Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Topics of a general nature regarding snowsports, which don't easily fit into one of our other Liftlines categories. This is also the place to post Letters to the Editor.

re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby From_the_NEK » Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:42 am

The numbers I quoted above were from Quebec Ski Association website, I just checked with Sutton's site and the 194" is part of their lower range. Numbers indicated are 194"-220".

Yep, a huge difference. Base elevation at Sutton is 1312' (400m) versus 1815' (553m) at Jay. From one of the discussion I had last year in my quest for Sutton snow data numbers, I was told that snow was measured at the base of the area.

Here are the historical numbers from there website (no range - only one number):

http://www.montsutton.com/en/useful_inf ... _info.aspx

From a discussion about snow totals on ZS, I know some people are a bit skeptical those Jay numbers, as well as the VAL D'IRENE numbers. I also know that the snow varies also a lot at Sutton. Not sure were the second spot on the mountain is placed? Summit of ski area is 2822' (860m) versus 3198' (975m) for the actual summit of Mont Sutton. Summit of Jay Peak is 3968' (1290m).


Jay is also a complex of several 3000'+ peaks which create a lot more upslope effect snowfall than the single 3000' peak of Mt Sutton.
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Apr 25, 2007 5:42 pm

Again, you need to extend your zone into Quebec along the Appalachian + the Charlevoix/Saguenay regions which also get a good dumps.
The six areas I mentioned were not an attempt to be comprehensive. I just think I've read enough FTO reports from those areas to form a fairly strong impression. Given the proximity to Northern Vermont and a few reports, I'm sure Sutton and Orford can be quite interesting. I know I saw (? pea-soup fog and rain-soaked snow) Le Massif in adverse circumstances, but it wasn't obvious there was much off-trail skiing. Massif du Sud and the Saguenay areas might be intriguing based upon admin's features.

And when you mentioned decent conditions, you talk only in terms of powder. Perfect grooming isn't always that bad?
I am not that impressed with eastern groomers (mostly too flat) based on what I've seen. Nosedive and Hayride were probably the best I've skied. The gondola runs at at Stowe were flat enough to have sticky snow on March 16. Stoneham, as I've mentioned before, is a clone of Snow Summit. Despite joegm's laments, I'm in some respects most impressed with the moguls (MRG in March 2003, Superstar in April 1990 and November 1993) in terms of challenge in the East.
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby jamesdeluxe » Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:40 pm

Nothing to add to this conversation; just wanted to say how much I enjoy the dynamic of ECers trying to convince the all-knowing out-of-towner -- who doles out just enough praise to avoid appearing completely unreasonable, but not enough to satisfy their need for his approval -- that our ski areas are more interesting than he gives them credit for ("love me, Daddy!").

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Re: re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of

Postby Marc_C » Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:32 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Nothing to add to this conversation; just wanted to say how much I enjoy the dynamic of ECers trying to convince the all-knowing out-of-towner -- who doles out just enough praise to avoid appearing completely unreasonable, but not enough to satisfy their need for his approval -- that our ski areas are more interesting than he gives them credit for ("love me, Daddy!").

Me too! I grew up in the northeast, lived much of my adult and all of my ski life in New England, then wised up in my mid-40's and moved west. In response to the inherent question embedded in Jamesdeluxe's statement - the eastern areas simply aren't more interesting than the all-knowing out-of-towner gives them credit for. And while said out-of-towner (AKOOT?) puts a lot of emphasis on total snowfall and snowpack, anyone who skis the NE knows how much a 60" base can suck with the all too frequent rain/hard freeze events and how miserable it is to ski on so many days where the high at the base is -10F with a gentle 30mph "breeze". Add in the usual asphalt-like condition of most groomed runs (especially fun when it's islands of sugary substance euphemistically called powder in a sea of glare ice) and the less than exhilarating pitch at many areas and, well, you rarely see anyone who's moved west longing to return.
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Re: re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of

Postby J.Spin » Thu Apr 26, 2007 8:56 am

Tony Crocker wrote:The local areas in Montana are a soft spot in my knowledge. There's an EpicSki poster VolantAddict who lives in Missoula that you might want to contact. It's also 2-3 hours from Big Mountain, which is a pretty good area. Missoula is probably next best to Bozeman of the larger cities, and I wouldn't go any lower on the list. Montana is of highest value to those for whom getting away from crowds is top priority. JSpin's reports from Lost Trail give a good impression of this.


