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How to plan a ski trip for this winter

A few winters back, I planned a ski trip to Nelson, British Columbia, months in advance. A late February ski trip to interior BC was sure to be powder-filled, right? Wrong. It hadn't snowed in weeks and rain had turned the mountain into an ice skating rink. The lesson I learned: If you re going to plan a ski trip and you want to do your best to ensure at least decent snow conditions or ideally, powder wait as long as you can to determine the location. But we all know that planning in advance means you get the best deals on airplane tickets, lodging, and lift tickets. So how do you score powder and not pay high-dollar prices at the last minute? I asked a few experts for their advice.

Set a date

Pick a date the third week in February, for example but don t pick your exact location yet. Assuming there are budgetary restraints, booking a ski vacation last minute works best for people who are chasing snow and who can drive to the destination, says Dan Sherman, the vice president of marketing at Ski.com. Depending on the travel dates, it can require a lot of flexibility when it comes to actually choosing the resort and even when deciding on lodging. If travelers are interested in being somewhat flexible on the destination while being locked into the dates, one option is to book flights into Denver or Salt Lake City well in advance to get the best price. Then, closer to the dates of travel, they can choose which resort to book.\

Storm chasing on the East Coast.

Check the snow report

As the time of your ski trip gets closer, start obsessively checking local skier-specific weather sites like OpenSnow.com or Freshymap.com to see what resorts are getting coated in the white stuff. At Freshy Map, they have written their our own algorithm for determining the percentage likelihood of finding fresh pow. It takes into account the 24 hour snow, five-day snow, day of week, and time of day, says Chris Helm, co-founder of FreshyMap.com. It tries to convey that snow gets tracked out at different rates on Saturdays then it does on Mondays, and maybe a resort got five days of deep snow then just an inch. Basically it attempts to address the shortcomings of most snow reporting apps. (Oct 2018 Ed's Note: Sadly FreshyMap.com no longer exists, Chris's ideas still apply. Midweek trips will always score you better chances of prolonged powder, and a storm cycle of multiple days of smaller snowfall totals often offer more fun per turn during a trip than one big dump.  

Pick a destination

A week or less before your trip, finalize where you ll be going. Maybe you got a flight into Denver and Silverton just got nailed. So rent a car and head there. Or maybe you got a flight into Salt Lake City and Snowbird and Alta just reported two feet. Snow forecasts are pretty good two to three days before a storm, says Joel Gratz, CEO and founding Meteorologist of OpenSnow.com. They re not perfect, but they'll steer you in the right direction. If you re looking for legitimate powder days, it pays to wait until the last minute to plan your trip.

Sometimes it snows enough in Japan the lifts have to close.

Get your lift tickets

Walking up to the ticket window means you will be paying top dollar prices. Instead, try to get your tickets online, in advance. If you re in Colorado on a destination trip and looking to buy last-minute lift tickets, try smaller resorts that perhaps you would have never had the opportunity to try if you hadn't taken the trip in the first place, says Evan Reece, the founder of Liftopia.com.

—Megan Michelson