Dash to opening day
But two Colorado ski resorts – not Vail or Beaver Creek, alas – don’t want to force any skier or snowboarder to hike. Loveland and Arapahoe Basin mountains want to start their lifts as soon as the snow falls – whether its dumped by Mother Nature or man-made snow-blowers – and soon as it’s cold enough for the snow to stick.
The two mountains, practically next-door neighbors on the Continental Divide, already are making snow, each gunning to be the first to open this ski season.
“As soon as it’s cold enough and we have enough snow on the ground, we’re going to open,” says Leigh Hierholzer, spokeswoman for Arapahoe Basin, which closed on July 2 – little more than three months ago.
Around the corner, Loveland could open sometime next week, says marketing manager Ainsley Kasten.
“We’ve been blowing snow, and only in the last few days has it been accumulating,” Kasten says.
“But we’re not going to jeopardize quality just to open first,” she says. “We’ll open with 1,000 vertical feet, completely covered with a 1- to 2-foot base so people can bring brand new skis out.”
While Vail Mountain this year was once again ranked the No. 1 resort in North America by SKI magazine – though only fourth by Skiing magazine – the resort doesn’t plan to open the slopes until Nov. 21. Locals say they’re not upset Vail isn’t in the race to open first, but it’s a sure thing there will be skiers and snowboarders on the slopes before the official opening day – blizzards willing.
“Opening day is never set in stone,” says Scott Clemmer, a local skier and ski tuner.
Clemmer wasn’t predicting Vail Mountain will open early –though it did last season – only pointing out local skiers and snowboarders never wait until the lifts start running to make some turns on the best –or fourth best – ski mountain in the universe.
“I’ll hike up there when it starts snowing,” says Clemmer, who works at Kenny’s Double Diamond ski shop in Lionshead.
Last season, the mountain opened early during a barrage of powder days. And snowboarder Ethan St. Germaine says Vail Mountain usually opens at the right time.
“I like it when we open – it gives us a chance to get good coverage of snow,” says St. Germaine, who works at Buzz’s Boards in Vail Village. “When it’s a good dump, we get deep snow on opening day.”
Mike Brumbaugh, a co-owner of Venture Sports, says a few months off from skiing is good for the toes, anyhow.
“You need three months of your feet not being in ski boots for all the sore spots to heal,” he says.
Clemmer says most of his toenails have grown back.
“But they never really grow back, too well,” he says.
Vail Mountain considers Thanksgiving, not Columbus Day, the ideal holiday on which to open the slopes, says spokeswoman Jen Brown.
“For Vail and Beaver Creek, our primary customers are destination visitors and, really, the first opportunity to see the destination skiers and snowboarders is Thanksgiving,” Brown says. “If Mother Nature is good to us we consider opening early, like last year.”
Vail Mountain is more concerned with the quality of the skiing than quickness of opening the slopes, she says.
“It’s about the product. We like our product in tip-top shape and Vail, in the third-week of November, is a good time to open,” she says. “We always hope and anticipate the snow will be wonderful.”
Emily Jacob, a spokeswoman for Beaver Creek, said that aside from the shortage of altitude, Beaver Creek Mountain is almost too busy to open to the public before the scheduled date, Nov. 22.
The first skiers on Beaver Creek Mountain will be several teams –including the U.S. Ski Team – that will use its steep slopes to train. That will be followed by the mountain’s opening and then quickly by the annual Birds of Prey World Cup downhill.
“Our resources are maxed in trying to do three things: training, the world cup and then getting the mountain up and running and ready to go,” she says. “We are focused on quality.”
Jacob says Beaver Creek doesn’t lose any prestige from not being in the race to open first.
“The best is worth waiting for,” Jacob says.
Brumbaugh says the local economy gets a kick from the two mountains –about an hour to the east of Vail –opening early.
“I think it gets everybody excited. We had 10 people walk in the other day saying, “Did you hear Loveland’s opening tomorrow?'” Brumbaugh says. “When they announce they’re opening, we get more business.”
Hierholzer says Arapahoe Basin hasn’t yet set an opening date.
“We can’t predict the weather and we don’t want to disappoint anybody by not opening on a certain date,” she says. “As soon as we know, we’ll let everyone know.”
There is snow on the higher peaks above Arapahoe Basin, but not much on the actual runs, she says.
“We have six small piles of snow,” she says.
This will be the first season Arapahoe Basin is at 100 percent snow-making capacity, begging the question: Does that mountain ever have to close?
“We’ll have the longest ski season in Colorado, and one of the longest in the nation,” Hierholzer says. “But it’s not our intention to be open year-round.”
Arapahoe Basin did stay open until Aug. 10 one year.
Kasten says the race to open first is far less nasty than either the California recall race or the presidential election. It’s more like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battling a few year ago for the home run record, she says.
“It’s a friendly competition,” she says. “As a whole, it’s a great little thing for the ski industry.”
And the ski resorts are certainly not refusing to speak to each other, Hierholzer adds.
“We banter back and forth on a daily basis,” she says.
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.