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The mountain ranges in the western United States have been hit with one of the better early snowfalls in a decade. Snow bases in Colorado have more than a foot of snow. With certain mountains not set to officially open until this weekend, some ski resorts report more than ten per cent of trails already ski-ready. Of course, the higher you go in altitude the more snow you'll see. What's that mean for snow lovers? It means the migration has begun for boarders, skiers, avid shoe-ers, and cross-country fanatics looking for the early beat on what is right this minute quite possibly the best natural snow skiing in the world.

Ski.com (tel. 800/778-8589; www.ski.com), one of the nation's top ski tour operators has partnerships with resorts all over the world. It is running several specials for early bird skiers looking to get on the mountain fast. The site's special deals page has a host of low-priced package deals to mountains out west as well as links to ski report pages for those mountains giving detailed accounts of up-to-the-minute conditions. The pull-down menu even allows you to immediately view specials at particular ski locations. We found more than 20 specials to Vail Mountain alone. A four-night stay and ski package at the four-star Vail Cascade Resort that gives you the fourth night free costs approximately $520 per person. Located at the base of Vail Mountain on Gore Creek, the Vail Cascade Resort is a Rocky Mountain landmark that's drawn skiers for over 20 years. In addition to large rooms and complete spa facilities, the hotel provides free shuttle bus service to both of Vail's main villages. Travel for this deal is good from November 19 to December 14, 2006. No chair lifts are currently open but most should be operational when the mountain officially opens Friday, November 17, 2006.

Ski.com also has a five-night Crested Butte special with the fifth night free. Four days skiing and rental car are included in this package deal with travel good from now through December 15, 2006. This package is only good for Sunday, Monday or Tuesday arrival. Lodging for this trip is at the Buttes, a condominium/lodge facility with a hot tub located just 50 yards from the base of the mountain. It goes for $610 per person based on quadruple occupancy lodging. Ski.com can also help you with airfares as well as accommodations for two people or very large groups. With 20 inches of new snow falling in the last week, Crested Butte is expecting swarms of skiers looking for fresh powder.

Colorado Ski (tel. 303/837-0793; www.coloradoski.com) has full listings of current snow conditions across the state. Wolf Creek is currently open with nine inches having fallen within the past week and 32 inches currently packed at the base. Deals at Wolf Creek found through Colorado Ski include a first-day beginner skier or snowboard package that gives beginning skiers and boarders two-hour lessons in the morning hours and the afternoon hours (separated by the a.m. and p.m.) costing $46 for skiers and $56 for boarders. A second day special package, meant to follow up the first day special, includes a two-hour morning lesson and a lift ticket for the Nova, Bonanza and Raven lifts. Costs for these packages aimed at getting first-time skiers and boarders confidently on the slopes in two days start at $57 and $67. This beginner package is for ages 13 and up.

Utah is expecting and hoping for snowfall this week. The home page of Ski Utah (tel. 801/534-1779; www.skiutah.com) lists two ski resorts having opened on Wednesday, November 15, two resorts opening on Friday, November 17, 2006 and the rest opening before the end of Thanksgiving week. Ski Utah early bird specials include a Snowbird Mountain early booking deal that includes $99 per night with free lift tickets per two people if you stay more three nights or more and book by Monday, November 20, 2006. The package is good for travel from November 18 to December 20, 2006. Accommodations are at North Studio at the Inn and can be booked directly by calling 1-800-232-9542. Just 29 miles from Salt Lake City, Snowbird is extremely accessible. Check conditions in Utah as they haven't as yet been as fortunate as Colorado with early snowfall.

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