VAIL, Colorado - Robert Cameron was excited to get first chair Thursday morning and make his way to Vail's Back Bowls, but once he was back there he quickly realized the slopes could use a lot more snow.
He went through the lower Yonder trees, a north-facing run on the far side of the Sleepytime catwalk that leads to the base of Chair 17.
"It was good, there was snow, but it needs more coverage, that's for sure," Cameron said. "You have to be very careful."
Vail announced Wednesday that it would open Chair 17 and Chair 21 Thursday with limited open terrain in both the Sun Up Bowl and China Bowl. But around 9 a.m. at Patrol Headquarters, there was a lot of chatter on the walkie-talkies about whether the runs were going to open at all.
They ended up opening just before 9:30 a.m., just slightly later than originally planned.
Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said Thursday that plans to open portions of Blue Sky Basin today were still on schedule.
A beautiful storm dropped 10 inches of snow on Vail Mountain Monday, pleasing the skiers and snowboarders who arrived for fresh tracks Tuesday morning. The powder was arguably the best it had been all season, but just two days later, conditions were much different.
The wind kicked up Wednesday, with gusts around the Vail area as high as 50 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service. That wind wasn't kind to the fresh snow from Tuesday morning, blowing a lot of it around and revealing some of the dirt that sat shallowly beneath the surface.
On the south-facing aspects, the dirt was plentiful. All of the south-facing slopes visible from Chairs 17 and 21 were almost totally brown Thursday morning.
Mitch Laurienzo, of Avon, said he's never seen it look so bare. On the north-facing runs, though, he was still able to find some decent snow.
"The snow was pretty heavy, but still soft enough to get through it," Laurienzo said. "There's still some stuff that's not covered - it's covered to the eye, but not to the feet and the board."
Ryan Currier and Gave Seitz, both students at the University of Colorado at Boulder, woke up around 5:30 a.m. Thursday to make it to Vail in time for the partial opening of the Back Bowls. They were making the best of the day by about 9:45 a.m. as the reached the bottom of Chair 17.
"It's kind of disappointing," Currier said. "It was fun, there were some good turns, but as of tomorrow it's going to be bad."
Currier and Seitz also said they couldn't get much information from anyone earlier in the morning when they asked several ski patrollers what was open and where they should go. They said they heard something different from every person they asked, but ultimately ended up where they were trying to go.
The National Weather Service forecast shows a chance of snow Friday, with snow likely Saturday. The powder forecast website opensnow.com shows the most snowfall coming Saturday night.
That snow will be welcomed by skiers and snowboarders who got a taste of the Vail Back Bowls Thursday that left them wanting more.
One woman, Marceline, who did not want to give her last name, traveled to Vail from France with her boyfriend. She's originally from Frisco and wanted to show off the Colorado mountains to her boyfriend, she said.
"I came here to show my boyfriend how good the snow was, so that didn't really work out," she said. "So we're working on using our imaginations."
Marceline said France had a slow start to winter but there is "tons" of snow there, now. Last year, however, France had a bad snow season while Vail had its best winter in history.
"That's how it goes - that's skiing," Marceline said.
It's also part of the sport to know the risks and dangers. Vail Mountain had signs leading into the Back Bowls that warned of the "extremely variable" conditions and marked all of the open Back Bowl terrain as "expert only."
"Ski at your own risk," Laurienzo said. "You don't know what's underneath the snow - it's still pretty bare. ... I don't think it's bad they opened (some terrain in the Back Bowls) to get more people back here so the front side is not getting beat up as fast - they got to do what they got to do."
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.