Last season wasn’t longest in Vail Mountain’s history, despite claims |

Last season wasn’t longest in Vail Mountain’s history, despite claims

Officials claimed 2021-22 was longest ever, but recorded history shows otherwise

Skiers and snowboarders wearing an assortment of outfits line up at Gondola One in Vail on May 1, 2022. Vail claimed it was the longest season on record, but the claim turned out to be false.
Madison Rahhal/Vail Daily

Vail Resorts announced last week that its Tahoe-area ski resorts, including Kirkwood, Heavenly and Northstar, will extend their seasons after experiencing intense snowfall across the region this winter.

According to a press release, Heavenly will add three full weeks to its schedule, with a new closing date of Sunday, May 7. Northstar will add two additional weekends, remaining open Friday, April 21 to Sunday, April 23, and Friday, April 28 to Sunday, April 30. Kirkwood will also add two additional weekends, staying open Friday, May 5 to Sunday, May 7, and Friday, May 12 to Sunday, May 14. Northstar and Heavenly were originally scheduled to close for the season on Sunday, April 16, and Kirkwood on Sunday, April 30.

The moves follow season extensions across the West, including nearby Copper Mountain, which recently extended its season by two weeks, to May 7, and Steamboat Resort announcing in February that it would extend its season by a week, to April 16, for the first time in 30 years.

Last season, Vail announced a season extension in March, extending by one week to May 1. The move was touted by COO Beth Howard in the Vail Daily and other news outlets as “our longest season on record,” a claim which was accepted at face value.

In consulting the Vail Daily’s archives, however, Vail’s recorded history shows that last season was actually tied for the third-longest season ever at 171 days.

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Vail’s longest continuous season occurred during the 1997-98 season, when the mountain opened on Nov. 7, 1997, and stayed open all the way through May 3, 1998, for a total of 178 consecutive days.

Opening Day coverage from 1997, after Vail Mountain opened on Nov. 7, setting off what would go on to be the resort’s longest season.
Vail Daily archive
Vail’s longest continuous season occurred during the 1997-98 season, when the mountain opened on Nov. 7, 1997, and stayed open all the way through May 3, 1998, as documented in this May 4, 1998 edition of the Vail Daily.
Vail Daily archive

“In spite of a lean dose of the white stuff, May 3 is the latest regular-season closing day Vail Mountain has ever seen,” the Vail Daily reported on May 4, 1998.

Howard and other Vail Resorts officials later stated this season would boast Vail’s earliest start on record on Nov. 11, but later backed off the claim after the Vail Daily pointed out the error.

News coverage of that claim still persists, however, including a report from CBS Channel 4 in Denver touting the earliest opening on record in an interview with Kate Schifafi, the director of mountain operations at Vail.

Vail Mountain celebrated a new record for the earliest opening in history on Nov. 4, 1989, an event that was well-documented. Both the Vail Trail and the Vail Daily newspapers covered the 1989 opening, and it was well publicized in the Denver Post, as well.

The fact that the mountain remained open on a daily basis following Opening Day in 1989 was well documented, as well, as the Vail Daily continued to run pictures of skiers in the days to come. On Nov. 7, 1989, Erika Schroter and Joel Maki were pictured resting at the base of the Born Free lift “after skiing all morning Monday.” On Nov. 11, 1989, Liz Sunderland was pictured snowboarding on Born Free on “her fifth day of snowboarding this season.”

The front page of the Vail Daily from Nov. 1, 1991.
Vail Daily archive / Colorado Historical Society

But the celebration of Nov. 4 being the earliest opening ever was short-lived. Two years later, Vail celebrated an even earlier opening on Nov. 1, 1991. This was also well covered in the Denver Post, Vail Daily and Vail Trail newspapers.

The Vail Daily ran pictures of skiers on Born Free nearly every day in its ensuing coverage, and on Nov. 10, 1991, the paper featured a skier in deep powder on Kangaroo Cornice, proclaiming that chairs 2 and 4 had also opened for the season on Nov. 9, 1991.

After opening the Born Free Express lift on Vail Mountain on Nov. 1, 1991, the resort opened more lifts on Nov. 9, 1991.
Vail Daily archive

Early November openings continued to follow in the years to come. In fact, from 1989 to 1998, Nov. 11 would be tied for the latest opening.

A Vail Daily front page from 1998 shows a scene from the mountain’s Opening Day. The mountain opened on Nov. 9 that year and remained open until spring.
Vail Daily archive

Paul Testwuide was the managing director of mountain operations for Vail during the 1990s, and said Vail Mountain was never forced to close after opening for the season.

“It happened once at Beaver Creek,” Testwuide said. “But never at Vail.”

Testwuide was quoted in the Vail Daily in 1991 discussing the early opening in a Nov. 8, 1991, story about how more terrain was set to open at Vail the next day. By that point in the season, Vail had already received 52 cumulative inches of snow and the mountain was reporting “a base of more than two feet at the summit,” the Vail Daily reported.

“If you’re going to choreograph snowstorms for an early opening, you couldn’t do better than what just happened,” Testwuide told the Daily.

Allen Knox, for decades, wrote about many Opening Days in his “Tid Bits” column for the Vail Trail. Knox agreed with Testwuide, saying once Vail Mountain opened, it did not close again.

“If it did I would have probably put it in Tid Bits,” Knox said. “It was a column for happenings around town.”

Knox’s Tid Bits column, especially in the 1970s when there was no other paper in Vail, has proven to be the most public record of Vail Opening Days available today. Tid Bits, along with the rest of the Vail Trail newspaper, can be read for free from 1965 to 1992 on

With the advent of the Vail Daily in the 1980s, a second source of reporting can be found on the topic, in addition to the especially early years when the Denver Post would also publicize the opening. Vail Daily archives can be viewed at the Avon Public Library.

Vail Resorts has been asked on numerous occasions to share the official records.

Vail Mountain’s second-longest season occurred in 1995-96, when Vail opened on Nov. 11, 1995, and ran through May 1, 1996. That season was actually two days longer than last season’s Nov. 12, 2021, to May 1, 2022, season due to the fact that 1996 was a leap year.

Two other 171-day seasons occurred in the 1990s, the 1991-92 season, which included Vail’s earliest recorded Opening Day on Nov. 1, 1991 and ran through April 19, 1992; and the 1992-93 season, which began on Nov. 6, 1992, and ran through April 25, 1993.

If Vail were to extend this season by two weeks to May 7, as Copper recently did, it would be tied for the longest season ever at 178 days.

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