Early Season Skiing in the USA

US West Coast Ski Resorts
Faced with the prospect of Autumn in the USA, I was interested to know if early season skiing was going to be a possibility. Generally European resorts don’t open until December, and often not until Christmas week. This last season there wasn’t enough snow for some well known resorts to open even for Christmas.

I have managed to track down opening dates in North America for last season, and it looks pretty encouraging. Most major resorts seem to open in November. In Colorado Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Loveland opened on 7th November with Winter Park opening on 11th and Aspen, Vail and Beaver Creek later in the month. Arapahoe Basin opened on 17th October and Wolf Creek is a perennial early season opener.

Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood in Oregon seems to have a history of opening early.

The major resorts in Canada, on the East Coast and around Lake Tahoe open during November, as does Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Utah resorts open a little later, in late November through early December. Typically resorts have opened when they have enough snow to ski on, so season opening dates are pretty fluid.

I need to do some more research on opening dates for the upcoming season and find out a little more about early season snow and weather conditions, but the prospects of getting some turns in during the Fall look promising!

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Where is the Cheapest Place to Ski?

The Crystal Ski Industry Report 2014, produced together with Post Office Holidays in the UK, has assessed a number of ski resorts popular with UK package tour travelers. They have worked out average costs in resort for a package consisting of lift pass, rental and ski school and also for an average lunch. As a result they have come up with their idea of where the cheapest place to ski is. I don’t claim to be surprised with the outcome. I have applied an index to the figures based on an average of 100 to come up with relative prices. Essentially you can read it this way: you can get almost three days in Bansko for the price of one in Zermatt. Since Zermatt is much more likely to give you good snow conditions, has better scenery, apres ski and food, is easier to get to and has five times as much piste you could actually argue Baski is over-priced, but I have had some great ski holidays in Bulgaria and I wouldn’t knock it. However I think the independent traveller, with or without a family, doesn’t need to go to Eastern Europe to find value for money.

The top American resorts seem over-priced compared to the best European resorts, and add to that the cost, time and ecological impact of getting there from Europe, it seems wise to leave them to the natives. Again, I have had some great skiing in North America, but I lived there at the time and it was on my doorstep.
Matterhorn in Zermatt
So the eternal debate is, where is the best value resort to ski or snowboard in the Alps? Italy does well, and can only be faulted on the longer transit times required to get there. For a great ski experience on a tight budget, it is probably the best value. My personal favourite in Italy – if you are watching the pennies but want a great experience – is Madesimo. The best of Austria and France seem comparably priced, with a small price premium associated with Switzerland down to the strong Swiss Franc.

The report actually showed Switzerland gaining market share in 2013/4 over 2012/3, with 6.5% of the market – largely at the expense of France. The report claims prices are going down, but that is surely down to the strong pound since all prices are converted to sterling. Overall the report doesn’t change my perspective, which is that you get what you pay for. The ski and snowboard market is very competitive and the biggest mistake you can make is not about how much you pay, but that what you pay delivers what you want. I would never recommend Zermatt to a family of beginners, but for a competent skier I would recommend you put it on the list of places you visit before you die.

Anyway, on that sobering note, here are the indicies:

 

Resort Country Index
Bansko Bulgaria 54
Kranjska Gora Slovenia 62
Ellmau Austria 64
Livigno Italy 66
Soldeu Andorra 68
Sestriere Italy 73
Morzine France 75
Ruka Finland 78
Val Gardena Italy 84
Les Deux Alpes France 87
Mayrhofen Austria 87
Serre Chevalier France 87
la Thuile Italy 89
Kaprun Austria 89
Courchevel France 104
Val d’Isere France 104
Kitzbühel Austria 111
St Anton Austria 116
Tremblant Canada 117
Saas-Fee Switzerland 118
Wengen Switzerland 122
Winter Park USA 125
Banff Canada 136
Breckenridge USA 141
Zermatt Switzerland 142
Whistler Canada 146
Vail USA 155
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Misty Mountain High

Mountain High
Having seen many people so sozzled they can hardly stand up, before they don skis or snowboard to make the last run home (Think Crazy Kangaruh in St Anton or the Hennu Stall in Zermatt), I was interested to read that the upstanding ski lift operators of Colorado have reminded visitors of the dangers of getting high.

Of course I don’t mean altitude, I mean indulging in something the state has reputedly made legal – but the reality is somewhat short of liberation. Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado are handing out reminders to their guests that cannabis is still illegal to consume in public and is banned from Federal premises. Ok, unless it’s been purchased as a pet-care thing, according to the post at https://swellcbd.com/product-category/pet-health/.  I’m not sure about Mountain High resort in California, but the rule probably applies there too, rather sadly.

Dutch skiers who visit my Dutch language ski site may well visit their local coffeeshop before travelling down to the Alps, and they will be gratified to know that Switzerland is pretty cool about the whole thing. Dope is not legal but the Swiss smoke openly and the police are indifferent as long as you are not behaving badly. Similarly it is fine to walk down the street in Switzerland clutching a beer, or to crack open a bottle of wine on a train on your way to the piste. Not something I recommend you doing in the land of the free.

Plus the skiing and snowboarding is better. Natch!

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