BOSTON -- Never mind praying for a white Christmas. This year,
many parts of the country got a white Halloween, followed by more
snow and steady, unseasonably cold temperatures.
In other words, Santa came early to winter resorts around the
country, causing visions of happy skiers and snowboarders to dance
in the heads of winter sports enthusiasts and tourism officials
Some resorts in the Rockies and the West are reporting midwinter
conditions already and were expecting the Thanksgiving weekend --
traditionally sold at discounted rates because of unpredictable
weather -- to be busy.
"This is the best start we've seen in five or six years," said
David Tanner, president of the 24-member Ski Tour Operators
Association (Skitops) and president of Rocky Mountain Vacations in
Glenwood Springs, Colo.
"The consumer has been especially wary in the last two years
because we didn't get these kind of conditions until January," he
pointed out that this year has brought not only early snow but cold
temperatures, which means that most resorts in the Rockies can run
snowmaking equipment around the clock.
Tanner also noted that the good conditions are not isolated to
Colorado but are spread throughout the Rockies and farther
As a result, rather than trying to use a crystal ball to guess
which resorts will have the best conditions, "consumers can take
their pick," Tanner said.
Alpine Meadows, a Ski Lake Tahoe resort, opened on Halloween,
with Sierra-at-Tahoe following suit Nov. 3, according to Ski Lake
Tahoe president John Wagnon, who predicted the early start would
"set the momentum and tone for the entire winter."
Noting the absence of El Nino or La Nina winter weather
patterns, the sense of optimism may be justified, according to
Steve Brown, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office
in Reno, Nev.
"The Sierra Nevada mountains should see a more normal wintertime
pattern, which translates into cooler temperatures, significant
snowfall and an increase in frequency and intensity of weather
systems," he said.
Sun Valley in Idaho reported a Nov. 2 opening with some 25
inches of fresh powder on the top of Mount Baldy.
Jake Hutchinson, snow safety director at the Canyons in Utah,
said, "I haven't seen this much snow so early in the eight years
I've skied Utah."
Steamboat, Colo., opened Nov. 18 with "the best opening-day
conditions in 15 years," according to officials there, and Dennis
Harmon, president of Lake Tahoe's Heavenly resort on the
California-Nevada border, said, "We're off to a remarkable
Not to be outdone, the East Coast has garnered its share of the
white stuff and cold temperatures.
"We've got so much confidence in our snowmaking that we're
guaranteeing top-to-bottom skiing and terrain for all abilities for
the Thanksgiving weekend," said George Driscoll, marketing vice
president at Sunday River in Maine.
"We expect to be skiing and riding from at least three of our
eight mountain peaks."
Meteorologists also are bullish about continued cold in New
England, according to American Skiing Co. vice president
communications Skip King, who said he is seeing "a lot of
excitement in the marketplace" because of winter's early nip.
Virtually all of New England's resorts -- including Killington,
Okemo, Sugarbush and Stowe in Vermont; Sunday River and Sugarloaf
in Maine, and Attitash Bear Peak, Loon, Cranmore and Waterville
Valley in New Hampshire -- are up and running.
So what does all this mean in terms of bookings? The answer, it
seems, varies geographically.
Marjorie Donoghue, president of All Points Travel in Salt Lake
City, has a strong in-bound ski market that she said benefits
directly from good weather.
"Any time you get good snow, you get more people interested,"
Donoghue said. "The key to any successful ski season is having snow
early, which we've had in this part of country."
Those clients least affected are those who travel over the
holidays and book early, she said, "but people who haven't decided
yet are the ones who pick up the phone when the snow starts to
"The word is out, bookings are up and the phones are busy about
two weeks earlier than last year," said Penny Smith, president of
Daman Nelson, a San Diego, Calif.-based company that has been
selling ski for about 35 years.
"Not only is there snow, but it's cold here, which gets people
thinking about winter," Smith said.
"The early season dictates the season," Smith said, adding that
this year's boost will be especially welcome in Colorado, which has
had "a tough couple of years."
"Colorado's been seeing a series of winter storms since about
Halloween, and since Nov. 7, we've more than doubled our number of
bookings per day," said Carolyn Bird, communications manager for
Crested Butte, Colo., which opened Nov. 22.
"There is a strong sense of excitement from our ski resorts,"
said Suzanne Amabile, marketing manager for Gogo Worldwide
"Vail is opening with the best conditions they have had in
several years and with more terrain than they normally would,"
Amabile said January is Gogo's strongest booking month, but "the
early snow sends a good message. People know that if there is good
skiing now, they feel more confident that they will be able to ski
But not everyone is noticing an impact from Mother Nature's
"We had someone come in from Durango, [Colo.], and they said the
conditions were fantastic," said Julia Sanders, a travel agent at
Fox Travel in Houston.
"But our ski business seems to be the same old Christmas
bookings," she said. "I don't think people are paying attention
"We haven't noticed any increase," said Deborah Brodahl,
president of Viva Travel in Greensburg, Pa.
"It's not snowing here, so our guys are still out golfing," she
Brodahl admitted, however, that it pays to be proactive and get
clients thinking about booking ski ahead of time. "I have people
who tend to book Presidents' week [in February] at the last minute,
and we spend a lot of time looking for air fares and accommodations
that no longer exist," she said.
According to Tanner, "thanks to lots of new lodging that's been
built at many resorts [in the Rockies], overall capacity is higher
than in year's past, but if I were interested in skiing at
Christmas or Presidents' week, I would start making those bookings