A couple of ski areas in Minnesota take the honors of being the first ski areas in the country to open for the season. We couldn’t be more excited.
The race for which ski area will open first is usually a heated contest between Colorado ski areas vying for a pre-Halloween opening day. The honor seems to go back and forth between Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, both in Colorado, though underdogs occasionally slide in for the last-minute win. Contenders like Colorado’s Wolf Creek and Keystone, Nevada’s Mt. Rose, Vermont’s Killington, or California’s Mammoth Mountain are certainly capable of a victory every now and then.
But this year, a couple of surprising challengers entered the race and snatched the win before anyone was even paying attention yet. Minnesota’s Wild Mountain Ski Area opened (with one rope tow, mind you, and $25 tickets) on October 18, after a few nights of cold temperatures and dedicated snowmaking efforts. This is tied for the second-earliest opening date in Wild Mountain’s history, after an October 18 opening in 1992 and an October 7 opening back in 2012.
An hour later, Minnesota’s Andes Tower Hills also opened on Tuesday, with one run, $10 tickets, and an impressive 18-inch base of machine-made snow below a grassy green hill.
“It is a bit unusual to see the Midwest beat out Colorado on the spinning of first chairs,” says Steve Conney of PowderChasers.com, better known as Powderchaser Steve. “While the Rockies have been warm and dry, that is all about to change with a vengeance. Currently based on a La Niña year and the forecast trend for the next 14 days, I would gamble on some early openings in the Pacific Northwest, southern Montana, northern Utah, or northern Wyoming.”
This will be the third La Niña winter in a row, which Conney says can mean a little bit of everything. “The trend for January and beyond is still up for grabs,” Conney says. “The odds are for better early-season conditions to occur in the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Northern Utah and northern Colorado could benefit as well but often these areas fall in a neutral zone not significantly impacted by either La Niña or El Niño. It’s important to point out that not all La Niña or El Niño years follow historic trends. There have been some cases where the opposite have occurred.”
Keystone, Colorado, followed as the next ski area to open, with an opening day scheduled for October 28, with two miles of terrain.
So, what ski areas will open next? That’s anyone’s guess, but it should be soon. Loveland has had some natural snowfall and started making snow in early October. Arapahoe Basin—which is often one of the first ski areas to open and the last to close—has been making snow and dropping hints about an opening day coming soon, posting recently, “With snowmaking, the first couple nights are for practice and to test the system. The next few nights we start to make some real progress. And, after the last few nights, we have something to get excited about. No opening date has been set, but opening is clearly in sight. The forecast the next couple nights is marginal, but starting this weekend, the temperature drops down into the teens. It won’t be long.”
On October 8, Killington reported that their snowmaking team was operating 23 snow guns. “Though we won’t be skiing and riding next week, we will open soon,” Killington posted.
Wolf Creek was the first ski area to open last year when it started operations on October 16 after a 14-inch storm brought enough fall freshies to crank on the lifts. Thanks to another early-season storm in the Sierra last year, Palisades Tahoe in California opened on October 29 in 2021, just the third time in the resort’s history that they’d opened in October. Halloween costumes on the ski hill? Now we’re talking.
For now, we’ll continue waiting patiently (or not so patiently) for the real snow to fall. We’ll be tuning our skis, heat molding our boot liners, re-waterproofing our jackets, and getting everything ready for the day when winter decides to show up for real.