Beta: For the past two seasons, Copper has been the first resort in North America to start making snow (last year, September 25), which means you can expect to bomb 2,600 feet on opening day. You can also count on fewer powder-depraved Front Range folks vying for the thick slab of snow: Copper is not included in Vail Resorts' five-mountain Colorado Pass. As for après, five new bars and restaurants opened this past year, adding a little habanero to the formerly bland base village.
Opening Dates: Last year Copper opened on November 2; this year it's aiming for the 1st.
Early-Season Snow: Copper has the capacity to cover 380 acres with fake fluff, and it averages about 40 inches of natural in November. Last year's 68 inches in November was big news.
Terrain: Groomed, 2,350-foot blue cruisers like Copperopolis, Rhapsody, and Main Vein open first. Between deadfall and stumps, tree runs like 17 Glades aren't viable until December.
Biggest Early Season: Fall of 1983 notwithstanding (see Keystone, page 134), all Copperites can talk about is last November, when a drought-ending three feet of powder fell in the first two weeks of the month.
Deals: Before Christmas, a bed and a lift ticket in a nondescript, two-bedroom condo in the village runs $69 (per person, quad occupancy). Through Thanksgiving, lift tickets are discounted; they were $39 last season (coppersaver.com, 888-263-5302).
Plan B: There's always BYOB racquetball at the Copper Mountain Athletic Club. It's just $12 an hour, including goggles, a racket, and shoes. Bring your own ball (or buy one at the shop).
Nightlife: If the ice-cold vodkas, hipster attitude, and Cold War decor of Pravda, Copper Village's newest bar, sound too surreal, then head to the old standby, JJ's Rocky Mountain Tavern, where the ski-boot clad kick back and sing along to John Denver and Jimmy Buffett tunes.
Info: ski-copper.com, 888-219-2441
The Ambiguously Precise El Nino Prediction
On September 12, 2002, a half-dozen skiers got first tracks in ankle-deep snow at Silverton, a lift-served, guided backcountry outfit in southern Colorado. By mid October, the area was plastered with 100 inches. Surprisingly, the National Weather Service's forecast for the El Niño precip had been dead on: "They said it would be either wet...or dry," recalls Jonathan Thompson, editor of the Silverton Standard. -Katherine Wingert