"Ski season" may be one of the great misnomers in winter sports, followed closely by "winter sports." If you have a yen for locking into your bindings and owning the slopes whenever the mood strikes (and vacation days permit), there's no time like the present, no matter the time of year. So tear out these pages and tuck them in your boot bag. Because somewhere, right now, the slopes are calling, and our perennial ski guide is the only answer you need.
1. Sestriere, Italy
There's nothing like 100,000 cheering, gesticulating Italians on skis, but that's what you'll see when the 2006 Winter Olympics hit the slopes where Alberto Tomba won his first World Cup race in 1987. Sestriere, one of the highest and snowiest resorts in the Italian Alps, topping out at 9,262 feet (2,823 meters), will host the alpine skiing events from February 12 through February 25. Visit before, after, or during, and ski 248 miles (399 kilometers) of trails across six interconnected resorts. Test your limits on the renowned Kandahar downhill run, where Jean-Claude Killy and Ingemar Stenmark raced, or get a natural high watching the Olympic ski-jumping competition (www.torino2006.com).
The Bargain: The Milky Way Ski Pass ($35 a day) offers entrée to six resorts, 66 lifts, and 5,000 vertical feet (1,524 vertical meters).
The Digs: Most hotels are already full or raising rates, so pre-rent an apartment through Interhome ($330 a week; www.interhome.us).
The Eats: Agnolotti (meat dumplings) at nearby Tre Rubinetti, which serves up genuine northern Italian fare that isn't watered down (or priced up) for tourists.
Start Here: www.comune.sestriere.to.it/e_index.htm
2. Silverton Mountain Ski Area, Colorado
The canvas-tent base lodge is your first indication that Silverton Mountain is unlike any resort you've ever skied. Surely the grittiest and only completely backcountry-style ski mountain in the United States, Silverton requires guides for every skier ($99 a day) on its 1,600 acres (648 hectares) of prime San Juan Mountain wilds. With 400 inches (1,016 centimeters) of annual snowfall and a cap of 80 skiers a day, first tracks, even during holidays, are virtually guaranteed. A lone double chair, opened by resort visionary Aaron Brill in 2002, provides access to runs like the largely treeless Riff and the chute-to-bowl Ropedee-Dope.
The Package: The three-day New Year's Party and Big Mountain Ski Camp ($750) puts you on the hill with the top freeskiers in the world.
The Digs: Inn of the Rockies at the Historic Alma House ($79; www.innoftherockies.com) is a peaceful Victorian hideaway with a hearty breakfast spread.
The Hang: You will find Angus steaks, a Laundromat, and showers at the Explorer's Club Pub and Grille (www.explorersclubsw.com).
Start Here: www.silvertonmountain.com
3. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming
The annual last-tram shivaree will be frantic this season: Jackson is decommissioning its iconic Rocky Mountain conveyance. For nearly 40 years the tram has transported skiers up one of the greatest continuous rises (4,139 feet) (1,262 meters) of any ski resort in the U.S. The granite-lined Corbet's Couloir and Rendezvous Bowl, plus thousands of acres of backcountry, will still be accessible next season, just check back for alternative transport info. The Thunder and Sublette quads will continue to access famous Jackson stashes like Paintbrush and Tower Three. Visit in January or February for "The Big One's" deepest snowfall.
The Final Tram Run: Corbet's to Paintbrush to Lower Sublette Ridge gets you the most turns for your vertical.
The Digs: Stay with former Olympians and local Jackson Holers Hans and Nancy Johnstone in one of the Alpine House's 22 pastel and Scandinavian-pine rooms ($120; www.alpinehouse.com).
The Freebie: You could almost eat for a week off the copious samples at Albertson's supermarket at the intersection of Route 191 and Highway 22.
Start Here: www.jacksonhole.com
4. Jay Peak Resort, Vermont
Where can you get 2,153 vertical feet (656 meters) of skiing, Powder 8 competitions, 355 inches (901 centimeters) of annual snowfall, open backcountry gates, a tram, and hair-raising terrain? Three and a half hours northwest of Boston, the unlikely powder Canaan of Jay Peak, Vermont, is the greatest anomaly in lower 48 skiing. Midwinter storms converge from the Champlain Valley, Great Lakes region, and St. Lawrence Valley to bestow seasons like 2001, when Jay Peak received 581 inches (1,476 centimeters). Eight lifts, including a 60-person tram and one detachable quad, rarely have lines and access 76 trails over 385 acres (156 hectares) of northern Vermont steeps.
The Backcountry: Take Northway gate over to Big Jay for the steepest powder lines around. (Bring a guide.)
The Powder Stash: Andre's Paradise Glade holds fresh tracks for days after a dump.
The Digs: Get free lift tickets and ski to your private balcony at the no-frills Hotel Jay ($99; www.jaypeakresort.com).
Start Here: www.jaypeakresort.com
5. Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, California
There are two distinct advantages to spring skiing in a casino town. One: You can pay for your trip with a face card and an ace. Two: The early a.m. slopes are empty while the high rollers sleep it off. Overshadowed by its neighbors, Kirkwood and Squaw Valley, Heavenly's 3,500 vertical feet (1,067 vertical meters) of corned-up glades, bowls, and granite-slotted backcountry make it one of the best and least crowded spring destinations in the Golden State. After a night of blackjack at Harrah's, hit the Mott and Killebrew Canyon backcountry gates at their 9 a.m. opening for some of the steepest skiing in the Sierras. And you can experience the area's legendary melt-freeze cycle when the expansive Milky Way bowl softens up—just about the time the card sharks are rolling out of bed.
