Thrills, spills and chills on opening day in Summit County |

Thrills, spills and chills on opening day in Summit County

Robert Allen, Rory Moulton, Bob Berwyn
Summit County, CO Colorado
Mark Fox/Summit DailySkiers and boarders line up on the ramp of the mid-mountain gondola terminal as reflections through the glass of a new gondola cabin create unique images Friday during opening day at Keystone Ski Resort.

SUMMIT COUNTY ” For skiers and snowboarders, Friday was like Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Day all rolled into one in Summit County, Colorado.

Just like those holidays, opening day comes but once a year, and there’s nothing sweeter than making the first few turns on a brand new carpet of snow.

This season, Keystone and Breckenridge both had something new to offer, while Copper stayed with the tried and true ” top-to-bottom skiing on Main Vein.

At Keystone, resort officials were eager to show off the new multi-million dollar gondola, an eight-seater that can move twice as many people up the hill as the conveyance it replaced. The base station has been moved across the creek, about 100 yards closer to the heart of River Run village, and a midway loading station will help smooth out the flow of skiers on the front side of Keystone Mountain.

Breckenridge started the season at Peak 8 for the first time in nearly 30 years, as the resort prepares to host some big events early in the winter.

Visitors also got a preview of the big base-area developments at Peak 8, where Vail Resorts is building dozens of condos and a lodge that will include new ski school and rental facilities.

And after a few weeks of Indian Summer crimped snowmaking, the weather finally cooperated this week, enabling ski-area crews to crank the snow guns and lay down a solid cover of white. All three resorts plan to open additional terrain as soon as they can.

With openings at Breckenridge, Copper and Keystone, five local areas are now operating. Arapahoe Basin and Loveland opened a few weeks ago, and snowmaking also continues at those areas in the push to open more runs. More snow is in the forecast for Sunday and Monday.

Soft snow at Breckenridge

At Breckenridge, skiers and riders kicked off opening day by devouring more than 3,000 hot flapjacks at the Bergenhof, where the line snaked out the door.

On the mountain, Rick Perry, 27, took his first run in 14 years. The novice skier struggled down the Springmeier run, dodging the spray of snow from his pals.

“I had fun, but I bit it maybe 20 times,” he said. “And my friends weren’t very helpful.”

He moved to Breckenridge from Ann Arbor, Mich., about six months ago and works in town as a server at Relish.

The single run on opening day was well-covered, with a base of about 18 inches.

John and Jan Quigley enjoyed the opening day spectacle from a table at the Bergie, where cheerful snow enthusiasts enjoyed warm short stacks with syrup.

“It’s going to be a great season. We’re looking forward to more snow,” John Quigley said, adding that he and his wife will hit the slopes Monday, “after the crowds.”

Several snow guns were active on the mountain Friday, as the resort staff prepares to open more terrain.

“They’re working around the clock to get more terrain open,” said Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kristen Petitt.

A variety of events are planned for this weekend during the “Laughs and Lifts” Breckenridge Comedy Festival. For more information visit

Friday also was the debut for the resort’s radio-frequency season passes. The technology ” which has been available for Copper Mountain’s preferred pass-holders for the past few years ” allows for easy scanning, detecting passes through jackets.

The lift lines at Vail, Beaver Creek and Keystone also are using the technology this season.

Breckenridge Resort is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., daily, through the early season until further notice.

Alex Mehlin, 24, and Matt Voss, 22, who work at Pizza Carlo at Copper Mountain, were in Breckenridge Friday to make some turns.

The two, who moved up from Minneapolis, Minn., are enjoying their second season of snowboarding in Summit County.

“It’s good just to be back on it,” Voss said. “I’m living the life.”

Copper Mountain opens early for eager skiers and riders

Snow guns blasting away, the American Eagle lift at Copper Mountain opened at 8:50 a.m. ” 10 minutes early ” to cheers from eager skiers and riders who schussed down Main Vein run under bluebird skies.

“I’m stoked. The snow is suprisingly good. Just happy to be skiing,” said Sara Newell, a telemark skier from Denver.

A tenth of an inch of snow on top of man-made powder meant soft turns. Ski patrollers stationed along the run kept traffic moving at a safe pace and, as of noon, no significant accidents had occured.

Good overall coverage on a wide swath of Main Vein and 10 freestyle features in Eagle Jib Park prevented overcrowding typical on opening days.

David Roth, public relations coordinator for Copper Mountain, reported no hitches.

“Everything went off with no problems. It’s super exciting; we’ve got a great product as usual,” said Roth.

Ben Ruder, an alpine skier from Denver, smiled approvingly when asked about his first run of the season.

“It was good. I’m planning on getting up here every weekend,” he said.

Clouds rolled in at 10:30 a.m., and chairlift chatter immediately turned to when more terrain might open and how much new snow this storm would bring. Everyone agreed that a 12-inch dump was in order.

“Can’t wait ’til they open that,” said Mark Hughes, snowboarder from Silverthorne, pointing up to Storm King lift and Spaulding Bowl.

As if on cue, the first snowflakes of the day began falling.

Keystone’s new gondola running flawlessly

Although A-Basin officially launched the Summit County season a few weeks ago, the lure of a new gondola and turns on the corduroy on Spring Dipper was enough to lure a handful of stalwart early risers into the lift line at 4 a.m.

They had to wait about four-and-a-half hours for Forest Service district ranger Jan Cutts to cut a bright red ribbon before they were able to load up for the first ride of the season.

“It’s pretty neat,” said Bill Bergman, one of the resort’s founders and its first president. Bergman, who is credited with pulling together the financing for Keystone’s development, smiled broadly as he watched the first few cabins rise up in the frosty morning air.

The new gondola is the first in a whole new slate of on-mountain improvements envisioned at Keystone in coming years, bringing the resort closer to what Bergman his fellow visionary Max Dercum had in mind so many years ago.

New lifts, trails and a mountain-top restaurant are all in the works for the next few years.

Keystone chief operating officer Pat Campbell touted the resort’s partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and praised Vail Resorts lift crews, who pulled off the installation of the new gondola in a single summer.

At most resorts, the project would have taken two years, she said, specifically lauding Jon Mauch, director of lift operations.

Keystone opened with skiing on the intermediate Spring Dipper and lower River Run trails, including a feature-filled terrain park that immediately filled with enthusiastic jibbers.

“It’s fat, dude,” said Willie Vandermier, after sliding his board up over a new sausage-like metal tube. “Keystone rocks. They’ve always got it going on in the park.”

Support Local Journalism