Season starts knee-deep S and deeper |

Season starts knee-deep S and deeper

Matt Zalaznick

“This year opening day is going to be sick,” said local slope-star Eric Archer, one of a few lucky dozen who got a sneak ski-view of Vail Mountain’s deep powder Friday. “People are not going to believe it when they get to the top and see how deep the snow is.”

After a distressingly dry summer, 9 to 10 feet of snow have fallen on the slopes since the beginning of October, allowing the mountain to open a week early today with the kind of powder day that was awfully scarce last season.

“The last few years I haven’t been out until December, but this is amazing. Especially on tele-skis, it’s up to my neck,” said Alice Plain, a golf pro and part-time ski model who hit Sun-Up Bowl for a film shoot Friday.

Ski season kicks off this morning at 9 a.m. at the Vista Bahn Express in Vail Village and the Eagle Bahn Gondola and the Born Free Express lifts in Lionshead. Nearly half the mountain – 2,300 acres – is open, including Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls.

That’s a dizzying increase from last year when Vail Mountain opened only the intermediate run Born Free – with mostly man-made snow – on Thanksgiving Day, a week behind schedule.

“I’ve been here 13 years and I can’t remember it snowing so much in November – and it’s still coming down,” said Plain, as she prepared to make some turns through the trees on Yonder in Sun Up Bowl. “It’ll be great to have the Back Bowls open. It sure puts everyone in the valley in a good mood. We really needed this.”

And the powder was so light and deep in Sun Up Bowl that cruising through the trees truly was like floating. It was close to effortless. The light snow, however, made for some blind skiing in some spots – in other words, it was hard to pick out the contours and bumps in the slopes.

Those of us headed home for Thanksgiving will miss first tracks in two of Vail Mountain’s most popular spots. By the Nov. 27 holiday, almost the entire mountain – including China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin – is expected to be open.

And that was the plan before almost another foot of snow fell on the slopes Wednesday and Thursday nights in a hefty storm not predicted by the weather forecasters.

“It’s deep, light and fluffy,” said Brian Doyon, another skier being filmed in the photo shoot. “It’s like mid-season conditions. This is the earliest I’ve seen this much snow in nine years.

“And with the Back Bowls open,” he added, “it’s going to spread the crowds out and keep the powder fresh for everybody.”

A light snow continued falling Friday afternoon, laying another few inches for opening day. Other lifts running include Avanti Express, the Mountain Top Express, Wildwood Express, and Back Bowl chairlifts 5 and 17, among a few others.

“It’s awesome, it’s stellar, it’s outstanding,” said Matt Riddock, a skier who launched off the cliffs on South Rim for a separate photo shoot. “It’s better now than it was mid-winter last year. I was born and raised in Colorado and this is probably the best early season conditions I’ve seen in my entire life.”

Alex Moeller, a snowboarder riding with Riddock, said the snow was better Friday than any day in the last two years.

“It’s super soft, perfect, light snow,” Moeller said. “It’s bottomless.”

Skiers and snowboarders are likely to get a little confused over the time of year, as the ski gods seemed to have leapfrogged early-season and hopped straight to January.

“When people see this they’re going to forget what time of year it is and just start charging,” Archer said. “These are some of the best conditions we’ll ever see.”

But the powder may not give folks time to ease back into skiing this season. Thighs are going to burn today.

“You’re going to have to ski yourself into shape this year,” Archer said.

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