On the Hill: Resorts gunning to open | AspenTimes.com

On the Hill: Resorts gunning to open

Robert Weller
The Associated Press

Eleven inches of snow fell at the top of Vail Mountain overnight Wednesday, the resort reported. An El Nino weather system in the Pacific Ocean could mean a snowier winter in the mountains. (Vail Resorts)

DENVER ” Loveland and Arapahoe Basin ski resorts have begun making snow, signaling the start of the annual race to be the first in the nation to open.

“It’s looking like winter up here. Everything is white,” Loveland spokesman John Sellers said Thursday.

Loveland won the race last season for the sixth straight year, opening on Oct. 14.

Loveland began making snow Wednesday. Arapahoe Basin fired up its snow guns Sunday but shut them down because of warm weather. The resort planned to resume Thursday after receiving 6 inches of natural snow.

“We’re hoping to beat Loveland this year,” spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer said. “We’ve had snowmaking for five years, but this year it really is a race. We have 14 guns on the hill.”

Loveland and Arapahoe Basin have an advantage over other Colorado resorts because they are higher, with base elevations above 10,500 feet.

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Copper Mountain also started making snow on Sunday but isn’t competing for first-to-open honors, planning to fire up its lifts on Nov. 3, said spokesman Carlos Garcia.

“I’m psyched. You can feel the energy building around here,” he said.

Garcia said Copper Mountain got 4 to 6 inches of natural snow Wednesday night. Snow was falling in the mountains again Thursday.

Colorado Ski Country USA, the industry’s trade group, reported Silverton Mountain had 14 inches of snow, Breckenridge 12 and Vail 11.

Other amounts ranged from 7 at Aspen Mountain to 2 at Steamboat. The National Weather Service predicted more snow through Sunday morning.

“The snowfall is just what we need at this time of the year. It gets people excited, including in our destination markets,” said Molly Cuffe of Ski Country.

Colorado ski resorts hope to match or better their record set last year of 12.53 million skier-days, up almost 5 percent from the previous record of 11.98 million in 1997-98. A skier-day amounts to the purchase and use of a lift ticket by a skier or snowboarder.

Nationally, the industry set a record last year with 58.8 million visits, up 2.3 percent from the previous record, in 2002-03.