Four feet of snow this month, blue skies and a holiday weekend all attracted throngs of skiers and riders to Loveland Ski Area this weekend, but for an adventurous few the real attraction was the recent opening of The Ridge.
The Ridge, a series of expert-only runs located at Loveland’s summit, along the north side of the Continental Divide, officially opened for the season Wednesday, Jan. 8, but high snowfall and extreme wind conditions permitted only intermittent service of The Ridge Cat during opening week, said John Sellers, spokesman for Loveland Ski Area. The Ridge Cat, now in its second full season of operation, provides skiers and snowboarders with a ride to Loveland’s summit from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays during the season, weather permitting.
But there were few service interruptions last week once the calm weather and blue skies moved into the area. Consistent service coupled with a certain American Football Conference championship game scheduled for Sunday afternoon enticed dozens of skiers and riders to make the trek to Loveland to lap up The Ridge’s expert terrain.
Among the thrill seekers were Denver residents Greg Kinney and Michael Rodgers, who set their DVRs to record the Denver Broncos versus New England Patriots game to get their first tastes of The Ridge. Kinney and Rodgers said they caught the second snowcat ride of the day and, after speaking to cat operator Mike Scott, traversed over to Super Nova for first tracks.
Super Nova didn’t open a season ago due to lack of snow.
“To think we laid down some of the first tracks on Super Nova in more than a season is pretty thrilling,” Kinney said after his first run. “I can tell I’m going to have one of those smiles that lasts for weeks and I’m already thinking about when I’ll be able to get back up there to explore more of that 13,010-foot high playground.”
In addition to Super Nova, The Ridge Cat provides access to some of Sellers’ favorite terrain in Colorado, including Field of Dreams, Velvet Hammer, the Rock Chutes and, his personal favorite, 13,010, which is named for Loveland’s summit elevation. Prior to starting the Cat operation much of that terrain was limited to only a handful of the grittiest of hikers.
“It’s a great place to explore, especially when the rest of the mountain is starting to get tracked out, and there’s a lot of really aggressive terrain up there,” Sellers said. However, “13,010 is its own experience. It’s a huge bowl unlike anything else at Loveland. It really has a big mountain feel to it.”
Though catching a ride to some of the best terrain in the area is an obvious perk, Loveland sweetened the deal more than two years ago when mountain officials decided to offer the service at no additional cost to guests. In order to gain access to The Ridge Cat, valid lift ticket or season pass holders must acquire a free Ridge Cat Access Pass by signing a waiver in The Basin Ticket Office.
Aside from Copper Mountain Resort, Loveland is the only local mountain to offer Cat tours for free, Sellers said.
“We’ll have guests come in after a couple of laps on The Ridge and tell us we could or should charge for the experience, but we wanted to do something that added value for our longtime customers, as well as motivate some new ones to come check us out,” Sellers said. “The terrain was underutilized and we thought this would be a great way to expand the experience and get people out there for free.”
And The Ridge Cat experience isn’t just limited to expert skiers, Sellers added. Because the top of the Continental Divide provides a panorama of remarkable scenery, Loveland officials wanted to make sure intermediate skiers could enjoy the views, but also get back down to the bottom in one piece. Intermediates can safely ski to the bottom by following the cat track back towards the top of Chair 9, which links up with Rookie Road, a blue trail.
Regardless of ability, Rodgers said Loveland’s snowcat tour is something every skier should make a point to experience.
“Any day on the mountain is fun, but combining cat access with sunny skies and laps full of powdery turns rivals any other day of skiing I’ve had in Colorado,” Rodgers said. “This wasn’t just a day I’ll remember fondly for years to come, but one I hope to repeat before the season ends.”
In addition to normal operating hours of 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Sellers said The Ridge Cat runs on holidays and mountain officials are considering expanded operation during spring break.
For more information about Loveland Ski Area and The Ridge Cat tours, visit www.skiloveland.com.