I put a little information together that might fill in some of the holes for Montana's smaller ski areas. I haven't been to all of them, but I figured any information might help because there is an incredibly poor representation of reports from many of Montana's ski areas out there on the web. If something sparks interest and more information is desired, I can probably add a little bit of my own knowledge and find additional information.

Here's a general lowdown on some aspects of Montana's ski areas in my experience from five years of living there. The two most well-known "destination" ski areas seem to be Big Sky (southwest/south central part of state) and Big Mountain (northwest part of state). On the next tier of familiarity might be Bridger, Discovery, and Red Lodge. Moonlight Basin probably falls in one of these categories, but it is so new that it's hard to say where it fits. All the ski areas are essentially in the western 1/2 to 1/3 of the state, as that's where the mountains are. The eastern 1/2 to 2/3 of Montana is basically like the Great Plains (North/South Dakota, etc.). The general trend in snowfall is that the ski areas on the western edge of the state get the more consistent snowfall, as they are somewhat linked in with the Pacific Northwest style of weather. The further east you go, the more the snowfall becomes feast or famine, but the climate is colder and drier, so the snow that falls can be pretty dry. That's the general scheme I've observed in weather, which may be helpful for people that like a certain type of climate/snowfall.

Now here are some pros and cons I've found in the various areas in terms of skiing/snowfall/snow conditions. The annual snowfall numbers I've found reported for each area are in parentheses. I've added links to some reports/pictures I've made from the various areas that could be helpful in getting the feel as well.

Bear Paw (140 inches): Seems like a rather small (900 vertical) and VERY obscure area stuck out there among the last vestiges of the mountains in the northern part of the state as you head east. I've never met anyone who has skied there. I've never even met anyone that even knows the area exists as far as I'm aware.

Big Mountain (355 inches): Located in the moister northwest corner of the state so snowfall is more consistent. A decent amount of snow, acreage, and vertical, but like Montana Snowbowl, it has a relatively low base elevation (4,464') and a lot of terrain faces south. So the snow may not be too dry depending on the storm, and it can get cooked by the sun.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2003/17FEB03.html

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2006/25FEB06.html


Big Sky (400 inches): Higher on the feast or famine snowfall scale because it is further east. I think Tony has indicated the snowfall number is actually lower than 400 inches, and I don't buy that 400 number at all after casually watching the snowfall there for several seasons. Snowfall can be nice and dry however, and base elevation is high (7,500'). Great steeps, although this is another mountain where a lot of the terrain faces south and the snow can get cooked by the sun.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2004/25FEB04.html

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2004/27FEB04.html


Blacktail (250 inches): Unfortunately I haven't been to Blacktail yet, but I've driven by it many times on the way to Big Mountain/Glacier National Park. It's in the Big Mountain/northwest part of the state so I would expect a similar snowfall regime to Big Mountain on a reduced scale, and of course the ski area is smaller (1,440' vertical).

Bridger Bowl (400 inches): Unfortunately, our day that we were going to head to Bridger for skiing didn't really come together, so I haven't been there yet. From observations of the snowfall, it seems to be feast or famine like Big Sky, and there can be some really big feasts of light snow. In talking to my Montana colleague Jon who has skied there many times, hiking to the ridge is the real point of going there. Tony would probably be the one to ask about how representative the annual snowfall number is.

