For those of us that love skiing and snowboarding it makes perfect sense to combine the joy of the holiday season with the freedom of the mountains. It’s a no-brainer. Such a no-brainer in fact, that it can be nearly impossible to avoid crowds on the slopes around Christmas time. Nearly, but not completely, and we here at SKIS.com have some tips about where to find the least crowded resorts to spend Christmas.
Cross your fingers for a big snow year nationwide, but bear in mind that late December can still mean early season conditions at a lot of resorts. So, if you want to guarantee skiing and riding, be sure to pick a destination that has sufficient snow making coverage. Admittedly, this isn’t the best way to avoid crowds, but skiing crowded snowy slopes beats looking disappointedly at empty, brown, grassy ones any day. At most big resorts, the days leading up to and immediately following a big holiday like Christmas are some of the busiest of the season, but on the holiday itself many people have other priorities in mind. So if you want to shred all alone (or just with your nearest and dearest), be sure to start early and stay late on Christmas day. People retire to the hot tub midday in order to get to family dinners on time. Just substitute that Christmas dinner for a Christmas lunch with your family on the slopes and ski til closing time as the crowds thin around you.
This Christmas, check out the following resorts to find great snow, small crowds, and a perfect holiday atmosphere.
Franconia Notch, NH
Cannon Mountain is one of the best kept secrets in the east. Despite nearly 300 acres and more than 2,000 vertical feet of skiable terrain, Cannon remains one of the least crowded resorts in New Hampshire. That’s largely due to Cannon’s proximity to Loon and Bretton Woods, New Hampshire’s two largest resorts. But you could also argue that it’s because of the particularly inclement weather in Franconia Notch. That weather is enough to keep the average skier away in February, but smart skiers know that the bad weather brings larger storms and more snow to Cannon earlier than other resorts in the state. And for the years those storms don’t arrive early, Cannon has an extensive snow making operation that covers the mountain from top to base. Come Christmas time, Cannon is a sure bet to be covered in the white stuff.
Cannon is nestled between two quintessential New England mountain towns, Lincoln, and Franconia, NH, meaning there are plenty of lodging, dining and off mountain recreation options. The resort itself has a rustic, no-frills vibe. It’s perfect for the skier or rider who relishes a little ice in their beard or wind down their neck. An antique, but still efficient aerial tram takes you from top to bottom, allowing you to make 1.5 mile, 2,000 foot vertical laps until your legs give out. And all of this within view of one the most striking mountain ridges east of the Mississippi? I don’t know about you, but that sounds the perfect place to spend a white Christmas.
*Bonus: Make sure to check out Mittersill – a glade and backcountry skier’s paradise connected to Cannon by chairlift.
I’m biased because my future wife is an Idaho girl and she introduced me to this mountain on Christmas last year. But Brundage has been stuck in my memory since then and I truly can’t think of a better, quieter, or more spectacular place to spend the holidays. It all starts in the town of McCall – an idyllic, frosted village on the shores of Payette Lake (think a mini Lake Tahoe painted with a strong Idaho brush). There are a few breweries, a handful of nice lakeside lodges, and countless quaint cabins. But mostly there are views across the expansive lake up to snow-capped and craggy peaks. You can find almost anything you’d want there, from hot springs pools to groomed cross country ski trails, but it’s the solitude that is most noticeable. If the town could be defined by a feeling, it would be the one you get when standing in a silent pine forest during a heavy snowfall.
Then there’s the mountain. Brundage, just 5-10 minutes outside town, boasts 1,500 skiable acres. From groomed cruisers to steep and deep glades, this little mountain packs a punch. The crowds are small because McCall is small. Once the town fills up, that’s that. And a full town, luckily, does not mean a full mountain. The design and placement of Brundage’s lifts plays a big role in spreading the crowds out evenly across the hill, making lift lines all but non-existent, and untouched powder stashes a common find. Ski or snowboard all day, grab a local beer at the lodge with your lunch, and when you’re ready to head to the hot springs or back to your cabin for Christmas dinner, just slide right down to your car in the always snow-covered parking lot. The road to Brundage may as well be a time machine to the glory days of skiing.
*Bonus: Book a backcountry SnowCat tour to access thousands more acres of untouched powder. It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or expert!
Salt Lake City, UT
The name says it all, right? Puns aside, Solitude Mountain in Utah’s world famous Wasatch range is a near perfect resort year-round, so why would Christmas be any different? Solitude receives about 500 inches of light fluffy snow each year so coverage, even as early as Christmas isn’t really an issue. With larger and fancier resorts so close by (Park City, The Canyons, and Deer Valley) the crowds at Solitude are filtered out, and given the piousness of most Salt Lake locals, those crowds are even further diminished around the high holidays. The mountain is generally considered to be difficult for beginners, but there is terrain for all levels of skiers and snowboarders, so don’t be scared away. In fact, use the reputation of the mountain to your advantage – others won’t be there to ski what they wrongly fear.
Not to be forgotten in all the talk of fluffy snow, is what the town of Salt Lake City has to offer. The lodging options are endless making it the perfect destination for a large family ski gathering. And because it’s a major city, there are activities for every set of interests, even if they don’t involve the mountains. It’s hard to find a more convenient and desirable spot for a large family group of skiers and non skiers. With the resorts less than 30 minutes away, and the attractions of the city all around you, there may be no more versatile ski destination on the planet.
*Bonus: Check out the 2002 winter olympic venues, spread throughout the Salt Lake City area, including right near Solitude.
Wherever you decide to spend your holidays this year, may the snow be deep and the crowds thin. Merry skiing and riding!