The masses arrive at ski resorts during the holiday week between Christmas and New Year's. Serious skiers and boarders often can't wait that long, but they also want a significant amount of available open terrain.
Early December can be a good time to find good, early-season conditions before the crowds arrive. Each season's weather patterns are different, but here are 11 ski areas (going from West to East) that are typically good bets for early season visits.
This huge Canadian resort in British Columbia draws on a huge source of moisture -- the Pacific Ocean. Blackcomb Mountain has a vertical drop of 5,280 feet, so even if the lower mountain isn't skiable in the early season, there may be plenty of snow up top. Skiers and boarders simply download at the end of the day. View lift tickets.
This Washington ski area doesn't receive many destination travelers, but it is a king of snowfall. In the past four seasons, Mt. Baker has averaged 752 inches of snow. In most years, more than 100 inches falls in November. View lift tickets.
Again, the proximity to the Pacific Ocean means that the Sierras tend to receive snow in big doses, measured in feet. Mammoth has a relatively high base elevation of 7,953 feet, giving it an additional early-season advantage. View lift tickets.
This skiers-only area in Little Cottonwood Canyon near Salt Lake City is known for lots of natural snow. Alta averages 29 inches of snowfall in October, 77 inches in November, and 92 inches in December. Utah's dry snow isn't ideal for building a base of good coverage on rocky expert slopes. However, Alta is still able to open the vast majority of its terrain in December. View lift tickets.
This Wyoming ski area on the west side of the Tetons may be North America's safest bet for snow cover in the early season. Grand Targhee's generally modest pitch and lack of extremely rocky, rugged ground combine with consistent natural snowfall for reliable results. In the 2013-14 ski season for instance, Grand Targhee had 100 percent of its terrain open by November 22. View lift tickets.
The high elevation of Summit County, Colorado, makes the region a solid choice for December skiing. Copper Mountain is able to take advantage of the colder temperatures of its elevation for snowmaking. The resort can cover 331 acres with its snowmaking operation. View lift tickets.
Another lofty Colorado ski area with a base elevation of 10,780 feet, Arapahoe Basin is known for its October openings. With that head start, A-Basin is usually in great shape by December. View lift tickets.
Among Colorado's destination resorts, Winter Park has one of the best records for consistent natural snowfall. Just in case the 330 inches of annual natural snow is late in arriving, the resort can cover 313 acres with snowmaking. View lift tickets.
Dubbed the Beast of the East, Killington is known for being among the first, if not THE first, to open in the East each season. The Vermont resort's average snowfall of 250 inches each winter, coupled with a sophisticated snowmaking system that has the capacity to cover 80 acres with 12 inches of fresh snow in an hour's time, has allowed the resort to offer one of the longest skiing seasons in eastern North America (typically lasting from October to May). View lift tickets.
Maine is a great place to start for skiers and boarders in the East wanting to stay close to home in the early-season. The state's cold temperatures and Sunday River's extensive infrastructure have made the resort famous for its snowmaking operations. Sunday River spends about $2.5 million every year covering 552 acres that amount to 95 percent of its non-gladed terrain. View lift tickets.
The largest ski area east of the Rockies, Sugarloaf can cover 618 of its 1,056 skiable acres with manmade snow. Its relatively high elevation and location in Maine virtually guarantee the low temperatures needed for snowmaking. View lift tickets.