Discovery (200 inches): Discovery has a lot of fun terrain on the back side in a steep bowl, but they don't get a ton of snowfall. They seem to be east enough to fall more into the feast or famine category for snowfall at times, so with only 200 inches of snowfall annually, you might have to wait for stuff to open. Base elevation is decent though at 6,480' so the snowfall can be light in more marginal temperature precipitation events.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2002/16MAR02.html

Great Divide (150 inches): This is another area that I haven't visited, but it seems to be the local's area for the Helena folks. It's got a vertical of 1,500' and looks like there's some fun terrain, but I would guess snowfall is the big drawback if they only get 150 inches annually. I know for a fact that snowfall can be an issue in the early season because I encountered Great Divide skiers who would head all the way to Lost Trail to ski.

Lookout (400 inches): Lookout is another one of Montana's gems. It's special in that like Lost Trail, it straddles the Idaho/Montana border so both states sort of lay claim to it. Lookout is definitely the Montana ski area that seems to get into the Pacific Northwest climate/snowfall the most, and I'd say they are the snowiest of all of Montana's ski areas. Unlike Big Sky's reported 400 inches of annual snowfall, I'd say Lookout's 400 inches is a lot more believable from what I've seen. The natural base depth of snow there surpasses 200 inches at times, which I don't think happens at any of Montana's other ski areas as easily. Lookout is modest in size like Lost Trail, and crowds are low, but the one big downside in comparison to Lost Trail is that Lookout's elevations are low (base elevation = 4,500') so they are going to have much wetter snow or rain during warmer storms. I finally finished up our report from our Lookout Pass trip in 2006, so I've added the link below.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2006/08APR06.html

Lost Trail Powder Mountain (300 inches): This was our local mountain while in Montana, and is often touted as having the best snow conditions in the state. This reputation is due to their combination of fairly consistent snowfall (western edge of the state), relatively high elevation (the main base is at 7,000') and low skier density. They don't really have a ton of long, steep terrain like Snowbowl however. It's hard to pick a Lost Trail report to add as a link in here of course since I've probably got 100-200 of them, but here's one of my favorites:

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2003/22FEB03.html

Maverick Mountain (200 inches): Maverick is in the Pioneer Mountains, and seems to be the local's area for the Dillon folks. It's about an hour or so east of Lost Trail, and although it has a similar elevation range to Lost Trail (Maverick base elevation = 6,500') it suffers from being further east and doesn't get as much snow. I was bummed that we never got a chance to hit Maverick while we lived in Montana, but it was tough because we had to drive right past Lost Trail to do it. We drove there a couple of times on camping/ski trips in May and June of 2002, but the snow didn't seem to be quite worth it for the hike. There are a couple of pictures of the area in the link below. I get the impression that the crowds there are very light; E's principal at her school in Montana was from the Dillon area at some point and enjoyed Maverick.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2002/09JUN02.html

Moonlight Basin (400 inches): Moonlight is essentially attached to Big Sky, so most of the same description applies (lots of great steep stuff), except that most of their terrain is more north-facing so it doesn't get cooked by the sun the way Big Sky's terrain does. Again, they report the same annual snowfall as Big Sky, so if one is off, they are probably both off.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2004/26FEB04.html

http://www.firsttracksonline.com/index. ... le&sid=128

Red Lodge (250 inches): Very east, very feast or famine as I understand it, although I don't think they even get the total snowfall of the Big Sky area. It sounds like a fun area as long as there is snow, but it was quite a long trip for us to get over there so we never did except when we skied Beartooth Pass, and Red Lodge was closed by then. Marc G went there and I recall that it sounded fun from his report.

Showdown (240 inches): This is another one of those rather obscure areas in the northeast toward the plains like Bear Paw that I don't know anything about, or anyone who has ever skied there.

Snowbowl (300 inches): Snowbowl is Missoula's ski area and was the second closest for us (~ 1 hour) when we were living in Hamilton. Snowbowl has a really great front side with 2,600' vertical that is almost all sustained and steep. The problems I've seen with Snowbowl are that the base elevation is somewhat low (5,000') and the bulk of the terrain faces south, so the snow quality can be lower. Even the top of the mountain (7,600') isn't all that high. Somehow both Snowbowl and Lost Trail report 300 inches snowfall annually, but storm for storm one would typically see Lost Trail get more (and drier) snow than Snowbowl. Rare were the storms where Snowbowl had more snow that Lost Trail. For people in the Bitterroot Valley with Snowbowl and Lost Trail as the two closest options, it made for an interesting choice of going for Snowbowl's steeper terrain, or Lost Trail's better snow and fewer skiers.

