VAIL, Colorado - The anticipation skiers and snowboarders have felt this winter for the opening of Blue Sky Basin could be seen at the base of Chair 37 Friday morning as hundreds waited for the chairlift to open.
The day had arrived - Blue Sky Basin would soon be open, but not without a little complaining from the large crowd that had gathered.
"Load the chair," one man shouted.
"This (line) is 45 minutes, at least," said another man.
The line for Chair 37, the Skyline Express Lift, had reached all the way back onto the skier bridge by 11 a.m., ticking off some of the people who eagerly skied down the Sleepytime catwalk to get to Blue Sky Basin.
Arrowhead homeowner Ken Meyers was with a friend when they came around the corner to see the huge line that had formed.
"We're thinking we were wise to make the first turns in Blue Sky Basin, now we're not so lucky," Meyers said. "The snow does look soft and it doesn't look scratched off like the rest of the mountain, so we're excited about the option (to ski Blue Sky)."
The lift opened at 11:03 a.m., though, and what looked like an hour wait turned out to be more like 15 minutes.
Walter Cummings, of Boulder, went in the singles line and got on the lift in about seven minutes, he said. He was thrilled to be riding Skyline, even as the wind kicked up and thick snow started coming down. By the top of the lift, it was nearly a whiteout.
A ski patroller at the top of the lift smiled and said it was the heaviest it had snowed all season. He also said the reason the lift didn't open until after 11 a.m. is because of avalanche control work that Vail Mountain Ski Patrol had to complete before Blue Sky could open safely. He called this year's snowpack the worst he's seen in 25 years in terms of avalanche danger.
Cummings said he highly anticipated the opening of Blue Sky Basin this season because it was open so early last season.
"I'm extremely excited - should have brought my bigger skis, I think," Cummings said. "It looks awesome."
The terrain below Skyline resembled the snow-sparse terrain in the Sun Up and China Bowls from the partial terrain opening there Thursday - wind blown, with shallow coverage. Down the upper part of Cloud Nine, however, and down into Big Rock Park - the first piece of open terrain in Blue Sky Basin Friday - the scene was quite different.
"Epic day, really thick, lots of fun, lots of smiles," said Robert Short, of Boulder, who added that he was happy with the conditions in Blue Sky.
Big Rock Park and "select terrain in Pete's Bowl" opened Friday, and Vail Mountain said via its Facebook page that it hopes to open more Blue Sky Basin terrain next week if the forecasted snow makes its appearance.
Friday's conditions were fun, although there were still some stumps and branches sticking out back in the tree runs. Craig Madsen, of Denver, said it's easy to get stuck if you don't have big skis.
The general scene, however, was great, Madsen said.
"People are really excited - I've never seen so much new gear in my life," he said. "It was deep. I can't wait until they open more, when it's safe."
Safety has been the underlying theme in the Back Bowls this week, as signs warn skiers and boarders of "extremely variable conditions," and reports from skiers and riders in the Back Bowls on both Thursday and Friday prove the snow coverage is still disappointing to many. Some of the folks who made it to the Blue Sky Basin opening expressed disappointment on Vail Mountain's Facebook page Friday afternoon about the lack of safety Friday morning.
A couple of snow riders complained of a disorganized, unsafe opening when the ropes were finally dropped to let people back into Blue Sky. The complaints mentioned a lack of communication from the mountain operations crews to the skiers and snowboarders who wanted information, and an unorganized frenzy of snow riders trying to get back to the new terrain.
Other Facebook comments told the complainers to zip it.
"So sick of all the comments on here harassing Vail for things beyond their control," wrote Alexander Scharf.
Jordan Muir, who was at Blue Sky Friday morning, defended his complaints about the opening to those responding to him.
"Don't doubt that they do everything to open it and they do a great job, but a kid got skied over because everyone was so impatient because nobody communicated what was happening," wrote Jordan Muir. "All I asked for was a Facebook post (for updated information)."
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.