Arapahoe Basin Ski Area the first in North America to open terrain

Phil Lindeman

Lovers and haters rejoice: ski season has arrived.

Early on Wednesday morning — mere hours before the sun melted Summit County’s fresh coating of 3 to 4 inches from the night before — Arapahoe Basin Ski Area made the announcement just about everyone has been waiting for: Black Mountain Express will start spinning at 9 a.m. tomorrow, making A-Basin the first ski area in North America to welcome the winter season. All skiing and snowboarding is limited to an 18-inch base of manmade snow and packed powder on High Noon, a blue run from mid-mountain to the base area.

“This is going to be a tremendous start to the ski season at Arapahoe Basin and in the state of Colorado,” said Alan Henceroth, A-Basin’s chief operating officer, in a press release. “We’ve been fortunate to have optimal conditions for our snowmaking team to get a base on the High Noon trail and offer our guests skiing and snowboarding in October.”

The party gets started late tonight, when a small cadre of crazies begins lining up for first chair. The rest of the crowd joins them around 8 a.m. when the ticket windows open. Adult (ages 19-59) full-day tickets are priced at $76, youth (ages 15-18) tickets are $64 and child (ages 6-14) tickets are $38. Prices stay flat until Dec. 16. Children age 5 and younger ski free all season. A-Basin will also accept all Epic Pass products, including the Epic Local, Summit Value and Keystone A-Basin passes.

Parking for opening day is free in the Early Riser, High Noon and Last Chance lots on a first come, first served basis. The Summit Stage bus route from Keystone to A-Basin doesn’t start running until Nov. 19, so plan ahead to carpool or get there at sunup.

Can’t make opening? No worries — A-Basin is open seven days a week from Friday morning until closing day in seven or eight months.

Snow on the horizon?

A-Basin might be home to the first spinning chairlifts, but it’s not the first mountain in the country to see snow worth skiing and riding this October. California’s Sierra Nevadas enjoyed the first big dumps on Monday, Oct. 17, with totals ranging from a few inches at Northstar in California to more than a foot (seriously) at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge — the exterior of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horrorfest “The Shining.” Big-mountain rider Jeremy Jones even caught Instagram footage of fellow shredder Nick Russell slashing through spiny trees at Tahoe on Tuesday.

“The pow is real!” the caption on Instagram read. “@Nick_Russelll tickling 4th gear in Tahoe today.”

That said, most resorts in the Sierra Nevadas still won’t open for business until mid-November at the earliest, so until then, Arapahoe Basin is the only place for ski bums to get a lift-served fix. Officials at Loveland Ski Area expect to open late next week, with top-to-bottom service on Lift 1 once snowmakers have at least 18 inches at the base.

“We usually don’t know until a day or, at most, two days before we are going to open,” said John Sellers, marketing director at Loveland Ski Area, in an email. “When we do open, Lift 1 will serve a top-to-bottom run made up of the trails Catwalk, Mambo and Home Run. This run is over a mile in length and nearly 1,000 vertical feet, and our snowmakers will ensure that it is covered from tree to tree with at least an 18-inch base.”

Snowmaking muscle aside, the quality of the snow (and skiing) right now depends almost solely on Mother Nature. She’s not making life easy: The latest forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls for highs near 60 degrees in Breckenridge and across Summit County this weekend, along with clear, snow-less skies. The next round of snow showers isn’t expected until the Monday of Halloween.

But has that quelled pre-season excitement? For some on Facebook, sure.

“Word on the street is that parking is already full and you have to park at either Keystone or Dumont and take a shuttle in,” Lisa Baronet of Breckenridge posted to the Summit Daily News page (all spelling original). “Too many frangers. Abasin — Colorados new Breck.”

For hundreds (and maybe thousands) of others, Friday can’t come soon enough.

“Let’s kick the tires and light the fires!” Josh Mulloy of Broomfield posted to the A-Basin page on Wednesday. “It’s finally arrived!”

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