http://www.jandeproductions.com/2001/07DEC01.html

Teton Pass (300 inches): Continuing with the trend of Bear Paw and Showdown, this is yet another one of those rather obscure areas in the northeast toward the plains. It seems similarly small like the others. Jon and I always thought it was interesting that they had the name Teton Pass, which is the famous backcountry ski pass that is so well known in Wyoming. I also always found their annual snowfall to be intriguing at 300 inches, which is more than the other small ski areas in that region.

Turner (250 inches): Turner is tucked way up in the northwest part of the state, and I haven't been yet (although I do actually know people who have). It's another area that I think of in the Blacktail/Big Mountain vein of climate, and it sound like another great smaller area with few crowds.

J.Spin
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Montana ski areas map.jpg
Rough map of the Montana ski areas from skiMT.com for reference (forgot to add that earlier)
Montana ski areas map.jpg (82.44 KiB) Viewed 7165 times
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby J.Spin » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:01 am

Patrick wrote:If we're purely concerned with skiing? I would pick J.Spin location in Waterbury. Ah yes, Waterbury isn't a metropolitan area. :wink:


jamesdeluxe wrote:I drove through Waterbury the other day and was thinking about how well placed it is -- a few minutes to Bolton, Mad River Valley and Stowe/Smuggs, 30-40 minutes to Kmart/Pico and Burke/Jay within an hour. Nice.


riverc0il wrote:If I could pick a town to live in Vermont without consideration for current employment, it would most certainly be the Waterbury area. Though Kmart and Pico are MUCH further than 30-40 minutes. IIRC, It is almost an hour from Kmart to Mad River Glen alone. Burke would be slightly longer than an hour but close enough but I think Jay would be slightly longer than an hour as well. Probably both of those in the 1:15 range or so pending favorable traffic and weather. The key areas of Mad River, Stowe, and Bush are right there and just over an hour to Jay isn't much worse than my current setup though Route 100 instead of the 91 deal would be a royal pain. Though at that location, I would probably consider a pass to Mad River and take the $39 Vermonter ticket at Jay when it would be the better bet. Skinning options from that region are off the hook, practically backcountry options in your backyard. It would be two hours from Mount Washington instead of one hour for the draw back. But having Burlington right up the Interstate would be the key to seal the deal despite the drawbacks of travel to Jay/Burke/Cannon/Mount Washington etc. compared to my current locations. But then again, that would be relocation specific which just is not happening at this point.


