After last year’s record snowfall across the country, 2011-2012 has some large shoes to fill.

MY EXTREMELY HELPFUL local weather forecast is calling for a 50-50 chance of this winter being wetter than normal or drier than normal. So, instead of obsessing over the weather projections this year, I’ll instead be spending my time looking forward to the new features ski resorts across the country are implementing. Here are some of my favorites:

For tree-lovers: Northstar, CA

When Vail Resorts took over Northstar last year, big changes were expected. This summer, the announcement came: $30 million will be invested in improvements at the resort. I figured most of these ‘improvements’ would take the form of ritzy new base lodges, fancy-crust pizzas in the food court, and new stores I can’t afford at the Village.

While they did do all those things, I did not expect this: a 10% increase in skiable sidecountry terrain.

Northstar pow. Photo: David Spencer

A boundary expansion on Lookout Mountain will add a new escape route into the trees when the weekend crowds swarm Northstar’s groomed runs. Another small expansion into Sawmill Glade should also provide some new amusements. Most exciting to me, however, is the new snowcat access that will be added to Sawtooth Ridge, the 240-or-so acres of already existing sidecountry, if nothing else because riding in a snowcat makes me feel like a Transformer.

Honorable mention to Sugarloaf in Maine, who also opened an extra 135 acres of sidecountry, in addition to the 270 opened last year as phase 2 of the Sugarloaf 2020 plan.

For park riders: Seven Springs, PA

Flip open any snowboard magazine, and you’ll see hardcore riders doing hardcore maneuvers in places that don’t serve cocoa, don’t carry your gear-laden ass uphill on a chairlift, and don’t pay a park crew to maintain the integrity and relative safety of its features. Those days are ending, thanks in part to Seven Springs’ new urban terrain park.

Presented by Forum Snowboards and in collaboration with Snow Park Technologies, The Streets Urban Park recreates features that are more often found during your post-work commute than your lap through the park.

Honorable mention goes to Mountain High, CA for adding 4 new “Los Angeles Features” to their terrain park this year, including an exact replica of the massive handrail at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA.

For softies who like being warm and alive while on vacation: Mount Snow, VT

I’ll be the first one to admit there are many days I’d rather be cozy in the lodge than to have to spend one more drawn-out minute on a chairlift with the wind blasting me in the face and my boogers freezing to my upper lip. I’ve called it quits way too early on enough powder days to know that Mount Snow’s new upgrade appeals to more than just the onesie-clad snow-snob crowd.

For 2011-2012, the old Summit Local — 13 minutes of teeth-chattering purgatory on a windy day — is being replaced by the brand new Bluebird Express. The first of its kind in America, this high-speed 6-person detachable chair cuts the ride time down by 4 minutes and encloses riders in a cozy blue bio-dome. Ahh, like being in the womb.

Honorable mention to Snowbird in Utah for implementing the Flaik GPS System throughout the mountain’s sport school. While this might not keep you warm, it’ll certainly help assure that your kids stay alive and accounted for after you’ve ditched them at ski school for the day.

For fun: Jay Peak, VT

Purchased by investors in 2008, Jay Peak has had aggressive expansion plans in the news for years. This year marks the opening of one of its most ambitious to date: the Pump House.

Snow and surf in the same day? Photo: Jay Peak Resort

The Pump House is a 50,000 square foot indoor waterpark where you rest your tired legs after a day on the mountain while screaming your brains out upside-down in the country’s only indoor aqualoop waterslide. This sounded really incredible to me until I watched the video. Now I’m freaked out, and willingly relegate myself to an inner-tube in the Big River.

Or, if you’re actually made of steel and your legs aren’t tired from a powder-filled day at Jay, hop on the Double Barrel Flowrider, where the water’s heated to a balmy 84 degrees.

Honorable mention goes to Holiday Valley, NY where the addition of the Sky High Mountain Coaster (a ride that’s “similar to a roller coaster”) provides another way to careen screaming through the trees.

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