Hundreds celebrate opening weekend at Keystone, Arapahoe Basin
It’s an event that lifts spirits across all of Summit County — opening weekend of ski season, when powder junkies near and far are finally able to get their fix, and the entire community is reminded of what living here is all about.
The festivities started Friday morning, when Keystone Resort announced that Saturday would be its earliest opening day in over 20 years, with an initial expectation of being the first resort to open in North America.
But in a dramatic turn of events, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area made a sudden announcement just two hours after Keystone’s, declaring they would open their mountain that very day, officially opening ski season and reclaiming the title of first opening on the continent.
First chair legend Nate Dogggg, who has claimed the title of “first chair” for 24 years straight, made first chair on Keystone’s opening day. He said that he was camping out at Keystone Friday afternoon before the A-Basin announcement came down, at which point he scrambled a few miles down the road to The Legend to make first chair of the season.
Unfortunately, the 4G crew (named after Dogggg’s four Gs) didn’t get there quite in time for the first chair overall this year. But Dogggg still camped out at Keystone overnight and made the first ride up Dercum Mountain with his 4G crew of first chair fanatics, including buddies Cesar Hermosillo, from Vail, and Dr. Kelly White, who lives over by Genesee Park.
“It was somewhat obvious it was going to open this weekend, it was just a matter of where and when,” White said, adding that the thrill of race to first was an adrenaline rush that keeps on giving. “This is an addiction of sorts.”
While Keystone’s opening day didn’t win the race to first official opening, it certainly was the biggest of the weekend. Hundreds of skiers and riders packed the parking lots, bustled through River Run Village and snaked in a line around the River Run Gondola, while Keystone employees handed out free donut holes and kept the crowd amped up before the countdown.
At 8:30 a.m., the hordes were let loose. The gondolas scooped up the frenzied masses a bunch at a time and unloaded them at the top of Dercum, where guests were treated to some of the best views in Summit. Schoolmarm run was white and fluffy from tree to tree, a feat accomplished by Keystone’s brand-new snow guns manufactured by Italian company TechnoAlpin.
Keystone communications manager Loryn Roberson said the snowmakers, which are able to detect ambient conditions and start working automatically, are top-of-the-line and give Keystone the ability to extend the season in ways previously not thought possible, with an opening day before mid-October for the first time in over two decades.
The U.S. Forest Service, which leases the land to Vail Resorts, was also on hand to observe the opening day celebrations. Dillon Ranger Bill Jackson said he and Snow Ranger Marcus Dreux were there to monitor and inspect the environmental conditions to ensure they do not run afoul of the Planned Unit Development license that Keystone operates under. Jackson said that they were also there to mingle with the public and remind them that it was public land they were enjoying.
“That’s the fun part of coming out on patrol and wearing the uniform, to see people enjoy the national forest,” Jackson said. “We’re out here and reminding people they’re using national forest and public lands. It’s great to see that so many people have a great opportunity to ski and ride on the mountain on the national forest.”
Farther east down Highway 6, Arapahoe Basin was a much quieter and serene scene, one that some locals say they prefer. A-Basin, still basking in the afterglow of their successful opening day stunt, had pretty much no lines and ample parking for guests, an intended result of peeling away from Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass after last season.
Katherine Fuller, communications manager for A-Basin, noted it was their own earliest opening in 10 years, and they opened just 99 days after the end of last season on the Fourth of July. She said the ski area had been working at a frenetic pace to get to first opening, and were ready by mid-week to open thanks to the help of Mother Nature.
Calling it a “game-time decision,” Fuller said they were ready to go yesterday after the groomers had made another run through. Aside from one run, A-Basin also opened its Banana terrain park at the frontside, with more terrain opening coming as weather allows.
“We weren’t going to (open yesterday) unless we could provide a good product,” Fuller said. “We wanted it to still be a good experience, but skiing and snowboarding is what we do, and we love and we’re excited, and we’re stoked to get going.”
Fuller congratulated Keystone on opening as early as they did, and was glad that Summit now has multiple options for play this early in the season. What was important is that people were all smiling and enjoying themselves again, as the best time of the year had finally arrived.
“This place feels normal again, like it just comes back to life,” Fuller said. “We’re just here to make people happy. It’s supposed to be fun, and we wanted to have some fun with the opening.”
To celebrate the opening of the season, Keystone Resort will have its “Keystone Kickoff” festivities, comprised of outdoor concerts in River Run Village, a costume party on Oct. 26 at Summit House for Halloween, and fun competitions and games in addition to early season skiing and riding. The resort will also offer $5 pancake breakfasts at Summit House from now until Thanksgiving.
Arapahoe Basin will also be celebrating Halloween on Oct. 26 with a concert and costume contest. Guests will be encouraged to bring out their most creative, zany costumes on the runs with the chance to win gift cards and other prizes.
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