Early season skiing comes with a price. Goggles are essential when the snow guns are blasting during those important windows of opportunity, creating great white snow whales on trails attracting well-rounded snow sliders.
The terrain is limited, but diehards don’t seem to mind sharing with other like-minded members of Snow Nation. Brown ground is part of the landscape. Conditions aren’t always prime.
But the crowds haven’t yet arrived and lift tickets often aren’t at full price yet.
Aggressive snowmaking is key, and several valley ski areas blasted away early — Bretton Woods, Wildcat and Cranmore, plus Sunday River — allowing much appreciated November openings. Storm tracks are also key. Remember last November’s winter blast that dropped a good 4-5 feet around here? And who still has a memorable late October Wildcat opening day lift ticket from 2005?
Of course, the rituals begin, too. Find that spot in the base lodge. Put on the boots the same way. Get out that favorite glove, hat or sweater. Make that brown bag lunch. Stop for hot chocolate or coffee mid-morning with friends. Pop into your favorite apres ski bar.
Opening days are uplifting experiences, whether it be first chair or first run. The joy of living and skiing in the valley is that opening days will continue through the month.
Early season is also a time to plan ahead. There are deals out there, and online is the best way to find them. Always check ski area websites for specials, including various bundles that allow for savings even during holidays and weekends.
Don’t forget early season events, either.
Winter fun is on tap during Saturday’s (Dec. 7) Settlers Green Holiday Festival. Carolers will sing throughout the outdoor shopping area while children laugh all the way down the Cranmore mini-tubing park by Timberland. The day of activities will culminate with a tree lighting.
Cranmore carries on its Ticket Rollback Days this season with passes that must be purchased online. Ski for $15 on Jan. 10, 2020, and $29 on Jan. 12, Feb. 2 and March 22.
Those wild deals press on in Vail East. Specials at Attitash and Wildcat for the season include a $30 non-holiday Sunday afternoon lift ticket. That deal gets even better on Feb. 2, the day the Patriots are destined to play for their seventh Super Bowl trophy. On Game Day, day-long tickets are $35. Two Youth Days in 2020 — Jan. 5 and March 22 — have $17 lift tickets for kids aged 7 to 17. Get online now for super cheap lift tickets for St. Patrick’s Day (March 17, $49 at ticket window) and April Fool’s Day.
Those coveted local winter specials continue at Bretton Woods for select counties including Carroll, Coos and Maine’s Oxford. Go downhill Sunday afternoons for $25. On Friday nights, locals get two night skiing passes for $25.
King Pine’s scheduled opening is Dec. 13. They’ll have plenty of ways to save, including the return of $10 non-holiday Tuesday night lift tickets. There are also $10 rentals, $10 tubing and a $10 burger and beer at Trail’s End Tavern. The Saturday night and vacation week Moonlight Four-Pack is $69 for family and friends. The non-holiday Sunday Funday Afternoon lift tickets are $29 for adults and $19 for seniors and juniors.
Until Dec. 24, the early season military special provides free skiing for active personnel and their dependents, and free access for veterans.
There’s nothing like a frosty cold one at a slopeside pub after a day on the slopes. Dedicated mug club members can buy into the Black Sheep Mug Club at Black Mountain this season for $40. Perks include 18-ounce pours for the regular 16-ounce price, and a multitude of specials. It always tastes better after an uphill outing, and Black offers an uphill-only pass at $99.
Sunday River’s State Days — non-holiday Tuesdays for New Hampshire and non-holiday Wednesdays and select Sundays for Maine — yield $49 to $59 advance online tickets through their website.
More than 250 jolly souls will appear at Sunday River during this weekend’s Santa Sunday to raise money for the non-profit children-focused River Fund. The South Ridge photo shoot is at 11 a.m.
Shawnee Peak is introducing RFID cards to its lift system this season, but there are still plenty of familiar deals like $15 Monday Night Madness ($20 holidays) and non-holiday $32.99 Sunday afternoon tickets. Non-holiday midweek night tickets are $29.
Plan ahead to ski and save.