O – Opening Day

For hardened ski and snowboard enthusiasts around the world, opening day at “their” ski resort, or any other that they might have a fleeting interest in, signifies the start of winter and anything from 5 to 7 months (or more) of opportunity for indulging in this venerable of outdoor activities.

Skiing has been around as long as there have been skis, and snowboarding as long as the word “dude” has been in the English dictionary: (apparently, this term was originally applied to fancy-dressed city folk who went out west on vacation, and in this usage it first appeared in 1870s). Opening days have only been around since official ski resorts came into being, and the word “capitalism” was applied to something done as a hobby.

Most ski areas have an official opening day, departure from which is a rarity, even though copious amounts of snow may have fallen in the build-up to “that” day. Winter Park is one such area that tends not to depart from its publicized opening day, primarily for reasons of planning, and the absolute chaos that would ensue if the Intrawest Board of Directors were compelled to work as lift attendants because on-mountain employees were not yet in place.

Opening Day also acts as a barometer for skiing conditions generally, with the annual national race to see who can open first. This, though, is never about a direct correlation with how much snow has fallen, but more about how much snow has been made. In Colorado, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin are usually the two combatants, and this year it was Arapahoe Basin who prevailed – for the first time in 6 years. On Friday, October 13, 2006, Arapahoe Basin became the first ski resort in North America to open for the season when its Exhibition chairlift began ferrying skiers and snowboarders up the mountain at 9 a.m. It is the earliest the 60-year-old Summit County ski area has ever opened – and the first time it has won the fierce competition with Loveland Ski Area for the opening-day champion title.

Opening Day is always about the answers to a myriad of question. How many trails are open? How many lifts are running? Is it all manmade snow, or the real deal? Will I see Winter Park Willie? The Winter Park Resort’s website had a clock ticking down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until its opening day – November 15, 2006, and on that day had the following stats:

  • Number of Lifts Open: 5
  • Number of Trails Open: 8
  • Number of Acres Open: 8
  • New snow: last 24 hours 3.5”; last 48 hours: 8.5”
  • Season snowfall to-date: 57.5”
  • Mid-mountain depth: 26”

Today, December 13th, 2006, also neatly coincides with the opening of the “other” Grand County ski area – Sol Vista Basin, some 28 days after Winter Park, but still ahead of most European resorts that are still closed due to no snow.

I remember vividly my first Opening Day experience 15 years ago. I’d just arrived from Europe, virtually half of the mountain was open, and the adrenaline was flowing pretty fast as I and a couple of friends rode the Zephyr Express lift up as the snow continued to fall. It was a pretty exciting day and there’s no other feeling like it – especially when you know there are 151 more days to follow!

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