Once summer's heat begins to fade and those endless days of hiking come to an end, there's really only one question on everyone's lips: is it ski season yet?
Flip flop season is great, but there’s nothing to quite match the excitement of checking the snow report at 6 a.m., pulling on your ski pants and swishing your way to the bottom of the gondola to catch first chair. It might still feel like hell’s kitchen out there, but don’t worry – if you live for skiing powder and can’t wait to try out that new ski jacket you snatched up at the end of last season, there’s actually not long to go until the lifts start turning again up high.
Ok, when is ski season?
It all depends on where you are really, since weather and snow making capacity will determine when a resort has enough snow for skiing. For resorts that don’t have much or any snowmaking, opening and closing will be entirely weather-dependent, and whether it’s an El Niño or a La Niña year will determine whether and how long they can open for.
In the US, most resorts aim to open by November and stay open until at least March. That said, it’s not uncommon for some resorts like Colorado’s A-Basin to stay open until June, while Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California recently closed out a nine-month season that began in November and ended in August. Resorts in the Alps and Scandinavia follow a similar pattern to those in the US, though they may open later and close earlier than those in the Rockies due to their lower elevation. If you can’t wait until November, remember that ski resorts make for great summer adventures too.
Theoretically, ski season in Scotland runs from December to April, but it’s possible for the resorts there to go an entire season with no snow so don't make too many plans. In Australia and New Zealand, the season extends from early June through October.
What months are best for skiing?
Again, it depends where you are and on the climate patterns of that particular year, but in general, most skiers in the northern hemisphere love the skiing in January and February. By January, enough snow has usually built up to make a stable base, while these months are typically colder, so any snow that falls should stick around. Furthermore, once the Christmas holidays are over, the slopes are usually a bit quieter until spring break in March, barring a few exceptions like Presidents Day and MLK Day.
That said, some resorts will experience an influx of tourists from southern hemisphere countries like Australia, who understandably want to spend their summers getting away from the stifling heat down under and hitting the slopes. It certainly won’t be as busy as during spring break, but don’t assume it will be only locals skiing either.
What is the cheapest month to go skiing?
Like a lot of industries, ski resorts respond to the January slump caused by Christmas overspending and spending fatigue with reduced prices. This means you can probably enjoy cheaper lift tickets – at least at resorts like Vail which vary their prices – and discounts on hotel rooms and shuttle services.
How is skiing in April?
Skiing in April can be a total dud, but it can also be surprisingly great. If it was a decent snow year, there will still be a good base and even though it’s going to get much warmer during the day, big dumps are fairly common at high altitude. The key is to get out just as the sun hits the slopes to soften up the snow, but get down before it gets too sticky and slushy or you might be needing a new ACL before next season.
Another big advantage of April skiing is that, outside of any Easter rush, the slopes will be quiet. The spring days usually mean you can go skiing in just a light ski jacket over a base layer or even a T-shirt, and you’ll usually spend more time sitting out on the deck sipping a beer in the sun than you will on the chairlift.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.