An Expert Guide to the 9 Resorts with the Best Early-Season Snow

Can't wait to get back on the snow this year? Us too! Snowboard Expert Noah Todd details the top 9 places to go for early-season snow.

Skiing above the clouds

Photo by Jakob Owens

December holiday breaks offer a good opportunity for families and friends to convene at beautiful ski resorts to frolic together in the snow. Unfortunately, December doesn’t always deliver enough snow for early-season skiing, and the hordes of families flocking to ski resorts can make last-minute planning difficult.

My family always plans a holiday ski trip to accommodate all the students and teachers in our flock. This has made me obsessed with tracking resorts’ abilities to produce adequate terrain for our Christmas vacations. Although I can’t be at all resorts at once, I’ve tracked snowfall, open runs, base depth, and estimated open acres for 56 North American resorts in a spreadsheet. I’ve used this data to help my family plan successful ski trips for years, and now I want to share my findings with others.

To evaluate the viability of a resort for early-season skiing, I look at these things: 1. Average snowfall totals 2. Average base depth over time 3. Number of open trails over time as a percent of total 4. Total skiable acres

Most people evaluate a resort’s early-season viability using the average snowfall alone, but I would argue that a resort’s staff, snowmaking ability, and geography should be equally considered. Their effectiveness can also be quantified by the number of trails they can open early in the season. Some resorts are able to open much more terrain earlier than others because they have better snowmaking, better grooming teams, and more north-facing terrain.

Another thing to be aware of when evaluating resorts is misleading advertising. Some resorts, like Breckenridge, exaggerate their snowfall by measuring snowfall at the highest peak. Others, like Keystone, will make a ridiculous amount of snow on a single run to open earlier than other resorts. Companies like ZRankings and OpenSnow can help when comparing resorts.

For the statistics below, the average snowfall total is taken from ZRankings’ True Snow report. The average base depth is the average base depth on Dec 31, averaged over OpenSnow’s existence (2013-2021), reported by OpenSnow. The average number of open trails is the reported number of trails divided by the total on Dec 31, averaged over four years (2018-2021). Finally, the total number of skiable acres is taken from Wikipedia.

1. Alta and Snowbird: Easily Accessed Powder

Snowbird's Tram

Snowbird's Tram. Photo by Cameron Smith

  • Average Snowfall: 517 in. and 497 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 94 in. and 80 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 75% and 66%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 2,200 and 3,000

When talking about early-season snow, Little Cottonwood Canyons is the first place to think about. Utah is home to some of the best resorts in the world, and that’s mainly because these Canyons get some of the most snow in the US. Combine the snow with the terrain and these resorts are easy contenders as the best in the world. On top of all that, these resorts are some of the easiest to access. Salt Lake City’s airport is less than 40 minutes away, and the city’s buses go to and from the resorts. This means that if staying at the resort is too expensive, a family can rent a house in the city and take a 20-minute bus ride to the mountains.

When considering Alta, something to keep in mind is that snowboards are not allowed on the lifts. This can mean that snowboarding friends and family will not be able to ride in Alta.

2. Aspen: The Most Open Runs in Colorado

The peak of Aspen Highlands

Aspen Highlands. Photo by Adam Rinehart

  • Average Snowfall: 252 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 36 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 88%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 5,480 (Total acres between Buttermilk, Highlands, Snowmass, and Aspen Mountain)

Aspen is one of the most underrated resorts in Colorado, and people in Aspen want it to stay that way. While other resorts exaggerate their snow totals and resort size, Aspen seems to do everything in its power to fly under the radar. First, Aspen divides itself into four different resorts. In reality, if these resorts were combined, it would be the largest resort in Colorado by skiable acres. Second, Aspen’s snowmaking and crew are excellent, allowing the resort to get more terrain skiable by the holidays. Together, Aspen curates an excellent December Holiday experience that far outperforms other Coloradan resorts.

Outside of skiing, Aspen’s airport and free buses make getting to the slopes easy. Additionally, Aspen hosts an incredibly fun, welcoming crowd with plenty of activities for the non-skiers in a family.

3. Solitude and Brighton: Underrated Early Season Powder Havens

Skiiers and snowboarders ride the chairlift at Brighton.

Brighton Resort. Photo by Jackson Blackhurst

  • Average Snowfall: 437 in. and 504 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 83 in. and 87 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 71% and 91%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 1,200 and 1,500

Over a mountain range from Alta and Snowbird, you can see the smaller resorts of Brighton and Solitude. Although these resorts are smaller at 1,050 and 1,200 acres respectively, these resorts get similarly large snowfalls. Brighton has even been known to open its parks as early as October. Even though these resorts are connected by the Sol-Bright Trail (although usually not in early December) the two resorts are very different. Brighton was the first resort in Utah to let snowboarders in, and the resort is mostly ridden by locals because there are no on-site hotels. Meanwhile, Solitude hosts more families and has plenty of hotels. Both resorts are on the bus routes and can be accessed from the city.

4. Mammoth: Best Early-Season Skiing in California

A snowboarder rides down a steep, exposed face at Mammoth Mountain.

Mammoth Mountain. Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan

  • Average Snowfall: 354 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 89 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 91%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 3,500

For those looking for a ski area in California, Mammoth Mountain is an excellent option for the early season. It generally does a slightly better job getting slopes open than its Tahoe counterparts, which are also good options for early snow. In addition, it usually has terrain parks open earlier in the season to accommodate competitions like the Dew Tour. The big lava dome overlooks the thriving town of Mammoth Lakes, which provides ample hotels, housing, and non-skiing activities. Mammoth also has its own airport, but it’s small, and it’s only serviced by United and small airlines.

