Anyone with ski fever knows the feeling. It’s like an itch you’ve been trying to scratch for months, but you could never quite reach the exact spot.Finally, on a bright blue Colorado day in mid-October, the time is right. You pull off the highway and turn into the gravel parking lot, finding a slot close to the TV network trucks; channels 4, 7, 9, WB2 and RSN are all there. "Must be a slow news day," you think to yourself. It’s a quite a media circus, considering that it’s only one lift and one trail at one of the state’s mid-sized ski areas. But it somehow shows how deeply skiing and snowboarding are woven into economic and cultural fabric of Colorado. It’s a marketing show, too, but despite that, you’re happy to be here, part of the brotherhood, stoked to be up in the mountains on opening day.The Loveland lift operator punches the green button and Chair 1 rumbles to life, coughing, clanking and grinding into gear as the crowd lets out a good-natured cheer. You shuffle forward through the maze, get your ticket beeped and load up. The chair whisks you up. You’re not earthbound anymore, but floating up through the forest at squirrel’s-eye level.As tradition requires, a couple of red-coated ski patrollers lead the uphill procession, with bright-garbed acolytes of all the alpine sects following closely behind. There’s the Cult of Carhart, the Order of Perpetual Patagonia, the North Face Novitates and last, but not least, the Blessed Brotherhood of P-Tex and Duct Tape.At the summit, you pause for a respectful instant, drinking it all in the craggy peaks standing sentinel along Continental Divide, the muted shadows in the thick pine and spruce stands, the utter newness of the season. Just yesterday, you were mountain biking on a dusty trail in the foothills. Today, it’s the bliss of glisse.Some select just the right tune on a Walkman, while others simply skate down the cat walk and head full-tilt down the mountain, hungry for vertical after a long summer of abstinence.You point your skis toward the fall line. They drift lazily, but purposefully, as if possessed by a will of their own. Gravity and muscle memory take over and soon you are unleashed, gliding and carving, as close to flying as you’ll ever be with your feet still on the ground.You skid to a stop at the bottom, sending out spray of snow. There’s no doubt about it. The 2002-03 Colorado ski season is here, irrevocably, once and for all. After ceding opening day honors to Copper Mountain last season, Loveland again garnered national attention Thursday, Oct. 17, as the first ski area to open, claiming a 10 to 20 inch base of mixed machine-made and natural snow on a mile-long trail dropping about 1,000 vertical feet.As usual, Loveland’s snowmaking crews have done an excellent job of laying it down. An informal survey of the crowd elicits the usual range of adjectives, everything from "awesome" and "sweet" to "white," "cold" and "durable.""It’s great just to be out here," says Terry Carlin, a snowboarder who was headed from the East Coast to California and just happened to be driving by Loveland when he saw the lift start. "I thought they were just trying it out, but then I saw all the cars in the parking lot so I figured I better stop and check it out. This snow is nice. It’s way better than what you get in the early season back East. I think it’s because it’s colder or drier or something," Carlin says.Copper Mountain has also been making snow for several weeks and is still aiming for a Nov. 2 opening date, according to spokesman Ben Friedland. The resort has already covered one of its upper trails with snow and will host race teams during the coming weeks before opening to the general public.Keystone, traditionally among the first to open, has scheduled Nov. 8 as its opening date. The ski area started blowing snow Oct. 16, according to communications director Dawn Doty.Doty says snowmaking crews waited for consistently cold nighttime temperatures to begin operations with an eye toward conserving precious water in this dry year. A statewide drought has prompted intensified scrutiny of snowmaking operations at resorts around Colorado, and the colder it is, the less water is required for snowmaking.Locally, Vail is set to open Nov. 22, followed closely by Beaver on Nov. 23.Loveland is blowing snow on several other trails and is hoping to open additional terrain soon. Updates on conditions and ticket prices are on the Web at http://www.skiloveland.com or by phone at 1-800-736-3SKI.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.