The extended Loveland family returns for opening day |

The extended Loveland family returns for opening day

Phil Lindeman

What happened in 1898?

They called it the Big Snow Winter.

On Nov. 27, 1898, after an unusually dry and warm autumn, flakes started falling across Summit County and the thriving mining town of Breckenridge. Miners and business owners thought little of the storm — it’s the Rocky Mountains, after all — but it was only the beginning of something massive. By 9 a.m. on Nov. 28, the town was buried under 5 feet of snow. And it didn’t let up.

Nearly six months later, the town finally emerged from beneath a blanket of more than 32 total feet after the snowiest winter in Summit history. From November to February, the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad — Summit County’s lifeline for food, supplies, mail and more — struggled to push through drifts of 50 feet on Boreas Pass. The storm choked all travel on the railways by early February, leaving Breck and surrounding communities completely isolated for nearly 80 days. On April 24, the weather warmed enough for the first train to plow through drifts, while low-lying shacks and high-alpine passes remained buried long into the summer of 1899. Source: “Summit’s Historic Yesterdays,” by Mary Ellen Gilliland in the Summit Daily, Dec. 21, 2015.

Opening day at Loveland Ski Area is always a family affair. But if that family happens to come dressed in panda suits and leopard-print pajamas? Even better.

“This is where we go,” said Michael Kin, a member of the first-chair pajama squad, as he danced and cheered in a panda suit at the base of Chair 1 around 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 10. “We just love Loveland. This is my happy place.”

Two of Kin the Panda’s friends from Evergreen —Abby Meyers in a fuzzy leopard onesie and Olivia Hall in a fuzzy zebra onesie — joined him near the front of the line. The three met four years ago at Loveland, and ever since, they’ve returned as a trio for opening day, no matter if it’s in October or mid-November.

Meyers, who camped in a tent at the parking lot with her friends, explained, “I slept great, like a five-star hotel. It’s better than Christmas.”

At 9 a.m. Thursday morning, Christmas came six weeks early when Loveland threw a long-overdue bash for the start of the 2016-17 season. Longtime Summit County local (and former first-chair king) Nate Dogggg had been camping in the parking lot since 3 p.m. the day before, where he met the pajama squad and was joined overnight by two fellow locals, Tom “Trailer Tom” Miller and On The Hill’s Zach Griffin. Nate Dogggg, Trailer Tom and Z Griff took honors on the first chair of the day — “I still want a first chair every year,” said Dogggg, who passed the crown to Trailer Tom this season when he missed Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s opening for the first time in 20 years — followed by the pajama squad and then a loud, rambunctious group of about 100 skiers and snowboarders who’d been queuing up since 7 a.m. They’d been anxiously waiting for several weeks before then, beginning in late October when Loveland first expected to open.

“We’ve been talking about it for weeks,” said Cory Mitze, 22, who came up from Denver with his girlfriend, Kelsey Davis. “Loveland is worth the wait, I think. It doesn’t really bother me. I’d rather have a later start with better conditions than jump the gun, like I think A-Basin did.”

As the morning waned and the sun peeked over Chair 1, the first-chair faithful were joined on Loveland’s three open runs — Mambo, Catwalk and Home Run — by dozens of ski club athletes from across the nation and another several hundred latecomers, bringing the total to about 1,500 for opening day. Call it the extended Loveland family — a hodgepodge of Summit locals and Front Range diehards — and everyone was itching for a slopeside reunion, complete with costumes, PBRs, portable speakers, five terrain park features and the occasional T-Rex sighting.

“We got to sleep in our PJs last night,” Meyers said before loading the chair in her leopard pajamas-slash-outerwear, “and that was awesome.”

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Anxious for snow

By about 11 a.m., the sun was high in another cloudless November sky and the temperature was inching toward 40 degrees. Early skiing in Colorado has been nearly nonexistent this season, but Loveland family members like Mitze, Davis, the pajama squad and Ken Phelps of Longmont aren’t too worried that a slow start means a poor season.

“It’s got me a little nervous, but I have faith it’s going to snow,” said Phelps, a snowboarder making his first turns of the season on Thursday. “It’s taking its sweet time, but it’s not the worst. I just talked with some guys from Park City and they came all the way here to get some turns.”

Others, like Dogggg, feel that unseasonably balmy conditions are just the calm before the storm. He refers to the winter of 1898-99, when Breckenridge was buried for 79 days in more than 30 feet of snow after similarly warm temps until Nov. 27. That’s when the skies opened up and didn’t stop snowing for weeks at a time.

But could it happen again? Carlos Caban, a 40-year-old Puerto Rico native who now lives in Keystone, knows that sustained cold waves tend to follow sustained heat waves. He’s a lifelong surfer with a knack for tracking storms, and, as he stood waiting in a T-shirt and long sleeves at the base of Chair 1, he explained what might happen this December.

“I think the snow will come,” Caban said. “I’ve been surfing for 30 years and know how to look at the weather, so I think it’ll be late, but it’s coming… When that first cold front comes after all of this warm weather, it’s going to be a huge storm.”

Until then, the family is happy to be back home.

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