‘It’s just good to be skiing’ | AspenTimes.com

‘It’s just good to be skiing’

Skico employee Jamie Downing gobbles around the Village Express lift Thursday during opening day at Snowmass. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

Skis litter the racks in Snowmass Village. The rodeo lot is near capacity. There are no empty tables on the Cirque’s outdoor deck. The Big Burn is open, testing skiers’ early season quads with its strong base of light powder. It’s Thanksgiving. Skiing has returned to Snowmass.”There’s just an easy feeling and an aura surrounding Snowmass,” skier Tucker Veenis says. “It’s just good to be skiing.”Hoards of skiers and boarders felt the same way, making their way to the mountain by bus and by car. For many, the day afforded them the chance to make their first turns of the season, but for everyone it was the first chance to ride on the newly unveiled Village Express six-pack.Many were not used to loading such a lift, making the morning seem chaotic, mountain manager Doug McKenzie said. By afternoon, all the kinks and unfamiliarity had diminished considerably.Up to 2,500 skiers per hour were ushered up Fanny Hill throughout the day. Beginners who chose to stick to the groomers had the option to unload at a midway station. Others rode the smooth lift to the top of Sam’s Knob, where doughnuts, beverages and some much-anticipated powder stashes were waiting. “Everything ran more smoothly than I expected,” said Kris Leska, of Carbondale, who has skied primarily at Snowmass since moving to the area in 2003. “I know they can’t open everything on opening day, but there was enough for the amount of people.”

Those skiers patient enough to brave the long lines for the Big Burn lift – described by one skier as a zoo – were treated to good conditions. Fickle weather patterns have made life difficult for mountain employees in recent weeks. The majority of the thin cover of manmade precipitation covering the bottom half of the mountain was skied off long before lifts closed. But much of the snow lingering from last week’s storm awaited skiers on runs like Sneaky’s, Dallas Freeway and Mick’s Gully.

Comments from ski patrollers to mountain managers and patrons included similar sentiments. The conditions were better than most expected.”It’s been a long week, but it was pretty good out there,” McKenzie said. “We were a little short on snow but made up for it with nice weather. We were one for two.”The day was not without its minor setbacks. The Village Express was forced to run at only 85 percent efficiency – 900 feet per minute – McKenzie said. Officials determined last week during a load test that an extra tower will need to be installed to provide enough clearance over a building in case of an emergency stop.

The lift issues cost the Village Express, with a capacity of 2,950 riders an hour, 500 riders every 60 minutes, McKenzie said. The resort was still able to accommodate more skiers than last season, when just the Fanny Hill lift – with a capacity of 2,400 riders per hour- operated out of the base.Much of the concerns leading up to the opening surrounded the aesthetics and function of a base under continued construction and the elimination of parking lots A and B; they were eased as the crowds continued to filter in. “I went right into the same lot [rodeo] I always do,” Leska said. “They had the buses ready quickly for all the skiers.”While the facelift is under way and changes continue to alter the Snowmass landscape, the original footprints from past decades remain, said Stefanie Veenis, a Pittsburgh native who worked on the mountain 29 years ago. Skiers consciously and continuously flock to Snowmass because of a characteristically laid-back experience, she said.

This day will be remembered for more than snow conditions, said Veenis’ daughter Courtenay. It was about time spent with family and friends in a fun environment replicated nowhere else, she said.”I was impressed by the costumes people were wearing on the lift. This is such a good atmosphere,” said Elizabeth Kennedy, of Avon. “There’s a lot of good spirit and class here.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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