VAIL — Michael McBee, of Dallas, wasn’t expecting to ski knee-deep powder at this time of year — and he certainly wasn’t expecting to be doing it in Vail’s Back Bowls.
McBee and other skiers and snowboarders were treated to fresh tracks on Sun Up and Sun Down bowls Thursday morning when Chair 5 began operation at about 9:30 a.m.
“It’s phenomenal,” said McBee, who frequently visits Vail. “There’s great powder, and I hit the glades. The snow is absolutely amazing for this time of year. I actually didn’t know (the bowls) were going to open, or I would have brought my powder skis. I was just hoping for the whole front face to be open, but I got up here today, and they said Chair 5 was open. I hit some snow up to my knees this morning.”
The mountain now has 2,000 acres of open terrain, and the resort hopes to open portions of China Bowl by Saturday. Lift operating hours will also be extended beginning Saturday by a half hour in the morning. The majority of lifts will open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m. Lift operating hours are posted at the base of all open lifts. The Back Bowl debut comes more than a full week earlier than last season, thanks to a winter storm that brought more than a foot of snow to Vail last week.
“The start of the 2013-2014 ski and snowboard season in Vail has been fantastic,” said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “To be adding the Back Bowls to the mix and rolling back operating hours in time for the Christmas holiday is a huge benefit for our guests and something that continues to set Vail apart from the industry. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to open even more terrain soon.”
Beav’ opens three areas
Beaver Creek also plans to vastly expand its open terrain this weekend with the opening of Grouse Mountain, Larkspur Bowl and Arrowhead beginning Saturday. That means 77 percent of its terrain and 23 of 25 lifts will be open. Skiers will gain 30 minutes more to play on the slopes beginning Saturday when lift operating hours shift to an 8:30 a.m. opening for the remainder of the season.
“Our teams at Beaver Creek have done a remarkable job of preparing the mountain and our facilities as quickly as possible, capitalizing on great early season snowfall and snowmaking conditions,” said Doug Lovell, chief operating officer for Beaver Creek Resort.
All on-mountain restaurants will be open for the season on Saturday, including Talons Restaurant and Broken Arrow at Arrowhead. The new Talons Restaurant celebrates its grand opening on Saturday serving hearty fare from its new alpine-inspired menu beginning at 11 a.m. Beano’s and Zach’s cabins will begin dinner service today.
Terrain park enthusiasts can visit Park 101 which has 19 beginner features including jumps, boxes and rails. Nordic skiers and snowshoers will have 25 kilometers of dedicated trails to explore in McCoy Park starting this Saturday. Beaver Creek’s Ski School will also be offering private and group lessons for adults and kids.
Good for business
All this early season snow is also helping out local businesses, and an early Back Bowl opening always reflects well with potential guests, said Chris Romer, CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.
“Snow is a big, big part of booking and makes a difference for the early season leading up to the holidays,” said Romer, adding that following last week’s snowstorms, bookings are up considerably compared to last year.
Good early season snow not only encourages last minute vacationers to book their trips, but also makes for a better experience once guests are here, he said.
“The under appreciated part of this is the morale, attitude and vibe in town is much more positive when there’s good snow and the Bowls open this early,” he said. “That’s a better experience for guests even if they don’t ever go back there. The other aspect of this is that it alleviates the fears of some guests who aren’t sure how the snow will be.”
According to the Partnership’s numbers and sales from the booking site www.vailonsale.com, the number of guests booking trips is up “double digits” compared to last year. The numbers so far are also beating the winter of 2009-10, a record snow year.
“We’re ahead of pace in mountain conditions, and that shows in the lodging,” Romer said.
That’s certainly been the case for visiting Australians Jordan and Marryn Summers, who were on their last day of skiing on Vail Mountain when Chair 5 opened. On Thursday morning, they were headed for the Bowls, which they heard is known for deep snow and beautiful views.
“The skiing has been absolutely fantastic. The snow’s been incredible, and the terrain is so diverse,” said Jordan Summers. “Now I see why people ski here. We’ll definitely be coming back.”
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at email@example.com.