With snow blanketing Summit County Friday morning, the ski resort arms race to see whose chairlifts start spinning first kicked into high gear.
Last year, it was out-of-state dark-horse contender Wild Mountain taking the honor on Oct. 7, though some Summit resort officials question the Minnesota resort’s crown, since it only opened rope tows on a bunny hill and stayed open for a limited time.
Along those lines, this year’s crown has been claimed already by Crystal Mountain in Washington, which opened for a few hours to 75 lucky skiers through a Facebook promotion.
“A lot of places open for a day to get the exposure,” John Sellers, marketing director for Loveland Ski Area, said. “We’re not going to compromise the condition of our early season snow to get that attention. We’re going to turn our lifts on and keep them on till May.”
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area communications director Adrienne Saia Isaac echoed the sentiment. “Once our chairs are turning they’re turning for good.”
They, along with A-Basin vice president and COO Alan Henceroth, will likely tell you the real competition is in Colorado, and it’s usually between the two of them — though southern Colorado’s Wolf Creek Ski Area stole the Colorado crown two years ago thanks to an early winter storm.
A-Basin was first last year, opening on Oct. 17, and Loveland claimed the win two years prior to Wolf Creek’s.
Officials form both resorts said they expect mid-October opening days, and both said the wet weather has been a benefit to snowmaking reserves.
“We’re certainly anxious to regain the crown,” Sellers said. “We’re always in the hunt to open first.”
Both Sellers and Henceroth called it a friendly rivalry between Loveland and A-Basin — but both also said they want to win.
Sellers pointed out that regardless of who wins, they tend to open within a few days of each other.
While neither would speculate about an opening date, with cold temperatures and this week’s storm, it’s starting to look like it could be sometime soon.
Sellars said of this week’s storm, “it’s huge. We typically don’t see this much natural snow this time of year.”
Loveland reported around 5 inches overnight and into Friday with snow continuing during the day.
As for snowmaking, he said, “They started at two o’clock this morning and they’re still going. They’re making a lot of progress.”
Loveland and A-Basin each started making snow on Sept. 27. Copper Mountain joined winter-preparation efforts first, firing its snow cannons Tuesday, Oct. 1. Copper has set a firm opening date of Nov. 1, when it will host the start of U.S. Ski Team training at its speed center.
Both Loveland and A-Basin officials said preparations are moving along as planned, with a lot of work still to be done.
“We’re right on target for mid-October,” Sellers said.
And with all the rain the county has received they’ve got more water readily available for snowmaking, which may even put them ahead of schedule.
“We will have more hours of snowmaking than we did last year,” Henceroth said.
So what will the winter hold for eager Summit County skiers? OpenSnow.com’s founder and Colorado ski conditions forecaster Joel Gratz spoke with the Daily about the upcoming season.
One of the first things he said: “I don’t spend much time thinking about seasonal forecasting.”
The Boulder resident, who founded the popular ski-forecasting site in 2011, said he doesn’t put a lot of stock in sources like the Farmers Almanac.
“I’ve never found any accurate predictions year to year,” he said, explaining that such broad predictions are bound to be accurate in one place or another, but not especially reliable as a whole.
“While seasonal predictions are interesting, they don’t get you powder days,” he said. His focus is more on two- to eight-day forecasting.
Also, with this year not being a strong El Nino or La Nina year, it will be a little harder to tell. Still there are historical precedents that may be promising.
“The only thing left is to look at past season patterns,” he said, offering what should be music to area skiers’ and snowboarders’ ears.
“When Boulder has a wet September, the ensuing winter is generally above average in the mountains,” he said.
He also cited research from fellow meteorologist Cory Gates at aspenweathernet.com. Gates found that when Aspen received snow in September, it had average or above average snowfall in 19 of 22 years.
“When multiple pieces of data all point in the same direction, I get a little more confident,” he said.
While it may not quite be here yet, it there appears to be some hope for a solid snow season.
“We’re always optimistic about the upcoming season. We think the ship is going to get righted this year,” Sellers said.