Vail Mountain Opening Day a success, goal is now to stay open
VAIL — On Friday, Vail Mountain opened for its 58th season without incident as skiers and snowboarders respectfully took to over 200 acres of terrain on Opening Day.
“It’s a little more quiet than normal, but we’re rocking and rolling, ready for an awesome season,” said John Plack, the senior communications manager for Vail and Beaver Creek, from the base of Gondola One on Friday morning.
There were no free breakfast burritos on Opening Day, no live music nor other celebratory measures this year. Lift lines are marked with social distance designations to stand on, and staff across the mountain are kindly reminding skiers and snowboarders of this year’s unique protocols due to COVID-19, including mask wearing and staying socially distanced, among other things.
While Friday morning felt very different from opening days before on Vail Mountain, it also felt unusually normal, all things considered. There was Cesar Hermosillo and his crew camped out at the Eagle Bahn Gondola to secure the first chair there, and longtime Vail local Dave Kraft secured the first chair at Gondola One with his friend Shawn Dawes.
“Our goal is to open and stay open,” Plack said Friday. “That’s the most important thing for us and for everyone here in the Vail Valley — we’re looking forward to it.”
Thanks to over 2 feet of natural snow and improved snowmaking systems, Vail opened with 200 acres of skiable terrain, across the front side of the mountain. (Last year, Vail opened with 95 acres.)
Skiers and snowboarders enjoyed terrain off of Gondola One, Mountaintop Express, Avanti Express, Eagle Bahn Gondola, Born Free Express and Gopher Hill on Friday. Trails opened included Swingsville, Ramshorn, Born Free and more.
“The team has worked so hard to get to this point,” Plack said.
It has been about 250 days since Vail Mountain — and all resorts — shut down in March due to the coronavirus. Vail’s opening adds it to a list of Colorado resorts already operating, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland and Wolf Creek. Beaver Creek is set to open Wednesday.
“The day the music died, they can talk about 1959, but I say it was 2020,” Kraft said before heading up the first gondola cabin of the season Friday at Gondola One. Kraft arrived at Gondola One around 6:25 a.m. on Friday and was surprised to see not a single person in line yet. “I figured there’d already be a couple dozen people waiting.”
For Dawes, of Breckenridge, Friday was Day 15 of the season for him, hitting Breckenridge or Keystone every day since their openings.
“We’re just really excited to get as many days as we can because we don’t know if the next day is even going to happen,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can with masks, socially distancing and whatever they ask us — just so they can stay open. We’re hoping for a full season.”
In the resort villages below, bars and restaurants are working under new county guidelines restricting capacity inside establishments. Eagle County is currently in the orange, high-risk category of the state’s COVID-19 dial which limits restaurant capacity to only 25% or under 50 people. There is more outdoor seating available at restaurants throughout the villages, as well as to-go options (including alcoholic beverages to stroll the streets in certain locations).
“I’m a little hesitant with everything going up right before Thanksgiving,” Big Bear Bistro owner Vidette Gehl said about COVID-19 restrictions on Friday. “It’s kind of a bummer because we were looking so good about a month ago. I’ve got my fingers crossed that people are going to behave and we’ll be good.”
All skiers and snowboarders on Friday reserved their spots Friday through this year’s new reservation system. As of Friday morning, there was still availability in the reservation system to get out there for Opening Day.
“The reservation system is crucial this year. It’s our way to open and stay open, and make sure we can manage the capacity on the mountain so we can all be safe,” Plack said.
Early-season reservations are for Epic Pass holders only, and the Epic Pass price goes up Sunday for those still on the fence of whether or not to purchase a pass this season.
“Right now for the core season, every day is available,” Plack said. “So we feel really confident, especially at a mountain like this with almost 5,300 acres, that we’ll have plenty of room for people to space out, get those reservations and get a lot of skiing and riding in this season.”
Reservations are also needed for on-mountain dining options, although there are more grab-and-go meals available as well this year at places like Mid-Vail.
“We’re following all of our local guidelines for everyone’s health and safety,” Plack said.
Visit epicpass.com for more information about the Epic Pass, or visit vail.com for all of the ins and outs of Vail Mountain this winter. The new Time to Dine feature will be available on the Epic Mix app for making dining reservations, orders and more.
“It’s what people need. It’s what we all need right now,” Plack said of the mountain opening for winter operations. “Especially as the temperatures start to drop and people are spending more time inside, I think the outside is what we all need.”
The Vail Daily’s Tricia Swenson contributed reporting to this story. Vail Daily Assistant Editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.