Forget Christmas: Ski Easter

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Keoki Flagg

Skiing at Squaw Valley

When you think about skiing over the holidays, the holiday that comes to mind is Christmas. But Christmas at major ski resorts, while festive enough, also means peak prices for hotel rooms and condos, long lift lines, and the same crowd trying to get overpriced lunches at the mountaintop lodges at the same time. And besides, it's the dead of winter, the absolute worst time to ski — freezing temperatures, nasty winds, and the potential for frostbite.

In fact, Easter is the ideal time for a skiing holiday trip. This year Easter falls late, on April 24, and some resorts such as Vail in Colorado, Alta in Utah, Killington in Vermont, and Heavenly in California are planning to keep the lifts running until all the chocolate bunnies disappear. Squaw Valley, in the Sierras, will close its doors May 8 — and last year it reopened for Memorial Day weekend. Although the religious calendar is underwriting the extended season, it's the snow that makes it possible. And this season Mother Nature has been generous, with many areas already well past their annual averages. Alta, for instance, has a 158-inch base. Vail blew by its 360-inch annual average snowfall in early March. Mount Bachelor in Oregon just announced a two-week season extension — until May 29. Mount Bachelor has accumulated 480 inches of snow through March 17.

Most avid skiers know that March is often the snowiest month of the season, but April is no snow slouch, either. Consider that Park City got 90 inches last April; Squaw Valley in the California Sierra counted 102 inches that same month. Two years ago, I had to drive through a howling, April blizzard on Colorado's I-70 to reach Vail, but the reward was three days of mid-winter snow at mid-April temperatures. Three years ago at Copper Mountain I awoke to an Easter morning that had the look of December, with about a foot of fresh snow.

The beauty of waiting to ski until after baseball begins is that you can often get the best of spring and winter. (You could even ski at, say Arapaho Basin or Keystone and catch the Colorado Rockies later that night.) Temperatures drop swiftly after sunset, making big snow dumps possible, but with the sun getting higher into the afternoon sky, temperatures rise commensurately. And with the sun setting well after 6 p.m. in April, rather than skulking away at 3 p.m. as it does in December, your ski clock changes, too. Sleep in; ski late. There's nothing more brilliant than enjoying the sun on the outdoor picnic decks with a cold drink and a sandwich, the light reflecting so brightly off the snow that sunglasses and sunscreen are mandatory, while parkas become optional. It's like a high-altitude tanning salon. Squaw Valley even opens a mountain top pool and hot tub, called the High Camp Swimming Lagoon & Spa.

Even better, April is skiing's clearance sale. You can fly to Salt Lake City or Denver from New York City or Atlanta in April for less than $300. And there are packages galore. For instance, at Vail Cascade, where you can get ski-in, ski-out service along with great spa, a room that would sell for about $670 in high season goes for $250, and standard rooms fetch as little as $129 per night with a $500 resort credit, based on a four night stay ( At the Miners Club at the Canyons ( near Park City, 2-bedroom condos can be had for about $130 a night. And come April, the price of lift tickets starts to plummet.

April is also the goofiest month in skiing. The resorts have to resort to all kinds of diversions just to get people at sea level off the golf courses. There are concerts (Shpongle and Stephen Marley at Vail; The Samples and Quiet Riot at Copper) contests, and parties, and notable stunts such as pond skimming, wherein contestants ski into an artificial pond at the bottom of the mountain. The locals get a little whacky, too: the screws on their mental bindings have come loose after four months of winter.

Still, there's no denying that Easter skiing is by definition unpredictable. The bottom of the mountain often turns to Slushpuppy in the afternoon, and two or three warm days can rapidly remove the snow cover ait's the reason Vermonters have rock skis and boards. Conditions can range from icy in the morning to a crusty, guess-the-surface crud skiing at other times. Keep those knees loose. And resort managers start to close off trails to keep a lid on costs. But unlike Christmas, you won't have to plan ahead, because there are plenty of rooms available. If the Easter conditions are right, hop on it.