Fresh snow is crucial to a successful winter vacation, but it is difficult to outsmart Mother Nature. Whether you plan to snowboard, downhill, cross-country ski, or snowmobile, cold temperatures and copious precipitation are required to have a good time. No one wants a multi-thousand dollar excursion with friends or family that ends in warm weather, dry slopes, and an angry mob. Here are some strategies to avoid such a disappointing result.
While the stores may think winter begins in September, the reliable snow season rarely begins before New Year’s Day. To give yourself the highest likelihood of finding a snow-covered mountain or meadow, plan trips no earlier than mid-January and no later than mid-March. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday and Presidents’ Day are both observed federal holidays and provide convenient long weekends for winter-sport excursions.
Be flexible in your lodging requirements. While everyone has favorites, resorts around the world are remarkably similar. You will always find fine, family, and cheap dining opportunities, great local bars and clubs, and a mall of stores selling everything from art to snowshoes. Consider renting a timeshare near the mountain instead of a room in the ski-lodge you may need to take a quick shuttle to the mountain, but you will likely be closer to downtown and will pay substantially less. I have never witnessed mountain lodging that fails to offer a hot tub or sauna.
To maximize the pleasure of your on-mountain experience, find a balance between snow quality and crowd size. Resorts in the Alps and in the northeastern United States have a reputation for long lift lines, crowded facilities, and short, icy slopes. These locations are best if you are already visiting for other reasons, are limited in your travel range, or are determined to stay close to a metropolitan area for the night life. Resorts on the western coast of North America are often quite large, but generally receive heavy, wet snow and often see substantial crowds on high-demand weekends.
For my money, the perfect balance is found throughout the North American Rockies. The snow is unrivaled – light and fluffy powder that rarely ices over – and the crowds are often small. The primary drawback to a vacation in the Rockies is the considerable distance from most major cities, but these self-sufficient communities are always home to surprisingly good food, drink, and culture. If you have the means and the time to visit a resort in Utah, Colorado, or Montana, you will be rewarded with varied terrain, sprawling acreage, and wide-open trails.
The final point on winter recreation – wait until the last minute to book your trip if at all possible. The savings from an early booking cannot offset by poor snow conditions, and finding a place to stay is seldom difficult except at the busiest times of year. By January, a quick browse of any online ski-enthusiast site will indicate which regions have received the most snow. Booking two weeks ahead at a resort that has a comfortable snow base (over 60 inches) and no forecasted warming trends will all but guarantee a fantastic winter sporting experience.