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Grab the early turns

Ian Cropp
MP Snowboarding PU 10-11-06
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Waiting for Nov. 17 to arrive can be painful. Between now and Vail’s opening day, however, there is plenty of early-season skiing to be had in Colorado.So by the time all the skiers, snowboarders and telemarkers ride up Vail’s Chair 8 for the first tracks, they could very well have 30 days under their belts.Thanks to a late September storm and almost of a month of snowmaking, Arapahoe Basin is set to open one trail and a terrain park today, and Loveland Ski Area may open this weekend or early next week.”Last year we opened a week after (Loveland), and the year before that we opened a day after them,” said Leigh Hierholzer, director of communications for Arapahoe Basin. “We make it a race to try and be the first one to open.””There is a very good chance we’ll open within the next week,” said Loveland’s director of sales and marketing, John Sellers. “It’s cold, the snow guns are blowing and the temperatures are supposed to drop.”

Loveland, which opened on Oct. 14th last year, is traditionally one of the first ski areas to open in the United States and was first in Colorado for the last six years. In the past two years, however, Arapahoe Basin was right in the mix, thanks to increased snowmaking capabilities.Even before Arapahoe Basin got things rolling today (Silverton Mountain opened for one day on Sept. 22), there have been people hiking up ski mountains, National Forest areas adjacent ski mountains and Vail Pass. “The best places are the runs that are established,” said Chris David, who put skins on his telemark skies and hiked up Vail Mountain in September. “That’s my philosophy on early-season skiing. I figure Vail has been picking up rocks for about 50 years … so you just go in your backyard and play.”Snow on Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek has melted since, but Loveland has seen a few hikers recently.”People can’t ski where we are snowmaking – it’s too dangerous,” Sellers said. “People have been trying. You can’t blame them. They are excited and have the itch and want to get out as soon as possible.”

No passAs reasonable as early-season rates are ($39 opening day at Arapahoe Basin, $40 until Dec. 15th at Loveland or $99 for a four-day pass with no restrictions), there is always the option of skiing for free in the backcountry.”Vail Pass is extremely popular,” said Don Dressler, a snow ranger with the National Forest Service. “We have a fee program, where you pay to play, but those fees kick in Nov. 24. There are folks out there before fees start trying to get free turns. That’s completely OK with us.”Skiing condition on Vail Pass are totally dependent on the weather, and on a weekend with good snow coverage, Dressler said there could be anywhere from 100 to 300 skiers, snowshoers or snowmobilers.

Before Nov. 24, the Forest Service doesn’t provide any services, like trail grooming, so Dressler suggests that skiers take the necessary precautions.”There’s the common sense that goes with general backcountry use,” Dressler said. “There are rocks and boulders, water bars, road crossings and drainage ditches (to watch for).”Dressler said some people drive on backcountry roads that have snow when their cars aren’t equipped to handle the terrain. Aside from skiing with a partner, Dressler suggests that skiers obey the closure signs and checking avalanche reports.After Nov. 24, the fee to use the area $6 per person per day, while a season pass is $40. The north side of the pass is wilderness use only, which precludes any motorized vehicles, while on the south side, multiple uses are permitted.

Down the wireWolf Creek Ski Area, located in Pagosa Springs, doesn’t have the benefit of snowmaking, but could open with some help from mother nature.”If we get another storm that brings in some snow we could open,” said Rosanne Pitcher, vice president of marketing and sales for Wolf Creek. “It could be next week or a month from now.”Last year, Wolf Creek opened the second week of November, and Pitcher said they usually wait until that have about a 3-foot base at the top of the mountain to open.Silverton is in a similar boat with Wolf Creek and is waiting on more natural snow to open before its scheduled date of Thanksgiving.

“We have a ton of snow up high, but we need some down low,” said Jess Higgins, vice president of guest relations with Silverton. “People go and ski backcountry in the forest service area. I heard there were people up there (Tuesday).”Copper Mountain is slated to open Nov. 3, followed by Breckenridge and Keystone on Nov. 10., Winter Park on Nov. 15., Vail Nov. 17 and Beaver Creek on Nov. 22.Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or icropp@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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