This seems to be an appropriate topic, being that I am on a flight to Salt Lake City - for just the occasion, a last minute trip planned around a POWDER dump at Snowbird/Alta. I am from the East Coast, Virginia to be specific, and there is NO snow around. There are a few "ski areas" within a couple hours drive but once you get a taste of the fluff from Utah the "ski areas" really don't do it anymore.
Although I often talked about it and fantasized about it, this is the first true last minute, on a whim, go get some POWDER ski trip. I am talking I book the flights and hotel the night before I got on a plane. The obvious advantage being, you pretty much know there is going to be powder is you book the trip the night before. The rather large disadvantage is it can be a lot to pull to in a hurry. Here are a few tips to make it happen for you, the next time you hear you favorite mountains are about to get dumped on:
1) Be FLEXIBLE - This is the prerequisite to everything else. Last minute trips take a lot of flexibility to not only get out on the mountain with the Fresh Cold Smoke everywhere but also be able to leave home on a whim. I would say single people without families have an advantage here, so use it while you can. The other big key in flexibility is work schedule. I am lucky enough to own my own business (www.StoreYourBoard.com) so I get a lot of control over my schedule.
2) Pick your PRIME Powder Spots - Where do you want to go to score the best powder? It could really be anywhere but I would suggest you want to eye somewhere that gets a significant amount of Powder Days per year, this will increase your chances. Terrain - if you have skied powder in the past you know it totally transforms a mountain ski experience, in my opinion it almost always makes it better but keep in mind some mountains are better suited for Powder than others. Typically the steeper the mountain is the better - think Telluride, Snowbird, Alta, etc. There is nothing better than long powder runs but some mountains don't have quite enough pitch to maximize the powder. Another thing to consider is accessibility, the easier and cheaper it is to get there the better. I know flying into Denver from much of the East Coast is relatively cheap with a lot of flights.
3) Know the Resort - Ideally you want to go somewhere you have been before. In general you might lean toward my preference of exploring new areas on ski trips, but leave that for the planned in advanced variety. It makes things a lot easier to quickly put together a trip if you know where to fly into, how to get to the resort, where to stay, not to mention where the Powder Stash hides.
4) Watch the Weather/Subscribe to Alerts - Going along with point #2 and 3, once you identify your PRIME Powder Spots you need to stake them out. Most of the bigger resorts will offer some kind of alert system that lets you know when snow is on the way so sign up for that service.
5) Powder Fund - Everyone has heard of the rainy day fund - well if you are a serious skier you need a POWDER FUND. Usually it isn't cheap to go on a last minute trip. The true powder enthusiasts will be able to justify the added expense for the all but guaranteed powder. Think of it this way, the only other way I know to pretty much guarantee Powder is to go Heli Skiing (to the tune of $10,000+ up in Canada/Alaska) or go Cat Skiing maybe more like $5000/week.
6) JUST DO IT - Enough Said - Go Get Some!