Fresh start on Vail Mountain |

Fresh start on Vail Mountain

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
CVR Vail Opens DT 11-19-10

VAIL, Colorado – Vail’s start to the 2010-11 ski season was almost surreal – every skier and snowboarder at the mountain seemed to be smiling because of the deep snow Mother Nature so kindly provided to Vail Mountain this last week.

The snow was the talk of the hill Friday at Vail. There was just so much of it that people were having a hard time believing it was an opening day in November, and not a spring-time powder day.

“Usually I don’t want to fight the crowds (on opening day), but it’s worth it today,” said Debbie Tyler, a snowboarder.

Vail Mountain announced Wednesday that it was doubling its opening day terrain from what was previously announced earlier in the week. Even resort officials were surprised at the amount of terrain they were able to open Friday.

Chris Jarnot, Vail Mountain’s chief operating officer, stood on the sidelines at the Vista Bahn chairlift Friday morning to watch enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders take to the hill for the first time this season. Their smiles were contagious.

Jarnot said this amount of terrain for an opening day doesn’t happen all that often. Mountain officials were expecting a good opening day, but by the time the snow really started coming down on Tuesday, they knew opening day was going to be one of the best in the resort’s history.

In the days since Tuesday, Jarnot said mountain operations crews have been working around the clock to prepare the slopes. It takes an enormous amount of work to get the mountain open, he said, especially when this much snow means crews need to prepare even more terrain than expected.

Grooming fleets have been moving snow around, while Vail Ski Patrol has been putting pads on every sign for skier safety. Many Vail Mountain employees got called in to work this week a lot earlier than their expected start dates, too.

“We have to be flexible and adjust,” Jarnot said.

The adjusting paid off. Skiers and riders could be heard hooting and hollering as they took their first turns of the season. And with nine chairlifts open, the crowds were dispersed across the mountain, leaving many runs wide open.

There was waist-deep powder on some of the steep runs to the west of the Wildwood Express lift, and plenty of soft, fluffy turns to be had pretty much anywhere that was open.

“The snow has been grand,” said Dustin Morgan, a snowboarder from East Vail. “There’s 6 inches of fresh anywhere you go, and deeper than that if you find the right spots.”

For the first time in many years, the opportunity for first chair was available to more than just four people. With the Eagle Bahn gondola, Born Free Express lift and Vista Bahn Express lift all open, several people got a taste of the first chair of the season.

Nick Mahaffey, of Minturn, arrived at the Born Free Express lift in Lionshead at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. He brought with him a North Face tent and arctic sleeping bag, and a positive attitude.

Mahaffey has lived in the valley for 10 years and said he’s always talked about getting the first chair of the season, but just never got around to actually doing it.

This year, he was determined.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Mahaffey said at 8 a.m., while still in his sleeping bag and eating a $1 breakfast burrito.

John Gorsky, of Eagle-Vail, also made it onto the Born Free first chair with Mahaffey, Andrew Rupczynski and Jared Saul. Gorsky was dressed up in a rooster costume, jokingly referring to himself as the “morning cock.”

He arrived at 7:30 a.m. and still made it onto the first chair – a bit of a sore subject for Mahaffey, who slept in temperatures that reached as low as 13 degrees overnight.

“I think it’s fantastic that he took one for the team,” Gorsky said.

Over at the Vista Bahn lift, two familiar first chair faces were also camping out overnight. Matthew Pauls, of East Vail, and E.C. Hoffman, of East Vail, camped out at the Born Free lift last year and got first chair, but this year they were excited about the chance to get first chair at Vista Bahn, a lift that’s not typically open on opening day.

They arrived at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, and brought a portable grill with them so they could cook bratwursts during the night. Hoffman, who works at Up The Creek, also got a delivery of short ribs and gouda macaroni and cheese from a co-worker Thursday evening. It was a lot better than the pizza they ordered last year, he said.

So why bother going to all that trouble just to say you were the first people to ride up the chairlift for the 2010-11 season?

Why not, the guys said.

“What else are we going to do?” Pauls said.

“We’re just excited and enthusiastic,” Hoffman said.

Last year, with one main run open and more brown than white visible around the mountain, opening day had a different feeling. People were excited as always, but people weren’t as optimistic or energetic.

And even last year – a season that began as one of the worst snow years in 30 years – turned out to be a great season, Jarnot said.

Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz, who also began opening day with a huge grin at the Vista Bahn lift, said the momentum is already building after this recent snowstorms.

“It’s going to be a great year. We could not ask for a better opening – it’s certainly one of the best openings I can remember in the last decade,” Katz said.

Friends Jim Johnson and Seth Jones, both from Denver, were in line early Friday to “make some memories.”

“We’re getting super eager to get some powder – we’re here to take on Vail, take on opening day,” Jones said.

It’s a La Nina year, meaning cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures send a lot of high precipitation storms into the Pacific Northwest. While Vail straddles likely La Nina northern and southern storm paths, the last La Nina winter in 2007-08 was one of Vail’s best snow years in recent memory.

Jarnot said he never forecasts the weather, though.

“I’m always optimistic,” he said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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