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Best Ski Resorts For Early Season, Christmas & New Year's Snow - Top 15
BY Christopher Steiner

Most big destination ski resorts are full for the Christmas - New Year's holidays during the early ski season. This is, quite simply, the time that many people find it most easy to get away. Kids are out of school and many companies have a break between December 25 and January 2.

People don't ski winter break because it's a good time to ski—it sometimes isn't—they ski winter break because it's when they can ski. Many of us find ourselves in this exact situation. When one can ski, one should ski.

Booking a ski trip during early in the ski season can pose a bit of a risk. There are years when some western ski resorts aren't close to being fully open at this time. But some ski resorts have far better historical records of getting most of their terrain open by December 25.

With this information in hand, skiers can see what ski resorts are best for booking early season ski trips.

We've compiled a handy list to guide skiers planning trips during the early winter and around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The important factors that determine what resorts are on this list:

Top 15 best ski resorts for snow during the early season and Christmas - New Year's break:

Alta - early season snow score: 99.0

Alta has the best snow of any spot that's tracked in North America, and its conditions during the early season are no exception. For skiers hoping to sneak out at the beginning of the season and find a ski resort that's draped head to toe in a deep façade of snow, Alta is always an excellent bet. Its advantageous position in Little Cottonwood Canyon makes it a funnel for snow, turning small early-season weather disturbances into major snow events that leave behind two feet of powder on Alta's iconic slopes. On Christmas day, an average of 96% of Alta's terrain is open for business. Just a scant 5% of winters see Alta with less than half of its terrain open on Dec. 25. For skiers seeking early season deliverance, with a good shot at big-time snow, the opportunities at Alta are nearly unmatched.

Steamboat - early season snow score: 95.9

Steamboat excels at many things, but its snow coverage in the early season of the Rocky Mountain winter is nearly without peer. Anybody who has looked at a map of Colorado knows that Steamboat sits off by itself, away from the rest of Colorado's destination resorts. It's this unique spot on Colorado's high plateau that is a veritable vacuum cleaner for early-season storms that come across the continent. Steamboat averages 93% open on Dec. 25, and only 5% of its winters see conditions where less than half of the mountain is open. Steamboat is further helped by the shape of its mountain, which is chock full of mellow slopes that hold snow rather than sloughing it off like the steeper terrain of Snowbird or Jackson Hole. Steamboat is as close to a sure thing at Christmas and New Year's as a skier can have, and its lodging base is deep and comprehensive, making it an ideal destination for holiday ski trips.

Beaver Creek sits on the right side of Vail Pass and gets snow early.
Beaver Creek sits on the right side of Vail Pass and gets snow early. Courtesy: Beaver Creek

Beaver Creek - early season snow score: 73.8

Beaver Creek has a special knack for nailing the ambience for any occasion. Its honed reflexes in this department show well for ski trips around Christmas and New Year's. Early-season ski trips to Beaver Creek offer a number of advantages for those seeking a decent snowpack in December. For one, the resort is toward the upper-end of the snow spectrum in the I-70 corridor, as it's on the west side of Vail Pass, which nets it more snow than ski resorts in Summit County. Just as important, 55% of the terrain at Beaver Creek faces north, which helps it preserve anything that falls on its slopes during December, including some strategically-placed snow guns. Beaver Creek averages an 80% terrain open rate on Dec. 25; the ski resort has less than half its terrain open at Christmas only 15% of the time, making it a great bet for destination skiers. Beaver Creek has a deep on-mountain lodging base, and the early-season skiing holidays around Christmas and New Year's are when that lodging is most full and most expensive—so the resort is extra motivated to ensure that the place is eminently skiable.

Brighton - early season snow score: 87.9

Positioned at the end of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Brighton harvests snow at a clip that only other Utah resorts can match. It's terrain is mellower than that at next-door neighbor Solitude, which helps it get terrain open more quickly. Brighton averages having 90% of its terrain open on Dec. 25. It's less than half open at Christmas in only 10% of winters. This place is a great bet for destination skiers coming from across the world during the holidays.

Solitude - early season snow score: 83.0

As Brighton's neighbor in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Solitude enjoys the Utah Wasatch snow effect, wherein small storms turn into big ones thanks to the snow trap formed by the west-facing canyon. The west side of the Wasatch is one of the most dependable stretches of mountains for snowfall in the world, and Solitude gets its fair share. The ski resort averages having 85% of its terrain open by the holidays. Only 10% of the time does it have less than half it's terrain open on Dec. 25. This is a quiet resort with a wide array of terrain and a good selection of on-mountain lodging, making it a great bet for families seeking a snow-filled holiday trip.

