Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

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Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sat Dec 14, 2019 4:32 pm

Newby here, thanks for letting me in. Not sure how active these boards are but hopefully someone's reading.

I have intentionally waited until the last minute to book my annual ski trip. I have one kid in college and one in high school and their spring breaks don't overlap so we are stuck with Christmas break being our only extended time to make a trip. It sucks but it is what it is.

Two years ago was my first Christmas venture and we chose Park City - big mistake as we got skunked. Found a little snow in Brighton/Solitude but overall UT was a stinker for the holidays snow-wise. So this year I decided not to book until Christmas was close and it was clear where we could go and have the most terrain open. Alas this December has been on the dry side also but the past few days give me hope.

I saw that Vail opened the first back bowl today so that's very hopeful.

Question 1: Is it reasonable to expect or at least hope that they will be opening the remaining bowls in the next 7-10 days?

Question 2: If not Vail or Aspen (which appear ahead of the out west crowd as of today, coverage-wise), where would you pick based on current conditions and expectations in the next 7-10 days?
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Dec 14, 2019 11:31 pm

I will be doing my mid-month update of bestsnow.net/seas20.htm tomorrow.

I would say Utah's Cottonwood Canyons (Alta/Snowbird/Brighton/Solitude) and Mammoth are the large scale areas close to full operation right now. Park City gets barely half the snow of the Cottonwoods and is best skied mid-season, mid-January to mid-March. Still you were unlucky two years ago, which was the worst early season in Utah since 1977. Park City is still less than half open today, while the Cottonwoods are in excellent shape with 4-6 foot bases.

In California the last couple of storms have had varying snow levels that have taken out most of the snow under 7,000 feet. The areas above 8,000 feet, Mammoth, Kirkwood and Mt. Rose, are in good shape on 3-6 foot bases. I will be at Mammoth the next 3 days.

I-70 Colorado was below average a week ago but the current storm has been helpful. Still base depths are only a little over 3 feet. Vail and Snowmass are just over half open. Vail's topography generally means it will be close to full operation on a 4 foot base. Past history says it will get there by Christmas from where it is now, but it's not the sure thing that Mammoth and Utah's Cottonwoods are already. Vail does not have a good reputation for holiday periods though, and you need a fairly high level version of the Epic Pass to avoid exorbitant cost during the holidays. Similarly you need full Ikon for Aspen, but Aspen at least does not get excessively crowded. Aspen/Snowmass base depths are 27-46 inches, which means some of its steep terrain will be sketchy.

What's unusual this early season is that the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies are deficient in snow. Vail and Aspen are no better than average. Utah and the higher areas in the Sierra are definitely leading the way so far.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby jamesdeluxe » Sun Dec 15, 2019 7:43 am

Tony Crocker wrote:I-70 Colorado was below average a week ago but the current storm has been helpful. Still base depths are only a little over 3 feet. Vail and Snowmass are just over half open.

Not that I'm suggesting it as a Xmas destination, but Monarch, where I'm skiing this weekend, already has a five-foot base/140 inches YTD (Mirkwood Basin is open) and is getting buried from this storm. Yesterday, it was snowing sideways with 30+mph gusts, so no pix, but a powder fest and for the most part not wind-hammered. No idea about the OP's terrain preferences but Grand Targhee has similar snow figures at the moment and is always considered highly reliable in December.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:30 am

Tony Crocker wrote:I will be doing my mid-month update of bestsnow.net/seas20.htm tomorrow.

I would say Utah's Cottonwood Canyons (Alta/Snowbird/Brighton/Solitude) and Mammoth are the large scale areas close to full operation right now. Park City gets barely half the snow of the Cottonwoods and is best skied mid-season, mid-January to mid-March. Still you were unlucky two years ago, which was the worst early season in Utah since 1977. Park City is still less than half open today, while the Cottonwoods are in excellent shape with 4-6 foot bases.

In California the last couple of storms have had varying snow levels that have taken out most of the snow under 7,000 feet. The areas above 8,000 feet, Mammoth, Kirkwood and Mt. Rose, are in good shape on 3-6 foot bases. I will be at Mammoth the next 3 days.

