San Diegans in Snow

EpicMix photo example

Long time no see, folks. Sorry for the break. I’ve mostly just been skiing and snowboarding too often to write much. Vail’s gotten smashed with snow over the last week (two feet!), plus I learned to ski after being a lifelong snowboarder. I was on the mountain every day last week, concluding with a trip to Keystone Resort in Summit County yesterday to see some of my fraternity brothers who are visiting from San Diego, California.

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Sun Down Bowl

Sunset behind the Sun Down Bowl sign

The Sun Down Bowl, Sun Up Bowl and China Bowl are now open on the back side of Vail Mountain.

The early-season openings mean that three of Vail’s seven Legendary Back Bowls are now open.

Game Creek Bowl is open; Blue Sky Basin is also open as of 12/4/2014. Lots of terrain opening up very early; this 2014 ski season is looking good!

Photo taken on the ridge between Game Creek Bowl and Sun Down Bowl. Snow was a little icy today (first day of December, 12/1/2014) due to sunny conditions and a lack of new snow. More snow is expected in Vail on Wednesday (update: did not materialize), although as my father always says: you can’t predict the weather.

2014 Vail Opening Day Conditions Report

Vail Opening Day conditions

I don’t think I can adequately express what an incredible day it is when the ski mountain in your town opens.

I have been thinking about Vail mountain almost nonstop ever since I moved to the town of Vail in August. When off-season hit in October, the mountain loomed larger. When we got our first tiny little snows, I started dreaming about skiing. I drove 40 miles to Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin on two separate days last week just to try and scratch the itch. The skiing was OK. It was nothing like today.

 Today, November 21, 2014, was opening day for Vail Resort.

I woke up at 8 a.m. and jumped on my girlfriend while yelling “OPENING DAY!” Somehow I didn’t get kicked. We leisurely made breakfast and got dressed for the day. We walked a few hundred feet to the nearby free bus stop, and rode a bus full of excited skiers and riders to the mountain. We arrived around 10 a.m. to an almost non-existent line at the base. The lift attendant pointed a RFID reader in our vicinity, and we were headed up. I can’t even explain THE FUCKING CONVENIENCE.

Vail Opening Day Conditions Report

The conditions for Vail’s opening day 2014 were all that you could ask for. Multiple skiers and boarders stopped us on the mountain to incredulously ask “Can you believe it’s this good on opening day?!” There was powder aplenty on the higher sections of the mountain, which is a real rarity on opening day at a ski resort.

Seven lifts were open:

Vail Gondola One

Napping between runs in heated Gondola One.

  • Gondola One out of Vail Village
  • Eagle Bahn Gondola out of Lionshead Village
  • Avanti Express
  • Born Free Express
  • Little Eagle
  • Wildwood Express
  • Lionshead Carpet beginner surface lift
Vail Ski Map

Vail Mountain Trail Map

VAIL CONDITIONS UPDATE DECEMBER 1, 2014: The Vail back bowls have begun to open for the 2014 ski season. The Sun Up Bowl and Sun Down Bowl are both open, with word coming from Vail Resorts that the China Bowl will be open soon! Get out there and make some trails in the Legendary Vail Back Bowls!

The full list of what ski runs are open on Vail can be found here.

The lower runs were fairly trafficked and icy. The trails down to the Vail Village Gondola One (which has wifi and heated leather seats, jesus) and the Eagle Bahn Gondola were all-bad, not-good, practically no fun. Transitioning out of some edge-of-run powder onto these groomers made me wince involuntarily, more than once.

All said though, conditions on the mountain were great. If you are considering paying a visit to Vail for opening weekend, I would aim to come on Sunday, as there’s a big storm which is supposed to start dumping on the Vail Ski Area around the end of the ski day on Saturday. Sunday should be a powder day, if there is any luck with us here on Vail opening weekend.

Luckily, I don’t have to make those sorts of decisions. If you don’t know already, let me tell you: commuting to ski is the absolute worst thing you will find yourself unable to stop doing. Short of cocaine.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive I-70

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder’s a great town, and relatively close to the mountains. When you live in Boulder and want to go skiing, here’s what you do:

  1. Pack all of your gear into the car on Friday night, and go to bed as early as physiology will allow.
  2. Wake incredibly early on Saturday morning— up way before physiology will allow.
  3. Brew three thermoses of coffee to try and overcome your unavoidable grogginess.
  4. Get in the car and start driving before the coffee’s even cool enough to drink
  5. Spend three hours in traffic up, because apparently even though you hit the road at 5:45 a.m., everyone else got an earlier start than you. Also none of them know how to drive in snow. Interstate-70’s 70 mph speed limit becomes a cruel joke.
  6. You really need a bathroom because you drank all that coffee but there’s no fucking way you’re getting off the highway.
  7. You finally arrive at your resort, where hopefully you don’t have to pay for parking.
  8. You pay $70-$120 for a life ticket, depending on where you’re going.
  9. You rush to the slopes, ski until last chair to make the interminable drive worth it
  10. Get in your car at 4, absolutely exhausted.
  11. Sit in traffic for four hours getting home (assuming there are no road closures or accidents)
  12. Hate your life/ wish you were still skiing

It’s horrid. People from out of state tend to ask “Oh, you’re from Colorado? Do you guys like ski and snowboard every day?” No. No we don’t because I-70 is where souls go to die.

