Starving powderhounds slam slopes |

Starving powderhounds slam slopes

Matt Zalaznick
Skiers and snowboarders line up at the base of Vail to get a ride to Mid-Vail on the Vista Bahn Opening Day.

Of course, a few nearby ski hills have already been open for a few weeks – Copper something or other, and that one by the Eisenhower tunnel – but it’s always something special when the ropes drop in the Back Bowls at the neighborhood’s world-renowned mountain.

And it’s extra special when it opens on one of the deepest, fluffiest, freshest powder days in years, there’s more terrain open than anywhere else and fresh tracks abound.

“It was waist deep, champagne powder. It was so perfect. This is the day they show in the brochures,” said skier Rebecca McNamee after a few runs in Sun Up Bowl.

After a few seasons where powder days were an endangered species – and after a summer with absolutely zero powder days – ski season took off with a bang in Vail this year. Nearly half the mountain is open, including Sun Up and Sun Down Bowls.

“It’s unreal, we’ve never had better snow than this,” said Kara Husmann, after a run down the double-diamond Highline on the eastern end of the mountain. “It was untracked and peaceful and there were face-shots all the way down.”

“It’s better than the last 10, 15 years,” added Husmann’s husband, Brian. “I’ve never had four runs of fresh tracks. You never get that.”

Skiers and snowboarders began lining up at the Vista Bahn Express lift in Vail Village at 7 a.m., an hour and a half before the mountain opened. Powderhounds getting off Interstate 70 at the main Vail exit backed traffic up all the way to West Vail. The two parking garages filled up quickly. That was all before 8 a.m.

“I couldn’t wait. It’s wonderful,” said Vail’s Dave Matsy, who was one of the first dozen riders to line up at the Vista Bahn around 7 a.m. “There’s lots of powder. The lines are pretty unbelievable out there, but the snow is worth it.”

But the throng caused more than a few less-powder hungry skiers to turn around and head home. After all, the mountain isn’t going anywhere, and it’s likely to snow some more before closing day.

“I took one look at the line and gave up,” said Doug Porter, a skier from Boulder with a condo in East Vail. “I’ll try again Sunday when the first day crowd has gotten their fix.”

So since you canceled your ski plans, Doug, what are you going to do all afternoon?

“I’m alright with trying again Sunday,” he said. “I’ll probably go cross-country skiing this afternoon.”

By 10 a.m., cars parked on the South Frontage stretched more than two miles, from the golf course in East Vail to the Vail Cascade Resort in West Vail. There were even a few clots of cars and trucks on the North Frontage, particularly around Red Sandstone Elementary School, where skiers parked to walk over the Lionshead footbridge.

But the overwhelming consensus on the slopes – even in the long lines – was that one of the best powder days in years was worth the wait.

“The snow’s fantastic. It’s just like mid-season conditions,” said Dan Winkler after a run down the front side of Vail Mountain Saturday.

The line at the Vista Bahn didn’t daunt he and his wife, Laurie, from heading up for some more turns, Winkler said.

“It’s opening day. It’s just good to have the ski stuff on and be outside,” he said.

“Plus,” his wife Laurie added, “we got a good parking place and we’re spending the night.”

Word from the ski gods is skiers and snowboarders will have something extra to give thanks for this season. By Thanksgiving, the ropes will drop at China Bowl and Blue Sky Basin – that means nearly the whole mountain should be open by Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, a record.

One bus driver compared the crowds Saturday to Christmas, traditionally one of Vail Mountain’s busiest times of year. So busy, in fact, local ski passes are usually blocked to keep locals from overwhelming the slopes.

And a lot of skiers and snowboards compared the snow conditions to Christmas seasons. In fact, most said conditions were far better than even the last few Christmas; better even, than the last few Februarys.

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

So it’s worth the wait, Tom?

“By far.”

And yes, the mountain is open again today. In fact, it’s open all week and should stay open through the winter and spring, until sometime in April.

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