Snow storm slacks off Sunday – slope preparation and Season anticipation picks up
Early slopeside fun equals high hopes for ski season
Richie Burgland, a newcomer to Vail, can’t wait for the lifts to open Friday – one week ahead of schedule.
In fact, the newcomer not just to Vail but also to skiing, is one many powder poachers who have been hiking up Vail Mountain too impatient to wait for the lifts to start running.
“I’m eager to learn,” said the 23-year-old newly-minted ski bum Sunday.
Burgland, who works at the Ritz Carlton and moved to Vail one month ago, said that his first experience skiing down to Golden Peak was a memorable one.
“I pretty much just tumbled down,” he said. “It was – I guess – powder but it was sort of crusty on top, and I kept crossing my skis.”
Burgland, who remembers skiing in Illinois as a 10-year-old “on big hills” is excited to pick up a serious skiing habit this winter.
“The skiing was the perk for coming out here,” he said, adding hiking up the hill and it is hard work.
“I’m still trying to get used to the cold air here. It just takes your breath away.”
Breathtaking indeed is the scenery higher up on Vail Mountain said Julie Rust Sunday.
“It is gorgeous from wall to wall, absolutely gorgeous,” said the director of Vail Ski Patrol, who has skied the mountain several times already.
“These are the best conditions I have ever seen, and I’ve been here since ’79,” Rust said.
Understandably to Rust, poachers have been swarming the mountain and that isn’t a problem she says.
But those hiking up as well as skiing down need to keep their heads up and be mindful of the fact that Vail Mountain “is pretty much under construction at this point,” she said.
With less than five days to go – slopeside preparations are “growing exponentially,” Rust says, and won’t stop for one minute until Friday morning 9 a.m.
From food service workers setting up restaurant kitchens to snowcat drivers compacting snow and from lift operators building ramps to mechanics inspecting every screw, the mountain is full of obstacles – dead, alive or gas-powered.
“Everything is pretty much groomed from Simba to Northwoods,” Rust said, “but the lower portions still need some work and there are areas that haven’t been worked on yet where the snow is really soft and you don’t know what’s underneath.”
So far, Rust said, no one has been hurt to her knowledge and while ski patrol is prepared, ski fanatics shouldn’t count on fast help until the mountain is officially open.
“It’s pretty much like backcountry skiing right now – you have to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Early-bird skiers looking for powder specials should avoid cats and any snow-making machines at work. “There are hoses and pads and things. It’s tricky skiing right now,” Rust said.
Describing the mood on the mountain, Rust said, is easy. “Everyone is thrilled. Everyone is busy but really excited.”
Bill Jensen, Vail Mountain’s chief operating officer, is excited too – hoping for an early record season.
With seven feet of snow on the ground so far – fallen snow, not compacted snow – the settled base at Mid-Vail is inching towards the all-time November record of 43 inches.
So far the settled base at Mid-Vail stands at the 25 inch mark and 36 inches atop Vail Mountain.
The weekend’s storm system added another 16 inches of freshly fallen snow, Jensen said.
“If weather patterns don’t significantly change for the next three weeks we certainly have a very good chance at breaking the November all-time record for snowfall,” he said.
While lifts won’t run any earlier than the already earlier-than-expected Nov. 16 date, Jensen said, mountain operations supervisors will sit down today and “assess the snowfall and the snow-making progress and see what we may open up, besides the 763 acres of terrain and the six lifts we announced last week.”
With more than 30 runs eyed for grooming, this could be the most terrain Vail Resorts has ever opened up on the first day of any ski season.
Roads a slippery slide
While the storm made for serene rides for powder poachers, icy road conditions and poor visibility made Interstate 70 a much sloppier scene Saturday and Sunday.
Brian Jordon, Colorado State Patrol spokesman, said Sunday that about 60 accidents had been reported between Vail Pass and the Front Range throughout the weekend.
“We had to close the highway several times for a cleanup,” he said. “The accidents ranged from minor fender benders to roll-over accidents that took a little bit longer to take care off.”
Vail Pass was closed for several hours Saturday afternoon and again Saturday evening from 6:30 for about four hours. said State Patrol Sergeant George Dingfelder of the patrol’s Dowd Junction troop.
“We did close the pass down mainly because of poor visibility and heavy snow on the road,” he said. “And we did clean up after some accidents and we did have some semis sliding around without chains.”
Troopers wrote as many as 25 tickets to truck drivers found to scale or descend the pass without proper tire attire.
Dingfelder said Sunday that chain laws went into effect for Vail Pass Friday evening and would likely remain for most of the weekend.
“What we find is that a lot of out-of-state truckers don’t even have chains,” he said. “Most of them are from California.”
An Avon man in the meantime got in trouble for not moving at all, once the pass opened again Saturday night around 11 p.m.
“We couldn’t get through traffic once we opened the pass, we finally worked our way up to Vail pass and found a driver – a very intoxicated driver – passed out in his vehicle blocking the left lane of traffic,” Dingfelder said.
“He got a free taxi ride to the Eagle County Jail,” he said of the 25-year-old Avon man, who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
“He was attempting to go to Denver,” Dingfelder said. “He shouldn’t have been on the road at all.
In all, Dingfelder said, the precarious road conditions of this weekend resulted in seven collisions on I-70 and U.S. Highway 6 and 24, between Vail, Minturn, Red Cliff and Gypsum.
“There was nothing real serious, no major injuries, they were mostly fender-benders,” Dingfelder said, adding that all of the reported accidents were weather-related.
A three-car collision on Highway 6 between Avon and Edwards Saturday evening around 8 p.m., closed the roadway for about an hour for cleanup. Dingfelder said all the people involved in the accident were treated and released with only minor injuries.
Local troopers continue to be prepared for another night of icy and slick roads, despite the changing predictions.
“Between now and April, we are pretty much prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” he said, adding that drivers in the High Country should start making extra time and take extra precautions – before turning the key in the ignition.
“Wear your seatbelt and be prepared to stay in your vehicle for a long time if you get stuck in a closure,” he said. “Bring some food and water, warm clothing and a blanket because you never know when the road is going to shut down.”
As for driving times and speed, Dingfelder said, winter operates on a different schedule and so should drivers.
“Slow down,” he said. “Take that extra five minutes to get somewhere, because if you speed up and lose control, you won’t get there at all.”
Early week outlook – Warmer and sunnier
“Yesterday was about it,” said Dave Nadler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Sunday. “The worst is over, we’ve seen pretty much most of the action.”
For Sunday night and into early Monday, Nadler said the forecast calls for “periodic snow showers and three to five inches of snow depending on altitude.”
Temperatures, he said, will remain steady into Monday with highs in the 30s and lows in the low teens.
By Tuesday the storm system will have left the area and in its wake, there will be sun and a few clouds with temperatures increasing to about 40 during the day and low teens during the night.
While the initial forecasts made Friday so far have fallen short – about two feet at least in this area – Nadler said the storm system “was as strong as we expected.”
As for the three feet of new snow, Nadler pointed to the San Juan Mountains where as much as 30 inches of new snow fell over the weekend.
“It was still a pretty good storm system that hit us pretty good,” he said. “It just didn’t hit the lower areas as much because it stayed relatively warm.”
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com