Skiers rejoice: Snow's already falling way out West

I t's hard to believe that snow has already been

falling out West, but it's time for the ski bum in

all of us to start planning our next trip to the slopes. If it's within your budget, then by all means - go West! Resorts across the region are offering exceptional skiing opportunities and vacation packages.

The place that Ullr built

Whistler Blackcomb is one of North America's most stunning ski resorts. Only 70 miles north of Vancouver, this secluded piece of paradise is worth the trip via a long and winding road from the Vancouver airport. The two-hour trek leads you to a premier resort village replete with an Alpine feel and slopes are that ready for serious skiing and snowboarding action.

"We're looking at an official opening on Nov. 24 right now," said Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Whistler Blackcomb. "We'll open as soon as we can, though, if Ullr (the Norse god of snow) is good to us."

The packages being offered to visit Whistler are impressive. If you book a five-night/four-day package by Oct. 31, you'll save up to 35 percent off the total price. In addition that discount, you will receive a one-day adult group ski or snowboard lesson.

It's no surprise that late December is a busy time at Whistler, where the generous amounts of snow make for a magical atmosphere. There are discounts available if you book before the end of the month for a Dec. 24 through Jan. 6 stay.

Rocky Mountain 'higher'

Breckenridge, Colo., measures 9,603 feet above sea level, and the ski resort has quite a bit to boast about these days. The latest buzz is Breckenridge's new chair lift, the Imperial Express Superchair. It is North America's highest chair lift, reaching an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. Skiers will be able to move about the terrain faster than ever at Breckenridge, and extreme skiers will welcome the chair lift's speedy delivery to the famed Peak 8.

Experts and daredevils alike can take advantage of the resort's ski and ride school. Dubbed "The Big Mountain Experience," this school teaches the best way to tackle difficult terrain.

While extreme skiing has garnered attention at Breckenridge, so has another trend: women-only skiing. Employees at the resort have taken notice of women choosing to travel alone or with other women to the resort.

"We offer several women's specific programs for both skiing and snowboarding, many including spa elements and other unique aspects," said Katie Coakley, spokewoman for Breckenridge.

Coakley and her colleagues are excited about the upcoming season, which will start Nov. 11.

Skiing Utah-style

You definitely know where you are when you fly into Salt Lake City. The spectacular mountain range entices you to start exploring as soon as you land. A 43-mile drive north to the Wasatch-Cache National Forest will bring you to Snowbasin: A Sun Valley Resort.

With almost 3,000 vertical feet of ski trails, skiers of all stripes will never tire of this resort's options. Novices, intermediate and experts have 64 runs to choose from at Snowbasin. Nordic trails are also here for those who love this type of skiing and snowshoe enthusiasts.

Snowbasin has one of the finest skiing schools in the country, with more than 50 instructors who are trained to teach at all levels. The children's package is available in half-day and full-day sessions. Known as the Grizzly Cub Program, children ages 4 and up receive a great introduction to skiing that gets them on the slopes in no time.

The resort aims to make you feel at home with fine dining in its lodges. Everything from prime rib to turkey dinners are featured at many of the dinners in Earl's Lodge. Are you in the mood for European fare? Austrian and German specialties are served up in the Needles Lodge. Hearty lunches are available in the John Paul lodge.

"Atlanta guests may expect Southern hospitality in upstate Utah," said Justin Rowland, assistant mountain manager at Snowbasin.

n Whistler Blackcomb



• Breckenridge Ski Resort



• Snowbasin Resort