I-70 Colorado was below average a week ago but the current storm has been helpful. Still base depths are only a little over 3 feet. Vail and Snowmass are just over half open. Vail's topography generally means it will be close to full operation on a 4 foot base. Past history says it will get there by Christmas from where it is now, but it's not the sure thing that Mammoth and Utah's Cottonwoods are already. Vail does not have a good reputation for holiday periods though, and you need a fairly high level version of the Epic Pass to avoid exorbitant cost during the holidays. Similarly you need full Ikon for Aspen, but Aspen at least does not get excessively crowded. Aspen/Snowmass base depths are 27-46 inches, which means some of its steep terrain will be sketchy.

What's unusual this early season is that the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies are deficient in snow. Vail and Aspen are no better than average. Utah and the higher areas in the Sierra are definitely leading the way so far.


Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply. Extremely helpful.

Decisions, decisions.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:38 am

jamesdeluxe wrote:
Tony Crocker wrote:I-70 Colorado was below average a week ago but the current storm has been helpful. Still base depths are only a little over 3 feet. Vail and Snowmass are just over half open.

Not that I'm suggesting it as a Xmas destination, but Monarch, where I'm skiing this weekend, already has a five-foot base/140 inches YTD (Mirkwood Basin is open) and is getting buried from this storm. Yesterday, it was snowing sideways with 30+mph gusts, so no pix, but a powder fest and for the most part not wind-hammered. No idea about the OP's terrain preferences but Grand Targhee has similar snow figures at the moment and is always considered highly reliable in December.

My main consideration for this "one big annual" trip is the amount of open and varied terrain, and lift lines, since we will want to ski at least 5 days and perhaps as many as 7 or 8. My boys would ski every single day if they could until they break something. What we find at smaller resorts is that the same runs over and over get old and we find ourselves wanting to explore something new. That's hard anywhere for 5 days I realize but that gives you an idea what we're looking for.

Currently I'm thinking we start at Vail for 3-4 days (start skiing next Monday) then if the back bowls don't all open we pack up and work our way back toward summit county with the hopes maybe a day at Beaver Creek, a day at Breck, etc. might fit the bill. It would just mean multiple hotels/airbnbs.

Perhaps I should just to straight to Aspen - flights are the primary issue, they are 3x the cost of a flight to Denver. Yes we could drive but 6 hours of flying (we have to connect) then 6 hours driving is a hella way to start a trip.

Sincerely appreciate all the feedback so far, much appreciated!!
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 9:57 am

Vail didn't open any more bowls today unfortunately. I'm assuming that likely means no more will be open before Christmas given the current dry looking 7-day forecast. Is that a good assumption? I'm a little surprised that there's enough base for one bowl but not others but I guess it all comes down to slope and size of stumps/rocks as to how much coverage is needed.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Dec 15, 2019 10:11 am

Since your sons are avid skiers, I'm having a hard time understanding why you wouldn't go to Salt Lake and ski the 4 Cottonwood areas. Your last post only reinforces that opinion. Vail is 52% open now vs. average 68% on Dec. 15. I would expect Vail to open more soon, because the original Back Bowl is what's open now while China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin are not. Both of the latter retain snow better so I'm surprised the original more direct south facing bowl opened first.

Admittedly Vail up to Christmas won't be the junkshow it is Dec. 26-31, but Summit County is even more congested during the holidays. Vail gets a lot of hate on ski forums, but that's not where I'm coming from. My personal experiences there have been excellent, but those have been deliberately chosen away from peak periods, mostly in mid-January. The others were before Christmas in a big year and in early April. I just think Christmas Week during a slightly below average season is not the right time.

I'm guessing you have an Epic Pass and that's why you're focusing on Vail and resisting the Utah Cottonwoods. If that's the driver, yes I would choose Vail over Park City. Snowbasin being on Epic makes that a closer decision than before though.

If you're considering Aspen, the Ikon is good at all 4 Cottonwood areas. If you don't have Ikon or Epic, tickets are much cheaper in Utah than at Aspen or Vail. And needless to say lodging in SLC saves you a lot, especially during the holidays.

