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Downhill from Here: New England ski areas ready for the season

The stars are aligning perfectly to make this a memorable early ski and ride season here in the northeast.

Thanks to a string of sub-freezing nights, with clear skies and low humidity (ideal snowmaking conditions), a half-dozen or so ski areas in New York and New England were open before Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving was early this year. Now we have continuing cold nights and four weekends between the busy Thanksgiving long weekend just ending and the busy Christmas-New Years vacation upcoming.

This is important even if you don’t ski on weekends. Because ski resorts live or die by their weekend traffic, their snowmaking and grooming programs at this time of year are focused on having as much open terrain as possible in the best shape possible for the weekends. So they are going to make snow every possible minute – which means a new snow surface every morning, all week long.

But even on the weekends, you are likely to see fewer skiers and riders per skiable acre between Thanksgiving and New Years than you did when the ski areas were just opening, or during the holiday weekend. The die-hard early season skiers have already blown off some of the pent-up energy (lots of that around after last season’s poor snow showing and early snowmelt). And some of it is that people just get busy with the upcoming holidays and don’t have time to ski.

Can you imagine that? Too busy to ski when the slopes are covered in beautiful white? Nope, doesn’t make any sense to me, either. There’s snow on the slopes. What are you waiting for?

Who’s open now?

New Hampshire

Bretton Woods (278-3320; brettonwoods.com) in Bretton Woods.

Cranmore Mountain Resort (356-5544; cranmore.com) in North Conway.

Loon Mountain Resort (800-229-5666; loonmtn.com) in Lincoln.

Waterville Valley (1-800-468-2553; waterville.com) in Waterville Valley.

Wildcat (888-754-9453; skiwildcat.com) in Pinkham Notch.

Maine

Sugarloaf (207-237-2000; sugarloaf.com) in Carrabassett Valley.

Sunday River (207-824-3000; sundayriver.com) in Newry.

Vermont

Bromley Mountain (800-865-4786; bromley.com) in Peru.

Burke Mountain (802-626-7300; skiburke.com) in East Burke.

Jay Peak (802-988-2611; jaypeakresort.com) in Jay.

Killington (800-621-6867; killington.com) in Killington.

Mount Snow (800-245-7669; mountsnow.com) in Dover.

Okemo Mountain Resort (800-786-5366; okemo.com) in Ludlow.

Smugglers Notch (1-800-451-8752; smuggs.com) in Jeffersonville.

Stowe Mountain Resort (802-253-3000; stowe.com) in Stowe.

Stratton Mountain Resort (stratton.com), in Stratton.

Sugarbush (802-583-6300; sugarbush.com) in Warren.

Massachusetts

Jiminy Peak (1-800-882-8859; jiminypeak.com) in Hancock.

New York

Belleayre Mountain (845-254-5600; belleayre.com) in Highmount.

Gore Mountain (518-251-2411; goremountain.com) in North Creek.

Whiteface (whiteface.com) in Wilmington, New York.

Quebec

Mont Sainte Anne (1-800-463-1568; mont-sainte-anne.co m) in Beaupre.

Mont Sutton (866 538-2545; montsutton.com/en) in Sutton.

Mont Tremblant (1-866-253-0097; tremblant.ca) in Mont Tremblant, Quebec

Who’s opening soon

Mother Nature seems to be cooperating nicely so far this season and, if that keeps up, most areas are going to open on schedule. Here are some projected openings. As always, check before you go.

Nov. 30: Cannon Mountain (cannonmt.com) in Franconia; Gunstock Mountain Resort ( gunstock.com) in Gilford; Mount Sunapee (763-2356; mtsunapee.com) in Newbury.

Dec. 1: Ski Butternut ( 413-528-2000; skibutternut.com) in Great Barrington, Mass.; Ragged Mountain (768-3600; raggedmountainresort.com) in Danbury.

Dec. 7: Attitash (attitash.com) in Bartlett.

Dec. 8: Bolton Valley (1-877-9BOLTON, boltonvalley.com) in Bolton, Vt.; Catamount (413-528-1262; catamountski.com) in South Egremont, Mass.; Dartmouth Skiway (795-2143; dartmouth.edu/~skiway) in Lyme Center; Middlebury Snow Bowl (802-388-4356; middlebury.edu/~snowbowl) in Hancock, Vt.

Dec. 14: King Pine Ski Area ( kingpine.com) in East Madison, N.H.

Dec. 15: Camden Snow Bowl (207-236-3438; camdensnowbowl.com) in Camden, Maine; Mount Abram (207-875-5000; skimtabram.com) in Locke Mills, Maine; Owl’s Head (owlshead.com) in Mansonville, Quebec.

Dec. 22: Whaleback Mountain (448-1489; whaleback.com) in Enfield.

Here’s the deal

Lots of areas are offering loyalty cards (Frequent Skier Cards) which get you huge discounts off lift tickets (sometimes at several different areas) and other resort services. Many include a free lift ticket. If you don’t ski enough at one area to justify a season pass, but still want to save money, this is the way to go. They typically pay for themselves in three or four visits. From then on, it’s pure savings.

There’s only one caveat: at a number of areas, the Frequent Skier Card must be purchased before Christmas. I’ll be listing some of these deals in future columns, but for now, just take a moment and check with your favorite resort if you ski there a lot. These are deals you don’t want to miss.

Dec. 2 is Santa Sunday at Sunday River. Smiles guaranteed. Especially if you pre-register, show up in a full Santa costume, make a $10 charitable donation and ski for free! Details at sundayriver.com.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com)

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