5. Lake Louise: Bougie Holiday Skiing

The famous Lake Louise

Lake Louise. Photo by Wenhao Ji

  • Average Snowfall: 216 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 67 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 85%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 4,200

Those willing to brave colder, Canadian temperatures can find plenty of holiday snow in the Canadian Rockies. The Albertan resorts are generally 20°F colder than resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons and Summit County, which means that the snow has a head start on its US counterparts. The Canadian Rockies are also breathtaking, and that’s coming from someone who’s seen many mountains. Lake Louise has both affordable stays and potentially the most beautiful ski hotel, the Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise. To ski here, one has to fly into Calgary and drive two hours via car or shuttle to the resort. On the way, you drive by Canada’s Olympic Park training facility, which is open to the public. The Ikon and Big3 ski passes will give you access to both Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine Village, which is also worth a visit. The other thing to note is that Lake Louise gets less total snow than the other resorts on this list.

6. Whistler: Consistently the Most Powder and Open Terrain

Skiers and snowboarders make their way down a shallow slope at Whistler Blackcomb. There are big trees and beautiful mountains in the background.

Whistler Blackcomb Resort. Photo by Benjamin Hayward

  • Average Snowfall: 419 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 84 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 98%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 8,171

For those who can afford it, Whistler is easily the best place to go for early-season skiing. It is the largest single resort in North America, and it gets some of the largest snow totals in the early season thanks to the winds coming from the Pacific. The combination of a large resort and plenty of snow gives skiers enough open terrain for a full week-long holiday of exploring. Meanwhile, at the base, there are plenty of non-skiing activities for family members that don’t want to hit the slopes. It should also be noted that Whistler is the best resort for early skiing on the Epic Pass as well.

However, Whistler isn’t easily accessible for many people in the US, and it’s still an hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver. It can also be expensive because it’s such a good resort for the early season.

7. Wolf Creek: A Hidden Gem

Carving on piste

Carving on piste at Wolf Creek. Photo by Alex Lange

  • Average Snowfall: 387 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 88 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 98%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 1,600

For the true powder hounds, Wolf Creek is a dream. It gets some of if not the most snow in Colorado, and it’s skiable very early in the season. One of my favorite skiing memories is diving through Wolf Creek’s untouched glades over Thanksgiving after the resort had 98” of snowfall over October and November. Wolf Creek also outperforms its Coloradan counterparts, and it is almost always the first resort with more than 90% of its terrain open despite having almost no snowmaking capabilities.

The downsides (or upsides) of Wolf Creek are that it’s remote and there are no on-site places to stay. The remoteness makes family vacations here difficult, and getting to Wolf Creek can be a challenge. However, this can be a blessing in disguise because there are fewer skiers to scoop up that fresh powder.

8. Mt. Baker: Never Worry About Snow Again

The peak of Mt. Shuksan against a pale blue sky.

Mt. Shuksan rising about Mt. Baker Ski Area. Photo by Dylan Luder

  • Average Snowfall: 651 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 121 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 100%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 1,000

For those looking for a resort that always has snow, Mt. Baker and the nearby resorts in Washington and Oregon are excellent options. These resorts have snow year-round, with some resorts like Mt. Hood in Oregon boasting summer camps on their mountain peaks. Of these resorts, Mt. Baker gets the most snow and almost always has all its trails open by the Holidays. Its nearby glaciers are also worth exploring.

The downside to Mt. Baker is that it’s not nearly as large as some of the other resorts on this list. To get there, most people fly into Seattle, Bellingham, or Vancouver and drive to the resort.

9. Killington: The Most Open Terrain on the East Coast

The ski area at Killington Resort.

Killington Ski Area. Photo by Emily Ho

  • Average Snowfall: 240 in.
  • Average Base Depth: 24 in.
  • Average Open Trails: 52%
  • Total Skiable Acres: 1,509

To be frank, no U.S. East Coast resort offers reliable early-season snow. Some years there’s plenty of snow and some years there’s barely enough for a few runs. Even Eastern Canadian resorts don’t come close to the other resorts on this list. However, if you have to stay in the East, Killington is the best when it comes to snowmaking and available terrain. It’s one of the larger resorts on the East Coast so families will have more terrain to play with. Killington is well-known though, which means that accommodations fill up early in the year and the slopes might get crowded. My advice when planning for a holiday trip on the East Coast is to just go to a nearby resort and get refundable accommodations. If the snow doesn’t fall, canceling the trip is easy. If it does, then the Holidays will be magical.

Experts at Curated love traveling to different resorts and talking to people about their ski trips! I particularly enjoy helping customers find ski resorts that fit what they want. I encourage people to ask Curated Experts where they like to ski and which resorts they recommend. Matching with an Expert is easy—anyone can get in touch with an Expert here. Finally, for those making ski plans for the holidays, good luck!

Like this article?
Share it with your network

Written By
A few years ago, my family went to Snowbird, and I fell in love with snowboarding. The powder has been calling me ever since, and I've been visiting as many resorts as possible, with the hope that one day I'll live near one. I particulary enjoy exploring the wilderness, finding more difficult terrai...

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read Next

New and Noteworthy