James is correct that Grand Targhee is the most consistent area in North America and the only one with a perfect record at Christmas. That said Targhee like many northern areas had a record dry November. The Tetons are having a normal December though, so Targhee is 75% open now and with a 57 inch base soon should be 100%. For a week in the Tetons you probably want to ski Jackson too. Jackson averages 55% open Dec. 15 and is 40% open now, so it's not a foregone conclusion that the Hobacks and other Lower Faces will open within a week. Targhee is much bigger than Monarch but it's a somewhat homogenous 2,000 acres. You're there mostly for the powder, and without new snow some might find it repetitive.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 10:25 am

Fair point. I guess one reason is that we've already skiied Cottonwood and we're trying to go somewhere different every year. So far we've had the incredible fortune of skiing Whistler at 100% (still our favorite), Cottonwood (50% open), Park City (30% - they didn't even have the canyon/pc gondola/trails open, had to take the shuttle), and Telluride (100%).

Also we do enjoy ski towns and villages - which are basically nil in Cottonwood. My wife joins us and only skis a day or two, bad knees, she likes roaming and boozing while we ski.

I'm actually looking at Heavenly this morning... their posted coverage numbers are whacked (103% open terrain?) so I might call to see what the deal is:
https://www.skiheavenly.com/the-mountai ... tatus.aspx

But your suggestion will make me another round of deep research on Cottonwood right now, thank you.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Dec 15, 2019 10:46 am

By going through the enumerated trail list, Heavenly has 76 out of 110 trails open. 69%. Yesterday the acreage number was around 1,600, 33%. I average those number for my records, 51% vs. 36% average for Dec. 15. But acreage is important for advanced skiers as Heavenly has very good tree skiing. Also what's closed is the most advanced terrain, Gunbarrel area at the base of California (which has been trashed by recent rain) and Mott/Killebrew in Nevada. The latter requires a lot of coverage and with current weather I think it's unlikely to open for Christmas. Heavenly is leeward of the Sierra Crest and gets maybe 3/4 as much natural snow as the areas on the Crest.

If you're considering the Sierra for a whole week, you need to suck it up and make the 3 hour drive down to Mammoth, assuming you fly into Reno. As with Vail, Heavenly is a mountain I like, but its layout does not handle crowds well. Half the acreage open during the peak week of the season is a bad idea.

Kirkwood is fully open, on the Sierra Crest above the recent rain line like Mammoth. Kirkwood is 2,000 acres, similar size to Targhee but more varied terrain. Under current conditions it has more and better skiing than Heavenly. It's a 45 minute drive from South Tahoe in good weather. You do not want to stay at Kirkwood with your wife, as it's even quieter than the Cottonwoods after skiing.

Again, it seems you have Epic and not Ikon. Is that right? But if you want someplace big that you haven't skied before this Christmas, Mammoth is the standout choice. On the way to or from Mammoth, I'd spend a night or two in South Shore or the Carson Valley to ski Kirkwood.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 11:16 am

We will be buying passes wherever we go. Yes it will be expensive. But it's the only thing we do together all year, I suck it up. But it gives us flexibility.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 11:48 am

Okay so Aspen is 4 hours not 6 from Denver. Perhaps we fly to Denver and hit Aspen/SM for 4 days then Vail for 4 days or 5/3 or similar.

If wife wasn't going we would just go to Alta and stay in the lodge that feeds you 3 meals. Eat/ski/hottub/sleep/repeat - that would work for the boys and I.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Dec 15, 2019 12:21 pm

So why not Mammoth? Yes it's easier to fly to Denver. But if you were considering Heavenly, you can get to Mammoth. Mammoth from Reno is less drive time ~3 hours than Aspen from Denver.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 12:39 pm

My wife would go stir crazy at Mammoth for 7 days.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Dec 15, 2019 12:41 pm

Mammoth is not like the Cottonwoods. There is a town there, but much of it is spread out so it's convenient to have a car, which you would have anyway driving from Reno. You can always go to Colorado in a better year. Mammoth is much better this year. And you can spend a night or two at South Tahoe on the way.
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Re: Where's the best 2019 Christmas snow destination?

Postby One Wolf » Sun Dec 15, 2019 1:37 pm

I hear ya, and I appreciate it. I'm going to start with Aspen which looks to be at 75% currently, and then we'll hit vail which is currently at 50% but maybe by 12/28 they'll have been hit again and the rest of the bowls will be open.

I really appreciate y'all's help and this discussion.
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