Arapahoe Basin Ski Area opens for the season | SummitDaily.com

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area opens for the season

John LaConte
jlaconte@vaildaily.com

ARAPAHOE BASIN — It's 3 a.m., and a dozen people are gathered in the ski area's parking lot and beneath the Black Mountain Express chairlift in anticipation of the 2014-15 ski season.

Legendary snowboarder Nate Dogggg has been camped out here since Wednesday. He predicted, correctly, that A-Basin would be the first ski area in North America to open this season, and that it would open on Friday, Oct. 17. This will be his 19th consecutive year making first chair.

"It's all about having fun," Nate Dogggg told me an hour ago from the comfort of his sleeping bag. "I love the sport, and I got great family to come do it with."

That family has been stationed alongside Nate Dogggg all day Thursday. His close companion, Trailer Tom, had bright orange Nate Dogggg shirts printed for the occasion, as per tradition.

Trailer Tom's been doing it 21 years, but hasn't made first chair consecutively every year like Nate Dogggg has.

"When we first started out, it would be maybe 30, 40 cars in the parking lot, and we'd light a bonfire or cookout," he said. "It's really kind of died off. Now a lot of people get here around 5 or 6 (a.m.)"

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Nate Dogggg said on Wednesday night he slept only five hours, and catnapped for an hour or so during the day Thursday.

Indeed, it's not an easy environment for sleeping. Snowmaking machines light up the run above. Every 20 minutes or so, the large diesel engine of a grooming machine roars up to the area beneath the lifts where everyone's sleeping. The lights shine into the campers' sleeping bags for a few seconds before the machine sounds the loud and annoying beep of reverse and backs out. The base area below the lift needs to be in tip-top shape, for it's going to host a jam-packed maze from about 7 a.m. on, so that's where the groomers are focusing their attention during the 3 o'clock hour.

The hard cores sleep beneath the chair. Others congregate in the parking lot. There are eight cars here now.

I came here with a skier and a snowboarder from Vail. As we pulled in, Summit sheriff's deputies were leaving. They asked us if we were "fixing to get some turns," and told us we were smart for staking our claim in the first group.

"It's gonna get crowded fast," one deputy said.

The three or four people congregated in the parking lot said all the cops told them was to keep the music down and enjoy their turns out there.

"Definitely good community policing," said Summit County snowboarder Ace Accetturo, who got there at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday and claimed second chair.

It's now 3:30 a.m., and the lights are starting to come on at the base lodge nearby.

The groomer seems to have fixed his attention elsewhere, for now. It's about 25 degrees out here — not too bad, all things considered.

It's not like we're expecting a great run down the hill tomorrow, but the thought of the snow under my feet is as comforting as this cozy sleeping bag surrounding me.

I don't think that deputy was right. We're probably not smart for being here, sleeping all night in the cold for one lousy run. But as I lie here, near the sleeping legend on the eve of his 19th consecutive year making America's first chair of the season, I'm glad I can say I shared a little part of his impressive reign, at least for one year.

BROKEN LEG OR EBOLA

I awake at 6:30 a.m. and the crowd has grown to about 20. There's Kelly, from Golden, who said it only took him 30 minutes to get to A-Basin.

Rachael, from Pittsburgh, now a Colorado resident, is the only female in the bunch.

Second chair has been claimed by my group — the Vail locals I arrived with, Cesar Hermosillo and Kam Weekly — and Ace Accetturo, from Frisco. Not far behind us are Jason and Matthew Walence, of Vail, who arrived at about 5 a.m. Weekly and the Walences completed the Epic Race together last season and were awarded free Epic Passes for this season.

By 7 a.m. the A-Basin staff workers are beginning to arrive. At 8, there are 100 or so people waiting in line, including Vail Valley locals Kayla Wittich, Rebecca Schroeppel, Nick Allmaras, Ryan Cole and Dave and Gretchen Pleshaw.

The ticket scanners began checking passes and Weekly's and the Walences' passes aren't working. They pull Weekly from his second-chair spot and start making phone calls trying to confirm the status of his Epic Pass.

At 8:58 a.m., Weekly still isn't confirmed. It looks like he's not going to make it, and he seems upset. At the last second, though, as Nate Dogggg, Trailer Tom, Nickademus Mantooth and Justin Smith are boarding the first chair, Weekly's status is confirmed and he's allowed to ride.

Of the first eight people up the mountain, Hermosillo is the only skier. He's also the first one to make it back down to the bottom.

The snow is hard, with a nice groom. It's warmed up quite a bit since our chilly night under the stars, and the sun is shining brightly on the unshaded bottom portion of the short run.

The sun makes Trailer Tom's orange Nate Dogggg shirt shine so brightly it appears neon against the white ribbon we're riding down.

Nate Dogggg takes it easy, in no rush to get down. After completing his run, he is greeted with hugs and reporters wanting interviews. He says a few words and leaves the premises, content with the one run.

Next year, it will be his 20th consecutive first chair.

"We've got big plans," says Trailer Tom. "Fireworks, the Guinness Book of World Records, it's going to be awesome."

Nate Dogggg says nothing will stop him from being here for his 20th consecutive first chair of the season.

"I will make my 20th chair with a broken leg, the flu or Ebola," he said. "It doesn't matter. I will be here."