Vail has been getting dumped on this December— almost six feet of snow in the past two weeks. Plenty of opportunities for fresh tracks. Come play.
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.
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.”
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.
A-Basin has much more of a fun feel to it than a big ski resort like Vail or Breckenridge. A-Basin is
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.
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.