Snowbird - early season snow score: 82.1

Only Alta gets more snow in Utah than Snowbird does. Outside of Alaska, this is the most dependable spot for snow on the continent. Snowbird usually gets covered in generous doses of powder throughout the early season, and it's often fully open by Christmas. On average, it's 84% open on Dec. 25, with only 10% of Christmases passing with less than half of the ski resort's terrain open. These numbers would be even better if Snowbird was less steep. But some of the mountain's excellent terrain requires extra snow for full coverage. Either way, Snowbird and its newly renovated Cliff Lodge could be the best ski-stay combo for powder seekers who want early-season bliss.

Aspen Mountain - early season snow score: 72.1

As the most famous and glitzy mountain in all of skiing, there's a high demand for time on Aspen slopes during the holidays around Christmas and New Year's. Town is packed, the restaurants are full, and Aspen does a great job of getting its original mountain open for the holidays. Thanks to a high elevation, and strategically placed snowmaking, Aspen Mountain averages having 80% of its terrain open at Christmas. Only 17% of its winters see Dec. 25 pass with less than half of the ski resort's terrain open. New Year's eve celebrations in Aspen are a delight, made even more poignant by having a mountain ready to take that eager batch of early-season skiers. Christmas and New Year's ski trips to Aspen are special trips with in the ski world.

Jackson Hole - early season snow score: 75.7

Our No. 1 ranked ski resort overall is also a stalwart in the early season. This is when Jackson Hole excels, in fact. Its snow conditions peak early, compared with most ski resorts in the North American west—see Jackson's snow graph below. The first thing Jackson Hole has going for it during the early season is that, quite simply, it receives a lot of snow. In the early part of the season, when its colder and darker, Jackson preserves this snow fairly well, and its northerly latitude keeps the sun at a low angle, minimizing its effect. This is why Jackson Hole averages an 82% open rate for its terrain on Dec. 25, a exceptionally high number given the overall steepness of Jackson's slopes—this is a place that requires more snow for good coverage than any other major ski resort in North America. Only 15% of Jackson's winters pass with less than half the ski resort's terrain open on Christmas.

Snow quality of Jackson Hole compared
w/ rest of North American resorts

Big Sky - early season snow score: 75.6

Montana is beautiful during late December and early January. Big Sky's northerly latitude gives it low sun angles and lots of cold nights to keep snow well preserved early in the ski season. Big Sky also benefits in the early season from the fact that much of its terrain is low angle and mellow, which means it holds most of the snow that falls on it. This means the place can get white in a hurry—all the better for holiday season skiers. This shows through in the fact that on Dec. 25, Big Sky averages an 80%-open rate on its terrain. Only 13% of its winters see less than half the ski resort's terrain open on Christmas.

Winter Park - early season snow score: 75.2

Winter Park is a well known item of interest to skiers who live in the Denver area. Many locals prefer it because driving here avoids some of the drama that ensues on much of I-70 on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings. Skiers going to Winter Park have to put up with Berthoud Pass, and a little bit of I-70, but it's generally a smoother operation to get to Winter Park than the ski resorts in Summit County, as well as Vail and Beaver Creek. Many Denver skiers also know that Winter Park is a dependable early-season venue for powder-seeking forays. Winter Park preserves its snow well, and it receives more than any ski area in Summit County. This is why the ski resort averages 77% open on Dec. 25, and only 10% of its winters see the resort with less than half its terrain open by the holidays.

Zrankings has special rates for Christmas and New Year's!
 

Whistler-Blackcomb - early season snow score: 84.0

The behemoth of the British Columbia coastal range is a stalwart of the early season, drawing in storms from the Pacific and hoarding enough snow that the ski resort averages having 86% of its terrain open by Dec. 25. This makes Whistler a fantastic bet when planning a Christmas-New Year's ski trip, or perhaps something even earlier. Whistler's large lodging base means affordable stays can be had during the holidays, even when booked a little later in the fall. (Booking earlier almost always results in lower rates, though!) Whistler's advantageous snow conditions mean than only 10% of its winters see Dec. 25 pass with the ski resort being less than half open, a elite rate.

Whistler catches early winter storms from the Pacific, piling up snow for holiday skiers.
Whistler catches early winter storms from the Pacific, piling up snow for holiday skiers. Courtesy: Whistler-Blackcomb

Mt. Bachelor - early season snow score: 87.9

Oregon's gem of a ski resort, parked on the volcano from which it draws its name, attracts copious amounts of Pacific-borne snow, which it greedily stows away on its glaciers and within its tall stands of Douglas fir. Mt. Bachelor has a fairly high base for the Pacific Northwest, at 5,700 feet, and 55% of its terrain faces north, which helps the resort average a 90%-open rate on Dec. 25. Just as impressive, only 10% of winters see the resort at less than half open on Christmas, making Mt. Bachelor the best bet for the early season in not only Oregon, but also all of the American Northwest.

