Friday November 30, 2012

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 snow-making 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 snow-making 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 the New Year 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 in and near the Berkshires:

Massachusetts

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

Vermont

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

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

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

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

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

New York

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

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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.

Who’s opening soon in and near the Berkshires:

Saturday: Ski Butternut ( 413-528-2000; www.skibutternut.com ) in Great Barrington;

Dec. 8: Catamount (413-528-1262; www.catamountski.com ) in South Egremont;

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.

Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com