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Winter on Winter: Opening Day

Winter on Winter: Opening Day

[ November 22, 2010 - 1:02pm ]
Vail Opening Day
Forget opening day. How about opening week?

If you’ve been following this column (and of course you have), then you know that I’m a bit, well, skeptical about the whole concept of, the hoopla surrounding, and the hype spewed about “opening day.” Sure, I’ve been caught up in it myself. I’ve gotten up way too early and driven way too far to get on a lift to hit a single icy groomer with a billion other people in order to experience opening day bliss.  In fact, I’ve done it more than once. Until one year, I decided not to do it, to wait until all the opening day junkies went back to work and to then go ski the mountain when things were calmer. And there was more than that one icy groomer to sample.

But last week I threw all that hard-earned wisdom out the window. You know, the smug certainty that opening day was like New Year’s Eve: Good for amateurs and wannabes, but the real pros avoided it like the plague.

The bomb that burst my bubble was a resort called Vail. To be honest, Vail isn’t like some other Colorado resorts, those ski areas that vie to get the lifts running in October in an interesting but futile race to be “first” in North America to offer skiing. Futile, because the first—and last— resort to open or close in North America is and always will be Timberline, Oregon. After all, having your own glacier with year-round skiing is helpful in that regard.

No, the mountain operations guys at Vail don’t indulge in trying to be “first”. They wait, patiently, for a day in November when there’s a realistic chance that Mother Nature will cooperate and they’ll have more than one run on tap. It’s a strategy that usually pays off. Generally, the mountain has the terrain above mid-Vail open on day one. But some years, there’s only Chair 8 and the Born Free run open and that’s just the way it goes.

Vail’s secret weapon this year was a fat storm that teed up the week prior to the mountain’s opening. Every ski area in Colorado benefitted from it, but Vail’s pole position on the western slope adjacent to the snow sponge called the Gore Range meant that it benefitted more than most.

The result? Over 1000 acres of powder skiing to kick of the season, with multiple lifts to access the goods.

The problem—or at least the problem for my aching legs—is that Vail didn’t just stop with opening day. Sure, there was all that terrain on tap for day one, but then they dropped ropes on Chair 10 and approximately 300 more acres for day two, stretching opening day into the weekend and meaning that it was impossible to succumb to the day one fatigue. Everyone just had to get back after it, shaky knees and all.

Day two was sweet, of course, although admittedly it ended earlier than normal. But that was only because my ski buddies were getting tired. I merely accompanied them to après ski because I didn’t want them to talk to strange girls, OK?

Then came the dagger. Another storm. A big one. Right now, as I type this, the forecast says it will keep snowing through the middle of the week. And, of course, Vail will keep opening terrain and I’m— damn it!—going to have to keep on skiing. Opening day? Hell, it’s opening week.

But if I’ve learned one thing—aside from the fact that ibuprofen, beer and pizza can cure all ills— it’s that I’ll never dis opening day again. Opening day is like Christmas. You never know what you’re going to get until you get it. And you don’t want to tempt fate, or Santa, or the Vail mountain ops guys and end up with a ski sock full of rocks. So here’s to opening days and opening weeks and to the start of a new season. And may your season be filled, like my opening day in Vail was, with snow, adrenaline, stoke, and good friends to share it with. For those are the ingredients of great opening days and the recipe for an even better winter.


Read more of Tom Winter's columns


No kidding - it really is

No kidding - it really is good - just skied Vail Monday and I was surprised I could get in the trees already - like sking in say February before Thanksgiving - at least in the Northwoods area where it was blowing in and loading the slopes!
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