You’re waiting for the perfect snow conditions to plan a strike-mission ski trip, the kind you book on a Wednesday and leave for on a Thursday.
Certainly, there are benefits to planning a ski trip months in advance. You get more availability on lodging, cheaper flights, better lift ticket deals, and you can properly tell whoever needs to know that you’ll be, um, unreachable. But we happen to be big fans of the last-minute ski trip. Maybe you’ve blocked off a long weekend (or better yet, a midweek soiree) to take off, but you haven’t picked the exact location. Because you’re waiting for one major variable: the snow forecast. Then, a few days out, you check the weather reports in various regions and see which of your favorite haunts is about to get dumped on. That is the only way to ensure powder on your next ski trip. Here are some places we like to go at the very last minute.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Flying in and out of Salt Lake City on a whim can be relatively cheap and easy. Or maybe you’re within driving distance. Either way, it’s a quick hit to land in SLC when you see a storm approaching. Once you’re there, you’ve got 10 major ski resorts within an hour’s drive of the airport and enough backcountry terrain to satisfy all types. If you need help figuring out which ski area is right for you, check out Ski Utah’s handy comparison chart. If you’ve got an Epic Pass, you’re heading to Park City. If you’ve got an Ikon Pass, you’re going to Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley, Brighton Solitude, or Snowbasin. If you’ve got neither megapass, consider an off-the-beaten path ski area like Powder Mountain, outside of Ogden.
If you can, stay slopeside in Little or Big Cottonwood Canyon to avoid the congestion up the canyons. We love the Alta Lodge and the Peruvian Lodge at the base of Alta for ski-in, ski-out access and old-school charm, but those can be impossible to book at the last minute, so you might have better luck at the Courtyard Marriott at the base of the canyon or an Airbnb in the Cottonwood Heights neighborhood. If you’re driving to Alta and not staying on site, you’ll need a parking reservation.
Taos, New Mexico
Admittedly, Taos is not easy to get to. (Which is why it remains relatively crowd free.) You’ll fly into Albuquerque, then drive nearly three hours north to reach the ski area. But if you’re coming from, say, Denver, it’s a less than five-hour drive. The reason you want to head to Taos at the last minute is because when it snows here, there might be no better place on earth for steep skiing and dry, light pow. (If it hasn’t snowed in a while, bring your rock skis.) The Blake is the hip new-ish hotel at the base of the hill or you can park your RV or van overnight in the lot. There’s also lodging down the hill in the town of Taos—check into the pet-friendly Snowmansion for a truly unique New Mexico experience. Your Ikon pass works here, but you’ll need a reservation made in advance to ride.
Mammoth Lakes, California
This is the winter to plan a last-minute trip to Mammoth Mountain. This California ski resort has already been hammered by over 400 inches of snow by just mid-February. And the season is long here, with lift-accessed skiing open often until late May or June. With 3,500 skiable acres and 25 lifts, even when it’s busy here, there’s room for everyone to spread out. You can’t beat the wind buff off Chair 23 or the storm-day laps on Chair 22.
Get to Mammoth by flying into the town’s tiny airport or the neighboring Bishop airport—both accessible from major hubs—or by flying into Reno and driving three hours on the scenic Highway 395 along the eastern side of the Sierra. If you’re in northern or southern California, a road trip to Mammoth is half the fun. The Sierra Nevada Resort has updated rooms and new cabins coming this spring, or stay slopeside at the Mammoth Mountain Inn (Ikon passholders get a discount). Don’t miss the giant soft pretzels at the Yodler, across the parking lot from the main lodge, for après ski.
Let’s say you want to ski somewhere where the mega passes don’t work and where you’ll spend your time skiing versus standing around in a lift line. We get that. You’ll head to McCall to get away from the masses. Brundage is a no-frills ski area that boasts the “best snow in Idaho.” Sign up to receive their powder alerts and you’ll get a notification when the snow faucet is turning on.
The place is small but worthy: five lifts, 1,920 acres, and endless lift-accessed backcountry terrain. Tack on a visit to Tamarack resort, about an hour south, if you want to check out a few different places—it’s got some steeper pitches and the mellow pace of slow lifts and zero crowds. The Shore Lodge on Payette Lake makes for a nice base camp, or bring your camper and you can park for free overnight at the ski hill. Fly into Boise, two and a half hours away.
They call it the “Jay Cloud,” the unique weather systems that drop more snow on Jay Peak than anywhere else in the surrounding area. With the most snow in eastern North America, Jay gets 359 inches of snow a year, on average. To get here, fly into the Northeast Kingdom Airport, or into Burlington or Montreal, both an hour and a half away. Boston is less than a four hours’ drive away, New York City is about six and a half.
Jay isn’t a mega pass destination (again: that means less crowds these days), but if you’re a Vermont resident or you have a season pass at any other ski area, you can get a discount on tickets. Hotel Jay is conveniently located at the base of the lifts (warning: the hotel houses an indoor water park, if you like or don’t like that sort of thing), or if you’re on a budget and don’t care about multi-star ratings, Grandpa Grunts Lodge, 10 miles away, is where the ski bums crash. You can wax your skis in the tuning room and score a $5 breakfast.