SUMMIT COUNTY - Snow guns were out in full force along the Continental Divide this weekend, as nighttime temperatures dropped enough to aid snow production.
Arapahoe Basin had the full arsenal - 18 guns - out on Friday night, spokeswoman Leigh Heirholzer said. On Saturday and Sunday nights, temperatures rose enough at the lower mountain to force snowmakers to focus on the nine upper mountain guns, she added.
"We're making snow every chance we get," Hierholzer said. "We'll open as soon as we can."
She added that snowmakers expect marginal temperatures for snowmaking this week, but they'll take advantage of any good weather conditions that come their way.
Meanwhile, Loveland Ski Area had the guns going most of the weekend and plans to continue every night in preparation for opening day. Loveland spokesman John Sellers said he expects it to be a productive week.
Sellers added that a few inches of natural snow fell during the weekend, but has since disappeared from the lower mountain. Snow remains on the upper peaks, he said.
Neither resort has a target opening date.
"It's too hard to tell because we just don't know what the weather will be like this week," Hierholzer said.
Both ski areas have historically opened in mid-to-late October, with the earliest dates for both being in 2009. Loveland opened Oct. 7 last year, two days before Arapahoe Basin.
Workers and officials at both ski areas are keeping an eye on the other's progress.
"We have a friendly competition with A-Basin," Sellers said.
"Any chance we can get to spar back and forth, we do," Hierholzer said.
Loveland traditionally focuses snowmaking efforts on a 1,000 vertical foot, 1-mile long section of the mountain on connected trails known as Catwalk, Mambo and Home Run. Arapahoe Basin focuses on High Noon. Unless Mother Nature contributes, these are will be the areas' first accessible trails in the 2010-11 ski season.
Arapahoe Basin's opening day will also be the first chance for skiers and riders to experience the new, high-speed, detachable quad, the Black Mountain Express, which replaced the main Exhibition Lift this year.
Keystone Ski Resort and Copper Mountain are slated to open on Nov. 5, and Breckenridge Ski Resort has Nov. 12 targeted for opening day. All the dates are consistent with previous years.
Copper began firing up the snow guns on Friday night, keeping them running on Saturday and Sunday nights as well. Workers there "will continue whenever we can as long as Mother Nature cooperates in terms of temperatures and humidity," Copper Mountain spokesman David Roth said.
Copper's main focuses are Main Vein, under the American Eagle chairlift, and a select ski race area on the upper mountain, under the Excelerator chairlift.
"We're waiting on Mother Nature to start unleashing her fury on Copper," Roth said. It's unknown exactly what will be open on opening day, but additional snowmaking installed this summer on American Flyer and Windsong trails may mean more available terrain.
Copper Mountain's parking lot expansions are finishing up this week, Roth said, which includes 400 additional spaces in the Corn Lot and about 100 additional spaces in the Union Creek pay lot.
Spokespeople at all three resorts said they're on schedule for opening day.
Keystone and Breckenridge snowmakers have the snow guns ready to go, with the targeted start date of Oct. 17 and 18, weather-dependent.
"The long-term forecast seems like that's when temperatures are going to drop," Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley said, adding that Keystone has new, more efficient snowmaking equipment on North Peak that should enable more terrain to be open on opening day.
SDN reporter Janice Kurbjun can be contacted at (970) 668-4630 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin have blogs for eager skiers and snowboarders to follow snowmaking progress. Visit Loveland's at http://www.skiloveland.com/snowmaking/ and Arapahoe Basin's at http://bit.ly/a1pov9.