Blue sky smilin’ |

Blue sky smilin’

Stephen Lloyd Wood

Special to the Daily/Vail Resorts, Jack AffleckLocal pro Jimmie DeLong takes flight off Lover's Leap, one of Blue Sky Basin's most challenging runs. Vail opened the area Wednesday for its fifth season.

It’s probably just a coincidence opening day for Blue Sky Basin just happened to come on the 100th anniversary of human flight, as anyone who knows the area well knows that sensation is easy to come by back there.

Vail’s much-heralded expansion area, now in its fifth season, welcomed skiers and snowboarders to its 645 acres with butt-deep powder Wednesday. And if you were one of the lucky few to get there early – it does pay to ask the ski patrol – it was a powdery playground.

“It’s bottomless,” said skier David Edwards of Blue River, near Breckenridge, as he headed back up the Skyline Express Lift, Chair 37, for the third time before 9:30. “I cannot believe how deep it actually is.”

Edwards’ friend and fellow Summit County skier John Nuzzolillo said they’d come to Blue Sky Basin with four other people, from which they’d become separated in that all-too-well-known scenario known as “powder rules” – “nobody waits on a powder day.” They were stickin’ to their plan, however, of pushing around as much virgin snow as possible before heading back over Vail Pass.

“I’m making the commitment to learn how to ski powder,” said Nuzzolillo, smiling. “You just don’t get this stuff over in Summit.”

Early birds get the turns

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Edwards and Nuzzolillo were two of the relatively few skiers and snowboarders on the mountain early in the morning to head straight for the Skyline lift, which typically opens at 10 p.m. To their delight, mountain operations managers decided to open the high-speed quad an hour or so early, giving powderhounds so determined for fresh tracks a special treat: all of Blue Sky Basin to themselves.

“There was no line at all. I’m just glad we were there,” said Edwards, smiling and pointing at his own tracks down Encore, which he’d skied twice already. “It was epic.”

Those in the know headed straight for Iron Mask, a huge snowfield below the high, windy ridge that separates Pete’s Bowl from Earl’s. That’s where, typically, the best snow in all of Vail can be found – if you’ve the nerve to jump from the cornice.

Before the smiling hordes arrived Wednesday at about 10 a.m., very few tracks littered the light, deep Blue Sky powder, promising silky turns. One patch near where part of the cornice had fallen in – no doubt due to patrollers’ avalanche control work – was especially sweet.

Below, Iron Mask, as it descends into the trees of lower Pete’s Bowl, offered acres of untracked powder – as did two other wide-open, black-diamond tree runs, Little Ollie and Heavy Metal.

Deep in Resolution

From there, the requisite ride up Pete’s Express Lift, chair 39, to the highest point in all of Vail – at 11,570 feet – was in order, with a quick visit to Resolution before New Year’s. Knee-deep powder from there through Big Rock Park confirmed there are rewards for promises kept.

“Everybody’s been coming back with big smiles on their faces,” said David Bergman, a lift operator in charge of getting Vail’s newest chairlift, Pete’s Express Lift, Chair 39, up and running for the public Wednesday. “This is a fun lift to work.”

That’s where a smiling Felix Bull of London, 12, grabbed his ride to Resolution, having ripped down Heavy Metal with his mother, Katusha.

“Heavy Metal earned its name,” said the veteran skier, adding the powder was not easy to ski for him. “It’s really heavy.”

“We came over to Pete’s looking for more fresh tracks,” added his smiling mother, Katusha, saying her son has been skiing Vail for eight years already, as the family owns a condominium in town. “This is unbelievable.”

Back to the Back Bowls

Sure enough, by 10 a.m., the smiling masses arrived for their first visit to Blue Sky Basin this season. A line for Skyline soon developed, threatening to back up to the bridge over Two Elk Creek. Many of the early birds, therefore, opted to head back north, to the Back Bowls or even Vail’s Front Side, leaving leftovers.

“The powder was perfect,” said Matt Johnson, 20, a smiling Buckeye sophomore from the University of Ohio skipping class with 250 of his fellow ski club members. “To me, Blue Sky Basin basically means beauty, powder and fun – lots of fun.”

Johnson and his Buckeye buddy, 22-year-old Dan Wesner, a smiling senior studying mechanical engineering, had had their fair share of virgin powder by 10:30 a.m. or so. Seeking more solitude, perhaps, they headed back toward civilization on the Tea Cup Express Lift, Chair 36.

As more and more skiers and snowboarders arrived to rip Blue Sky Basin’s powder to shreds, the smiling “nose” of Genghis Khan, on the west face of China Bowl, seemed more and more inviting, as did Rasputin’s Revenge, over in Siberia Bowl, where not a creature stirred. Even Sun Up and Sun Down bowls were deserted, as just about everyone on the mountain appeared determined to carve their names in Blue Sky Basin on opening day.

The smiling early birds – after enjoying an hour or so of untracked snow – had the rest of the best of North America’s largest single-mountain ski resort to themselves by late morning.

“We went with the alternative plan,” Katusha Bull said as she and Felix headed out across upper Yonder, smiling.