anyone that’s been to Whistler, you know that their 5,280 vertical feet can sometimes have crazy weather. It can be snowing up top while raining at the bottom, so having snowmaking is key. Similar to Snowbasin, Whistler invested over $20 million out of the company’s $60 million investment in snowmaking for their Olympic Games. Their fleet gives them the capability to make snow from the glacier summits right to the valley floor. In fact, they can cover up to 900 acres of their terrain with up to a foot of snow.
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Snow gun Arsenal: 200+
Miles of Pipe: Take a guess… but they can blow snow on 70% of the marked trails
What is dubbed the largest snowmaking system on the West Coast, they typically make on average over 120 inches of snow each season. At peak capacity, Heavenly can cover a football field with 2 feet of snow in a ten hour shift. This is another resort that can fully automate over 65 of their fan guns so when conditions are perfect, it will run itself. Talk about a great combination!
It’s understandable that ski resorts out West, focused more on the natural pow, aren’t as big about touting their arsenals as the ones out East. Is there a ski area we missed that should be on the list?
Let’s hope for a big winter, but if it’s a slow start to the season, at least you now know which ones have a large system as a backup plan.
If you’re the curious type that asks questions like what is the biggest snowstorm ever? Or which ski resorts are the most favored to have a big winter in an El Nińo or La Nińa, you’ll love our Ski Weather Facts & Phenomenon homepage. We delve into these things and much, much more.
Having the right gear is critical to have a fun day in the mountains. Such as picking snowboard boots so your feet aren’t cold or a jacket that won’t leave you sweaty or soaked. Today we take a long, hard look into all the different snowboard shapes to help find the right board (or boards) for you.
Lingo, Jargon, & Slang
Before we jump into the profiles you’ll find in the shop or website, let’s dig into some of the terms and what they mean.
Looking from the top of the snowboard or ski to its tail, the sidecut is the literal rounded curve of it. The sidecut helps skiers and snowboarders engage a turn. And the deeper it is, the quicker you can get from edge to edge. For a novice or a park rat, a lesser sidecut will provide extra stability and a bit more forgiveness when the focus is less about turning and more on landing tricks or staying upright.
The next one is pretty straight forward. The length of a deck is always measured in centimeters and is the length from tip to tail. A good starting point of how long your board should be is to look for one that’s between your chin and nose. Of course, there are personal preferences and for specific riding styles. For example, some freestyle techs ride ones even shorter than that. Also, take into consideration a brands’ size charts and recommended weights since a lot of companies beef up the internal composition to support heavier riders.
Similar to your own waist, this is the narrowest point on the board and is always between the bindings and measured in millimeters. For many it may not be important, but if you have a larger foot size (size 10 and above), be VERY cognizant of this. For a men’s size 11 boot, you’ll want to look for one that’s above 255mm, and to make it even better for yourself, a lot of companies specifically call these out as “WIDE.”
Style Or Snowboard Types
When looking at technical specs, you’ll normally see a category that provides a bit more context on what it was designed for. Freeride means that it will tackle pretty much any terrain you throw at it. Think glades, chutes, and big mountain backcountry goodness. Freestyle is specifically designed to kill it in the park. Jumps, rails, and half-pipers are its playground.
All-Mountain is in between these two. It likes to tackle hairy lines off trail but still is known to dabble a bit in the park. Think of it as the Swiss army knife. Powder boards are just that. Three feet of wet glop or cold smoke, and it doesn’t matter if it’s fresh. These decks are designed explicitly to keep you afloat.
Last but not least, one of the newer categories is the splitboard. As the term dictates, they split in half so you can use them as skis to travel up a mountainside and then combine them back to ride down. Normally, these aren’t used within resort boundaries.
When attaching snowboard bindings to a deck, there are a few different mounting options out there. The first and most prevalent is the 2×4. Two stands for the 2cm distance in between the horizontal holes and 4cm between the vertical holes. Another one that’s popular is the 4×4. Same concept except instead of 2cm, it’s 4cm in between both the horizontal AND vertical holes.
Burton’s Bolt Patterns
Of course, Burton has to do their own proprietary design. In fact, not just one option but TWO. The first is the 3D. The idea is to provide an assortment of options (up to eight spots) but lower the weight by reducing the number of holes. And the second is the channel system. Two long channels provide an infinite amount of choices to the user since they can slide it to the exact spot they want. Since Burton is the most popular brand out there, many binding companies provide compatible disks so you can mount them on a Burton too.
When you lay a snowboard down on the ground, the first thing you’ll notice is its curves. Snowboard shapes come in a few basic categories specifically for the type of snowboarding you want to do.
