Loveland, A-Basin greet thousands of skiers for opening day Oct. 29
A decade of opening days
When lifts Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin started spinning on Oct. 29, it wasn’t quite the latest the neighbor hills have opened in the past decade — but it was close. It’s also far from the first (or last) time they both kicked off the season on the same day. Here’s a look at opening day over the past decade.
2015 — Oct. 29
2014 — Nov. 1
2013 — Oct. 17
2012 — Oct. 23
2011 — Oct. 14
2010 — Oct. 24
2009 — Oct. 7
2008 — Oct. 15
2007 — Oct. 16
2006 — Oct. 14
2005 — Oct. 14
2015 — Oct. 29
2014 — Oct. 17
2013 — Oct. 13
2012 — Oct. 17
2011 — Oct. 13
2010 — Oct. 25
2009 — Oct. 9
2008 — Oct. 15
2007 — Oct. 10
2006 — Oct. 13
2005 — Oct. 23
Sources: Loveland Ski Area and Arapahoe Basin.
It’s an institution as old as chairlifts.
On Oct. 29 at about 8:57 a.m., Loveland Ski Area kicked off the Colorado ski season when first-chair king Nate Dogggg and his crew — fellow Summit local Trailer Tom and pro snowboarder Chad Otterstrom — finally sat down on chair one of Lift 1 after three days of camping out in the parking lot.
For the past 20 years, Dogggg (aka 4Gs) and a band of locals have nabbed first chair wherever it happens, from Loveland to A-Basin to Wolf Creek in 2011. Otterstrom is usually there, too, and so is Trailer Tom. But is the wait still worth it?
“It’s Nate Dogggg is what it is,” Otterstrom told me when I asked what brings him back season after season. He, a longtime Breck local, has been a pro for nearly as long as 4Gs’ first-chair record, traveling the world and getting paid to shred. And yet, he still returns to Colorado for the start of North American ski season, which usually means camping out with the 4Gs crew for a few days at a hometown hill.
“You’ve got to support your friends, man,” Otterstom said. “It’s like a Jeremy Jones film out here. It’s all about keeping snowboarding fun and alive. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Then Trailer Tom chimed in.
“T-minus 30 minutes guys,” he said and pocketed his phone. It was his PR lifeline during the three-day wait in the parking lot, where the three passed time by posting to social media, greeting curious passersby and playing a portable pinball machine. Well, social media for everyone except 4Gs.
“Yeah, I don’t do the Twitter thing,” he said while I was collecting Twitter handles from Otterstrom and Trailer Tom for Summit Daily social. It’s how millions of powder hounds across the continent can join in on the excitement — the photos and videos posted by the lucky few thousand on the snow.
“People were constantly stopping by to say what’s up,” Trailer Tom said as 4Gs was wrapping up a 30-second phone interview with some news outlet somewhere. Everyone wants a piece of these guys.
“We had a little bit of news media, a little bit of random people — just like paparazzi at all times,” Otterstrom laughed.
After a few more interviews with 9 News, 7 News, the Vail Daily and TV 8 Summit, the trio pushed to the front, loaded the chair and got back to what they do best: snowboarding.
To the Basin
About 7.5 miles away and five minutes later — or maybe at the exact same time, reports differ — Black Mountain Express on the other side of Loveland Pass took the first group of riders to the top of High Noon (aka the White Strip of Death). Like Loveland, the first-chair crew at Arapahoe Basin broke through a fat, white banner reading “Colorado Is Open!” to a round of cheers from dozens of skiers and boarders waiting in line.
“This is just awesome,” said Adrienne Saia Isaac, the marketing and communications manager for A-Basin. “People are stoked with a great first chair and plenty of snow.”
The first-chair line at A-Basin was slightly smaller than the one at Loveland, which announced that it was opening on Oct. 20. That was two days before its neighbor over the pass and at least 48 hours earlier than usual, Loveland marketing director John Sellers said. He believes it’s one reason the ski area saw more visits on Opening Day this season than last, when it opened on Nov. 1.
“Tying for first place definitely helped us bring more people in,” Sellers said. “We were just confident with the cold temperatures that we would open.”
But it wasn’t all clever PR timing: After an unusually warm October, Mother Nature helped both ski areas on the Continental Divide with natural snowstorms, cool temps at day and night as well as a drop in humidity — the snowmaking trifecta in the Rockies. Loveland saw 21 inches of natural snow, while A-Basin saw about 17 inches.
“When people saw the snow reports, saw the snow-stake cam, that really got people excited,” Sellers said. “We’re snow farmers, and, when the crop is good, the people show up.”
Opening Day mentality
And with that, the 2015-16 ski season was underway. By 10 a.m., the lift line at A-Basin had already filled out with several hundred people. The line at Loveland was a bit more approachable, but a constant stream of die-hard and not-so-die-hard skiers kept it packed long after first chair.
In true ski-industry fashion, neither resort had exact numbers for Opening Day skiers visits, although Isaac said A-Basin usually draws about 2,000 people. This season was no different.
Like any institution, Opening Day isn’t just about 4Gs or Loveland or A-Basin or any one thing. It’s more about the people and the energy and the atmosphere.
And atmosphere is something both ski areas do incredibly well. The scene at Loveland was a bit more focused — people were there to get as many runs as possible — while over at A-Basin, its beach season. Dozens of people were already tailgating at 10:30 a.m. to avoid the lines.
For them, A-Basin beat Loveland because it’s on the Epic Pass. (They also admitted that it’s their favorite ski area throughout the season.) Over at Loveland, it was the same story. A few came because Loveland announced that it would open before A-Basin — Killington in Vermont technically beat both to the punch on Oct. 20 before closing after five days — but most were there to pick up season passes and notch a few runs at the same time.
“This is my first one ever,” said Sean Cabusas, who made the 2.5-hour drive from Colorado Springs to Loveland. Why Loveland over everywhere else?
“That,” he said and pointed at Super Nova, Patrol Bowl, Super Bowl and the rest, covered in a blanket of white with patches of snow-blown dirt. Soon enough.
Rule 1: Stretch
When I loaded my first chair of the day around 11 a.m. at A-Basin, I rode with two photographers from Denver’s Freeskier Magazine: Kjell Elefson and Donny O’Neill. They were also documenting Colorado’s first dual opening since 2008, when Loveland and A-Basin shared first chair on Oct. 15.
We started talking about Opening Day and the weird, unstoppable energy that surrounds it. Sure, the snow is miserable and the runs are crowded, but it’s all about the experience, right?
“I honestly love seeing the stoke on everyone’s faces,” said O’Neill, who like Otterstrom gets paid to chase the world’s best snow. “Everyone is just so excited that the ski season is here. Everyone’s mindset just changes like that. It’s crazy.”
Even folks with hardly any skiing background reveled in the atmosphere. At least a handful of ski instructors were skiing with clients at both ski areas, and I saw more than a few children. Some must have been making their first turns.
Then there was Chuck Rizzuto, a Loveland security guard for 16 years. It was his 16th time standing near the base of the village steps, greeting skiers (He knows just about everyone) and reminding people to stretch before heading out.
“The first year I did this, it was just kind of strange,” he said. “Now it’s exciting. People tend to get hurt on the very first day, so that’s why I remind everyone to stretch.”
Did he pick Loveland security for the killer benefits and perks, like a ski pass and backcountry access? Hardly.
“It’s been real interesting for me because I don’t come from a skiing background,” he said. “I was a bingo repairman. Bingo took a dive when legalized gambling came along, so I took a page from the Coors book and diversified. And I’m still here.”
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