High times on Highline | VailDaily.com

High times on Highline

Stephen Lloyd Wood

Under brilliant blue skies, three of Vail’s most famous ski trails – Highline, Blue Ox and Roger’s Run – opened for the season, served by the old, revered Highline Lift, or Chair 10.

“We’re after untracked powder, and we knew it hadn’t been open yet,” said Bruce McGavin, who was waiting with those in the know for the Riva Bahn Express Lift, Chair 6, to open at 9 a.m., as it is the most direct way to Chair 10. “But we didn’t know the locals had already been up there.”

Leftover powder

Indeed, since Northeast Bowl opened last week, hardcore skiers and snowboarders had been hiking to the top of Chair 10 and tracking up Highline, Blue Ox and Roger’s, which face north and, therefore, typically offer well-preserved powder. The Vail Ski Patrol also had access to the area.

Still, Thursday was a relatively rare opportunity to ski Highline’s steep, 1,500 vertical feet without any moguls, which are formed as skiers descend the slope, carving the snow into distinct, round bumps. Vail typically does not send snowcats to groom Highline, meaning the moguls tend to grow over the course of the season into huge bumps the size of a small car. For that reason, by mid-season, Highline is known as a mogul skier’s haven.

“Highline,” in fact, is a logging term referring to a pulley rigged to the top of a tree through which a cable, or highline, is hooked to an engine to haul trees out of the woods. The Highline Lift, a fixed-grip two-seater manufactured by the Riblet company, was installed in 1973. With a one-way ride time of about 17 minutes – one of the longest chairlift rides around these days – it can carry up to 1,150 people an hour to the top.

But typically that many skiers and snowboarders may take the old chairlift in an entire day, or even a week.

Joel Urgo, a lift operator assigned to run the Highline Lift, helped seat a steady stream of mostly skiers – and few snowboarders – onto the double-wide chairs Thursday.

“This is pretty much a locals’ chair,” he said. “And it’s got a great view from the top.”

“A lot of pitch’

“Being on Highline this early in the morning?” added Ron Davis of Edwards, who was on the mountain with Pepi Gramshammer’s Wedel Weeks program. “I typically don’t ski over here, but there’s a fair amount of soft powder and there’s a lot of pitch. It was almost untracked all the way down.”

Davis said he’d had one of those “benchmark runs” Thursday, one in which you make it all the way down “without stopping or crashing.”

“That was fantastic, really good progress,” he said. “I’ve a very specific objective here, as I’m married to a world-class skier who’s trying to become a world-class golfer.”

“First chair’

Pete Lubin of Silverthorne drove over Vail Pass early this morning to be on the Highline Lift’s “first chair.” Inspecting the conditions on the way up, he said he loves the “unconsolidated snow” of the early season as new terrain opens.

“Multi-layered, real live mountain snow. This’ll be really fun. But beware,” he said before heading for Blue Ox, which had been groomed earlier this month, providing a much more solid base on which the recent stuff could lie. For that reason, Blue Ox – named for the lumberjack folk hero Paul Bunyan, whose ox, Babe, turned blue during the “Winter of Blue Snow” – was an easier ski Thursday than Highline.

Lubin said he’s been taking the Highline LIft for 25 years. It used to be the best way to get to the Back Bowls, he said, when the old Chair 6 went only to the top of Golden Peak.

“This was my start on the mountain for years,” he said. “Back then, it was chairs 6, 10 and 14 to the top of Yonder. If you did that, you were guaranteed first tracks.”

Waxing sentimental

One of Lubin’s favorite tours of Vail, he said, was to ski the “PPLs,” Prima, Pronto and Log Chute, then Highline and Blue Ox before taking Roger’s Run to the Northwoods lift, Chair 11 – and doing it all over again.

Riding up the Highline Lift for the first time of this season on Thursday, Lubin was waxing sentimental.

“Chair 10 is a venerable old thing. Someday I’m sure they’ll replace it with a high-speed lift; it’s the progress of time,” Lubin said. “This is a long, slow, cold lift, and it serves such long, demanding runs. But to tell the truth, sometimes you need the rest.”

By 11 a.m., Highline and Blue Ox were pretty darn tracked up. It was the perfect time to get out of there, take Roger’s Run to Northwoods and call it a morning. Roger’s Run, by the way, had been groomed Wednesday night.

Lead: Blue Sky Basin, China and Siberia bowls open next week

Daily Staff Report

The winter season really kicks into high gear next week, as consistent snowstorms and cold temperatures have created the perfect recipe to open Blue Sky Basin and portions of China and Siberia bowls earlier than scheduled.

Typically, Vail makes plans for opening the Back Bowls and the expansion area by Christmas.

Two Elk Restaurant will open on Monday along with portions of China and Siberia bowls. Then on Wednesday, Blue Sky Basin will open for the season.

With the opening of China and Siberia bowls, Vail will have more than 3,000 acres of terrain available for skiers and snowboarders, accessed by 29 lifts including:

– The Orient Express Lift, Chair 21.

– The Tea Cup Express Lift, Chair 36.

– The Sourdough Lift, Chair 14.

– Two surface platters.

When Blue Sky Basin opens Wednesday, the resort will have more than 3,400 acres to ski and ride, accessed by 31 lifts, including:

– Pete’s Express Lift, Chair 39.

– The Skyline Express Lift, Chair 37.-

With these openings, the resort also has moved up its operating hours providing a longer day on the slopes. Beginning Monday, lifts at Vail will open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 3:30 p.m.

Also beginning Monday, the single-day, walk-up lift-ticket price will be $73 for adults and $42 for children 5- to 12-years-old.

For more information, visit http://www.vail.com or call the Vail Activities Desk at 476-9090.

Support Local Journalism