Opening-day crowd shatters records |

Opening-day crowd shatters records

Matt Zalaznick
Skier Jeff Robertson blasts oover a cliff and into waist deep powder on Vail's "Pipeline Trees" ski run Friday, November 15, 2002. The ski opens for the new season tomorrow Nov 16th., with incredible skiing and snowboarding conditions.
Jack Affleck | Vail Photo

Those very conditions Saturday made for the busiest opening day – by far – in Vail Mountain’s 40-year history, says Adam Aron, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.

Saturday’s crowd – 10,919 skiers and snowboarders – nearly tripled the previous record. Previously, the largest opening-day crowd was a mere 4,000-strong, Aron says.

“We wrote a new page in Vail’s 40-year history this past opening day with extraordinary snowfall, record open ski terrain and record skier visits,” Aron says. “We are experiencing the best early season snow conditions in 19 years.”

Eight feet of snow since October gave Vail Mountain more than enough snow to open a week early.

“It was the first time in Vail Mountain’s history that we have been able to open any of Vail’s legendary Back Bowls on opening day,” Aron said.

Including Sunday, 17,425 skiers visited Vail Mountain for opening weekend.

Skiers and snowboarders who rode Saturday said the lines were long, but uphill, some of the best snow conditions in years were worth the wait.

“There’s lots of powder,” said Vail’s Dave Matsy after taking a few runs Saturday. “The lines are pretty unbelievable out there, but the snow is worth it.”

Snowboarder Tom Randall said the lines Saturday were shorter once you got higher up the mountain.

“There’s a lot of snow and it’s some of the best we’ve had since “96,” Randall said. “Once you’re past the Vista Bahn, you’re good to go. You just have to be a little patient.”

“It was a bit of a happening, a frenzy, and we certainly hadn’t anticipated that,” says Bill Jensen, chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “We had 3,000 people at Lionshead and Vail Village at 8 a.m. Saturday.”

The rapidly swelling lines convinced operators to open the chairlifts early, shortly after 8:30 p.m.

“Some people said, “I waited in line for an hour-and-a-half.’ If you got there at 8 a.m., you probably did,” Jensen says. “The lifts opened at 20-of-nine and after that, it took about 40 minutes to an hour to get through the lines.”

The High Noon Lift –better known as Chair 5 – was reportedly crowded most of the day, but that lift –a hub of the Back Bowls – often gets busy on sunny weekends and powder days.

The sight of the bulging lines, however, did cause more than a few skiers and snowboarders to turn around and go home Saturday morning.

“I took one look at the line and gave up,” Boulder skier Doug Porter said while waiting for the bus back to his East Vail condo. “I’ll try again Sunday when the first day crowd has gotten their fix.”

Half Saturday’s number of skiers and snowboarders –or less than 6,000 –showed up Sunday.

Nearly half the mountain –2,300 acres – was open for opening weekend, but there will be a little more space on the slopes and three places to get onto Vail Mountain beginning Saturday, Jensen said, when the following lifts will open for the first time this season:

– Riva Bahn Express in Golden Peak, Chair 6.

– Tea Cup Express in the Back Bowls, Chair 36.

– Cascade Village, Chair 20.

– Highline, Chair 10.

Parking in both the Vail Village and Lionshead garages will remain free this weekend and until Nov. 27, the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Extra slope space this weekend also will be provided by Beaver Creek Mountain, which opens Saturday morning. Grouse Mountain, Larkspur Bowl and Rose Bowl will be open, along with the main mountain.

There will be a lot more room to ride Vail Mountain, too, come next week.

“We now know for sure that China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin will open Wednesday, Nov. 27,” Jensen says. “It’s just getting lift operators trained and final lift inspections and things like that.”

That means a record 5,000 acres will be open by Thanksgiving Day. Last Thanksgiving, only the intermediate Born Free run above Lionshead was open on Thanksgiving –after the opening was delayed about a week – and most of the snow was man-made.

Cars Saturday were stretched almost two miles, from the Vail Golf Course in East Vail to the Vail Cascade Resort in West Vail.

Jensen said Saturday was no busier, however, than a typically busy weekend at the height of ski season.

“My perception of all the lift lines were consistent with what we see during the season,” Jensen said.

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at

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