12 tips for avoiding ski crowds during the holidays

avoiding ski crowds
Avoid this on your holiday ski trip. Image courtesy of Dino Borelli on Flickr.

1. The early bird gets the turns. Get out there when the lifts start turning, even a few minutes early in case the chairs start spinning early. If the stars align and lady luck smiles on you, you’ll knock out a few thousand feet of vertical before the screaming masses show up.

2. Remote areas are your friend. That area that requires a nasty traverse? Always has a breeze? That’s where you want to go.

3. Undesirable lifts are your homies. That fixed grip double that no one wants to ride because it’s slow and operated by a liftie who rarely slows the chair before it whacks you behind the thighs? Ride it, since no one else wants to.

4. Get a private instructor. Almost all mountains have a separate lift line for instructors.

5. Choose the right lift line. Some chairlifts have two lines, one on each side of the chair that funnels into a single line. Often, one is significantly shorter than the other. Get on that one.

6. Sister resorts are often less crowded. If you’re at Mammoth in California, check out June. At Jackson Hole in Wyoming? Go to Targhee. And if you’re shredding Northern California’s Tahoe, go to a family hill like Sugar Bowl, Diamond Peak, or Homewood.

Going someplace with no drive-in potential or smaller, difficult-to-reach mountains can get you some quality alone time. Photo courtesy Shutterstock

7. Didn’t make plans yet? Fly somewhere with almost no drive-in potential. Big Sky or Whitefish in Montana are good options. So is Alyeska in Alaska. Want numbers?  Last year Big Sky Resort averaged just over 6,650 guests per day during Christmas week last year, according to PR manager Shiela Chapman, and they have 5,800 acres. Most destination resorts are about half that size and can easily choke on 20,000-plus guests in a day.

8. If you’re in Colorado go to the smaller or more difficult-to-reach mountains. Loveland, Monarch, Silverton, and Purgatory are all worth checking out.

9. Hire a guide and get into the backcountry. If you’ve got the cash, be like Ahh-nald and “Get into the choppah!”—go heliskiing. Not enough cash? Go catskiing.

10. Ski the holidays themselves. Even at big resorts Christmas and New Year’s Day are fairly mellow. Arriving early goes a long way on these days.

11. Hike inbounds or hit the sidecountry.

12. There’s never a line in your condo/hotel/lodging. Just day drink. Champagne in your OJ is more fun than champagne pow when thousands of others are trying to get after it.

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