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Who gets the slopes in shape?

Shane Macomber/Vail DailyFirst-time lift operator Heather Flynn from Minnesota walks back from taking her first look at Vail's Sun Up Bowl Thursday, one day before the front of the mountain opens.
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VAIL ” Newbies from North Dakota. Veterans coming back from summers as local electricians and landscapers. Folks who would just rather be on the snow than in a classroom.

Vail Mountain’s snowcat operators, ski patrollers, lifties and mechanics were back on the mountain Thursday, scurrying to prepare the nearly 800 acres and nine lifts that will open today.

“It’s kind of all hands on deck getting the mountain ready to go,” said Mark Delpiere, a snowcat operator who was working on his day off to help spread around snow beside the gondola.



At 9 a.m. today, the Avanti Express Lift (Chair 2), Wildwood Express Lift (Chair 3), Mountaintop Express Lift (Chair 4), Born Free Express Lift (Chair 8), Chair 15 at Eagle’s Nest, the Vista Bahn, the gondola and two beginner lifts will start running for the season.

Lots of snow actually makes Delpiere’s job easier ” more paint to perfect his canvas with. This week’s storm has allowed Vail to open hundreds of acres, but it also means lots of work for snowcat operators.



On Thursday, snowcats were going up and down the mountain in formations to pack down the snow on runs off of Chair 2 and Chair 3.

Delpiere has been a snowcat driver in Vail since 1983, although he took about a dozen years off to work as an electrician, returning as a full-time groomer last winter.

“I decided the real world sucks,” he said.



Delpiere, who lives in Wildridge, still works as an electrician in the summer. But not long into a summer of racing around the village with his tool belt, he’s ready to return to the mountain.

“After I’ve been away from it for a month, I’m ready to come back,” he said.

On Thursday, Angela Maly was back in a familiar place ” the Chair 4 lift house ” even if she didn’t expect to be there when she left last year.

Over the offseason, she was studying physics at the University of Alaska, but decided she’d rather study the physics of falling snowflakes at Vail. She’s back for her second stint as a lift operator.

“I didn’t want to be in front of a desk,” said Maly, who lives in East Vail. “I didn’t want to be a physicist.”

If Maly was back in a familiar place, Adam Grant was in a strange, new world.

Grant, who grew up on a cattle farm in North Dakota, is starting his first year as a snowcat operator. He just graduated from Northern State University, where he played Division II basketball.

“I wanted to take a break from school and the real world,” he said.

Grant is living at Timber Ridge, and will be working from 2:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. It might take some time to get used to that schedule, he said.

“It’s going to be a lot different,” he said.

Kevin Latchford was one of about 40 ski patrollers criss-crossing the mountain, padding lift towers and roping off dangerous terrain. The 17-year Ski Patrol veteran had been working since 7:30 a.m.

This morning, ski patrollers clocked in at 6:30 a.m. to finish up their work.

Latchford had a quick moment to grab lunch at patrol headquarters before he had to go back out to continue his work. But The West Vail residents says he’s happy to be back at work on Ski Patrol ” he works in the summers as a hydroseeder.

“I’m glad to be back in my ski boots instead of my work boots,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

Vail, Colorado


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