VAIL — If Buzz Schleper was in charge, Vail Mountain would be open already. Schleper’s a die-hard skier, so most years he’d open Vail early. But this fall, powder passion seems to be rising a little earlier than usual.
A combination of cool temperatures, and, more important, some decent early-season snow, has people looking forward to Nov. 22, Opening Day at Vail Mountain. The longtime owner of Buzz’s Boards in Vail Village and some of his friends are already getting in runs at Loveland and Arapahoe Basin.
“Some of the people I hang around with have almost 20 days in already,” Schleper said. “I’ve got five.”
In Lionshead, Double Diamond ski shop general manager Matt Carroll said he’s seen people in for boot fitting already this fall.
“Everybody’s really pumped so far,” Carroll said. “It seems early, for everybody, but we have a couple of decent accumulation (snowstorms) so far. Now we just want to keep it going.”
Here to stay
How early has the snow come? This past year — when the state remained mired in an abnormally dry pattern — the Vail Nordic Center didn’t open until Dec. 12. This year the center opened for skiing Nov. 3, since the Vail golf course was just about entirely covered with snow.
Nordic Center co-owner Mia Stockdale said there have been people out on the paths virtually every day, and about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of trails have been rolled.
The snow “has been holding up really well along the mountainside and in the shade,” Stockdale said. In an interview on Friday, Stockdale added that she’d had to walk a bit out on the trails that day, but that the course was fine.
“The enthusiasm is really up there,” she said. “It’s early, but people are hoping with the good early snow that it’ll stay around.”
Schleper, who came to Vail in 1972, said recent cool temperatures combined with good snow cover should keep this snow on the ground. And, he said, family members and friends have been talking about “feet” of snow in the higher elevations.
All this is good news, of course, especially after the past two winters. But it’s still nearly two weeks until Vail Mountain opens, and a lot could happen by then. For instance, there isn’t much in the way of snow forecast for the coming week.
All that leaves in question just what terrain Vail Resorts will open with on Nov. 22. Some years, Opening Day sees just the Born Free lift and a path of blown snow as the resort’s initial offering on Opening Day.
“I hope we’d have more than that,” said Liz Biebl of the Vail Mountain communications team. “So far Mother Nature has been very cooperative.”
Snowmaking started Nov. 1 at Vail, and Biebl said cold nights and relatively cool days have allowed the snowmaking to continue without little, if any, interruptions.
That same formula is working at Beaver Creek. Resort spokeswoman Jen Brown said snowmakers are going full-tilt on both resort runs and the “hybrid” World Cup race course that will host both men’s and women’s events in late November and early December. Both the men and the women may end up using the same course.
“We’re really focusing on that hybrid course, along with the main mountain for our guests,” Brown said.
Even if the sky opened up with feet of natural snow in the next week or so, it would be difficult, if not impossible to open Vail early, Biebl said.
“A lot of people aren’t back yet,” she said. More important, the resort is still finishing getting the annual safety certifications for its lifts.
While just about everyone is watching the forecast and the clouds, Schleper is hoping nature brings enough cold and snow to open a run or two out of Vail Village sooner than later.
“We don’t see any (business) in the village when just Lionshead is open,” he said.
That would be fine with the crew at Vail Resorts, too.
“We’re all hoping for more of the same (weather) we’ve had,” Biebl said.