Increase Your Odds Of Powder: Planning A Powder Ski Trip (8 Best Resorts)
Skiing is an expensive sport and everybody wants the best return on their investment. Fortunately, selecting the right destinations at the right time is mostly science and a bit of luck; here’s all the information you need to improve your chances of skiing powder on your next vacation!
To time your perfect powder getaway, there are three main factors you must consider: the expected base depth, the climatological chances for snow, and the temperatures on the mountain. I will break down these three factors and then fill you in on the best destinations to score powder!
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Three Main Factors To Plan For Powder:
1. Base Depth
There’s no skiing without a base, even with fresh snowfall. Imagine the disappointment of booking your vacation, showing up to fresh goose feathers floating from the sky, and nothing but bare dirt and rocks beneath!
Obviously, base depth grows deeper as winter grinds on. Even though everybody wants to ski during Christmas, February and March are often the best months of the year!
2. Chances For Snow
On average, storm tracks tend to favor different regions at different times of the year. For example, December is the snowiest month in the PNW, January is the snowiest month in Tahoe, and March is the snowiest month in Aspen.
January is historically the driest month in Colorado, giving rise to the expression “June-uary”, but skiers can look forward to epic late-season dumps. Meanwhile, the PNW gets progressively drier as we move away from the winter solstice.
If you’re still worried, check out NOAA’s seasonal forecast which gets updated every month. It can offer some insight into which region of the U.S. may have a good winter.
Water droplets crystalize into snowflakes at temperatures below 0°C, but the best powder falls in a sweet spot between 0 and 10 degrees. You don’t want it to be too cold, though, because both snow quality and quantity decrease in excessively cold, dry air.
You should be aware of elements that influence temperature including:
- Relative humidity
- Wind speed
- Aspect and solar intensity
Where To Plan Your Trip
Best Places To Ski Powder
Not everyone can take off whenever they feel like it. Whether you’re planning for Christmas or spring break, we’ve got you covered with our month-by-month guide on the best places to ski powder.
Tip: Skiing in December can be incredible. The sun is low in the sky, the air is cold and clear, and the calendar is packed with holiday festivities.
Skiing in December can also be frustrating. Living in Colorado, I learned there is often not enough of a base to open large parts of the mountain at resorts in this region.
During the Christmas holidays, sometimes happy skiers would be dispersed throughout the whole resort. Other times, the place would be jammed with tourists all vying for a spot on the only open piste.
While it’s notoriously tricky to find reliable conditions this early in the season, the Pacific Northwest is nearly guaranteed to receive snow in December. Low altitude and high humidity can make this region suspect later in the winter, so the early season is just the time to strike. Let’s dive in:
Mt. Baker, WA:
Located just an hour east of the charming port city of Bellingham, WA, this mountain is known for its epic snowfalls (the most of any ski area in the world) and awe-inspiring terrain. December is the wettest month, and copious amounts of thick snow equate to a huge base early on.
The most dreaded four-letter word in skiing: Rain. This is a maritime climate and it can fall here any time of the year.
Grand Targhee, WY:
Known for its consistent pitch, open bowls, and snowy climate, Targhee has long been a top destination for powder hounds. With grassy slopes, you don’t need a huge base to ski the whole mountain, and this place is often 100% open by December.
The fog can roll in thick here, creating pea-soup whiteout conditions.
When the leaves are falling at your house, the snow is falling at Revelstoke. By the time the ski resort opens at the beginning of December, it’s a free-for-all powder fest while everybody else is still skiing groomers.
The massive lower mountain can still be limited in its terrain offerings. Still curious? Check out this article I wrote on early-season powder back in 2019.
You don’t want your only ski holiday of the year to succumb to the dreaded “June-uary” so you’ll want to choose your destination wisely during this time of the year. We’ve handpicked a couple of destinations where history tells us the goods will be in stock.
Big terrain and monster powder days are up for grabs in Jackson. January is their snowiest month, and the base has usually had enough time to stack up during the early season.
Be ready for strong winds and blowing snow. Also, the mountain has a south-easterly aspect so the powder can get hot quickly when the sun comes out; but that’s why we are telling you to go in January!
Sugar Bowl, CA:
This family-run operation offers a much simpler skiing experience than its corporate brethren, and we like that. Then again, January is the snowiest month at a resort that averages 500 inches of snow a year, so you won’t want to break for fancy lunches.
California can be subject to intense storms followed by long periods of high pressure. Just hope you're not on the sunny side of things.
February and March are historically great months to find powder anywhere in the northern hemisphere; longer, brighter days and a good base make for safe skiing, and the winter storm track brings consistent high-quality snow.
In a resort that can be snow-challenged in the early season, February is when the fat skis and gore-tex come out to play in Telluride. The steep, natural terrain and unfathomably light snow are what keep this destination at the top of the list.
Relatively light winds keep the snowflakes from losing their structure as they accumulate. The dry air helps keep the powder intact, even as the strong, high-desert sun warms your soul.
The off-piste can get bumped up, but I promise they will be the best bumps you’ve ever skied.
The largest interconnected ski area in Austria includes classic resorts like St. Anton, Lech, and Zurs. You will discover incredible scenery, culture, and terrain, as well as some of the snowiest mountains in Europe.
It takes time to learn your way around an area this large, especially when German doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue.
March can be full on spring in many places, but it is the month for powder skiing in others. Look for higher latitudes, altitudes, and as much north-facing terrain as you can find.
Chamonix is the birthplace of big powder skiing. The first winter Olympics were held here in 1924 before even a single ski resort existed in the U.S.
There are five different lift access areas here. You can be skiing powder on north-facing slopes in the morning, and ripping corn snow in the afternoon.
It can be hectic to get around here. Some ski areas require reservations, and none of them are within walking distance of each other.
A deep snowpack, frequent storms, and varied terrain make this an unforgettable destination. Although it's a huge resort in its own right, Alyeska also serves as a gateway to unlimited ski touring and heli-skiing in the Chugach.
The mid-winter days are short in Alaska so the slopes can be gloomy until March, and even then bad weather can shut down your plans for days at a time.
There are thousands of ski areas in the U.S. and Europe and I guarantee you that they all have at least a few powder days a year. We’ve given you the tools you need to plan your trip; all you need now is a little bit of Mother Nature’s blessing.