In the midst of a dismal winter in my hometown of Tahoe City last year, I got and e-mail that changed everything. “Want To Go To Japan?” the subject line read. A few friends, also fed up with the balmy North American snow conditions, decided to test their luck overseas and, fortunately for me, they had room for one more. The only catch: The trip was less than two weeks out. And none of us had plane tickets, lodging, a rental car, or any clue as to where to go. But the forecast. Oh, the forecast. Huge storm swells were heading to the East and Japan looked slated to get buried in snow right when we’d be touching down.
The only way to ensure plentiful snow conditions for a ski trip is to book at the last minute—wait for the forecast to line up just right, then ditch work and cobble together a trip to that destination you’ve been eyeing. But procrastinating can come at a cost. You risk high airfares and scarce lodging. Don’t fret. If you plan strategically, you’ll get great deals and a little snow in the face.
Watch the Weather
“Wait until about a week out to narrow your region and don’t decide on the specific mountain until two or three days beforehand, when forecasts are generally reliable,” says Joel Gratz, the founding meteorologist of OpenSnow.com, a website with powder-day forecasts for the entire country. FreshyMap.com, another great tool, uses real-time snowfall data and weather mapping to determine which areas have the highest “freshy factor,” meaning which resorts will still have powder by the time you show up.
Choose Your Location
Once you’ve narrowed in on the snowiest locale, keep in mind the logistics of getting there fast. Japan’s great—like really great— but a place within driving distance or one served by cheap and frequent flights will deliver the most bang for your buck. “The best places to look for last-minute trips are the resorts closest to Denver and Salt Lake City, strictly because of the amount of flights going into those markets,” says Dan Sherman, the vice president of marketing at ski-travel site Ski.com.
Search for Deals
Be willing to settle for wherever there’s availability. That may mean calling the discount motels 20 miles from the resort, browsing Airbnb.com or VRBO.com for rooms or homes for rent, or checking the resort website for last-minute deals on lodging and ticket packages, which have become popular. It also never hurts to click over to online lift-ticket retailers like Liftopia.com for late-in-the-game deals.
Pack and Go
Fresh tracks don’t wait for you to search your house for your passport and ski bag. Have your travel gear dialed ahead of time. Check your airline’s baggage fees and weigh your luggage on a scale at home before you head to the airport. Preload your phone with directions to your lodging, the ski resort, and the best bar in town. Hopefully you’ve got powder-hungry ski buddies with flexible schedules who will join you. But if not, head to the bar and start buying drinks to sniff out local beta and ski partners.