If you’re an engineer, a Virgo, or just a person that likes everything in its place, you’ll fall in love with a true twin snowboard. As the name dictates, both the nose and the tail are the exact same length and width. In theory, if you cut it in half, you’ll have two pieces of board that are the same shape i.e. “twins.” These types of boards are geared towards those who spend a lot of time in the park. Why? Because if you tend to ride switch a lot then you can easily ride with your left foot forward OR right foot forward. Examples of this design include the Burton Process, Salomon Huck Knife, CAPiTA Defenders Of Awesome, and Arbor Westmark.
Unless you have a strong attention for detail, the only way you’d know that a deck is a directional twin is based by the sticker on it. In this category, the nose is a bit longer than the tail. Typically, the natural stance is setback a smidge (less than ¾ of an inch). Even this little bit will help the snowboard naturally float better in powder. Despite the setback stance, these boards are quite comfortable riding switch. An example of this type are the Arbor Wasteland and Jones Flagship.
These are designed to go one direction and do it well. Within this category of snowboard shapes, the variations can be drastic. You could find pow slashers, classic carving killers, or just a good all mountain freeride board. They’re also usually stiffer meaning less forgiveness at slower speeds but helpful at mach ten. In addition, the stance is setback as much as an inch closer to the tail. Directional snowboard shapes are normally ridden by those that are about the art of the turn and have a few years under their belt as well as spend less time in the park.
When the snow is deep and we’re talking three feet of sludge, do you have a problem keeping the nose afloat? This is where a tapered directional helps a lot. In this directional variation, the nose is wider than the tail. The nose width can be as much as a few centimeters wider or just a few mm. This ensures the nose stays up, allowing you to put less weight in the back seat and more time enjoying the pow. Imagine a surfboard slashing through water. The problem? On chunder or groomed snow, these types of decks make it a bit more challenging to turn. Good example of this style of board is the Weston JaPow, Jones Hovercraft, Stratos,Burton Family Tree Pow Wrench, or the Bataleon Surfer.
Another subcategory of the directional shape is the volume shift. Inspired by the short boards of surfing, the idea is to have the same surface area of a longer deck by trading the length for increased width. This allows a rider to make quicker turns and yet stay afloat in deep powder. If you live in mountains that receive big, massive dumps and tree lined terrain, this is a good tool to have in your quiver. Be aware, they’re tough to ride in choppy snow. Some of the best in this category includes the Weston Hatchet, Ride Warpig, Never Summer HarpoonGnu Gremlin, and Capita Spring Break Slush Slasher.
In addition to the board’s curvature while looking down at it, another perspective to think about is the camber profile. When looking from the side of the snowboard, this is what kind of flex pattern it has. There are three basic types: Camber, Rocker, or Hybird. For an in-depth explanation of each of these variations, be sure to read our article:
Now that you have a basic understanding of snowboard shapes and what all these terms mean, let’s look into other pieces of technology that go into making a snowboard.
One of the newer concepts in snowboard shapes that’s come around in the past few years is the idea of an asymmetrical twin. As anyone who has snowboarded a lot has found, the amount of pressure you apply on a toe-side turn and heel-side carve is different. And through a ton of R&D, companies have figured out how to help improve your riding.
These boards are designed with sidecuts that have both a shorter and deeper, more pronounced heel side sidecut. In return, this helps riders make tighter heel side turns and improve maneuverability. Asymmetric sidecuts also improve your balance, giving you more natural and intuitive control while engaging the board’s heel side edge.
Serrated Edge (i.e. Magne-Traction)
Burton might be the name that’s synonymous for snowboarding due to its big marketing budget, but Lib Tech is the one that’s pushing the boundaries. Some of their different snowboard designs were a bit too creative such as a base made out of Teflon, but when they do hit… it’s HUGE. Like Magne-Traction. Instead of one long smooth edge, they introduced multiple contact points like a serrated knife. This helps in firm or icy conditions to lock in that perfect turn. Over the years, multiple other companies have applied the concept such as Niche, Rossignol, and even Jones Snowboards (Traction Tech 3.0).
Picking a snowboard is like choosing a cookie. For some, it doesn’t matter. EVERY cookie is amazing. For others, once they find the perfect cookie nothing will suffice. And then there’s the cookie connoisseur. They must have and sample the best of ALL varieties. So, are you a connoisseur? A collector of all snowboard shapes? Or just a fiend to snowboard?
Thanksgiving is symbolic for skiers and snowboarders as the beginning of the ski season. The first snow has arrived in many parts of the country. Even a few mountains have snow starting to stack up, helping to build their bases. This is also a time to spend precious moments with your family and friends. An opportunity to enjoy some turkey, cranberries, and of course – dessert! With only a ribbon of snow at most resorts and a ton of crowds, what else is there to do? Why not get on a pair of ice skates. It’s a great way to burn off that heavy meal, and you can get those balancing muscles warmed up for the season as well. Here are the top 5 outdoor skating rinks in North America in a ski town near you.
