Vail and Beaver Creek celebrate Opening Day with warm temps, soft snow
The wait is over.
The 2017-18 ski and snowboarding season kicks off at both Vail and Beaver Creek today. And while Opening Day conditions aren’t ideal, both resorts were buoyed by some much-needed snowfall Friday and then a surprise couple of inches of additional snow late Monday into Tuesday. The conditions didn’t damper the enthusiasm of those who showed up early this morning at both resorts to claim the coveted first chair:
Here was the scene at Beaver Creek about 2 1/2 hours before the lifts are scheduled to start spinning at 9 a.m.
By John LaConte | firstname.lastname@example.org
VAIL — Jennifer Natbony started guarding her first chair spot on Monday, Nov. 20. Cesar Hermosillo showed up at about 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21.
By 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22, a sizeable line had formed at Vail’s Born Free Express (Chair 8), threatening to crowd the bottom of the resort’s only open run and block the entrance to the Lionshead Gondola, which was offering free scenic rides.
So the decision was made to start early, with the first chair of the 2017-18 season traveling up Vail Mountain between 8:45 and 8:50 a.m. Natbony was already boarding the lift for her second run at 8:59 a.m.
“I’m glad they started a little early,” Hermosillo said. “I was stoked to get up there and get back on the snow at Vail.”
It was Hermosillo’s eighth consecutive year making Vail’s first chair. An avid powder skier, he said he enjoys taking early-morning turns at Vail, regardless of the conditions.
And conditions, while warm, were pretty good by most accounts. The warm weather was creating a soft surface to carve into, as opposed to the icy conditions skiers and snowboarders often find during the early season in Colorado.
And unlike many years, the sides of the runs were white, rather than brown. A few inches of fresh snow on Tuesday helped to make things look like winter, which is still about a month away.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is the forecast has several days of warm temperatures upcoming, which will make snowmaking a challenge. Highs could hover around 50 degrees this weekend, according to the National Weather Service. It’s not the type of weather that will promote more openings at Vail, but with Beaver Creek also opening on Wednesday, skiers and snowboarders in Eagle County do have options.
Golden Peak is also opened this week, with slalom skiers and freestyle jumpers enjoying training sessions at the practice arena, which, for the time being, is only open to professional athletes and club racers.
On Tuesday, Olympic gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin was seen skiing gates at the Golden Peak venue. Morgan Schild, a regular on the World Cup moguls podium, was also training at Golden Peak on Tuesday and Wednesday.
And over on Born Free, World Champion ski skier Andrew Kurka took a few runs as he readies for the 2018 Paralympics, where he has already qualified in the downhill. He was joined by fellow U.S. Paralympic athlete Josh Elliott, who lost his legs fighting in Afghanistan in 2011 as a member of the United States Marine Corps.
“We’re training in Colorado to get ready for Pyeongchang,” Elliott said. “We’ll be at Vail a bit and then we’ll also head over to Aspen.”
• The Born Free Express high-speed quad lift out of Lionshead Village will lead skiers and snowboarders to 45 acres of skiable terrain on the Born Free run.
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In addition, the Eagle Bahn Gondola will run from noon to 3 p.m. for now. That lift will take passengers on scenic rides up to Eagle’s Nest. The Marketplace at Eagle’s Nest will be open, as will the Express Lift Bar at Mountain Plaza in Vail Village. On-mountain restaurant The 10th will also be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Thanksgiving weekend. Reservations at The 10th can be made at http://www.the10thvail.com.
Ski school offices at Vail and Lionshead villages also will open today. The Small World Nursery at the Golden Peak Children’s Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Guests can book in advance at http://www.vail.com or by calling 970-754-8445.
Vail Mountain Nordic School at Golden Peak also opens today, with guided backcountry, snowshoe and cross-country ski tours. To learn more, go to http://www.vail.com or call 970-754-3200.
Lift ticket offices in Lionshead and Vail villages will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
AT BEAVER CREEK
By Krista Driscoll | email@example.com
BEAVER CREEK — The sun hadn’t yet poked its head over the Gore Range when “First Chair” Fred Hammond and his daughter, Sophie, 13, rolled out of bed on Wednesday, Nov. 22. Fred said they left their Eagle-Vail home around 4:30 a.m. to secure seats on Beaver Creek’s first chair of the 2017-18 season.
“We’re going to do Gold Dust today. We heard the party was at Gold Dust,” said Fred, cracking a joke about one of the two runs the resort opened to skiers for the inaugural laps of the season.
Fred has 23 ski resort Opening Days under his belt, most of which were at Beaver Creek — “probably the first couple were in Vail, and then I got smart,” he said. Sophie has racked up nine, but this was her first time making the pre-dawn trek to catch first chair.
