First Turns: Mammoth, CA

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November

Beta: On opening day, the lifties hand out colored beads, skiers scavenge the woods for a stuffed woolly mammoth (and a season pass), and at noon, owner Dave McCoy makes a champagne toast on the sundeck. The reason to celebrate: Mammoth's high altitude (11,053 feet at the top) and its prodigious size (3,500 acres) mean the mountain snags early-season storms from the Central Pacific. The first week sees a modest crowd of mostly SoCal sliders-locals, L.A. road-trippers-and a smattering of racers in training.

Opening Dates: For five years now, Mammoth has pulled off opening days on the first Thursday of November.

Early-Season Snow: October and November see a combined average of 42 inches of snowfall. Barring the real thing, the snowmakers can get 200 acres of terrain open every 72 hours, if temps allow. In a low snow year, some 25 million gallons of water-enough to fill 33 Olympic swimming pools-flow through Mammoth's snowmaking system in six weeks.

Terrain: Week one, Broadway Express opens, accessing 960 vertical feet of broad cruisers and tree shots. The halfpipe and terrain park open in the next few weeks, and by Thanksgiving the whole shebang is typically up and running-including the steep north-facing lines off Mammoth's two-mile-long ridgeline.

Biggest Early Season: A strong showing in fall 1992 continued all season, for a total of 617 inches-including a two-day, 54-inch humdinger in late December.

Deals: From November 5 to 26, stay-and-ski packages at the Mammoth Mountain Inn start at $50 a night (per person, double occupancy), including lifts (mammothmountain.com, 800-626-6684).

Plan B: Rent ice skates (Ski Surgeon, 760-934-6370) and head for Lake Mary, a half-mile walk up the road from the Twin Lakes road closure.

Nightlife: Town is quiet this time of year, but you can still hoist a Guinness at Hennessey's Tavern, an Irish joint in the new village. The Clocktower in town is the local's choice for brews, cues, and darts.

Info: mammothmountain.com, 800-626-6684.