Sun Valley Ice Rink
Where: Sun Valley, Idaho
Being America’s First destination ski resort, celebrities like Earnest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Ingrid Bergman came here to enjoy the fantastic winter wonderland known as Sun Valley. From the beginning in 1937, ice skating was deeply entrenched in the culture here. This must be why Sun Valley has one of the few outdoor rinks that is open year-round. This rink even gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself and skate with former and future Olympians. If you do make it here, be sure to check out one of their famed ice shows as well. It will not disappoint.
Leon Black Family Ice Rink
Where: Beaver Creek, Colorado
Coziness is the word that comes to mind for the Leon Black Family Ice Rink, lying in the center of the town of Beaver Creek. Named after the executive who brought Vail out of bankruptcy, the ice rink is like the main jewel in the Vail Resorts crown. Surrounded by buildings that fit in a European village, this is a fairy-tale-looking resort town. If you’re a bit chilly, don’t worry… there are plenty of fire pits to warm up at. Also, with many themed events happening, it’s definitely a good option if you’re looking for that typical Colorado vacation.
Olympic Ice Pavilion
Where: Palisades Tahoe, California
Palisades Tahoe was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. Even though the original ice skating rink, Blyth Arena, collapsed from the snow in 1982, you can still do your best impersonation to be an Olympian at the Olympic Ice Pavilion. Situated at the top of the Cable Car, the panoramic views at 8,200’ are to die for. They are even considered to be some of the best in the country.
The next two ice skating locales may not be able to be skated over Thanksgiving, but the list wouldn’t be complete without them due to their unique look and feel.
Where: Lake Louise, Alberta
The massive Canadian Rocky Mountains cup the lake as you whisk past on your skates. The silence is deafening like a church with only the sound being your skates slashing against the ice. Looking around to the scenery, you suddenly understand why ice hockey was created in this country. In fact, it can be argued that there isn’t a more beautiful place to go ice skating anywhere in the world.
Where: Jackson Hole, WY
Located right smack dab in the center of the town of Jackson Hole, this rink brings a feeling of the Wild West to it. The George Washington Memorial Park, locally known as the Town Square, is adorned by four elk antler arches that are lit up over the winter months. The ice skating rink itself is dotted with trees and other fixtures that make it feel like you are taking a walk in the park with a pair of ice skates.
No matter what type of snow exists on the slopes, you can have an amazing vacation if you embrace winter and enjoy all the activities available. Is ice skating on your list or do you enjoy something else as well? Let us know – we love to hear from our readers.
Everyone who is a skier or snowboarder is chomping at the bit for the snow to fall and to get out there and ride. Compared to last season, this winter has started out MUCH slower. Is it worth hopping a plane to ride only a couple of runs in the early season? Currently, no. It might be a good idea to save your money and wait a bit until there’s a decent amount of terrain open. If you just can’t wait or have some extra flyer miles, here’s a few things to take into account when ski trip planning as well as the best early season skiing in December.
Best Early Season North American Ski Resorts
What To Look For When Selecting An Early Season Destination
Dense snow – This is one of the few times of year that “Cascade Concrete” or “Sierra Cement” is superior. The Heavy maritime snow may not be “blower,” but it sticks to everything! This leads to a better chance for coverage which will allow terrain to open more quickly.
Low Angle – We all love steeps, but it takes a lot of snow to open that kind of terrain. In early season, like skiing in December, a ski resort with less steep terrain will be a better option.
What Resorts Fit The Mold?
Consistently one of the earliest mountains to open, Wolf Creek is a perfect option for any powder hound. In some years, Wolf Creek can be open by Halloween with nearly all their terrain accessible. This year it’s a bit different with only the beginner lift running as of November 20th. The ski area is off the beaten path and doesn’t have lodging so take that into account. They do have over 1,600 acres and tons of powder days. Also, after a long day of blower pow, you can hit the world famous Pagosa hot springs, which overlook the San Juan River. Not a bad way to end an amazing trip.
Receives the most snow in Colorado.
Hit the hot springs après.
Difficult to get to.
No lodging on the hill.
After reading our in-depth post of Mt. Baker, you know this is the mecca for snowboarders. From the open backcountry policy to the famous Mt. Baker banked slalom, this place oozes history. Once they get the mandatory 36 inch base, Mt. Baker can open almost all their terrain by opening day.
Set the world record for snowfall.
Steep terrain is available opening day.
Weather can sometimes be fickle.
Resort can sometimes be crowded.
As of Sunday November 20th, their snowpack at Heather Meadows is around 18″, and with no snow through the week, a Thanksgiving opening doesn’t seem to be in the cards. The good news is that the following week (start of December) is expected to be wet and cold which could mean with a cold storm or two, Opening Day may be VERY soon.