Park City - early season snow score: 70.2

Ski trips during the early season and Christmas and New Year's holidays to Park City benefit from having access to a ski resort with more acreage—7,300—than any other in the United States. Park City averages a 77% terrain open rate on Dec. 25. But 77% of 7,300 acres is 5,621 acres, which is bigger than Vail. In 20% of winters, Park City is less than half open on Christmas. This is due to the fact that Park City is on the leeward side of the Wasatch, so it typically receives less snow than the ski resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. But half-open at Park City is still 3,650 acres. Park City skiers have the additional option of scooting over to the other side of the Wasatch for easy day trips to ski Alta, Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton if they so desire.

Park City's depth of terrain and acreage make it a good early season spot.
Park City's depth of terrain and vast acreage make it a good early season spot. Courtesy: Park City

Vail - early season snow score: 76.6

The biggest name in skiing seems to pop up on every list, and here it is again. But Vail truly is an early season giant, as its wealth of north-facing terrain and high annual snowfall—359", with an advantageously smaller standard deviation—make it very good bet for skiers betting on snow in late December. Vail averages having 83% of its 5,289 acres open by Dec. 25. And only 15% of winters pass where less than half the ski resort is open on Christmas. Vail Village is overflowing at New Year's, with good reason: there's almost always ample snow and more than enough revelry to go around.

Fernie - early season snow score: 81.2

A trusty member of the inner-BC sanctum, where Pacific Northwest precipitation loads combine with drier air and colder temps to create one of the best environments for snow on the planet, Fernie gives skiers a great option for early season skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Fernie averages an impressive 88% of its terrain open on Dec. 25, all the more impressive because this is fairly steep resort with big long fall lines that require more snow for good coverage. The inner BC snowbelt limits the odds of a bad experience during the holidays, as only 15% of Christmases pass with less than half the terrain at Fernie being open. Fernie, the town, has a number of good dining spots worthy of foodies' attention, as well as some unique lodging options.

Wolf Creek captures snow better than any other ski resort in Colorado.
Wolf Creek captures snow better than any other ski resort in Colorado. Courtesy: Wolf Creek

Wolf Creek - early season snow score: 89.0

We don't have detailed data on Wolf Creek's open rate and averages on Dec. 25, but we do know that this place tends to gather more snow, more quickly, than almost anywhere else in the Rockies. Within Colorado, it's probably the most dependable early-season destination. Wolf Creek benefits from a very high base elevation of 10,600 feet, and a high density of north-facing terrain - 65%. More important than those traits, however, is the fact that Wolf Creek exists in a microclimate that funnels storms to its ridge and rings them for all they're worth. Wolf Creek can sometimes pick up 20" or more from innocuous systems that leave little snow elsewhere in Colorado. In a hallmark of its early season snow prowess, Wolf Creek is open by Halloween in about a quarter of winters, and averages a 37-inch base at Thanksgiving.

Ski Resorts with Best Snow in the Early Season, Christmas and New Year's:

   Resort True
Snow*
Avg. Amount Terrain Open Dec. 25
Years resort < 50% open Dec. 25
Base & Top Elev.
North-facing Terrain
Early Season Snow Score
Alta Ski Area
UT
519" 96% 5% 8530'
to
10550'
53% 99.0 more
Steamboat Ski Resort
CO
372" 93% 5% 6900'
to
10568'
20% 95.9 more
Brighton Ski Resort
UT
430" 90% 10% 8750'
to
10500'
43% 87.9 more
Mt. Bachelor
OR
380" 90% 10% 5700'
to
9065'
55% 87.9 more
Whistler
BC
415" 86% 10% 2140'
to
7494'
55% 84.0 more
Solitude Mountain Resort
UT
398" 85% 10% 7988'
to
10035'
55% 83.0 more
Snowbird
UT
448" 84% 10% 7760'
to
11000'
50% 82.1 more
Fernie Alpine Resort
BC
371" 88% 15% 3500'
to
7050'
35% 81.2 more
Vail Ski Resort
CO
359" 83% 15% 8120'
to
11570'
40% 76.6 more
Jackson Hole
WY
366" 82% 15% 6311'
to
10450'
10% 75.7 more
Big Sky Resort
MT
282" 80% 13% 7500'
to
11166'
37% 75.6 more
Winter Park Ski Resort
CO
349" 77% 10% 9000'
to
10700'
50% 75.2 more
Beaver Creek Resort
CO
329" 80% 15% 8100'
to
11440'
55% 73.8 more
Aspen Mountain - Ajax
CO
253" 80% 17% 7945'
to
11212'
50% 72.1 more
Park City Mountain Resort
UT
286" 77% 20% 6900'
to
10000'
43% 70.2 more

Christopher Steiner a New York Times Bestselling Author of two books, and the founder of ZRankings. He's on Twitter.