More terrain than expected on Vail Mountain’s Opening Day
Ample snow — both natural and manmade — gives skiers and snowboarders plenty of terrain options as Vail kicks off 60th season
Vail Mountain opened for the 2022-23 season on Friday with the groomed runs Swingsville and Ramshorn open as promised in the resort’s Wednesday announcement.
But several more ungroomed options greeted skiers and snowboarders, as well, with runs like Slifer Express, Cappuccino, Powerline Glade and South Look Ma also open.
Vail’s mid-mountain snow stake showed approximately 2 inches of fresh snow at 5 a.m. This added to the 6-8 inches the mountain received on Wednesday night to create a fresh layer of snow, which mixed in with the abundant man-made snow on the groomed runs and was left untouched on the ungroomed runs for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy.
While Wednesday’s storm closed Vail Pass for a couple of hours, the Friday morning dusting of snow didn’t interfere with driving conditions, and visitors from the east reported no problems in arriving to Vail.
Among those early visitors was filmmaker Tom Miller, who goes by Trailer Tom on Prime Video, where you can find his first chair science fiction movie about a robot and an alien attempting to be first up the mountain on Opening Day. Miller said he was in Vail working on a sequel to that film, and arrived at about 6 a.m. to claim “first chair” or, in Vail’s case, first gondola.
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Also on that first gondola was Summit County resident Josh Ernst, who said he saw Trailer Tom filming at Keystone’s Opening Day this season and was excited to see him again in Vail. Ernst is not a first chair regular as those depicted in Trailer Tom’s films, but said he enjoyed the vibes at Keystone and wanted to get in on another first chair this season, so head headed to Vail early Friday morning.
Vlogger Johnathan Buckhouse visited Vail with his crew of filmers and editors to capture the Opening Day scene, as well; the snowboarders said they found good conditions during the early morning hours.
Air Force Academy freshman Karl Westermeyer came in from Colorado Springs to ski Opening Day at Vail. A former Buck Hill skier from Minnesota, Westermeyer said he enjoys the Vail-Buck Hill connection forged by Olympian Lindsey Vonn, who was a champion skier at Buck Hill before moving to Vail and making a name for herself as the winningest woman in World Cup history.
Many of the other first gondola riders have been regular faces at Opening Day in recent years. Minturn native Cesar Hermosillo was most recognizable among them for being on most of Vail’s first chair rides over the course of the last decade. Taylor Parris and Tyler Moore were with, as well, along with Adam Suckel, Jason Waldman and Becca Dorn.
Hermosillo said he arrived at about 6:30 p.m. on Thursday evening to claim his first chair seat. It’s a ritual he knows well, having been on first-chair ascents at Vail for now 13 seasons. While others in the group slept in sleeping bags on the heated pavers at the base of the gondola, Hermosillo instead opted to stay up all night in anticipation of the big day.
In a morning interview with Vail Valley Live, Hermosillo recalled being on the first gondola 10 years ago when Vail’s state-of-the-art Gondola One was being introduced. That was Vail’s 50th anniversary season.
The 2022-23 season marks Vail’s 60th year of operation, and the mountain plans to unveil a pair of new lifts this season, as well. A completely new lift line, designed to reduce traffic at the bottom of High Noon Express (No. 5), will take guests from that location to a landing zone near the top of Wildwood Express (No. 3) and Game Creek Express (No. 7).
The Game Creek Express chair has also received an upgrade, from a four-person to a six-person chair.
Vail spokesperson John Plack, in an address to the Vail Chamber and Business Association on Thursday, said the last of the heavy loads for those new chairs is set to arrive any day now.
“That should be all in place and ready to assemble in the next couple of weeks,” Plack said.
Plack said Vail Mountain intends to celebrate the 60th anniversary in many subtle ways this season.
“We want every guest around every corner to feel the 60th anniversary this season,” he said.
Hermosillo said he has noticed a few of the changes.
“I love how they’re taking it back to the old logo — everything from the name tags to the murals they’re putting up,” Hermosillo said.
Plack said one mural guests have not yet seen will be at Wildwood, and contains Vail’s original Opening Day sign.
On top of the Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead, a new gateway to the Mt. of the Holy Cross can be found as a photo opportunity location meant to provide Lionshead’s answer to Vail’s most photographed location, the gateway to the Back Bowls archway sign on the Vail side of the mountain.
The new Mt. of the Holy Cross in Lionshead sign celebrates Vail’s connection to the White River National Forest, Plack said.
Plack said skiers and snowboarders should not expect to see Vail and Lionshead connected during opening weekend, as crews were still hard at work making snow below 9,000 feet. While both the Vail and Lionshead gondolas opened to skiers on Friday, those gondolas take guests to separate, unconnected areas, and both areas require downloads. The Eagle Bahn Gondola in Lionshead is recommended for beginner skiers and offers access to the Little Eagle chair (No. 15.) Vail’s in-town bus system runs between Vail and Lionshead villages.
The tubing hill atop the Lionshead gondola is not operational, Plack said, with no timetable on if or when it will open.
Food is available at the Express Lift Apres Bar in Vail Village Mountain Plaza, Mid Vail at the top of Gondola One, Buffalo’s at the top of Mountaintop Express, and Eagle’s Nest Market Place at the top of the Lionshead gondola.
“Almost every single dining option has had some kind of facelift,” Plack said.