Vail’s planned Nov. 12 opening would be earliest in decades, possibly ever
Vail Resorts announces opening dates for the 2021-22 season
Vail Mountain will enjoy its earliest Opening Day in decades, possibly ever, this season if all goes to plan.
The resort, ready with a new state-of-the-art snowmaking system installed in 2019, announced Thursday it aims to open Nov. 12, conditions permitting.
Those conditions don’t involve natural snow, although it seldom hurts. Cold weather is needed at higher elevations in the days leading up to Vail’s target date if the ambitious goal is to be reached.
Local business owner Buzz Schleper said he can’t wait to see how it turns out.
“If they can get it open, I’m all for it. I love it,” Schleper said.
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Schleper — who first skied Vail in the 1960s and has been here since the early 1970s — said he can’t remember ever seeing an Opening Day in Vail come early as Nov. 12.
Records on Vail’s previous opening days weren’t immediately available following Thursday’s announcement.
Schleper said he will likely adjust the operating dates of his shop, Buzz’s Boards in Vail Village, in coordination with the town’s opening.
Drew Ray, store manager of two Charter Sports locations, said he and his crew cannot wait for Opening Day.
“We’ve gotten a lot of rain, so hopefully that’s a really good precursor for some snow — but you never know,” Ray said.
Coupled with this excitement, however, is the stress of bulking up the business’ staff in time to meet the demand.
“We’ve been trying to hire like crazy. We’ve been reaching out,” he said. “It’s just competitive.”
When Vail Resorts upped its minimum wage to $15 per hour, Charter Sports bumped up its pay to $17 per hour alongside the promise of a free ski pass to sweeten the deal, Ray said.
They are waiting to see whether they will have to go without the support workers from South America that typically come in for the winter season, he said. One way or another, they will need to triple their staff over the next few months from the “bare bones” team that runs their shops in the off season.
“It’s kind of up in the air, you know, we’re rolling with the punches,” Ray said. “The people are coming regardless so hopefully we will get there. If not, we’ll have to make some adjustments with our hours, but that hurts our revenue, so nobody wins if we don’t.”
“But I have a good feeling that we’ll make it through and be able to accommodate our guests even if we are short-staffed,” he added.
Though the opening may have been announced too late “to see a big bump in tourism that early,” Schleper said, if Vail continues with early openings, it could drive a whole new type of early season tourist in the future.
The early opening could involve something normally abhorrent to Schleper: downloading a lift. But in viewing the top of Gondola One as the bottom of a ski area that’s 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Vail’s old starting spot at the bottom of Chair 8, Schleper said downloading the gondola after a ski day isn’t much different than taking a bus back to the parking lot.
“I’ve never downloaded when you can ski down,” he said. “But if they get Chair 4 open, I’m not opposed to downloading.”
Vail’s new snowmaking system, installed in 2019, was the biggest project to take place on Vail Mountain since the mid-1980s, when Vail installed its first detachable chairlifts.
Large fan guns now line the sides of some of the runs; the guns are connected directly to a water line that was installed beneath the runs, along with a power feed, also buried underground. Working with its supplier, Vail came up with a new technology that it calls a swing arm gun for some of the resort’s hard-to-reach places.
Much of the new snowmaking technology is focused on higher elevation runs, which see colder temperatures and are ideal for early season snowmaking. With Mid-Vail being 2,000 feet higher and sometimes as much as 10 degrees colder than Lionshead, the top of Gondola One will become the new base area at Vail, allowing the mountain to open earlier in the future.
“At Mid-Vail we have Swingsville, a real beginner product, which we didn’t have before,” said Greg Johnson with Vail Mountain told the Vail Daily in 2019. “And Ramshorn is a real blue trail, so the quality of the product will be much better than we had before, over on Lionshead.”
But lower elevation runs like Bear Tree and the beginner terrain at Golden Peak were both important to the project, as well.
“We upgraded the technology (on Bear Tree) to help that early season connection, to help everybody get back to town,” Johnson said.
Beaver Creek open Nov. 24
Vail Resorts announced Thursday the opening dates of its 34 North American resorts, starting with Keystone this October. Beaver Creek will open Nov. 24, according to the announcement.
“We are thrilled to welcome guests back this season for a fantastic winter of outdoor fun across our portfolio of resorts,” said James O’Donnell, president of the mountain division of Vail Resorts. “As always, our goal is to provide a safe and memorable experience of a lifetime for our guests and employees, and to do everything we can to provide incredible skiing and riding all season long.”
Opening Dates (subject to change):
October: Keystone (CO) – as early as possible, as weather and conditions permit
Nov. 12: Breckenridge (CO), Vail (CO)
Nov. 19: Heavenly (CA), Northstar (CA), Park City (UT)
Nov. 24: Beaver Creek (CO), Crested Butte (CO)
Nov. 25: Whistler Blackcomb (Canada)
Dec. 3: Kirkwood (CA), Stevens Pass (WA)
Eastern resorts planned opening dates, which are also subject to change:
Nov. 19: Afton Alps (MN), Hunter (NY), Mt. Snow (VT), Stowe (VT), Wildcat (NH)
Nov. 20: Okemo (VT)
Nov. 24: Mt. Sunapee (NH)
Dec. 3: Attitash (NH), Crotched (NH), Jack Frost (PA), Mt. Brighton (MI), Wilmot (WI)
Dec. 17: Big Boulder (PA), Liberty (PA), Roundtop (PA), Whitetail (PA)
Dec. 18: Alpine Valley (OH), Boston Mills and Brandywine (OH), Hidden Valley (MO), Mad River (OH), Paoli Peaks (IN), Snow Creek (MO)
So far, Vail Resorts does not plan to have a mountain access reservation system this year — though, the company stated any necessary safety protocols will be communicated ahead of the season as the pandemic continues to evolve.
Vail Resorts also announced that prices for the Epic Pass will go up after Labor Day. The Epic Pass unlocks access to resorts across the Northeast, Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest, including Whistler Blackcomb, which is now open to fully vaccinated Americans.
For more information, visit Snow.com.
Kelli Duncan contributed to the reporting of this story.