Copper and Keystone open with 5 inches of fresh snow and hordes of anxious riders
Pop quiz: How much fresh snow does it take for a ski bum to justify playing hooky from work?
Answer: 5 inches, and bonus points if it falls in the 24 hours before opening day.
On Friday morning, both Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort opened for the 2016-17 ski season to a welcome sight: new, natural snow and the glistening spray of underworked snow guns. Spirits were high at both mountains after a stubbornly dry start to the winter season forced several resorts — including Keystone and Copper — to push back their opening days to Friday. The day before, temperatures dropped into the teens, finally, and the skies dumped between 5 and 7 inches of snow across Summit County.
Never mind that the original forecast called for two days of snow — one on Thursday and one on Friday for opening. Skiers and snowboarders like Steve Julian of Denver and Adam Sloat of Littleton were still giddy about the fresh snow — giddy enough for Julian to consider ditching work that morning.
“I had the day off, simple as that,” said Julian, 26, a Chicago native who recently moved to Colorado. “I was playing hooky either way, but I saw that they got some snow and knew I had to be out there.”
And never mind that the latest forecasts call for temps in the 50s today and Sunday. Just about everyone at Keystone and Copper was basking in the sun under a bluebird sky, whooping and hollering and snow dancing on barebones runs while snowmaking crews at both mountains worked around the clock. It was the first time in several seasons that Keystone officials kept mobile snow fans blowing across Spring Dipper when lifts were spinning. It was also the first time in recent memory that riders either had to download from the top of River Run Gondola or hike from Montezuma Express to the gondi mid-load station. There was no direct ski route to get off the mountain, but Sloat didn’t mind.
“It’s the first snow — I had to be here,” said Sloat, 31, who actually did ditch work for his first turns of the season. “You don’t get the opportunity often to hit up opening day.”
And again, never mind that both resorts opened with just two or three runs less than a week before Thanksgiving. Those 5 inches of fresh softened up the artificial surface, making for better opening day conditions than officials and guests expected two weeks ago when both resorts bumped their opening days from early November to now.
Keystone rolled out the red carpet for six of Summit County’s youngest — and most talented — little rippers, including Team Summit’s Alyssa Moroco and Jadyn Dalrymple. The kids got first cabin, followed by first-chair regular Nate Dogggg and more than 200 skiers and riders who crowded the gondola queue before 9 a.m. The six youngsters, all snowboarders, started chanting, “Let us ride!” when the clock ticked past the hour.
But, like the Colorado ski season, never mind that the first cabin was technically late at 9:15 a.m. Not everyone was playing hooky from work or school, but the energy was the same, and the kids were saying what everyone was thinking: Let’s get this party started.
“When this is your backyard, it’s awesome,” Julian said. “Where I’m from, it’s just flat — flatter than my board. Honestly, this is my first year living in Denver and I’m not disappointed at all.”
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Over at Copper
“Weasel” and his chair-mate Patrick were first in line at Copper. Weasel got first chair last year, too, and when asked how long he’d been waiting in line he replied, “Since the end of last season.”
“The timing on the snow was perfect,” he said. “At this point we needed it really bad.”
“A balmy November is fun, but we live here to ski and ski here to live,” chimed in “Duffy” a few rows behind in the line. He’s been skiing at Copper for 16 years, and like Weasel, he comes here for the terrain.
The actual first chair, however, went to Jodi Krochalis of Lone Tree, along with her three distinguished guests. Krochalis won Copper’s #RaisedOnColorado sweepstakes, a social media essay contest of sorts that asked people to write about what their time at Copper means to them in posts accompanied by the hash tag.
The jubilant mood at the base area briefly turned somber as Krochalis took the microphone and shared the story of her father, who died suddenly of a heart attack while skiing Bouncer, a blue groomer, in March of 1996. Copper was his favorite place to ski and his own little patch of heaven, she said.
“He died exactly doing what he wanted to be doing in a place he loved. If there’s someone up there skiing at night, it’s probably Mel,” she said, referring to her late father.
With that, Krochalis and her family took their seats on Copper’s first chair, and 94-year-old Frank Walter pushed the button to send them on their way. Walter is a distinguished member of the Copper community, having skied there for decades.
“It took me one day of skiing here in ’72,” he said after the chairs started carrying rambunctious skiers, who were high-fiving Copper employees and a person in an inflatable T-Rex suit as they went by. “After the second day of skiing, I bought my first place here.”
In years past, Walter has taken the first chair up with Copper’s president and general manager, Gary Rodgers, and the lift didn’t start taking others until the two had both skied to the bottom together, Walter’s son Larry said.
This year, an injury prevented Walter fro doing that, but he has no intention of quitting skiing any time soon.
“It’ll take me a few more minutes, that’s all,” he said.
Larry Walter recalled asking his dad the other day whether he’d be skiing green runs this year.
“He said, ‘I’m not going on greens till I’m 100.”
That’ll be another six years for Walter, as attested by the big “94” emblazoned on the back of his jacket, which he updates every year.
Copper had top-to-bottom skiing on the Ptarmigan, Main Vein and Rhapsody runs off the American Eagle and Excelsior lifts. As people zipped down the slopes and back into line, the consensus was clear: It was worth the wait.
“They did a really good job despite all the challenges they faced,” Weasel said. “They worked really hard and put out a really good product.”
“It’s kind of a ‘white ribbon of death,’ like any opening day, but it’s been fun,” said Casey Roethlisberger, a second-year student at Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, later in the day.
“This is our first actual day of skiing,” joked his friend, Ryan May. “We skied Hoosier Pass about a month ago after that storm, but I don’t know if ‘skiing’ is really the right word…”
“We core-shotted Hoosier,” chimed in Roethlisberger, laughing.
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