Colorado opens up ski season
October 16, 2008
ARAPAHOE BASIN ” Edna Dercum had to be smiling somewhere, looking down on the happy crowd of skiers and snowboarders thronging the maze at Arapahoe Basin ski area in Summit County, Colo., on opening day.
The matriarch of The Legend, who passed away recently, would have enjoyed the buzz of energy, watching the snowboarder in a green knit hat with metallic headphones bop his head to an unseen beat and the crisp scrape of metal edges on hardpack, sending glittery streamers of snow into the sunny sky.
Times may change, but the feeling of getting out on the hill for the first time stay the same, said telemarker Guinn Volkers.
“This is the best day of the season,” Volkers said, washing down an energy bar with a swig of coffee. “It’s the first day, a brand new season … I’m aiming for 100 days this year.”
The current economy won’t change his plans to ski at least three or four days a week, he said.
“Gas just went back down, and my buddies helped pay for the tank,” Volkers said, waving at two friends buckling their boots nearby.
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As many as 3,000 snow-starved skiers and riders may have showed up to enjoy the sunny day, said Tim Finnigan, head of mountain operations at A-Basin.
The intermediate High Noon run is covered with a solid 12- to 18-inch base, after snowmaking crews blasted the run with 12.8 acre-feet of water, converted to snow during optimal weather conditions.
That’s the best-ever base for opening day, Finnigan said.
Finnigan, the area’s former ski-patrol director, urged riders to go slow and respect the space of others on the single narrow slope now open for skiing.
Across the pass at Loveland ski area, the scene was similar ” a busy parking lot, Frisbees swirling through the air.
“It’s a good day, mate,” said Wendell Averson, an Aussie ski bum headed for Jackson Hole.
Cracking the top off a bottle, Averson said he was aiming to make it to Steamboat, but couldn’t resist the lure of opening day, plunking down some cash for a day ticket.
Colorado skiers hit a daily double this year, as both areas opened the same day, after A-Basin won the derby in a friendly rivalry the past two seasons.
Finnigan said the double opening probably helped ease crowds at both mountains.
There’s no major storm in the outlook, but both areas will continue to make snow and open more terrain as they are able.
“I’m always excited to see the season start,” said U.S. Forest Service snow ranger Joe Foreman, who was also up at A-Basin to sample the snow. “Sometimes it comes as a shock when it’s so early, but that’s the advantage of the high elevation in Summit County.”
After several seasons when skier visits at A-Basin soared to record levels, the county’s oldest ski area has expanding parking and nearly finished a pedestrian underpass beneath Highway 6.
The ski area is two to three weeks away from finishing the project.
The addition last season of the new terrain in Montezuma Bowl was the prime attraction at A-Basin.
For the next few years, the area will consider replacing the aging Exhibition chair, Foreman said.
The 20-minute wait for the chair led some A-Basin loyalists to fire up their grills in the parking lot for the first time.
“It’s pretty good, all things considered,” said George Marcek, a native of the Czech Republic.
Marcek originally comes from Zatec, near Prague ” hops-growing and sausage country, he said, popping the top off a cold can of beer and pushing mirrored sunglasses onto his forehead.
“It’s pretty relaxed,” Marcek said, as he lays a half-dozen chicken-jalapeno sausages onto his grill. “And who says you can’t get a good sausage around here?”
Nearby, Marcek’s friend, Premysl Ducek, tilted toward the sun to catch some autumn rays.
“We’ve been waiting all summer … It’s a great feeling to be out in the sun,” he said.
On the lift, Jeremy and Lisa Miller of Arvada said they were exited to be at A-Basin. The couple purchased a five-mountain Vail Resorts pass this season after two years when they had a Copper Mountain/Winter Park pass.
Competition between Intrawest resorts and the Vail-owned ski areas remains fierce, and Vail’s new Epic Pass ” giving access to A-Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek ” has proved popular with Front Rangers.
The Millers cited a couple of reasons for the switch.
“My mother-in-law likes the shops at Breck, so she’ll probably be coming up with us this winter,” said Lisa Miller. “But we’ll miss Winter Park. That’s where I grew up skiing, and all the runs are named after Alice in Wonderland.”
Jeremy Miller said it was nice to make a change.
“It’s so great to have so many areas to choose from. We’ll probably go back to a Winter Park pass in the next few seasons,” he said.
Snowmaking is also under way at Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper, with those resorts eying opening days in mid-to late-November.