1. (2) Grand Targhee, Wyo.
Targhee remains the only area in North America with a 100% Christmas reliability record over the past 25 years. 1997-98 was particularly impressive, when Grand Targhee had a 50-60 inch base in mid-December while its Northern Rockies neighbors were in terrible shape. In the last two seasons Targhee’s early December base was a bit thin, but fresh snow arrived in time for the holidays.
2. (1) Mt. Baker, Wash.
The Pacific Northwest’s early season of 1997-98 was not dry as in the Northern Rockies, but there was a lot of low-elevation rain. Mt. Baker had its share, but still attained a 6-foot snow base before Christmas. The last two seasons brought huge dumps in December and a 10+ foot base by Christmas. Mt. Baker remains North America’s best bet for pre-Christmas deep powder.
3. (12) Whistler/Blackcomb, B. C.
We underestimated Whistler’s early season reliability in 1997 by focusing upon the rain-vulnerable lower mountain. A poor start to Whistler (as in 1997-98) just means that the lower 1,000-2,000 feet aren’t covered and you must download at the end of the day. The Whistler and Blackcomb alpine regions got about 100 inches of snow in November/December 1997 (average is more like 150), and 5,000+ acres of terrain were open at Christmas. There have been only two early seasons in the past 20 years (77 inches in 1989-90 and 91 inches in 1992-93) with less snow. Whistler’s early December World Cup downhills were cancelled 3 years in a row due to too much snow. Whistler/Blackcomb is the best big mountain choice in North America before Christmas, but beware of exorbitant prices during the peak holiday season.
4. (3) Mt. Bachelor, Ore.
Mt. Bachelor received only 50 inches of snow in November/December 1997 and was about 70% open for the holidays. The next year there was a 100+ inch base by the end of November, and Christmas 1999 was also excellent. Bachelor’s snow accumulation is more gradual than Whistler’s, but it is a better holiday choice due to lack of crowds and reasonable cost.
5-7. (4-6) Alta, Utah
Powder Mt., Utah
The last 3 early seasons were all below average in Utah, with 1997-98 being the best. The fall of 1998 saw major dumps, but snowfall was the less than half normal from mid-November to mid-January. In 1999 October and November were very dry and Alta did not open until the second week of December. In all 3 seasons Alta had 75-90% of terrain open for Christmas. Utah is somewhat speculative for holiday skiing. The Park City region is often not completely open, and when visiting skiers flock to Alta for its better snow, the crowds can be overwhelming. Before Christmas, Alta, Brighton and Powder Mt. can rival Mt. Baker as a powder destination, with better snow quality.