TABERNASH, Colo. -- Ready or not, powder hounds, here comes the snow.
On Sept. 29, the first snowfall of the season dusted Colorado ski resorts, dropping just enough white flakes for impatient snowboarders to score a downhill run through the trees. But the storm was just an opener for the main event.
A couple of days later another white-out blew over the Rocky Mountains, leaving a foot of feathery-soft snow on most resorts, from 12 inches at Snowmass, in the Roaring Fork Valley, to14 inches at Loveland and 18 inches at Steamboat, in the Yampa Valley. And within the week, 3 more inches.
"I was ready to get my skis out, but it didn't last," lamented Sara Reed, in Estes Park.
Though the official ski season doesn't launch until Thanksgiving, when nighttime temperatures are cold enough to make and keep snow, an early winter could mean a long one.
And for recreational skiers -- like me -- it was a reminder. Time again for the annual online marathon in search of resort news, up-to-date weather forecasts, stay-and-ski family discounts, new bumps clinics and affordable lodging.
Before the internet, pre-season planning was simple. You skied at the same place you skied every year. Now it's a bite-your-fingernails chore guaranteed to turn anyone's hair a lighter shade of grey. With millions of bits of data socked away in dozens of poorly organized resort websites, navigating from one screen to the next is headache fodder.
Just for fun, type "ski resorts" into your favorite search engine. I did and produced a formidable 3,410,000 hits. "Lake Tahoe skiing" scored 60,600 hits, but that included ski lodges and restaurants. Vail Resorts found 472,000 results, including resorts, hotels and real estate investments. That's a lot of choices to winnow to one.
Do you know what you want? That's step one. Trail maps and advanced bumps clinics? Popular kids' stay-and-ski-free programs? Or maybe you'd like to earn some points at an independently owned and managed ski mountain, one of those much-loved outliers known for its special ambiance and home-grown culture?
When I started looking, I decided that if a website didn't have a home page that popped up with an easy-to-read, color-saturated photo of skiers schussing down snowy mountain trails, it was probably doomed. Visuals count. And if it didn't include an in-your-face list of sub-topics, I stopped looking.