Die-hards open mountain
VAIL – It’s 6 a.m. on Vail’s Opening Day, and the stars are still out. An almost-full moon illuminates the mountain’s snow-covered trails and the quiet Vista Bahn. A snowcat comes down the catwalk and begins to groom the maze area, spinning, revving and beeping as it moves back and forth.Two dark lumps sit at the front of the maze area. They could be toboggans. They could be piles of fencing. But a head pops up from the dark pile – a sleeping bag, it turns out – wondering what’s making the racket.Brandon Jozwiak and David Wieder take their dedication to the mountain much farther than the average skier. Jozwiak, 25, of East Vail and Wieder, 26, of Minturn are camping at the Vista Bahn maze to get the coveted first chair.They arrived Friday morning at about 1 a.m., they say.
When other skiers start to arrive in the growing light at 6:45, Jozwiak and Wieder peek their heads out of the bags to say hello and remove their hands from the bag to shake hands.Jozwiak says he would rather sleep at the maze than try to get to the mountain just before it opens.”I’m not good at getting up in the morning,” he says.He’s probably leaving Vail after this season, so this is his last chance to do this, he says. Though the temperature seems to be near single-digits, he says it wasn’t too cold during the night. He rubbed his feet together a little when they got cold, he says.Jozwiak’s tele skis are stuck in the ground beside him, and his helmet lies beside his sleeping bag. Wieder, whose snowboard is also nearby, says this is a chance to prove his winter-camping mettle.”I think I earned my polar bear patch that I should have gotten in the third grade,” he says.
Sleeping with your bootsWith 11 lifts running on Vail’s Opening Day Friday, there is no one first chair up. The Vista Bahn, Chair 1, Chair 8 and the gondola all offer rides from the bottom of the mountain. But considering the runs that are open, the Vista Bahn offers the widest access to terrain.By 7:30, a crowd of skiers has gathered, but are pushed back outside the roped-off maze. Jozwiak and Wieder are allowed to stay at the front of the maze, awake but lounging in their sleeping bags. A thermometer in the lift house reads 10 degrees.Mountain managers assure Jozwiak and Wieder that their dedication has earned them the indisputable right to first chair. Employees who work on the mountain stream past the two men lying on the ground. They ask them if they really did sleep the night for first chair.The two campers are joined by their friend Heather Jochl, who brings them hot chocolate. “I was in bed by the time they got out here,” she says.Jozwiak starts to get out of his sleeping bag. “This is how you’ve got to do it – put your boots in your sleeping bag so they don’t freeze,” he says.
He also has his goggles in his bag so they won’t ice. Wieder retreats to the car for a moment to put away their sleeping bags. A little while later, the lift crew tells Jozwiak, Wieder and Jochl to get in position behind the rope. The rest of the skiers rush into the maze and line up behind the three first-chair riders.Johnny Kuo of Vail is lined up for the third chair. He doesn’t need the first chair up the Vista Bahn to get fresh tracks, he says.”We’ll beat them to Chair 4 anyways,” he says.’All these people are jealous’
The crowd grows until the maze is full and the line of people extends well past the ropes.”All these people are jealous of us now,” Wieder says.Standing at the front of the line, Wieder says the wait was worth it.”We’re much more excited now than we were nine hours ago,” he says.A lift worker drops the rope and Jozwiak, Wieder and Jochl hop on the first chair as a cheer goes up from the crowd.At the top of the Vista Bahn, skiers and snowboarders race for Chairs 3 and 4. The three from the first chair head for Chair 4. They don’t make first chair there, but are close to the front. At the top of Chair 4, they head for First Step in Northwoods Bowl. One at a time, they drop into the untouched powder, which is a little below the knees.
Wieder ends up taking three runs before he has to go to work at an architecture firm in Avon. Jozwiak keeps skiing, but also has to go into work in Beaver Creek in the afternoon.Wieder says the whole endeavor was a good experience.”It was definitely worth it,” he said.Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado