by Larry Olmsted,

Snowbird, a world-class resort in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon just outside Salt Lake City got 104 inches of snow – nearly nine feet. This would be a decent season for many US ski resorts. Except Snowbird got it all in December.

Snowbird is not alone. From Southern California to New England and all across the Rockies, Tetons and Wasatch Ranges, snow has been falling prodigiously, especially when compared to last season, the winter that wasn’t for most of Snow Country. Record low snowfalls last winter ruined vacations and threatened to put some resorts out of business. Vermont, the epicenter of skiing east of the Mississippi, posted its warmest year in recorded history in 2012.

Not this year. A December 27 storm pelted the East Coast and set up the Northeast’s first great New Year’s skiing in recent memory, which has combined with consistently cold temperatures ever since to keep that snow on the ground in pristine condition while lots of manmade stuffed has been poured on top of it. At this time of year temperatures in the Northeast often fluctuate dramatically, causing icing, while rain often destroy the base, but right now, East Coast skiers and snowboarders are living the dream and looking at excellent conditions for this time of year, even for Nordic skiing, where snowmaking is a rarity.

The West is doing even better.

Steamboat, home of the trademarked phrase “Champagne Powder,” got over 100 inches of the dry white stuff in December, and 144 inches – exactly twelve feet – so far this season. That’s typical of Colorado’s year. Vail, the state’s (and the nation’s) largest resort has already opened its famous Back Bowl and Blue Sky Basin and almost everything else – 190 of 193 trails and well over 5,000 of 5,269 acres (See my 2012-13 insider’s  ski vacation guide to Vail here). Rival Aspen has similar base depths, around two feet, and nearly all of its trails open as well.

The Tahoe area historically gets a ton of snow, and while they struggled last winter, this year things seem to be back to normal. The season kicked off with a big pre-Christmas storm that dropped two to four feet across the peaks, and most resorts are reporting summit snowfalls to date of 72 (Heavenly) to 123 inches (Mt. Rose) while the Tahoe resorts have established base depths of nearly five feet on average.

How about the Tetons? They are getting hammered! My favorite mountain, Jackson Hole, has been catching a lot of the white stuff – 200 inches so far this season! They already have 2,400 of 2,500 acres open – and with Jackson’s extreme terrain they need a lot of snow to open that stuff. They have it. Average base depths around the mountain are at five feet, and that’s packed powder after compression. It just keeps snowing, a few inches today, a few more tomorrow. They are reporting 120 of their 116 trails open – if you are confused, it is because Jackson has a bunch of trails it does not officially count in its mapped tally, mostly chutes and severe faces.

Here’s a notable piece of snow news: Mammoth Mountain, which is beloved by Southern Californians and ignored by the rest of the country, is just swimming in snow. Okay I get that it is not the easiest place to get to from the East, South, Texas or the Midwest, and you have to fly past a couple of dozen top resorts to get there, but Mammoth is big time, with great terrain, and it’s huge, it’s well – Mammoth. They also have tons of snow. On New Year’s Eve the San Francisco Examiner reported that the mountain was already near equaling its entire snowfall total for least season – they had 226 inches before the end of December, versus 263 all last winter. And right now it has base depths – not snowfall but base – of up to 192 inches. That means if you fall down to the snow you are still 16 feet above the ground!  It’s been clobbered since early in the season and they have 3,500 of 3,500 acres and 150 of 150 trails opened. It doesn’t get much better than that!

The biggest problem with ski vacations has traditionally been scheduling. Trips are often planned far in advance with no idea what conditions will be like. Also, many families are locked into school holidays: Christmas, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Spring Break. These are the worst times for ski travel, with inflated airfares, jacked-up rates for accommodations, overcrowded slopes and lift lines, and shortages of everything from rental gear to top flight instructors. If you have the flexibility, the best way to do ski travel is on the fly, going when and where conditions warrants. The when is right now and the where is easy: most of North America has great snow. Just look for deals. If you avoid the holiday weeks many resorts run aggressive sales and specials, just check their sites. Slightly further flung resorts like Jackson, WY and Telluride and Crested Butte, CO offer airfare reimbursement packages.

I personally think the easiest way to shop for spur of the moment ski travel is with the comprehensive discount packages on industry leading site I’ve never booked with them, but in the past for research I have checked out many of their deals and they often equal or beat what you can put together on your own, with a long track record as a reputable ski vacation packager – a reputation that predates the internet.

See my guide ot the 10 Best Ski Resorts For Families, and my Guide to Heli-Skiing here.

Have fun out there!

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