Starting in early October, a handful of domestic ski resorts, as well as some of the best ski sites in the world, open for early season, to the delight of eager ski bunnies. Savvy travelers would be wise to take advantage of the uncrowded slopes, cheaper prices for accommodations and lift passes, and even the chance to meet national ski teams preparing for the winter season. Here are five of the best places to hit the powder this fall.
Timberline resort in Mt. Hood, Oregon, has the longest ski season in North America. Located at 6,600 feet on Mt. Hood, the resort has summer snow and only closes around Labor Day for a few weeks before reopening for almost an entire year. Guests at Timberline before Nov. 28 can save 10 percent on lift tickets before peak prices hit. Timberline has diverse terrain, offering 30 percent of its trails to those at a beginner level, 50 percent at an intermediate level and 20 percent advanced-level runs. Off the slopes, Timberline Lodge, also known as the exterior of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining, will host a hair-raising "Murder at Timberline" dinner-theater event just in time for Halloween.
Switzerland is home to glacier ski areas that open to the public in October each year. Saas Fee, the charming main village in the Saas Valley, is located close to the glaciers of the Dom and Allalinhorn, providing winter sports opportunities like skiing, carving, snowshoe trekking and ice climbing in the fall. Zermatt is a ski town located at the foot of Switzerland's highest peaks and is one of the most popular ski resorts in the Swiss Alps. Other ski options for fall include the Titlis Glacier above Engelberd and the Diavolezza glacier in the Engadin Valley, close to St. Moritz, but these locations may only be open on the weekends until the full winter season starts.
Tignes, France, is the only ski resort location in France that opens during the autumn months. Starting Oct. 12 this year, guests can cross-country ski on the Grande Motte glacier, pistes, or choose to work on their suntan on the terrace of the lodge restaurant. Lifts open every day at 8:30 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m., leaving enough time to enjoy all of the other activities Tignes has to offer like Le Lagon, a 5,000-square-meter wellness center that features an indoor swimming pool, fitness center, weight training room, spinning classes, Turkish baths and hot tubs. Of course, Tignes' famous nightlife is not to be missed, so after a day on the slopes, hit the famous bars and discos like Le Melting Pot and Blue Girl.
Austria is consistently ranked as one of the best places to ski in Europe, based on better value for your money than some of the more popular ski resorts. Everything from dining out to the cost of lift passes tends to be cheaper, without sacrificing the elements that really make a vacation, like top-notch service and comfortable weather. By mid-October, up to eight areas in Austria are open for ski season, including Hintertux and Pitztal, as well as the glacier ski areas of Kitzsteinhorn and Solden. For fans of the Olympic games, check out the Stubai glacier near Innsbruck, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and in 1976.
When all else fails, head south. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere will be right in the middle of their ski season at the beginning of October, and South America has some famous ski areas that are often overlooked. Valle Nevado in Chile is one of the best ski resorts in South America, as are Portillo and Termas de Chillan, also located in Chile. Skiing in the Andes Mountains is an exciting combination of thrilling slopes and Latin culture, providing a unique, memorable experience. Argentina is also home to a variety of ski resorts, mainly located in Patagonia near Mendoza.
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