What better way to burn off all that Thanksgiving turkey than hitting the slopes to get some early season turns in! Many ski resorts start cranking up their snowmaking ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend to lure skiers and snowboarders in, but the amount of open terrain is going to vary wildly across the different ski areas. That’s why we’re here to point you in the right direction, along with our recommended resorts to kick off your season!
Here is a quick and dirty on the things that you need to consider:
- Snowmaking capacity – Snowmaking capacity is king for Thanksgiving skiing. Management policies play into this because it is expensive to run snowmaking equipment, especially if it is still warm and the conditions are not optimal. That’s why Summit County in Colorado is usually a winner – it gets cold there early, and it seems to benefit from storms no matter which direction they come from!
- Crowds – It won’t be much fun if you’re squished in line waiting for the only lift that’s open! You want a resort has plenty of terrain and chairs to spread out the crowds! This is generally another tick in favor of Colorado resorts.
- Historical snowfall early in the season and current weather patterns – It’s different every year but there is always some region that gets a big dump early on and becomes the obvious choice for Thanksgiving Skiing. So far, this looks like a promising year for the resorts in the Northwest and Colorado.
Before jumping into our recommendations, we’d say that Lake Tahoe resorts are a great example of the downsides of early season skiing, with most offering little more than crowded strips of snow winding through the dirt, what we like to call the ‘white ribbon of death’. My home resort Heavenly is notorious for this. Despite having 350 ac of ski terrain covered by snowmaking equipment, November temperatures usually aren’t low enough for it to be effective, so just a few runs and a couple of chairs are open by Thanksgiving.
We watch early season conditions like a hawk and picked out a handful of the most promising places to ski and snowboard during Thanksgiving this season. Here are our top 8 resorts to ski this Thanksgiving weekend!
Nicknamed the ‘Beast of the East’, Killington is where you’ll find the best East Coast Thanksgiving skiing! It’s the largest ski area in the Northeast, and often one of the earliest ski resorts to open throughout the entire United States. This is all thanks to their enormous snowmaking operation that covers a massive 600 ac and counting! The resort is extremely confident in its ability to lay down top-quality white stuff, claiming they can cover 60 ac a day with 12 in of artificial snow. You’re pretty much guaranteed decent Thanksgiving skiing here, but you’ll have to share it with the professionals. In 2016, for the first time, Slalom and Giant Slalom races of the Women’s FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup were held here over the Thanksgiving weekend, and further events have been fixed for 2017 and 2018!
Estimated Opening Date: November 26th
Insider Tip: Book your accommodation early to avoid disappointment and don’t expect many early season deals, the FIS Women’s Ski World Cup races draw in quite a crowd!
Best For: Ski racing fans
If there’s one ski resort in California that you should visit over Thanksgiving, it’s Mammoth, and here’s why. First of all, it has the biggest snowmaking operation of any US ski resort on the West Coast, covering a whopping 477 ac. It also enjoys an extra 1,000 ft of elevation compared to Lake Tahoe ski resorts further north, so it gets colder earlier in the season. Put these two elements together and those snow cannons can start pumping out the white stuff in good time for Thanksgiving! Mammoth Mountain gets a tremendous amount of natural snow over the winter, but even just a little snowfall combined with the excellent artificial snowmaking can make sure a decent range of terrain is open for the start of the holiday season. Add in the fact that the resort goes all out with its Thanksgiving festivities, from skiing with Woolly the Mammoth to free meals for under 4’s at the Mountainside Bar & Grill, it’s a sure thing that kids big and small will love it here!
Estimated Opening Date: November 10th
Insider Tip: When natural snow is falling further north than Mammoth it’s worth checking out the conditions at Kirkwood, where Thanksgiving skiing on fresh powder can be exceptionally good.
Best For: Families
If you’ve got your heart set on Thanksgiving skiing in Utah, look no further than Snowbird. It’s famous for its fluffy soft powder, and with over 500 in of the stuff falling on average each year it’s one of the snowiest places in the entire United States. Don’t expect to be up to your waist in the white stuff over Thanksgiving, but if there’s an early dump over the Wasatch Mountains you can expect some great terrain to be open. Even without fresh snowfall, snow cannons cover 100 ac of terrain to keep a decent amount of trails open. The resort takes the national holiday seriously and makes it easy for you to celebrate by hosting special Thanksgiving dinners at three of its restaurants. Let someone else take care of the cooking and washing up while you feast in front of mountain views!
Estimated Opening Date: 22nd November
Insider Tip: If Snowbird gets lucky with plenty of snowfall by Thanksgiving you can expect big crowds here, so for more chance of scoring freshies, just hop next door to the quieter slopes of Alta.