I've been meaning to reply to this interesting thread (what a challenge you guys are discussing to develop that system on city ratings!) since I saw the above comments about living in Waterbury, but I haven't had a chance to respond until now. Obviously if Burlington is barely on the verge of consideration in this thread (metro-style areas), then Waterbury is in a different universe, but since it came up as a potentially attractive area to live as a skier, and we moved here last fall (from Montana no less), I figured I'd add a couple of comments. I've always considered Waterbury the crossroads of Northern Vermont skiing, because it's literally the intersection of three of the main routes of travel around Northern Vermont: Interstate 89, Route 2, and Route 100. With reference to the zone from Killington up to Jay Peak, you are truly surrounded by some of the "best" (rather subjective) and snowiest (less subjective) ski areas in Vermont, and you can get to even the most distant areas in that region with a bit over an hour of driving. You live right among the mountains, and if you're a backcountry skier, you can literally have skiing out your back door. Access to the Burlington area is very quick as well. It's about 20 minutes to the Williston/Taft Corners area, or about 25-30 minutes to downtown Burlington. If it hadn't been for my wife working in Morrisville, we probably would have just defaulted to living in the familiarity of the Champlain Valley, but we've always liked Waterbury, and it just worked out for us that it happened to be a nice halfway point between workplaces. Anyway, after one ski season of living here, I'm hooked. It's getting harder to imagine living back in the Champlain Valley, especially since the trip into Burlington from Waterbury isn't all that different from some of the more typical Chittenden County locations like Charlotte, Milton, Jericho, etc. Waterbury is also a nice community with a fun downtown area. The latest population numbers I've seen put Waterbury at around 5,000 people, which is similar to Hamilton, where we lived in Montana. Hamilton felt a little bigger than Waterbury because as the most substantial city in Ravalli County, it was the hub for the rest of the towns. But Waterbury isn't as major a city in Washington County since there are places like Montpelier etc. Both Hamilton and Waterbury had relatively large cities (Missoula and Burlington respectively) close by, but it has been more convenient living in Waterbury with the shorter drive to Burlington (Hamilton to Missoula is about 45-60 minutes depending on the part of the city you are heading to). One nice addition to Waterbury that I guess had been lacking is a big supermarket. Previously there were just a couple (or maybe just one?) medium-sized supermarkets, the kind that don't always have quite the selection of larger ones. That's been nice to have; I guess we would have gone to Williston or Montpelier otherwise to get items that only the big supermarkets carry. I have to think Waterbury is growing if there was enough incentive for the new market. It definitely seems to be growing in popularity as a place to live for people who work in Burlington. I would highly recommend it if living in the mountains is your cup of tea. However, if you need a city bigger than Burlington for reasons such as job, etc., then it's not really practical. We haven't even lived here for an entire year yet of course, so there are probably some things I haven't thought about, but I figured I'd throw out some initial impressions of the area for those that were interested.

J.Spin
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby SoCal Rider » Thu Apr 26, 2007 10:38 am

Much appreciated overview, J.Spin. I had kinda assumed Montana was pretty much all cold smoke, just less snow than Utah or PNW. I didn't know that some of the elevations were Oregon/Wash.-low. Thanks.
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Re: re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of

Postby J.Spin » Thu Apr 26, 2007 12:58 pm

Patrick wrote:
Tony Crocker wrote:There are very few people for whom skiing is a high priority that move back East after they have lived in a western location convenient to skiing, though I know we have at least 2 here on FTO.


I don't think that Hamdog and JSpin regret their choices. It was interesting to speak to Hamdog on Feb 15 and I believe that he was telling me that he was having a great year, better than it he would stayed in Montana.

If I would moved out West, it wouldn't be because of the superior skiing, but more for a change of diet. I lived in the East all my life and at one point it's nice to experience something else.


That's pretty much the way we approached it. Even before moving out to Montana, I'd skied in the Rockies various times and knew the drill. We knew there would be days with good conditions on the slopes, and days with blasé or poor conditions on the slopes, just like we'd experienced living in Vermont. What we knew would be more noticeably different would be some of the terrain options out west, and with fewer thaws in the Rockies, better snow preservation between storms (softer snow conditions on average days). We figured it would be a great experience to live out west for a while, and if it turned out to be such a dramatically different lifestyle that we absolutely couldn't think of going back to Vermont, we probably would have stayed. I can say for a fact that many friends and family thought we would never come back to Vermont.

We had a great time in Montana, but even if our decision to move back had been solely based on skiing, it wouldn't have been too difficult. For a local skier in Northern Vermont with a relatively flexible schedule, vs. a similar skier in Western Montana, the skiing isn't necessarily all that different. That's going to depend on the skier of course, but I can let years of trip reports, photos, and videos speak to my specific case. I suspect that for a person living somewhere in the metropolitan east and generally focused on planned ski weekends in the area, vs. someone doing the same thing in a place like Salt Lake City, the ski experiences would be night and day.

