In banner early season, ski areas scramble to open new terrain
summit daily news
It’s like an early Christmas present to be at the front of the line for ropes dropping at the ski areas – and this pre-Christmas season, the gifts of new, early-season terrain keep coming.
Sometimes, though, when storms roll through, the delight of new terrain has to wait until primary safety work is finished.
Both were the case throughout Summit County this weekend, as resorts saw new terrain opening prior to and in the early weekend – and ski patrol’s focus shifting toward maintenance work as the snow fell and winds blew.
Copper Mountain’s Upper Enchanted Forest was one slope that opened for a brief moment on Friday before remaining closed throughout the weekend.
It was a long-awaited opening for some. Repeated checks that day involved rides on two chairlifts and a surface lift to see whether the news was true – that the Forest had opened – and led to hanging heads and alternative runs through Lower Enchanted.
That is, until a patroller was spotted coming up Storm King on his way to drop the ropes for some guided skiing.
Carving through the buttery snow, the foursome that made it onto the first Upper Enchanted Forest run of the season reached the bottom with expressions that were, in some ways, better than those on Christmas morning.
The run opened again on Monday – weather and changing snow conditions have meant maintenance work took precedence over reopening it.
“In an event like this, you have to kind of pull the reins in a little bit and concentrate on what’s open and constantly monitor that terrain,” Copper Mountain ski patrol foreman Nick Pollard said, adding that strong winds can mean areas like Union Peak need to be checked every 30 to 45 minutes.
“Then we (move on) to managing the terrain that is yet to be opened,” he said.
Resort patrollers all over the county are working hard during this storm to manage on-mountain incidents as well as do control work to keep the open terrain safe – and more open terrain coming.
“The guys are working hard,” Keystone spokesman Ryan Whaley said. “We have patrollers on the mountain before 5 a.m.”
Nonetheless, each resort has been able to increase its open terrain far beyond what was open at this time last year.
Loveland Ski Area has 80 percent (83 trails and 1,332 acres) of its terrain currently open – with 31 percent of The Ridge, including Tickler and Jelly Roll – compared to 18 percent (26 trails and 305 acres) at this time last season. One-hundred percent of the beginner and intermediate trails are open, as is 92 percent of the most difficult terrain. Expert terrain is 24 percent open.
As of Thursday, the ski area opened North Star Bowl, Challenger, Primer Bowl and Castle Rock.
“(Patrollers) are currently working on Chair 9, but are not sure if (they) will get more open,” Loveland spokesman John Sellers said Sunday. “There’s lots more snow in the forecast, so we should be able to open even more in the next couple of days as conditions permit.”
At Copper Mountain, the Lilly G traverse connecting the front side with the back bowls is now open, enabling skiers to better access increasingly open terrain, such as the ridge along Copper Bowl. Openings there have been slowly creeping westward to Bradley’s Plunge and Schaeffer’s, with free and controlled skiing that depends on conditions. Control work has begun on Tucker Mountain, as well.
On Saturday, Arapahoe Basin opened Log Roll and Placer Junction in the 400-acre Montezuma Bowl, the area of the mountain which nearly doubled the ski area’s terrain when it opened in the 2007-08 season.
The ski area also opened more of the Pallavicini Lift terrain, including Gauthier.
“The snow is amazing,” A-Basin spokeswoman Kimberly Trembearth said. “Guests are super excited that they have been powder skiing and riding so early in the season. Our Facebook page has been blowing up with people super excited to be on the mountain, which is great for the ski industry.”
Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 10 opened on Friday, adding more than 200 skiable acres to the 1,964 already open and adding up to 91 percent of the resort being open.
“It’s probably the most we have in recent memory, in time for the Christmas holiday,” spokeswoman Kristen Petitt said. “The last hump for us is to open Snow White and some of our hike-to terrain off of the Imperial Express.”
Two runs on the back side of Dercum Mountain opened this weekend – Diamond Back and Mineshaft – to provide more access to the Outback and the North Peak base area, bringing Keystone Resort’s open terrain to 92 percent.
Keystone has been more than 90 percent open for about a week-and-a-half, Whaley said. All of the lifts are turning, and 115 out of 135 runs are open.
The remaining runs are small runs that typically don’t open until January, Whaley said, such as Wild Irishman, which has “so many rocks in there that it needs more snow coverage.”
Some other areas are closed for continued snowmaking to help the slopes last into the spring, he added.
“There’s no question that in the last four to five years, this is the best” in terms of terrain open prior to Christmas,” he said.
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