Best For: Groups
An awesome all-rounder, Copper Mountain makes a huge effort to get as much terrain open by Thanksgiving as possible, and it’s not all lackluster trails that you’d usually skip during the height of winter. The focus here is on serving up top-notch intermediate terrain to keep the majority of skiers and snowboarders happy, and they do a great job. With an extensive snowmaking system that covers an impressive 380 ac, along with high alpine cold temperatures, even without natural snowfall you’ll be sure to enjoy some serious slope time here. The US ski team descends Copper for early-season training, so it’s a good bet that the conditions here will be as good as any.
Estimated Opening Date: 12th November
Insider Tip: Another nearby resort with a fantastic snowmaking operation is Keystone, so it’s worth checking here if you’re struggling to find a good package for a Copper Mountain Thanksgiving ski vacation.
Best For: Intermediate terrain
Enjoying the highest average annual snowfall of all the Colorado ski resorts, Wolf Creek ensures any early powder dumps stick to the slopes, thanks to its sub-zero temperatures and high base elevation of 10,300 ft. The snowpack here can be the deepest of any ski resort in North America by the time Thanksgiving comes around, so if you’re all about the steep and deep this place could be your best bet. More often than not you’ll enjoy over 1,000 ac of skiable terrain ready for fresh tracks, and it’s one of the most affordable resorts on our list. With so much going for it, why does Wolf Creek only take our number four spot? It’s all down to the fact that it doesn’t have enough artificial snow machines, so without the blessing of natural powder it’s not really worth visiting here over Thanksgiving.
Estimated Opening Date: November 13th
Insider Tip: Lack of snowmaking coverage (just 5 ac!) means that if the snow doesn’t fall in time the slopes will be bare at Work Creek, so head to Breckenridge as the back-up resort where the snow cannons will be firing on all cylinders!
Best For: Powder hounds
If you wanted to put a bet on which ski resort will open first in North America, our tip would be Arapahoe Basin every time. Just its base elevation of 10,780 ft should be enough to convince most skiers, but being in Summit County adds in the element of reliable early season snowfall. The resort usually opens in October, so by Thanksgiving at the end of November you’re almost guaranteed top-to-bottom skiing on a variety of trails. Management does a great job of getting as many chairlifts operating as possible by Thanksgiving, so you should also be able to launch yourself down some of the gnarly steep terrain on the upper mountain. Even if the resort gets skunked for fresh snowfall, there are 125 ac of terrain covered by snowmaking equipment so all’s not lost!
Opening Date: Opened! October 13th
Insider Tip: When there’s plenty of early season snow at A-Bay the resort is likely to be crowded, so for quieter slopes switch your destination to nearby Loveland Basin.
Best For: Adrenaline junkies
Another Canadian destination takes second place, and for very good reasons too. Even by October, the upper mountain terrain at Whistler Blackcomb is often blanketed in fresh powder and this year, La Niña events look to make things even snowier. The resort not only enjoys consistent early season snowfall, but it’s also equipped with an extensive snowmaking operation. If natural powder isn’t opening up enough trails, the snow guns keep at least 665 ac of terrain topped up with the white stuff. All this means great Thanksgiving skiing is just a short trip north away! Being the largest ski resort in North America, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation, activities, and après-ski, and while Whistler Blackcomb doesn’t hold special festivities to mark American Thanksgiving celebrations, there’s still plenty of entertainment on offer here.
Estimated Opening Date: November 23rd
Insider Tip: Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if rain is likely then make a last minute diversion to Sun Peaks, sheltered away within the interior of British Columbia, for your best chance to avoid the slush!
Best For: Variety of terrain
Number one on our list is Sunshine Village, a ski resort that enjoys more of the white stuff than its neighbors thanks to its strategic location, nestled within the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies. The top elevation here is just shy of 9,000 ft, and even the base village sits at almost 5,500 ft, so the high altitude helps to keep the natural snow in tip-top condition. There are over 3,500 ac of skiable terrain here, and by Thanksgiving anywhere between 1,000to1,500 ac of it is usually open! They already have a significant amount of snow on the ground and plan to open November 10, so looks to be a good bet. Ok, so being in Canada means the locals won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving (their holiday is in October, not November), but that doesn’t mean you can’t! This also means less holiday crowds!
Estimated Opening Date: November 11th
Insider Tip: If natural snow is thin on the ground here during November, head to nearby Lake Louise where artificial snowmaking ensures at least 500 ac of terrain is ready to ski by Thanksgiving!
Best For: Top quality snow