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Five Places to Hit the Slopes This Season, Whether the Snow Keeps Coming or Not

El Niño might bring rain, but “not the snow skiers want” this winter.


Skiers rejoiced when snow fell in the Sierras earlier in the week, and though some ski resorts are already open (for the first time in more than a decade, Boreal’s entire resort was up and running on opening day), more precipitation doesn’t mean our beloved snowpack is going to reappear just yet. It’s hard to recover from what, in some places, was a 500-year low.

According to meteorologist Mike Bettes, host of the Weather Channel’s Weather Underground, this winter is shaping up to be wetter, and maybe even snowier, in places like the Sierras and Lake Tahoe. But, he says, there’s a caveat: “The storms this year are looking very wet, which means the snow we do see could feel more like cement than fresh powder.” So, while the current weather pattern is setting itself up for more of the white stuff, it’s “not necessarily the snow skiers want.” In fact, Bettes says, “the manmade snow could be better than the natural stuff this year.”

After the recent snowfall, though, Bettes says he’s still got his fingers crossed and that he wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more than 250 to 300 inches this season (compared with last season’s averages of well under 100 inches). 

Come rain or snow, it’s best to be prepared for the worst—or, in this case, the wettest. Here are the top five places you can expect snow this season, whether or not it’s the real stuff.

1. Kirkwood, Tahoe 
Opening Day: November 14 

Beloved by ski die-hards since its opening in 1972, Kirkwood draws in a lot experienced skiers, but newcomers are also welcome.  Whatever their proficiency, skiers can take advantage of 86 runs and four terrain parks, including the infamous “wall.” And when it opens on November 14, local snow specialists say it’s safe to assume the best. On top of the 19 inches that have fallen this past week, Kirkwood has been making its own powder to prepare for early-season skiers. As for lodging, Kirkwood offers a variety of price and amenity options, including an optional hot tub and sauna, for their condo-style accommodations. Before you hit the slopes, reserve ski and snowboard equipment online at Kirkwood Mountain Sports so that your gear is ready and waiting upon your arrival.  

Northstar, Tahoe 
Opening Day: November 14

Northstar is your best bet for man-made snow. Unlike most ski resorts with snow machines, Northstar has its own water rights, which means the place isn’t going to run out of fresh snow. With 100 runs, seven terrain parks, and 3,170 acres of pure powdery goodness, Northstar has options for everyone from beginners to experts. If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Northstar village has plenty of lodges, such as Big Horn and Catamount, that are within walking distance to popular downtown attractions like the ice rink and fire pits. Northstar Lodging also offers discount condos, which are farther from the action than places in the village, but they come with a free shuttle to transport visitors to and from downtown and the slopes. If you’re just a dabbler, Northstar Sports Village Rentals has everything you need to give this skiing thing a go. 

3. Heavenly Mountain, Tahoe

Opening Day: November 14

Heavenly Mountain is a perfect place for the younger crowd. From the casino to its custom-built mobile DJ station—on the back of a snow cat, no less—this ski resort has the reputation of a snow-laden college party town. With 97 runs for all experience levels, this 4,800-acre park keeps the snow—and beats—pumping even when the weather’s lacking. Need a place to stay? Try the Forest Suites Resort at Heavenly, with its view of the village and gondola. If you don’t come with your own gear, you can pick up the proper equipment down the road at Heavenly Sports.

4. Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Lakes

Opening Day: November 5

Mammoth Mountain was the first ski resort of the season to open in California last week after receiving 12 to 30 inches of snowfall all along its 3,500 skiable acres. And apparently there’s plenty more to come. Cold temperatures have helped to keep both natural and artificial snow on the ground, and Mammoth Mountain’s five lifts and 10 trails, including prized peaks such as Climax and Cornice Bowl, are fully open and ready to go. With its outdoor heated pool and regularly scheduled activities, the Village Lodge is a favorite accommodation for visitors. For complete convenience, Black Tie Ski Rentals delivers ski equipment straight to your place. And don’t worry about sizes—at-home fitting is par for the course. 

5. June Mountain, June Lake

Opening Day: December 12

Just about 20 minutes away from Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain is the place to go for anyone looking to take the little ones out on the bunny slopes. Kids under 12 get in free at all year long, making it the perfect holiday getaway once it opens for the ski season this December. Despite being the only ski spot on this list without snow-making capabilities, Mother Nature already started doing her thing last week by dropping a few inches of snow on the mountain, so things are looking good. Whether you’re after resort-style rooms or a cabin stay, Double Eagle has it covered, along with a spa, a fitness center, a restaurant, and just about anything else you might need on vacay. As for gear, Ernie’s Tackle and Ski Shop is the local rental stop, and is open seven days a week once the ski season begins. 

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