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"Counting the days’

Stephen Lloyd Wood

With a pair of opening days just around the corner, the talk around Vail and Beaver Creek is focusing more and more on what kinds of days they’re going to be.

Snow showers are expected to continue through at least next Friday, Vail’s seasonal debut, offering mountain managers there several options. But no significant dump looms on the horizon to rival last year’s 4 feet of fresh, untracked powder.

Nevertheless, locals are gearing up, looking forward to hitting at least some of the slopes they’ve only been able to gaze upon from the valley floor since April.



“Counting the days’

“Everybody’s real excited,” says Forrest Benson, who’s working on his fourth year at Performance Sports in Lionshead. “All this snow over the past couple of weeks has brought a lot of anticipation.”



Indeed, snowmaking operations have been going full-blast just about 24 hours a day for a week or so – and that’s generating quite a buzz around town.

“Now we’re just counting down the days,” says Benson, adding no matter what’s on offer opening day, it’s just great to be there. “We’re all looking forward to getting back on the mountain.”

Jen Brown, spokeswoman for Vail Mountain, says 37 inches of on-again, off-again snowfall has built up a mid-mountain settled base of about a foot as of Friday afternoon – including 6 inches that fell Friday morning – with additional accumulations expected today. The average total snowfall for November is 58 inches.



Snowmaking operations have been underway since Nov. 2 thanks to

temperatures in the teens and 20s.

For now, though, Vail expects to have the Born Free Express Lift, or Chair 8, open for skiers and snowboarders, starting at 9 a.m., Friday. Opening more lifts and terrain is still under consideration.

“Primarily, opening day will offer Lionshead skiing for all abilities,” says Brown. “If the weather is on our side, we receive additional snowfall and temperatures stay cold, we anticipate opening the Giant Steps Lift (Chair 1). We’re hoping for the Avanti Express Lift (Chair 2).”

“Every opening day is special,” she says, adding that free Starbucks coffee and a commemorative pin will be on offer near the Eagle Bahn Express gondola in Lionshead. “It really rallies the community.”

At The Beav

At Beaver Creek, which opens next Saturday, more than 7 inches of snow fell at mid-mountain early Friday morning, contributing to a settled base of about 20 inches. The resort – where the average snowfall total for November is 65 inches – already has has received 40 inches of snow at mid-mountain since Nov.1. Bode Miller, Daron Rahlves and other members of the U.S. Ski Team, as well as several other national teams, arrived this week to begin training and preparation for the Birds of Prey Men’s World Cup Downhill, Dec. 6 and 7.

Mountain crews, meanwhile, have been working around the clock preparing the Birds of Prey downhill race course on Golden Eagle for the racers, as well as other runs for the public on opening day. The Centennial Express Lift will be running, providing access to the Centennial ski run, as well as the Haymeadow beginners area. Like Vail, Beaver Creek may open more terrain, too, depending on conditions.

“We’ve been blowing as much snow as we can,” says Christina Schleicher, Beaver Creek’s spokeswoman, adding the resort is hoping to open Latigo, Gold Dust and Strawberry Park. “Our goal is to open as much terrain as possible, while keeping it high quality.”

The lift opens at 9 a.m., and free cookies will be on offer – as long as they last – beginning at 9:45 a.m., she says.

“Sloppy seconds’

Tony Ryerson, a full-time local since 1980 who taught skiing on Vail Mountain for five years, says he’s looking forward to the coming season – though not necessarily opening day. Unless conditions are like they were a year ago and more terrain is open, he’ll probably wait a day and hit the slopes at Vail over the weekend.

“I like hanging back. Sometimes it’s like the California Gold Rush up there on opening day,” he says. “I sometimes just wait for sloppy seconds.

“I typically don’t get real excited until they open the Back Bowls,” he adds.


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