Bolstered by heavy snowfall, many ski resorts opened earlier than normal this year, and forecasters say there’s more to come. Normal or near-normal snowfall is predicted in most ski areas this winter, and more than normal in some regions.
“Only the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia may have less than normal precipitation,’’ says Farmers Almanac. “That means nearly every region of the United States and Canada will see a spectacular skiing season.’’
Folks in the ski business agree. “We’ve been getting a lot of early snow,” said Dan Sherman of www.ski.com, a ski travel agency, noting that Aspen/Snowmass, for one, opened two weeks earlier than usual. ‘’So it looks like it’s going to be a really solid season.’’
Of course, one can never be sure about the weather, but unless a strong El Nino or El Nina develops to change usual weather patterns, the outlook for good snowfall seems favorable, according to NOAA’s National Weather Service.
By now, nearly all ski resorts have opened. Some have added new restaurants, lodging or skiable terrain. Many have upgraded other facilities, adding snow-making equipment and grooming vehicles, renovating lifts and enhancing ski areas.
A major new addition in Colorado is Breckenridge’s new Peak 6, which adds 540 acres to its skiable terrain, 400 of which are lift-served. The new area includes high alpine intermediate skiing.
Vail has opened a new chairlift, the high-speed, six-passenger Mountain Top Express, that serves as a major access route from mid-Vail to the resort’s Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin.
Also new in Colorado this season, Beaver Creek has opened a new restaurant, Talons. With a bar and stone observation deck, it is twice as large as its predecessor, Red Tail Camp. Another new on-mountain restaurant, the Four Points Lodge, which will seat more than 200 in the main dining room, will debut at Steamboat Springs this season.
Telluride, too, is making additions. New at slopeside in its Mountain village is the Inn at Lost Creek, a boutique hotel with 21 rooms and with ski-in, ski-out access. Also new in the Mountain Village is Siam’s Talay Grille, sister restaurant to the Siam restaurant in downtown Telluride.
Crested Butte is cutting three new kid-specific trails in the Painter Boy area that will include a ski-through bear cave, a simulated Elk Avenue (the town’s main street), a U.S. Forest Service lodge and a gold mining building for interactive play. Wolf Creek Ski Area has a new high-speed quad life.
In Utah, meanwhile, Deer Valley will open a new ski run on Little Baldy Mountain for beginning-level skiers. Snowbird is installing the only new chairlift in Utah, a high-speed quad to replace an old lift, and Brighton will offer an unusual new development this season: a girls-only terrain park.
And in Montana, Big Sky Resort has added a beginner terrain park, bringing to nine the number of terrain parks there.
In the East, Vermont’s Killington Resort expects to open its new Peak Lodge in December. Located at the 4,100-foot level, it will have seating for 300 guests.
And in North Carolina, Beech Mountain is boasting that its new “5,506,” a round skybar with glass walls at the top of the mountain, is the highest ski bar in the East. Named after Beech’s elevation, 5,506 has food and beverage service and an observation deck.
In Canada, Whistler Blackcomb will open two new chair lifts — Harmony 6 high-speed six-pack at Whistler and a high-speed quad at Blackcomb. Each will increase hourly capacity by more than 1,000 skiers. RED Mountain, which last year added 997 acres of skiing on Grey Mountain to become the eighth largest Canadian ski area, will open a chair lift to that new sector this season.
Europe, too, is expected to see good snowfall at most ski sites this winter, though questions have been raised about Sochi, the ski resort in Russia where the Winter Olympics will be held Feb. 7-23. Last year, snow was sparse there, so in order to insure enough snow for the Olympics, Sochi has been stockpiling snow in shady pockets. It also has installed more than 400 snowmaking cannons on the slopes.
One way for snow-less Floridians to enjoy skiing with friends and get more bang for their ski buck is to join local ski clubs, which offer a number of ski trips with perks that only groups can negotiate.
The Miami Snow Ski Club, for example, has four ski trips scheduled for members in 2014 — to Snowmass, Colo.; Taos, N.M.; and Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the United States, and to Three Valleys in France. It also plans to conduct a trip to a ski resort in South America in the summer, when it’s winter there.
The club’s trip to Snowmass Jan. 25-Feb. 1 (through the Florida Ski Council) is priced at $1,675 per person for four in a two-bedroom condo or $1,941 per person double occupancy in a hotel room. Price includes round trip air Miami to Eagle, hot breakfast daily, two parties, one mountain lunch, one banquet, lift ticket discounts, pre- and post-parties. Deduct $475 per person for land only. www.miamiskiclub.com.
Besides Snowmass, the Florida Ski Council also has ski trips this winter to Park City, Utah; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Telluride, Colo. and Crested Butte, Colo. www.floridaskicouncil.com. These are open to its member clubs.
A number of other ski clubs in Florida also offer trips, among them the Fort Lauderdale Ski Club (www.fortlauderdaleskiclub.com), the Gator Snow Ski Club of the Palm Beaches (www.gatorsnowskiclub.com) and the Boca Raton Ski Club (www.bocaskiclub.com).