Tony Bennett may croon that he left his heart in San Francisco, but for us, our heart is at Mt. Bachelor. Due to its topography of being an extinct volcano, it holds some of the surfiest terrain we’ve ever ridden. Natural half-pipes, roll-overs, and lips, this place just wants you to lay out a nice carve. And then once the day is done, you can finish off with a nice cold beer at one of the many, many award-winning breweries in town.
The overall intermediate pitch and smooth volcanic terrain means once they get a four foot snowpack depth almost the entire mountain can open.
Across more than two decades, by December 1st, the base depth has only been less than 40 inches six times and less than 40 inches by January 1st only 3 times.
Secret’s out on Bend and Mt. Bachelor. The town has grown to more than 100,000 meaning competition has ratcheted up.
Mt. Bachelor is one of the first mountains to get hit in a storm and that means LOTS of wind. Translation: Summit chair which accesses its steepest terrain is often on a weather hold.
South of the ski and snowboard mecca of Lake Tahoe lies Mammoth Mountain. Three years ago, the season will go down in the record books as the second longest ever for Mammoth. Since this is a maritime snowpack, the mountain is a great early season destination for skiing in December. In past seasons, they’ve run five chairlifts allowing access to over 50+ trails by Thanksgiving. Mammoth is a large hulking mountain with huge open trails, curves, and rollers. Even early season, there is still a lot to explore and enjoy. On top of it, the region around Mammoth Lakes boasts three amazing breweries: Mammoth Brewing, Distant Brewing, and June Lake Brewing.
Last season kicked off with a lot of excitement, but this one’s taking its time to get going. Even so, thanks to Mammoth’s high base elevation, the recent storm did wonders, allowing them to open up a good chunk of terrain. Currently, they’ve got 6 lifts up and running, giving access to seventeen trails.
Fantastic above tree-line terrain.
3 amazing breweries located in area.
Low likelihood of rain.
Can be crowded on weekends due to being the closest major resort to LA.
Due to its lower angle terrain when compared to its neighbor Jackson Hole and being located west of the divide, Grand Targhee is one of the most consistent resorts for snowfall in the country. A good option for early season skiing in December. Be sure to set aside an evening to head to the Teton Thai location in Driggs. Our favorite item on the menu is the Bison Pho. Combining high quality Asian ingredients with some thinly sliced game meats makes for an out of this world meal.
Compared to other mountains on the list, they’ve already received a WHOPPING 62 inches and are sitting on a snowpack of 23″. With that being said, due to the dry snow that falls here, it’s going to take a few more storms to fill in the terrain. As of November 20th, they only have Shoshone and the new Huckleberry Conveyor running until further notice.
Mostly moderate angle terrain means they can get the slopes open quickly.
Since they’ve opened, they’re the ONLY ski resort in North America to always be 100% open for Christmas skiing in December.
Over the past two decades, the LOWEST snowfall by January 1st was 76 inches.
Not close to any major town.
Whistler…need I say more? Voted #1 almost every year with over 8,000 acres, insane terrain and a unique walking only village, Whistler is one-of-a-kind. Other resorts try to imitate but have been unable to duplicate. Typically with a favorable early season storm track, once the snow levels drop in early winter, they get pounded with snow. Currently, they are still targeted to open on November 23rd.
Even with a small amount of terrain open, they’ll have more options than most mountains in North America. Plus, the village has great dining and entertainment. This is not only great early season but any season! If you do end up in Whistler, be sure to check out Moguls Coffee and tell them we said “Hello!”
Above tree line skiing.
One of the best car-free villages in North America.
Expensive compared to the rest of the mountains on the list.
Until they’re 100% open, there will be crowds.
There’s a reason why the first North American stop of the World Cup has been held in Lake Louise in the past around Thanksgiving. Normally open by the first week of November, that’s thanks in part to extensive snowmaking and its northerly location where storms usually gift them with a decent snowpack. Regardless of how much terrain is open, just the absolute beauty of the Canadian Rockies is well worth the visit ANY time of year.
Although not as good a start as other years, the Ski Big 3 are still doing well and all three resorts are open. Lake Louise has five lifts accessing eight trails while Banff Sunshine has twenty runs open.
The unmatched scenery of the Canadian Rockies will make you forget any runs that aren’t open.
Always one of the first resorts to open in Canada.
Closest major town is Banff over forty five minutes away.
Can be VERY cold around Christmas due to its location.
When picking your early season destination for skiing in December, it’s all about watching the storm track, and if possible, waiting for the last moment to make the decision to access the best snow. In the end, all these resorts are great options for getting your legs warmed up as well as a little bit of adventure.