History and Data Show that Utah is the Best for Early Season Snow

By Yeti Sep 11, 2017
There are two kinds of December ski trips. Don't overlook Utah's early December skiing.
History and Data Show that Utah is the Best for Early Season Snow

There are two kinds of December ski trips: those that come earlier in the month, when nobody is out on the mountain, and those that come during the last week of the year when the slopes are packed and the kids are out on winter break.

For both kinds of these early season ski trips, Utah is often the best bet for finding thorough snow coverage. How do we know? Data tell us so. Our friends over at ZRankings, a site for researching and booking ski trips, have the proof.

 ZRankings examined 220 North American ski resorts’ snowfall histories, snow preservation characteristics, and how well each ski resort got terrain open early in the season. The results showed four Utah ski resorts in the top seven overall, an impressive level of dominance!

 Those four resorts:

 Alta at No. 1 – early season snow score of  99.0


This beautiful image was captured on Alta's OPENING day last season!

Alta’s reputation as a snow haven is based on facts. This place simply gets more high-quality snow than anywhere else—late season, early season, whenever. The ski resort averages 96% of its terrain open by Christmas, the highest such rate in the industry. Only 5% of winters pass with Alta having less than 50% of its terrain open by Dec. 25.

Brighton at No. 3 – early season snow score of 87.9


Brighton, advantageously positioned at the end of Big Cottonwood Canyon (a snow funnel), averages having 90% of its terrain open by Dec. 25, with only 10% of winters passing when the resort has less than half of its terrain open on that date.

Solitude at No. 6 – early season snow score: 83.0


Brighton’s neighbor in Big Cottonwood, Solitude gets a touch less snow and has more technical terrain than does Brighton. It still averages having 85% of its terrain open by the end of December. Only 10% of seasons pass with Solitude having less than 50% of its terrain open on Dec. 25.

Snowbird at No. 7 – early season snow score: 82.1


Snowbird averages having 84% of its terrain open by Dec. 25—all the more impressive because the Bird is a very steep mountain that requires copious amounts of snow coverage to open. It’s rarely a bad bet to head to Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge for the holidays, as only 10% of winters pass with the resort getting less than half of its terrain open.

In addition to having these four highly ranked resorts for early snow, Utah is also home to Park City, which also made ZRankings’ list, with an early season snow rating of 70.2 Park City’s incredible size—7,300 acres—means that just 60% of the ski resort represents more terrain than most other major mountains. Park City averages having 77% of its terrain open on Dec. 25, making it a great bet for holiday ski trips.

Deer Valley didn’t make ZRankings’ list, but it has one of the best snow-making networks in the west, which ensures that skiers will have a lot of terrain to consider when it gets its doors open in December. The ski resort averages having 70% of its terrain open on Dec. 25, placing it in the top echelon of ski resorts in North America.

Incidentally, both Park City Mountain and Deer Valley Resort score in the ZRankings’ Top 10 for Best Family Ski Resorts, which makes Park City a great hub for family activities during winter break.

Readers can see the rest of the top 15 resorts for early season snow at ZRankings.


Here are the data points that were used in the scoring:

·      The percentage of acreage a resort has open, on average, on Dec. 25 – higher is better

·      The percentage of winters a resort fails to get 50% of its terrain open by Dec. 25 – lower is better

·      The overall snow volume a resort receives, on average – higher is better

·      The standard deviation of this snowfall – lower is better (Many resorts in Tahoe, for instance, have high average for total snow, but they also have high standard deviations, which means they can see 20 feet in a month, but they’re also far more likely than resorts in the Wasatch or Rockies to see a month with no snow whatsoever)

This editorial discussion was written by Christopher Steiner who is a founder, engineer, New York Times Bestselling Author, dad, husband and skier.

ZRankings ranks the best 220 ski resorts in North America. Its algorithms power the best-read ski resort profiles and rankings on web, including those at Forbes, Freeskier magazine and Realty Trac. Its rankings have appeared on Fox News and CNBC.