VAIL - Vail Mountain announced Thursday that some terrain in its Back Bowls will open Saturday, nearly a month earlier than the resort was able to open such terrain during the 2011-12 ski season.
With more than 2 feet of new snow in the last week, the resort is now able to expand its skiable terrain to more than 2,500 acres with the opening of the majority of the Sun Up and Sun Down bowls. Vail Mountain's Adventure Ridge activity center is also now open daily at Eagle's Nest offering tubing, kids' snowmobiling, bungee trampolines, ski biking and other activities.
"These storms could not have been timed more perfectly. With more than 2 feet of new snow in the past week and more snow in the forecast, the skiing and riding at Vail Mountain over the holidays should be fantastic," said Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. "We're thrilled to be able to open Vail's legendary Sun Up and Sun Down bowls for all of our holiday guests and are hopeful that we'll be able to open even more terrain soon."
The news is important not only for the guests who are in town for the holiday season, but also for the resort's success throughout the remainder of the season, said Ralf Garrison, director of the Mountain Travel Research Project, which studies mountain resort economies.
"We've been looking for the big snow message - this is the big snow message," Garrison said.
The fresh snow might be too little, too late to boost lagging December reservations enough to make up for the month's decline over last year, but it will help, Garrison said.
More importantly, in today's age of social media and technology, the snow is going to provide a better experience for holiday guests, who will undoubtedly spread the message about their good time.
"In today's arena of social media, where every smart phone is a broadcast studio, what the guests will be saying about their experience in Vail will ultimately have a more positive impact for the balance of the season," Garrison said.
It also does a lot to boost local morale. Professional skier Drew Rouse, who is often the subject of Vail Mountain promotional skiing photographs, couldn't be more excited. He said the Back Bowls offer great steeps and tree runs, and the additional terrain also means people can spread out more around the mountain.
"After last season everyone is that much more motivated to get some and it hasn't been lasting long," Rouse said. "Rose Bowl went as fast as I have ever seen and people were lucky to get two laps of the deep stuff on Highline before it was chopped up. So I think, yes, this year is starting to redeem us from last year, but its tough to have the record year and then the pow famine we had last season. We powder addicts always want some more and I think after a few more storms I will start to feel recovered from that cruel trick played on us last year."
That cruel trick is partly responsible for sluggish bookings in December. As of Nov. 30, the on-the-books reservations for the month of December were down 12.3 percent from the same time last year, according to Mountain Travel Research Program data released Tuesday.
The gift of snow, and more importantly the opening of Back Bowls terrain this weekend, is "really a differentiator in terms of the brand message in the snow department," Garrison said.
"Opening up the Bowls will be huge for the Christmas guest," Garrison said. "But particularly (huge) from this momentum standpoint."