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 alike.

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 said.

Snow scene.Tanner 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 west.

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 start."

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 fall."

"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 Vacations.

"Vail is opening with the best conditions they have had in several years and with more terrain than they normally would," Amabile said.

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 later on."

But not everyone is noticing an impact from Mother Nature's early blast.

"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 yet."

"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 said.

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 now."

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