The Spring-Break Moment: Slush Pond Mania during the first week of May is like a Warren Miller blooper clip gone hideously awry.
The Digs: Harrah's Lake Tahoe ($89; www.harrahs.com/our_casinos/tah) lures potential gamers with fair deals and big, clean rooms.
The Skier's Fuel-Up: The eggs benedict at the Driftwood Café (+1 530 544 6545) are an edifying start to your day.
Start Here: www.skiheavenly.com
6. Alyeska Resort, Alaska
You know you've reached the big time when your chief dilemma is choosing between a heli, a snowcat, or a high-speed quad to reap the spoils of an Alaska blizzard. Or, you've simply arrived at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska, without a doubt the greatest spring skiing triple threat in the U.S.
Plan A: Take the tram up 2,300 feet (701 meters) and shred the North Face, which receives up to 742 inches (1,885 centimeters) of snow a year.
Plan B: Fly with Chugach Powder Guides ($775 a day; www.chugachpowderguides.com) to access 750 square miles (1,207 square kilometers) of 50-degree couloirs, bowls, and Chugach fins.
Plan C: Ride CPG's Bombardier snowcat ($225) during whiteout days for tree skiing in the upper Girdwood Valley.
The Local Secret: The Sitzmark Bar and Grill at the base of Chair 3 is one of the few places where native Alaskans can be found at the resort.
The Digs: Make your final run a quadruple-diamond with a night at the lavish, slopeside Alyeska Prince Hotel ($175; www.princehotels.co.jp/alyeska-e).
Start Here: www.alyeskaresort.com
7. Portillo, Chile
Don't expect nightlife, a base village, heated sidewalks, or ski caddies at South America's oldest ski resort, just 1,235 skiable acres (500 hectares) and 2,743 vertical feet (836 vertical meters) of treeless Andes smoke. The incarnation of skiers' summer dreams, runs like Roca Jack's wide-open apron are carved into the granite face of the mountain. Nearly limitless backcountry (powder-filled Primavera, for example) sits a boot pack away from the Roca Jack and Condor lifts and funnels back to the iconic Hotel Portillo ($1,100 a week). While the resort averages a mediocre 240 inches (610 centimeters) a year, big storms in August and September almost always dump powder.
The Backcountry Must: 7,000-vertical-foot (2,134-vertical-meter) Super C couloir is the preeminent Portillo backcountry run.
The Package: Sparse but convenient Inca Lodge ($450 a week; www.skiportillo.com), where food and lift tickets are included.
Start Here: www.skiportillo.com
8. Blackcomb, British Columbia
The Ice Age is alive and well on Whistler Blackcomb's Horstman Glacier. The largest summer ski slope in North America stretches over 112 acres (45 hectares) and 685 vertical feet (209 vertical meters) of mogul lanes and groomers. From June 5 through July 30, skiers leapfrog Whistler's lower lifts then ride the Horstman and Showcase T-bars ($47 a day). The coaches, pros, and aficionados at Camp of Champions ($968 for five days; www.campofchampions.com) preside over the new age of skiing and snowboarding in this halfpipe and terrain park.
The Freebie: A 160-foot (49-meter) bungee jump is included with Camp of Champions entry.
The Ski Break: The Mountain Bike Park boasts 124 miles (200 kilometers) of lift-
serviced downhill trails, three skill centers, and a BikerCross course ($35 a day).
The Digs: While the Hearthstone Lodge's studio rooms ($129; 800 663 7711) in the heart of Whistler Village are simply appointed, it's all about location.
Start Here: www.whistlerblackcomb.com
9. Wolf Creek Ski Area, Colorado
An odd phenomenon takes place each November at Wolf Creek Ski Area: It snows like mad. Powder-starved skiers from New Mexico to Texas converge on the 1,600-vertical-foot (488-vertical-meter) ma-and-pa hill—85 miles (137 kilometers) east of Durango and 10,300 feet (3,139 meters) above sea level—to partake in the largest annual snowfall in Colorado. When CEO Davey Pitcher opened the hill on October 29, 2004, there was a 30-inch (76-centimeter) base at the summit, and he charged $38 a day for a lift ticket, versus the standard $43. Early birds should point their boards to the right side of the trail map for 500 acres (202 hectares) of open bowls, gullies, and glades served by six lifts.
The First Run of the Season: Alberta Face, off the Treasure Chair, is the steepest shot with consistently ample coverage.
The Digs: The western-style rooms at High Country Lodge ($75; www.highcountrylodge.com); they're close to the hill, and breakfast is included.
The Local Brew: Lizard Head Red Ale at the Bear Creek Saloon and Grill (+1 970 264 5611).
Start Here: www.wolfcreekski.com
10. Mammoth Mountain, California
Despite its stature as the big-draw slope for tens of thousands of California skiers, Mammoth still holds first tracks for half the day after an early season storm. Thanks to 477 acres (193 hectares) of snowmaking and a benevolent Mother Nature, the fourth largest resort in the U.S. is a sure bet for November turns. Follow the high traverse off the Face Lift Express chair to access some of the best early season runs on the lower half of Drop Out and Wipe Out. As the chutes fill in with snow, branch out to wide-open Scotty's and supersteep Huevos Grande.
The Digs: You can't do better than one night and two free lift tickets at the Mammoth Mountain Inn ($92; www.mammothmountain.com/plan/lodging/mmi), one of the cheapest, plushest ski packages in the eastern Sierra.
The Après Soak: Plastic cups overfloweth at the gently burbling Hot Creek hot springs (+1 760 924 5500), off Highway 203, south of town.
Start Here: www.mammothmountain.com
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