VAIL, Colorado - The opening ceremony for Vail's new gondola, One, is still on for Friday morning, although gondola rides to Mid-Vail will not provide access to ski terrain yet.
Vail Mountain reported 14 inches of new snow out of the storm that came through the state over the weekend. It was a nice boost considering October had been mostly warm and sunny, but not enough for vast terrain openings on day one of Vail's 50th anniversary season.
Vail Mountain announced the Born Free Express (Chair 8), the Eagle Bahn Gondola (Chair 19) and the Little Eagle (Chair 15) are scheduled to open Friday, along with One, the new gondola that replaced the Vista Bahn chair lift, for a ceremonial opening. Guests can ride One to Mid-Vail until 3:30 p.m., and free hot chocolate, cookies and limited edition commemorative pins will be given out while supplies last. The new gondola is scheduled to open for regular operations at the end of next week and will not be open again until then, according to a statement from Vail Mountain.
Born Free is the only run set to open Friday, but there will also be beginner terrain in the Eagle's Nest area available. Skiers and snowboarders who take the Eagle Bahn gondola to the top of Eagle's Nest will have to download, however, as top-to-bottom terrain is not yet available. Eagle's Nest will be open for on-mountain dining.
The Born Free Express is scheduled to open at 9 a.m., a half-hour after the ceremonial opening of One.
"We're excited to kick off Vail's 50th anniversary season on Friday morning with the grand opening of One, our new gondola in Vail Village and with skiing and snowboarding out of the Lionshead base," said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "This would be our typical Lionshead opening except this year we're also christening our great new gondola in Vail Village and allowing foot passengers to come out for a first ride."
The new gondola can haul 3,600 skiers and snowboarders per hour, 40 percent more people per hour than the Vista Bahn chairlift could transport. It travels at 1,200 feet per minute and is the fastest gondola of its kind in the world, according to Vail Resorts. Each cabin holds 10 passengers, has heated seats and free Wi-Fi access.
As Jarnot watched the gondola towers being flown in by helicopters in October, he smiled as he imagined what skiers and snowboarders would think of it.
"It's going to be an amazing lift. I think people are going to be really excited when they see how well it works and how nice it is," Jarnot said.
And while Jarnot said it's always the goal to open the entire mountain on opening day, early season snow conditions don't necessarily tell a story about what the rest of the season's snow will look like.
During the 2007-08 season, opening day was dry and warm. Both Vail and Beaver Creek delayed their openings for a few days in order to make more snow. But then, in December, the snow started falling and it didn't seem to stop. Big snowstorms continued to roll through the area into April. The season was one of the best on record for both resorts in terms of snowfall.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center reported in October that a wavering El Nino has made this winter "one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Nino decided not to show up as expected," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.
"This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations," the National Weather Service reports. "Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance."
Vail Mountain lifts will open at 9 a.m. throughout the early season to accommodate early-morning operations. Vail Mountain asks that all skiers and snowboarders observe all posted signs and closures, especially during the early season.
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.