Living in a ski town

None of that is an issue when you’re living in a ski town. I cannot overstate how much of a difference this makes.

We took a bus into town, got to the mountain late, left early, and were out only $5 for a coffee break. Not that this is normal for Vail (as I’ve discussed before, Vail is very good at making you spend money), but it’s also totally possible.

Living in a ski town is awesome. Period. Full stop.

Early Season Skiing — Opening Day at Breck 2014

Arapahoe Basin vista

Things were looking a little scary there for Colorado’s ski season. A week into November, we had yet to receive any serious snow in the high country. Breckenridge Ski Resort pushed back their opening day indefinitely; skiers slipped and slid over artificial ice at Arapahoe Basin and Keystone, but no one looked like they were having much fun.

And then last week, three storms hit in such close succession that they may as well have been one week-long snowstorm. The mountains got drenched in powder; my arms got tired from shoveling so much snow; and ski season was officially upon us.

You can’t ask for a much better opening day than Breckenridge got in 2014.

I took a half day to go hit up the festivities— the storm pounding on Vail Pass didn’t provide me with much more opportunity. Vail Pass is a fairly gradual and well-engineered mountain road through the Gore Range, but it can still be quite dicey during a storm. Best to avoid traveling it, even for skiing.

Note that I say best to avoid it, not required.

This picture will NEVER stop being funny

Best picture of the Moab trip, for sure.

I bravely soared over the pass in the quintessential Colorado car, my Subaru Outback. I don’t fully trust this car— I’m pretty sure I purchased it from a recovering heroin addict, and the last time I took it on a major trip, it died about 20 miles into Arches National Park. But this was OPENING DAY, and I’d been itching to get some turns in.

It was well worth the 40-minute trip, and the pass turned out to be pretty OK. The Subaru pulled through. Maybe I just shouldn’t take it out of CO; it’s very comfortable in its natural habitat.

Breck was surprisingly empty for opening day, with plenty of room on the one run which was open. The brand-new Colorado Superchair was the only lift operating on Friday. There were mixed reviews among my fellow liftees as to the new “magic carpet” at the base of the chair, a high-tech conveyor belt which moves skiiers a grand total of about five feet, before letting them come to a stop and get picked up by the lift. “Designed by some MIT grad,” said one older snowboarder. “Probably looked great as a blueprint, just gonna cause more trouble.”

Top of the Colorado Superchair lift at Breckenridge Ski Resort

I was too busy hitting the slopes to wait for this guy’s butt to get out of my picture

The Colorado Superchair itself worked wonderfully, providing high-speed access to the middle of Breck’s Peak 8. We got nailed in the face by several gun blowing snow on the ride up, but that’s the price you pay to ski opening day. The resort did open several more chairlifts as the weekend progressed, as mother nature decided to make the snowmakers unnecessary. In fact, the ski patrol even opened some new runs around 1:30 p.m., which allowed me to get off the ice-packed main run and carve up some powder, which certainly made the trip more worthwhile.

Overall conditions were good and the atmosphere was sunny. A storm rolled in just as I was leaving, which ended up dumping another foot of snow on the mountain, which would have been awesome to play in had I not needed to traverse a mountain pass to get home.

***

Not feeling quite satiated with three hours of shredding, I headed to Arapahoe Basin on Sunday with my girlfriend; a Vail Resorts employee who was blacked out at the other resorts. (Although working for a ski resort will earn you a free season pass, you can be subject to blackouts at the resort’s discretion, sometimes without any real notice. Bummer.)

This was a weekend of questionable decision-making for questionable quality of skiing. We again traversed Vail Pass early in the morning, fought icy roads and heavy traffic near Keystone Ski Resort, before heading up the backside of Loveland Pass to reach the A-Basin parking lot, where the skies were a fierce blue and the temperatures below zero.

It was magnificent.

Arapahoe Basin vista

It’s hard to beat A-Basin for views// Luckily the Subaru is functioning here

A-Basin has much more of a fun feel to it than a big ski resort like Vail or Breckenridge. A-Basin is

Pow was there, tempting but off-limits.

Pow was there, tempting but off-limits.

actually a ski area, not a resort. (The difference is that a ski resort has lodging at the bottom or on the mountain, a ski area just has a parking lot).

Tourists don’t come to A-Basin. Although a Vail Resorts Epic Pass will get you entrance to Arapahoe Basin, this fact isn’t advertised very well, and Vail’s EpicMix technology, which gamifies your time on the mountain (and is actually pretty cool), does not work here. Arapahoe Basin is usually the first mountain in CO to open, and the last to close. Skiing for skiing’s sake is very much alive here.

Selfie game was NOT on point. Probably something to do with the zero-degree temperature

Selfie game was NOT on point. Probably something to do with the zero-degree temperature

Unfortunately, the snow was not. We met an old friend of mine at the base, who informed us that he thought he needed to get his board waxed. Terrain was icy and very early-season on Sunday, despite the several feet of snow that had fallen over the weekend. Freezing temperatures and the high winds inherent with the mountain pass location combined to eliminate some of the great fortune which Mother Nature had blessed us with. However, we still had a great time, logging another solid half day before responsibilities came calling.

All in all it was a great way to get my legs under me before Vail opens this Friday. Look for a condition report on Friday afternoon or evening.