As the clock slowly inched toward 9 a.m., dance beats cranked through the base area speakers and skiers and snowboarders filed into the mazes. The Centennial Express lift sat idle for a few more moments as Sophie Hammond was handed a microphone to do the honors of welcoming the crowd to the first tracks of the year.
Her remarks were short and to the point — “Have fun!” — followed by cheers and the final countdown: “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1.”
The lift fired up, and the chosen few shuffled forward to claim the first seats. Joining the Hammonds at the turnstile were fellow Eagle-Vail residents David and Madeleine Barenson. They’ve skied the better part of two decades’ worth of Opening Days as husband and wife.
“I like the pace here,” David said of Beaver Creek. “I like the fact that it’s not always hammered crowded. I like the people who work and ski here, and I like the terrain. … This is our home mountain, this is our community, so we represent.”
Madeleine said her record is 98 days skied in a season, and she’s aiming for 100 this year. She spent the summer cycling to get in shape for inevitable powder turns.
“I actually teach here part-time,” Madeleine said. “One of the great things about being an employee here in the summer is the bike haul. It’s fun to see the mountain with grass and flowers and see the trails from a different perspective.
“You realize how steep it is when you’re riding up.”
Madeleine stood shoulder to shoulder with Boulder resident Jon Lieber as the chair swung around to scoop up its first passengers. Lieber said his anticipation for the ski season begins early.
“It probably starts sometime in August,” he said. “I get slowly more amped up and it reaches a pinnacle right here and right now.”
He equated the experience to waiting for entry to general admission seats at Red Rocks.
“I thought it would wane, but over the years, it gets worse — or better,” he said. “It’s special to be out here with friends and family. It feels festive, like a holiday, even if it wasn’t Thanksgiving weekend.”
Rounding out the six-pack making its way to the top to crash through the Opening Day banner was Brian Cole, of Glenwood, who spent a little more than two hours in the early-morning queue to earn his chance to be one of the first on the mountain.
“First chair is a tradition,” he said. “These are the die-hard skiers that just enjoy being out here the first day.”
Not long after 9 a.m., Zach Rahn, of Denver, and Colin Schindler boarded the lift. Schindler was amped for his first turns at Beaver Creek as a newbie to the Vail Valley.
“I spent six weeks out here backpacking last summer, two weeks the summer previous, and each time it got harder and harder to leave,” he said. So the Beloit, Wisconsin, native packed up his things and took the plunge, landing in Eagle-Vail two months ago.
A friend helped Schindler get on his feet and land a job at Maya restaurant in Avon, and he’s been cramming in as much skiing as he can, routinely making the two-hour, round-trip drive to Summit County, sometimes only getting in three or four runs before turning around and making it back over the pass for work.
“The excitement is real,” he said.
Rahn, by comparison, is veteran of the Beaver Creek landscape. Having moved to Denver from New Hampshire 11 years ago, he now owns a second place in Avon and said there’s something special about the people in Avon and those who ski Beaver Creek.
“It’s fun to bring people who haven’t skied Colorado before or the West and take them up here,” he said.
Jeff Hochstadt, of Denver, was spending the day on the mountain with his three daughters — Julia, 12, Zoe, 9, and Maddy, 7.
“There is absolutely no better way to spend the day than on the ski slopes with my girls,” Jeff said. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
“We ski with mom, too, but she’s slower,” Zoe said, adding that she likes to go on the easy runs so she can go fast. “It’s fun to learn how to use poles and go swiggity swag around the mountain.”
• The resort’s 58 acres of terrain are on the Gold Dust and Haymeadow runs, served by the Centennial Express and Buckaroo Gondola.
• Beaver Creek’s annual World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Competition also is set for today. Five finalists will serve their creations to the public. The winner earns $1,000, and his or her recipe will be the official cookie at the resort for the coming season.
The judging begins at 2 p.m. Cookies are free, but the 5,000 cookies usually are eaten quickly. Winners will be announced at 3 p.m., which is also daily Cookie Time at Beaver Creek Village, so there are more cookies coming if you missed the competition.
• Beaver Creek’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony is set for Friday. The event features a holiday poetry contest, an ice skating show at the rink in the village and musical performances. There will be a visit from Santa and fireworks.
• The Spruce Saddle Lodge and Toscanini restaurants open today. The Beaver Creek Starbucks is already open.
• The ski school opens today and will operate four magic carpets for lessons. For more information, go to http://www.beavercreek.com or call 970-754-5300.
• Pass restrictions are in effect at both resorts on Friday and Saturday. Restrictions apply to Epic Local, Epic School Kids and merchant passes.