Bring on the Back Bowls |

Bring on the Back Bowls

Matt Zalaznick
In all of their previous explorations throughout Colorado, Pete and Earl had seen nothing to match the Back Bowls, an almost treeless universe of boundless powder, open slopes, and open sky.

Banishing all memories of the slushy strip of beginner slope that opened the year last Thanksgiving, nearly half the mountain – including Sun Up and Sun Down bowls – will kick off this already powder-packed ski season three days from now.

And by Thanskgiving, almost the entire mountain will be open – a resort record, said Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain.

“I can say that Vail Mountain has never before had 5,000 acres of skiing open in the month of November,” Jensen said.

Vail Mountain will open three times the amount of terrain it originally planned to when officials made their recent –and rather popular – decision to open the slopes a week early. Approximately 2,300 acres of terrain will open Saturday, the most in the country, Jensen said.

And the ropes will drop, too, on two of the mountain’s most popular spots – steep China Bowl and rugged Blue Sky Basin. Right now, it’s mainly a matter of training lift operators, new ski patrollers and making a few other preparations, Jensen said.

“We’re saying it will be open by Nov. 27, but it could open earlier. It could open the day before, two days before or on Nov. 23,” Jensen says. “This will be the first first time ever our Thanksgiving visitors will have access to the entire mountain, including Blue Sky Basin.”

Having just about the entire mountain open by Thanksgiving is a milestone for the resort, which celebrates its 40th season this year. The whole mountain has been open by the end of November, but not since Blue Sky Basin opened four years ago. The slopes in Blue Sky Basin – an area meant to give skiers a safe taste of the backcountry – will push this November’s terrain totals over the top.

Valley veterans who’ve already hiked up for a few runs continue to rave about the early season snow on Vail Mountain. Mike Brumbaugh, who owns Venture Sports in Avon, quite favorably compared a hike he took to the eastern fringe of Vail Mountain a decade ago to a similar trek he took last week.

“I remember 10 years ago, I hiked up and skied Roger’s (Run) on Halloween,” he said. “I skied it again last week. It’s as good as it’s been since I’ve been here. I think the snow quality is a little better this year because it’s been cold.”

Roger’s Run is a narrow, bumpy double-black-diamond slope on the eastern edge of the mountain served by the infamous Chair 10.

Eight feet of snow have fallen on Vail Mountain since October, Jensen said.

The settled base half-way up the mountain at Mid-Vail is 32 inches with more than two weeks left to break the November record of 43 inches. Vail’s cumulative snowfall since the beginning of November has already surpassed the average snowfall for the entire month, and snow is expected Wednesday and Thursday.

Another major change this season is that local ski pass-holders won’t have to find something else to do on Thanksgiving weekend, when passes have traditionally been blocked. With almost all of Vail Mountain open and 950 acres open down the road in Beaver Creek, there should be plenty of space to accommodate the crowds, Jensen said.

“We were confident with Beaver Creek opening 950 acres and seven lifts that we have enough terrain to support anticipated skier numbers,” Jensen said.

Beaver Creek Mountain, which now has a 28-inch base, opens a week after Vail, on Nov. 23. Record snowfall has prompted dropping the ropes at Rose Bowl, Larkspur Bowl and Grouse Mountain – areas that typically open later than the main mountain.

And, Brumbaugh said, unlike last year’s Indian summer-induced apathy, locals this year can’t wait to get out on the hill – even if it’s in last year’s battered gear.

“My ski tuners are running almost around the clock right now. Everybody is jonesin’ to get their stuff,” he said. “A lot of people have some pretty hammered equipment from last year, but they want to get one more season out of it before they buy something new.”

Because parking this weekend will be free in Vail and Lionshead, mountain officials say they hope skiers and snowboarders will carpool to cut down on congestion, Jensen said.

“It’s not the sheer number of people, but we’re worried they’re all going to drive one car each,” he said. “To ease congestion –and for the environment –were encouraging people to car-pool.”

Opening the Back Bowls early is not unheard of, but it’s a treat from the ski gods that deserves the utmost gratitude, Brumbaugh said.

“It’s happened a handful of times,” he said. But it’s definitely a special occasion.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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