J.Spin
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:05 pm

I too appreciate the rundown from JSpin on the Montana areas.
I had kinda assumed Montana was pretty much all cold smoke
Unfortunately most of that smoke is what's being blown in your face by marketing directors quoting snowfall averages. The numbers I have on http://bestsnow.net/nrocnet.htm for Big Mountain, Big Sky and Bridger are based upon 85, 115 and 146 months of data respectively, so I'm quite confident of their accuracy. JSpin, or any other observant skier who lives in a region for awhile, can usually sort out the relative snowfall of the areas in that region. And once you've been to a lot of areas you get a good feel for what a 400-inch (Lookout) or 300-inch (Lost Trail) mountain should look like. He didn't need me to to tell him that the 400 quote for Big Sky was fishy. I think we can dismiss Snowbowl's 300 claim by comparing to Lost Trail. We can probably dismiss Red Lodge's 250 by comparing to Big Sky/Bridger, which actually get just slightly more than 250. The 300 claim for Teton Pass is highly suspicious based on geographic location.

JSpin's altitude comment is noteworthy also. The Big Mountain is about 1,000 vertical (both base and peak) higher than Fernie, and when I was there that more than offset Fernie's snowfall average due to recent relative rain incidence. Chronic fog from nearby lakes mitigates the effect of its frontside south exposure in winter, though I'd be wary of skiing an area with that exposure in March. As in B.C. distances are big in Montana, and it is not surprising that there would be much variation in climate/precipitation.

I have noticed that many refugee easterners like MarcC tend to be more harsh than I am in rating eastern terrain and snow conditions. Once you ski regularly at places where you can take good conditions for granted for several months a year (Mammoth, SLC) you get spoiled and tend to be less tolerant of unreliable areas. I have somewhat more tolerance because the SoCal local areas give me a closer frame of reference. And like some of the East Coasters, I'm willing to put in the effort to nail the local areas when they are good. But I sure wouldn't want to depend on them for the majority of my skiing.

For a local skier in Northern Vermont with a relatively flexible schedule, vs. a similar skier in Western Montana, the skiing isn?t necessarily all that different.
Based upon natural snowfall that's a defensible argument, and we know from JSpin's reports that he's powder-centric. But Montana's claim to fame, especially at a place like Lost Trail, is extremely low skier density even relative to other western regions. So I have to believe that JSpin was getting more lift served powder (multiple days after storms) in Montana. This is somewhat evidenced by the number of days he's going for earn-your-turns skiing in Vermont.
That?s going to depend on the skier of course
One more reason Patrick's proposed quantification will be difficult. For example, I'm presuming scale/variety is less important to JSpin than to many of us, because he's not running off to Jay/Stowe/Mad River Valley in Vermont (even though they are closer) any more often than he was hitting Big Mountain/Big Sky in Montana.
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby SoCal Rider » Wed May 09, 2007 11:06 pm

Tony,

I can't find the definitive post, but did you pick Seattle over Denver chiefly because of the terrain to be had at Whistler and Crystal? It's hard for me to reconcile choosing that climate over Colorado's lighter snow, strictly from a skier/rider POV. (I read on a relocation forum an unhappy Denverite complaining about Washington's wet snow. I thought, "But have you been to Crystal?")
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re: Where to Live, Part Deux, or How to Make the Best of It?

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed May 09, 2007 11:39 pm

Similarly someone with a structured schedule might prefer Denver for Colorado's consistent snow conditions, while the flexible powder hound would prefer Seattle for the bigger dumps and steeper terrain.
This was my quote earlier in this thread.

I can tell you that if you like steeps, both Whistler and Crystal (I've skied 2 days there, both with heavy spring conditions) are far better than anything in Colorado. But if your schedule is not flexible you'll be skiing variable conditions in Washington State half the time vs. 80+% packed powder in Colorado. Seattle's reliability quotient goes up if part of your "scheduled" strategy is frequent overnight trips to Whistler. That's very similar to the L.A.-Mammoth commute.

Washington's early season is usually better as the rocks get covered and the big powder days start in December as often as not. Colorado definitely wins the other end of the season, often retaining packed powder in April while Washington can expect spring conditions within hours after a storm. But the Whistler alpine is close to Colorado in snow preservation.

As this thread has demonstrated that different skiers have different criteria and priorities, the Seattle vs. Denver argument will depend upon one's personal preferences.

As a snowboarder you should be less picky than skiers about how dry the powder is. There's a reason Mt. Baker became an early hotbed of snowboarding.
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