By Nathan, Pure Matters
As every skier or snowboarder knows, November is when we rekindle our months-long love affair with Mother Nature. Last year she proved to be a fickle mistress, withholding her affections for most of the season, save for a few late-season embraces in the Utah and the Rockies.
But if the snowfall early this month is any indication, this year will be a massive display of shameless, public affection. Early-season blizzards in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho had resorts open earlier than they have in years. Even the oft-neglected Mid-Atlantic resorts like Snowshoe Mountain dropped their ropes on Thanksgiving weekend -- a hallowed date when most resorts want to open, but so rarely can.
I remain cautiously optimistic that this rare confluence will continue throughout the season, well into invigorating days of late March, when we ski under the spring sun and prepare to bid Mother Nature adieu, until our next tryst in November 2013.
In pursuit of that dream, here are a few tips to help you make the best of what's to come.
Go to Utah
With over seven ski resorts within a 40-minute radius of the Salt Lake City airport, you can exit your plane and be in a chair lift on the same day. In fact, you can trade your boarding pass for a same-day lift ticket at the Park City-area resorts of Deer Valley, The Canyons, and Park City Mountain Resort.
Despite the resorts' close proximity, they see different weather patterns. Powder can be dumping on the resorts of the Cottonwood canyons just outside of SLC, while Park City gets a dandruff dusting of snow. If it isn't snowing where you are, you can get to where it is within an hour. And the snow is the purest of Champaign powder -- light and airy, not dense of overly moist. Easy to ski on, forgiving when you fall and some of the most purely scenic, frosty-white stuff you'll ever see.
I love Alta Resort outside of Salt Lake. It's an old-school mountain that doesn't allow snowboarding and has some of the steepest tree skiing in the Wasatch Range. I also adore the Canyons Resort just outside of Park City, which boasts the largest terrain in Utah. The great thing about the close proximity is that there is a resort for everyone: Kid-friendly? Try Brighton. Rockies-style mega-resort? Go with Snowbird. Snowboard trickery and deep back bowls? Proceed to Park City Mountain Resort. Glam and groomed runs? Deer Valley is haute heaven. Locals only caches? Solitude Resort, amigo.
Gear Up on the Cheap
Before you drop half a grand on a new ski jacket that you think you need, explore discount merchant sites like Department of Goods, which sell product from the previous season. You might not have the edgiest colors on the slopes, but you can get high-end brands like The North Face, Arc'Teryx, Columbia Sportswear, Salomon, and Mountain Hardwear at a fraction of the cost. And with each of those brands, quality always excels.
If you love gear, check out Active Junkie, which offers some cool membership benefits that let you build cash or credit as you purchase products throughout the season. They're also prepping a huge cache of gear reviews for the 2012-13 season after a long testing trip in South America last August.
Cut Other Costs
Skiing is expensive. Cold-weather clothes aside, you've still got ski/board rentals and lift tickets (which puts you out about $120 a day) -- and that doesn't factor in airfare, lodging, and other essentials like the first après-ski beer.
If you're renting gear, consider off-mountain ski shops, which often charge less for rentals than the resort shops.
For lift tickets, visit Liftopia, best resource to find discount tickets (and ticket/rental combos deals) for resorts throughout North America.
Finally, plan ahead as much as you can. Resorts are anxious to lock down booking, so now's the best time to find some killer package deals. The Canyons Resort in Park City, for example, has pre-season lodging discounts as well as a 7 for 5 package, which gives you two free days of skiing and lodging. The good news is that any resort that's open -- which is happily most of them at this point -- should have at least one deal to tempt you into flirting with all that recent snowfall.