You know the signs: Ski films on tour, all the latest skis and boards on store shelves and early flakes on distant peaks. Winter is coming. If you’re planning a ski trip for this season, now’s the time to score the best deals and ensure availability at your favorite mountain spot or new-to-you destination.
But if you book a ski trip months in advance, you take one major risk: You have no idea what the snow conditions will be like. So we asked the experts—a meteorologist, industry leaders in winter travel and a well-traveled pro skier—for their tips on how to book ski trips in advance and still (nearly) guarantee good snow.
First, the hard truth about scheduling powder days. “There are zero guarantees,” said Joel Gratz, a meteorologist and founder of Open Snow. He relies on historic patterns to pick destinations with healthy annual snowfall that get acreage open early. “Even if there’s not a lot of new snow while you’re there, the base should be good. And you’ll have plenty of terrain to ski.” A trusted Gratz resource? The website Zrankings, which uses historical snowfall factors in a statistical analysis of 220 North American resorts. Some of the site’s top-ranked resorts include Jackson Hole, Snowbird, Alta and Vail—all good bets for a solid mid-winter snowpack.
Now consider your travel needs. For Evan Reece, CEO of Liftopia, which sells discounted lift tickets to 250 North American resorts, price isn’t the only factor in choosing a ski destination. “What place is most right for me?” he asks before trips. “Who am I going to ski with? What type of experience am I looking for?” For groups with mixed ability levels, he looks for varied terrain accessed from a single lift. “You can still hang with people who may not ski as well as you,” he said. For example, California’s Alpine Meadows and New Hampshire’s Attitash both feature summit chairs that access both intermediate and expert trails.
After the legwork, commit—ASAP. “If your dates are set, book as early as possible. It’s not 100 percent guaranteed that you’ll see a better deal,” says Dan Sherman, chief marketing officer for Ski.com, which offers vacation packages to 120 resorts in North American, Europe, South America and Japan. “And you get your first choice. There’s a finite amount of lodging and a finite number of airline seats going into smaller airports.”
With travel plans locked, build an itinerary that preps mind and body to maximize each ski day. “When I’m on the road, I have a morning ritual,” said Michelle Parker, a pro skier who stars in a new web series, Originate. “I make coffee and do a 15-minute yoga session. Waking your body up is important to keep everything aligned and loose.” Two vital items on her packing list: a lacrosse ball to roll out knotted muscles and running shoes so she can exercise on days she’s not skiing.
More pro tips? For storm chasers, opt for an airport central to multiple resorts—try Salt Lake City, Denver, Reno, Boston or Spokane. Then check Liftopia or the ski area’s website in advance for discounted rates on lift tickets—buying from the ticket window the morning of will be the most expensive price. While Parker books a year in advance for backcountry lodges and cat- or heli-skiing, savvy planning can still nab you a bucket-list trip for this coming winter. “If you’re on the East Coast, Europe is so accessible right now,” Sherman said of transatlantic airfares.
Want to book early but also have the security of trip insurance, in case you need to cancel? REI members can access deals through TripAssure, the insurance company recommended by REI Adventures. Buy trip insurance and you can be reimbursed for your non-refundable travel arrangements if you need to cancel at the last minute.
So make your travel plans, then sit back and wait for the snow to fall. “You’re only going to have one best day ever, and there are a lot of complicated factors that go into that—weather, crowds, road closures, wind,” said Gratz. “Keep it in the realm of, ‘This could be fun, let’s see what happens.’ Expectations are the biggest detriment to whether you have a good time or not.”