Opening Day draws brisk business in Vail, Lionshead
On the roads ...
Friday was a tough day for people driving Interstate 70 between Denver and Vail. Due to heavy snow and high winds, accidents and people driving off the road were reported throughout the day from Vail Pass nearly to Denver. Both eastbound and westbound lanes were closed on an off all day, including one closure that stretched from roughly Golden all the way to Silverthorne.
The National Weather Service is calling for clear skies and cold temperatures through the rest of the weekend.
VAIL — Opening Day always draws the skiing and boarding faithful. This year is a little different — and busier.
A healthy dose of early-season snow this week prompted Vail Resorts to announce the most Opening Day terrain in years. Lifts were open at both Vail Village and Lionshead.
“You should have seen the lines at the ticket windows here,” Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said. Brumbaugh’s shop in Vail Village sits close to Gondola One, and he said the excitement had the village buzzing Friday.
An afternoon phone call to the Red Lion in Vail Village confirmed that buzz. Speaking above the crowd noise, manager Nick Foster said the restaurant was doing “better than average” business on the season’s first day.
Of course, the first day of the season is usually a Lionshead thing.
“Having both base areas open helped everybody,” Foster said.
Many Hiking Up
Recent snow has been building the buzz even before the lifts started running. Brumbaugh said a number of his employees have been hiking up the mountains and skiing down for the past week or more.
“When you look at the tracks, it’s been a lot of people,” Brumbaugh said, adding that people have been renting gear to hike up, too.
“I’ve asking them if sparks are coming off their skis (due to bare ground),” Brumbaugh said. “But people are saying there are feet of snow up high.”
In Lionshead, Double Diamond Ski Shop general manager Matt Carroll has heard the same stories.
“We’re seeing more people than ever (hiking up) this year,” Carroll said. “We’ve always seen a random person or two in the past, but there have been days when 40 or 50 people will walk past.”
‘Conditions are just Great’
Carroll added that Opening Day crowds have generally been smiling as they walk past the shop.
“We’re hearing that conditions are just great,” he said. “It’s been since 1996 or something since Vail’s opened with this much terrain.”
At the parking structures in Vail Village and Lionshead, town of Vail parking manager Mike Rose said about 60 percent of the available spaces filled up Friday.
“That’s about normal for an opener,” Rose said, adding that the Lionshead structure has been a bit more busy than normal due to traffic from construction workers for projects at The Lion condominiums and an extensive renovation project at Vail Valley Medical Center.
Opening Day itself provided a jolt of excitement for businesses after a quiet several weeks, business owners and managers said Friday they were eager to see what the weekend and the coming Thanksgiving holiday might bring.
Meanwhile on the roads …
A snowy day over higher elevations Friday kept road crews and emergency service agencies bustling. With sunny, dry weather in the forecast, Carroll said he expected bigger crowds for the weekend.
“I think Saturday will be huge,” Carroll said. “It’s been dumping here all day.”
That early snow might also drive traffic for Thanksgiving, which can be something of a hit-and-miss holiday.
“We’re never guaranteed anything for Thanksgiving,” Carroll said. “But right now we have a ton of (gear) reservations.”
While day skiers often come for a ski holiday, the first weekend and first holiday of ski season generally aren’t terribly busy for local lodges.
“We’ll just have to see how it goes,” Holiday Inn Vail general manager Bob Kapor said. “I presume a lot of people from the Front Range will come. With all this terrain open, we should see something good.”
That good news will last as the snow comes. There’s more to come in the National Weather Service’s seven-day forecast for Vail, but not until Wednesday.
“Whoever’s doing the snow dance this year needs a raise,” Brumbaugh said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.